It is hard for people who have not experienced war and the aftermath of war to comprehend their impact. Ehrhardt Lang, born in Yokohama, Japan, in 1934 to German missionaries, experienced both as a child.
Movies have given us graphic depictions of bombing raids and the destruction they wrought. Yokohama was thoroughly bombed.
Besides the terror of the bombings, there were other problems for blond children in a Japan at war with America. German children had to wear a badge on their clothing with the emblems of the Axis powers — Germany, Japan, and Italy — to prove their affiliation. Even so, they were often mistaken for Americans who might have somehow sneaked into the country. Japanese children would lie in ambush and throw rocks at them.
Such incidents, painful as they were for the Lang children, must have been hard for their parents to bear, too. But Ernst Lang’s advice was firm: “Never retaliate!” It was not in him to allow behavior contrary to the teachings of Jesus; also, he knew retaliation would escalate the attacks.
The war came to an abrupt end for the Japanese in 1945, but for the Germans living there, there were two terrible endings. First, the Germans were thunderstruck to hear during the first week in May that Germany had surrendered. At their German school, the principal, a staunch Nazi party member, assembled Ehrhardt and his classmates, had them raise their arms in the “Heil, Hitler!” salute, and had them sing “Deutschland Uber Alles” — “Germany Above All ’’ — the German national anthem. Then he announced that Germany had surrendered. He reported proudly that Hitler had died heroically fighting side by side in the front lines with his soldiers. Evidently the German propaganda machine had not yet died.
Everyone in Japan knew that Roosevelt had died the month before, on April 12, and that some former haberdasher was the new American president. Japanese and Germans alike felt sure that this haberdasher, in his assumed weakness, could not manage the war. However, the weakling decided to use his atomic bombs on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9.
On Aug. 15, having narrowly avoided assassination and a coup d’ etat led by sections of his own military who opposed surrender, Emperor Hirohito’s voice was heard by his people for the first time, announcing on the radio the second ending.
His message rocked the nation. At the demand of the American forces, he told his people he was not God. Next, he announced that “our war with the U. S. has turned out not necessarily in our favor,” predicting that the effects of the two atom bombs would render Hiroshima and Nagasaki uninhabitable for 75 years. Then the astounding pronouncement: He had surrendered “to preserve the beauty of our land.”
Ehrhardt remembers how shocked people were, not only by what the emperor said, but also by the quality of his voice. He sounded weak! It was difficult to associate this quavering voice with the personage whom the Japanese had revered absolutely.
Word quickly got around that American soldiers would be coming any day to occupy the country. People were terrified. They had been told repeatedly of atrocities committed by the savage Americans. Although school classes were canceled for the day, the children’s German teachers called them into school and had them go through their textbooks, page by page, and either cut out or cover with heavy black ink anything that was in the least anti-American.
Then the occupation troops started arriving. One day U. S. Army trucks pulled up to a warehouse near the children’s school and began unloading supplies. This warehouse was to be the Army’s supply headquarters. Ehrhardt was appalled. Classes had resumed, and he had to pass that building on his way home.
After school, he started home. When he got to the corner of the big warehouse, he started running for his life. A U. S. soldier waved him to a stop. The soldier was smiling. He reached into his guard shack and got a little package of paper-wrapped strips, unwrapped a strip and put it in his mouth, then offered one to Ehrhardt. He read the word on the wrapper, “Beeman’s,” then cautiously put it in his mouth. It was delicious! His fear of the soldiers evaporated on the spot.
He chewed the Beeman’s candy all the way home. Amazing how the stuff just didn’t disappear! He chewed it until bedtime, then stuck it on his bedpost and chewed it the next day, too. It was his first experience with American soldiers and with chewing gum.
With both Germany and Japan in disarray, the Langs were in a perilous position. They were nationally orphaned, with no financial support. The day came when they had no money left and the lease on their house and church property was due the next day.
Ernst Lang was distraught. Ehrhardt remembers his father’s anguished pacing through the house, his loud sighs of despair.
Ernst Lang’s remarkable strength of character and his unwavering faith now came into play as never before. He called his wife and six children into their living room. He asked each one to pray a simple prayer: “Please, somehow, make this money available.”
Make of this next episode what you will.
The desperate prayer meeting was heavy stuff for boys 11 and 9 years old. When it was over, Ehrhardt and his younger brother, Martin, ran out of the house and down to the train station nearby. They loved to watch trains come in. This day they saw an unusual string of railroad cars pulled onto a siding. American soldiers were hanging out the train windows. The soldiers’ tours in Japan completed, they had left Camp Zama and were en route to the Yokohama port to catch a troop ship home.
The soldiers were amazed to see two little blond boys playing by the tracks and called them over to ask them who they were. The boys had studied English at school and were able to tell them that they lived there, that their parents were missionaries. One of the soldiers looked thoughtful. He dug into his pocket and drew out a handful of Japanese yen.
“Here, take this. I don’t need it anymore.”
Another soldier, then another and another, searched their pockets and handed over yen. Word spread throughout the train until Ehrhardt and Martin had both hands full of Japanese money. They raced home and showed the money to their father.
Ernst eyed them sternly: “Where did you get that money?” Only when he had heard the full story did he allow the money to be counted.
There were enough yen there to pay the lease … and a little left over. Another fervent prayer meeting convened: “Thank you!”
Their situation still precarious, with no support from their home mission, Ernst made a remarkable move: He contacted the U.S. Army chaplains. They had been enemies, but they shared a common faith. They might help.
It was a move that may have saved his family’s lives. The chaplains took the Lang family under their wings, got them food, clothing and supplies, and it was through the chaplains that they met the Rev. Dr. Paul S. Mayer, director of the American Evangelical United Brethren Church. Mayer arranged for the EUB church to assume the support of the Langs’ mission in Japan. So an American church agreed to support German missionaries in Japan.
To the six Lang children, Dr. Mayer became an unbelievable benefactor. He arranged for his church to pay their tuition at Albright College, the EUB college in Reading, Penn.
Slowly, from the despair of defeat, from the rubble of bombed buildings, from near-starvation and poverty, the Japanese nation and the German missionary family recovered.
Ernst’s and Dorothea’s faith in their mission never wavered. Ernst believed that even his physique was part of God’s plan. He was 5 feet, 4 inches tall. “I believe God made me small so that I could work among the Japanese without seeming threatening.”
That faith had far-reaching consequences.
Editor’s note: This is the second of three articles about the life and times of the Rev. Ehrhardt Lang. Next week: Onward and upward.
Allie Kay Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.