Hedwig Helene (Mueller) Fritzsche was born in Rathmannsdorf, Germany in May of 1924, to Bruno Ernst Mueller and Hedwig Minna (Hamisch) Mueller. Her fondest memories of Germany were always of her time in nature, gathering berries and mushrooms, moments of beauty on the farm where she labored, and brief times during the war when she could see the beauty surrounding her.
From a poor family, Helene was already disciplined to hard work when she left school at 14 to work on farms. At 16 she moved to Bad Schandau to work in a Gasthaus. Four years later she did what she later described as the most daring act of her life: she gave her life savings to an army soldier she had just met and fled with him from the approaching Russian army. The soldier’s name was Gerhard Fritzsche. She and Gerhard survived refugee hardships, found his mother and sister, got married and moved to Berlin. There, she sold goods on the black market to help support the family.
Helene and Gerhard had 3 children. Their first, Lothe, was born before the harsh winter of 1947. Helene kept Lothe changed using the six diapers Canadian Quakers found for her. Daughter Regina was born in 1951. Later in the United States, the Fritzsche’s adopted Helene’s nephew Horst.
Helene first met Friends through her volunteer service to the children’s feeding program in Berlin. When the Russian army was about to take Berlin in 1953, the Fritzsches made their decision to leave Germany. The Quaker Meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was seeking displaced persons to support, and the Fritzsches immigrated through their sponsorship. The Fritzsches arrived in the United States on November 27, 1953, where Quakers welcomed them. Helene had never tried to understand another language and was baffled by the sounds of English; but with time and the understanding of Ann Arbor Meeting, Helene learned English, got a job as a maid, found an apartment and obtained a driver’s license. She also learned to love the silence and inner light of Quaker Meeting. Helene joined Ann Arbor meeting in 1957. Later, when they retired to Arizona, she transferred her membership to Cochise Monthly Meeting (McNeal, AZ) and still later to Pima Monthly Meeting in Tucson, AZ.
Helene’s service to Friends focused upon concerns of the poor and dispossessed. She worked on the clothing and displaced persons committees at Ann Arbor Meeting and helped other refugees get jobs, learn English and get driver’s licenses. A strong opponent of the Vietnam War, she attended many rallies and protests in spite of adverse circumstances. After retirement, while spending winters in Arizona, Helene took home-cooked holiday meals to a Mexican orphanage in Agua Prieta. She and Gerhard also visited senior homes and centers where they would entertain by playing music and dancing. Helene maintained an almost fierce loyalty to refugees and undocumented immigrants and, until her last few years, often joined border protests and memorials for the undocumented.
Asked about her spiritual life, Helene once told an interviewer, “Every day I meet with the inner light.” She said she served that inner light by building “Little Bridges for Peace” (Kleine Bruecken fuer den Frieden).
Helene is survived by her children, Gerhard Lothe Fritzsche, Regina H. Fritzsche and Horst Fritzsche. She will be sorely missed and fondly remembered.