The Pima Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends minutes their love and respect for member Gerhard Ernst Fritzsche. Gerhard was born in November of 1919 in Berlin, Germany, to Hugo Fritzsche and Wilhelmina Weissbroth Fritzsche. His liberal-thinking parents sent him to a private school where he learned to think clearly and freely. As a child, he met refugees from other war-damaged countries who were often invited to his home.
In Gerhard’s adolescence, the Nazis came to power but the Fritzsches did not understand that they should flee. Gerhard, like so many young men of his age, was drafted when Germany invaded Poland. To resist the draft was to risk incarceration and death, so Gerhard served in the German military in WW II. He continued to think for himself, however, and near the end of the war, as the Russians moved into the area where he was stationed, Gerhard saw the end was near. Although the penalty for desertion was death, he decided to flee. He traded his uniform for civilian clothes with a local farmer and persuaded a young woman who worked in the area, Helene Mueller, to flee with him. As they left, they could hear screams in the distance as the Russian military invaded the area.
Gerhard and Helene struggled through Germany to Gerhard’s family, and on June 16, 1945, Gerhard and Helene wed. Shortly after, the entire family returned to Berlin. Remarkably, the Fritzsche family home was damaged but still standing. Gerhard, apprenticed as a bricklayer, repaired the house. Later, he and Helene built their own home from thousands of bricks they cleared from the rubble. The Fritzsches lived in Berlin until 1953 when it became clear that the Russians were about to take over the city. They decided they needed to leave Germany altogether and, with the help of the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, were able to emigrate, arriving in the United States on November 27, 1953. They recalled that their time on the ship coming to America was one of the best times of their lives – put the children to bed, eat, sleep and dance. Previously being too hungry, cold and tired, or sharing accommodations with family members, now for the first time they could be a romantic couple.
Ann Arbor Friends welcomed them and helped Gerhard learn English and use his building skills to make a living in Ann Arbor. Gerhard was able to thank Ann Arbor Meeting by helping to build the annex to Ann Arbor Friends Meetinghouse. He was a member of various building and grounds committees for many years. In 1957, Gerhard joined the Ann Arbor Meeting and the Religious Society of Friends. He said that he had been a Quaker since he was twelve. He later transferred his membership to Cochise Friends Meeting (McNeal, AZ), and then to Pima Monthly Meeting (Tucson, AZ) when Cochise Meeting was laid down.
Gerhard believed in the testimony of equality. Working in the building trades, Gerhard met many black men and learned of the great injustices under Jim Crow. He was active in fighting racial discrimination and later in protesting the war in Vietnam. But most importantly, he actively assisted refugees from many other countries and faiths, helping them to adjust to new lands. He and Helene rebuilt old buildings and sold or rented them. Their tenants included refugees they were assisting. He served on the displaced persons committee of Ann Arbor Meeting for many years.
In the early 1980s, the Fritzsches decided to retire and move to Arizona during the winter. Their new home at Friends Southwest Center was both rural and Quaker. Several years ago, the Fritzsches sold their property near Ann Arbor to live in Arizona full time. Gerhard and Helene continued to work with immigration and refugee issues; they often visited the Mexican orphanage near Douglas, bringing home-cooked holiday dinners.
Gerhard said that he lived by a simple philosophy: “Kleine Bruecken fuer den Frieden” (Little Bridges for Peace), meaning that it is more important to do many small things and many small services and kindnesses, than to do large but impersonal service.
Gerhard is survived by his children, Gerhard Lothe Fritzsche, Regina H. Fritzsche and Horst Fritzsche.