Beloved Liberty

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Blake Bowden, Sep 9, 2009.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    By Paul Nadeau, 32°

    While I was in the National War Museum in Paris two years ago, I saw a Nazi propaganda poster on display that listed the "enemies" of fascism. Most of those enemies were tragically familiar, but one name on that list shot out at me: Freimauerei--Freemasons! I couldn't help but feel a bit of pride when I saw that Hitler had chosen to include the Freemasons on his list of enemies. Granted, it has been well documented how Masons had drawn the suspicion of Nazis who, believing the superiority of the German nation, couldn't bear the existence of an organization that prided itself on its belief of the fellowship of humanity and accepted anyone of any religion.
    It's not unusual to see Masons today wearing a "blue forget-me-not" (see below) pin commemorating the brothers who lived during a time when simply being a member of the fraternity was enough to be sent to the concentration camps. In fact, many of them were sent. Although World War II and the Holocaust were certainly one of Masonry's, and indeed humanity's, darkest episodes, in many ways it was also a time when the Light shined the brightest. Because while simply being a Mason may have been enough to be arrested and sent to the camps, this was not enough to prevent one from being a Mason.
    Loge Liberté chérie was a Masonic lodge founded in 1943 by seven brothers inside Hut 6 of Emslandlager VII in Belgium. The name of the lodge was taken from the Marseillaise, the French National Anthem, and translates to Beloved Liberty. The hut that these brethren were kept in is notable because it was reserved for Nacht und Neibel prisoners. The designation is German for night and fog and was reserved for political prisoners and resistance leaders, essentially anyone who was deemed in need of "re-education" and whose only real crime was standing in opposition to the Nazi party. The term refers to when the prisoners were arrested. After their arrest they were quickly sent off to Germany for investigation and torture before being sent to the camps.
    The Nazis went to great pains to make sure that these prisoners would disappear, leaving no trace of their whereabouts for their families. The more than one hundred prisoners in Hut 6 were locked up for most of the day and only allowed to leave for a thirty-minute walk under heavy supervision. Half of the hut worked at sorting cartridges and radio parts while the other half would work in the peat bogs. Nutrition was so poor that prisoners lost almost nine pounds a month.
    Under those conditions it's amazing that anyone could to do anything beyond the mere essentials of survival, but at the same time, the members of Liberté chérie knew that real survival goes beyond simple subsistence living. One of the Holocaust's greatest crimes was that it didn't simply kill its millions of victims; it tried to rob them of their humanity before they died. In a small but profound way these brethren in Hut 6 fought back at that idea by simply founding a Masonic Lodge. They began with only seven members, all Freemasons from Belgium, who met in Hut 6 surrounding a table that they used to sort cartridges during the day. To protect their secrecy, a Catholic priest volunteered to help watch the door.
    The ceremonies and ritual were simple, but they were still able to initiate, pass, and raise Bro. Fernand Erauw. Once they had raised Bro. Erauw, Liberté chérie, like most lodges, set different programs for each meeting, such as discussing the symbol of the Great Architect, the position of women in Freemasonry, and the future of Belgium. The Lodge began its work in 1943 and ended it in 1944, and only Bros. Erauw and Luc Somerhausen survived the war. The rest did not live to see liberation.
    They were in one sense martyrs for Freemasonry. They represent part of the reason why so many Masons wear the forget-me-not pin, and they represent how Masonry, as a free institution, inherently stands opposed to totalitarianism by its mere existence. At the dedication of the memorial to Loge Liberté chérie the Grand Master of the Belgian Federation of Le Droit Humain, Wim Rutten, said "We are gathered here today on this Cemetery in Esterwegen, not to mourn, but to express free thoughts in public. … In memory of our brothers; human rights should never be forgotten." In that sense, they are more than just martyrs for Freemasonry--they are martyrs for everything that Freemasonry has always stood for: free and open societies and opposition to totalitarianism. They were essentially prisoners of conscience, and they certainly were not alone in Hut 6. The fact that the Catholic priest--also a Nacht und Neibel prisoner--stood sentinel at the door shows that any conflict, real or imagined, between groups is irrelevant against a powerful enough enemy.
    That people have died for defending an idea is nothing new, but the fact that these are brethren who tried to recover their humanity by founding a lodge is something that should resonate with Masons everywhere. What Masons do so casually--hold a meeting--was for Loge Liberté chérie a proud and dangerous act of defiance against fascism and the best way for these Brothers to preserve their humanity.
    I've seen it written that Hitler's and Mussolini's opposition to Freemasonry is our best advertisement, but I think that may only go as high as our second-best. The best advertisement would be that brothers imprisoned in a concentration camp did something as simple and profound as start a lodge to free themselves.
    I wish had known about Loge Liberté chérie when I looked at that poster in Paris.

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