June 15, 1939 – Memories

This article by Rev. G. Birkmann first appeared in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, Giddings, Texas on 15 Jun 1939.


            Not long ago the widow of August Winkler dies in my former congregation in Fedor—her husband preceded her in death in 1912, so already 27 years earlier.  He left her three sons and two daughters, the oldest son probably about 18 years old when his father died.  But a number of the children were still in the years in which they had to attend the rather distant church school, and it was incumbent upon the mother to take care of many other things for her children.

            When Ernst Winkler, August’s father, died already in 1879, only 37 years old at the time, the oldest of his four children was only eleven, and, therefore, the surviving widow had a comparatively even more difficult task, and yet our loving God and Father in heaven lived up to his promise to her that he wished to be her caretaker, father to the orphans and defender of the widows [allusion to Psalm 68:5], which means that he wishes to be a help at their right hand and preserve them.

            In February of 1878, Ernst Winkler took me to his brothers Wilhelm and Karl Winkler in Coryell County (now The Grove) on his covered wagon pulled by two strong horses.  We needed almost three days just to complete the journey, for we had to travel almost a hundred miles, and about half the way without any road; my experienced driver Winkler drove across the prairie over tall grass.  Nor did we always find bridges, but crossed streams, the San Gabriel, for example, in places that he knew about.  In this way the man performed a great service for his brothers by bringing me to them, because they wished that I might preach there and also perform some other acts of ministry.

            Sadly, this excellent man very soon, that is, one year later, was taken away because of severe inflammation of the larynx [i.e., some respiratory disease].  He died during Lent in 1879.  His son August at the time was one of my students, for back then I was holding school.  August continued to grow into an impressive young man fairly tall in stature.  In the fall of 1892 he married Helene Herzog and lived with her for about twenty years.  Even though he was strong, yet after several years he developed a heart condition which attacked him from time to time and made him unable to work temporarily.  That was a heavy cross to bear, and yet his wife bravely carried the burden with him and proved herself to be a loyal assistant.

            Andreas Falke in my congregation died in February of 1912, and on the following morning August Winkler died.  I was informed that he was very sick and hat I should come.  I hurried as fast as I could, and yet there were several miles to cover, and, when I arrived, he had already expired.  But I had visited with previously during the years of his illness and knew that he found comfort in what he had learned, which is to say, that he hung on to the one who atoned for our guilt on the tree of the cross.  It was also reported to me by the family there that he had especially exhorted his children in his last breaths to be very devout and to place their hope in God.

            On the day that Winkler died, I buried Andr. Falke, that is, I took care of my pastoral duty.  On the next day August Winkler was laid to his final rest.

            In the house we waited first of all to conduct the usual devotion.  The dead man lay before us in his coffin.  But someone said that he had noticed a movement of the eyelid of the deceased or some other indication that life was still there.  Naturally, something of a stir arose, and, under the circumstances, we could not start the devotion.  A number of attempts were made then in order to establish whether or not life was present.  I have forgotten what attempts were made.  The result was that it was said, “He already smells,” and brought any doubt to an end.

            We held the devotion and then brought the deceased to the cemetery.  This body must decay if it is to recover to that great splendor which is prepared for the pious.

            I remember that once many years ago we had prepared a child for its grave when someone said that he thought he had seen that the child was still alive.  So we waited with the burial, still not sure many hours later.  It was late in the evening before we decided finally to bury the child.

           These are the only cases in which any doubt was expressed in my presence about whether a person about to be buried might still be alive.  In most cases no doubt was possible because the odor of the corpse was more or less noticeable, often very much so.  In former years we had no means to keep the corpses for several days in hot weather.  For the most part, the burial had to occur already the day after the death.  And then at times it came to this that we could not first bring the bodies into the church before they were buried, a practice that has become usual in Fedor now because they have funeral directors and embalmers as in other places.

            I would like to share something that I heard on the radio about the question of apparent death, something that I do not consider unbelievable.  Once in Scotland a young woman was buried.  During the following night the grave was uncovered by evil rogues, and the coffin was opened in order to steal possibly valuable items such as jewelry.  With this entire process the young woman was awakened from her sleep or rigid cramp and brought back to life.  She was saved by the corpse desecrators [grave robbers].  Who was this young woman?  She was the one who later became the mother of Walter Scott, the famous author whose novels were translated into many languages and who still today, more than a hundred years later, generally is held in esteem and read with pleasure by many.

            I am not able to investigate for myself whether this story of an apparent death is a fact, and yet I do not doubt it for the very reason that it has to do with such a famous name as that of Walter Scott.