My New Home—Germany
THE sun had not yet risen. Dew was still lying on the meadows and fields as I left my home—a little village in the middle of Greece. My parents accompanied me to the train. Although we tried very hard, it was difficult to converse. Our thoughts were shackled by the approaching separation.
As we finally reached the railway station from where the “guest workers” were to start their trip to Germany, one saw only faces streaked by the flow of tears and heard only sorrowful words of farewell. Despondently, the oncoming train was looked upon as an evil thing made of steel that would break these close family ties for a period of time—or, in some cases, forever.
I will never forget that moment shortly before the train pulled away, as my mother took me in her arms for the last time. She was worried about me; that I could feel. Sobbing, she wished me the best in my new home. Today I can still feel her shaking hand as she caressed my cheek for the last time and begged me never to forget her. Then the train got in motion and we all waved our handkerchiefs in one last farewell.
After this farewell, my thoughts were busy with my future. What awaits me in Germany? I had a work contract with a large machine factory in Munich. But where would I live? How would I be able to make myself understood by my new workmates?
Two days later the train rolled into Munich Hauptbahnhof (the main railroad station). Thousands filed off the train and entered the drab station, there to await further assigning.
Worn out from the long trip, I only subconsciously registered the din of voices. Sounds strange to my ears let me know that I was far from my native village.
After a while I, too, was assigned to a group that was to be taken to their quarters. When I saw where I was to stay, homesickness overcame me again. I was not used to riches, but I appreciated now even more the clean, loving atmosphere of my parents’ home.
Here I was to live in barracks. An interpreter showed me where my bed was and also a small wardrobe for my things. There were five other fellow countrymen living in the same room with me.
Germany’s Foreign Labor Force
It was in 1962 that I arrived in Germany, which was shortly after the country began recruitment of gastarbeiter, literally, “guest workers.” Although it was begun as a temporary expedient, the importation of foreign workers continued to increase dramatically. In 1969 alone German industry imported some 400,000 foreign workers, yet labor offices reported that jobs were available for 700,000 more persons!
Thus the flood of “guest workers” into West Germany has continued, most of them coming from southern European countries. The foreign labor force reached 1.5 million in 1969, but by January 1972 it had swelled to well over 2.1 million. Of these, 384,303 were Italians, 264,427 Greeks, 175,998 Spaniards, 449,676 Turks, 57,180 Portuguese and 434,893 Yugoslavs. About one out of every ten workers in West Germany is a foreigner!
At first, most imported workers stayed only long enough to build a reserve of money from their comparatively high German wages. But recently more are tending to make their home in Germany. In Stuttgart there are some 80,000 foreign residents, about 70 percent of whom have been in West Germany for at least five years.
Germany has come to depend heavily on its “guest workers.” For example, in Stuttgart nearly 40 percent of the more than 4,000 people on the city’s payroll are citizens of other countries. Frequently the foreigners are employed to do the least desirable jobs. They collect garbage, sweep streets, dig graves, and so forth. A Stuttgart city official said: “For dirty, disagreeable or dangerous work we can no longer find enough Germans.”
However, the “guest workers” are also vital to Germany’s industrial strength. In one of Stuttgart’s largest plants, 75 percent of the employees are non-Germans! And in Wolfsburg, Germany, the home of the Volkswagen automobile, some 8,000 foreign workers were imported to keep the assembly lines moving.
Since job opportunities were limited in our own countries, we new arrivals were grateful to get work. Many among us previously had been shepherds, familiar only with country life. Now we were being trained for work in factories or on construction, and had to adjust to new surroundings. It was a tremendous change for us.
Early Life and Religion
In southern European countries from where we came, family ties are very strong. The family plans and acts as a unit. Even in the poorest homes families usually hold to strict customs and habits. This type of life naturally influences one’s religious thinking.
The father is generally recognized by all as the head of the family. His decisions are considered to be final in matters. Thus his religious thinking is accepted by all in the family, and is considered to be correct. One will frequently hear it said: “The way my father taught me is the way I’m going to remain.”
Many of us new arrivals in West Germany never realized before that there were religions other than the religion inherited from our parents. We grew up in villages where we were taught to honor the village heads and priests as “learned” persons. Thus many of us came to Germany with the firm intention of remaining true to the inherited family traditions.
A Vital Discovery
The letters I received from my parents were like a bridge to my homeland. Longingly I waited to hear something new. Often these letters made me forget my loneliness and sorrow. But within a short time I again felt lonely. Although I often spoke with my roommates about our problems, everything remained the same.
Then one day as I was again musing, someone knocked at our door. The man said that he came to bring me a message. He explained that he had sixty-six very important letters that one should read with the same enthusiasm as one did the letters from home. These were the books of the Holy Scriptures inspired by God.
During our conversation I learned from this visitor that God’s name is Jehovah, and that God is going to bring about a righteous order upon this earth. This new order, the man explained, will unite all mankind, and national boundaries will be done away with; families will no more be separated and each one will enjoy the fruitage of his own labors. These words went to my heart. I wanted to learn more of God’s purpose. But I explained that I was not going to change my religion.
This minister—one of Jehovah’s witnesses—came quite often to help me to learn the marvelous truths from the Bible. However, this caused my roommates to scoff at me. But what I was learning enthused me so much that I was determined to continue my study of the Bible despite their biting remarks. I began attending the meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses and discovered that here I was among people who, not only had problems similar to mine, but understood me and wanted to help me. My study of the Bible and attendance at the Greek-language meetings convinced me that I had found the truth.
Efforts to Help Others
In the barracks where I lived there were many people in the same situation as myself. So I felt a responsibility to tell them of my newfound hope. Some time later I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God by water immersion, and have continued to progress in Bible knowledge.
I am very grateful for the efforts that the German Witnesses made to teach us “guest workers” God’s Word. Quite a number of Germans learned a foreign language for this purpose, particularly Italian and Spanish. Greek is a more difficult language to master, but many pieces of Greek literature were distributed and interested persons like myself were brought into contact with Greek-speaking Witnesses in Germany. The results have been amazing.
Soon there were hundreds, and, in time, over a thousand Greek-speaking witnesses of Jehovah in Germany! By January 1972 there were 1,443! At first, interested Greek-speaking persons were organized into small Bible study groups; then congregations were formed. In 1966 the first Greek circuit made up of many congregations was formed in Germany. Now there are two such circuits here.
The situation is similar with other foreign-speaking persons in Germany. By January 1972 there were 803 Italian-speaking Witnesses organized in many congregations and one circuit. Also, a Spanish circuit made up of 415 Witnesses had been organized. And, in addition, there were 157 Yugoslav and 65 Turkish Witnesses in Germany. What has impressed us “guest workers” is the willing spirit of the German Witnesses to help us learn, and the total lack of class distinctions and racial barriers among Jehovah’s witnesses.
Now I am at home in Germany. My “family” is here. What I mean is, I have gained “houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children,” just as Jesus Christ promised to all who would become his true followers. (Mark 10:29, 30)—Contributed.
[Graph on page 21]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
GERMANY’S “GUEST WORKERS”
(THOUSANDS) 100 200 300 400