Heinz F. Dressel and a belief in service.


“Lanna…have you heard about these 23 political prisoners in Rio de Janeiro?”

I look at some e-mail print outs Pastor Heinz Dressel hands to me,

the title of the one I pick up reads:

“Manifesto em Defesa dos 23 perseguidos políticos- RJ”

A Manifesto on Behalf of 23 political prisoners in Rio de Janeiro.

on the top left of the page, the name of organization that released this information:

Tortura Nunca Mais, a Brazilian human rights organization that works to document cases of state violence, past & present.

“It’s not just these people; these prisoners; but there are the “favelas,” he adds with despair, “there is state violence there as well! This all continues to happen in Brazil...”

He has not been to Brazil in years, but his close friends keep him updated - news of Brazil being a “global power” doesn’t cloud his profound understanding of deep-seated issues over 500 years old.

Pastor Heinz shakes his head with grief as he looks for more things to show me.

I have made the trip to Nuremberg and now we’re catching up on politics, a film I am making, and life in general.

Heinz F Dressel or Pastor Heinz – a Lutheran pastor, human rights activist, father and husband (among other significant roles) – is a man who has been concerned for Brazil (the people and the land) for a very long time.

Since 1952, when he moved abroad to do pastoral work among German inmigrants in Brazil, he began to publish articles and books on the country’s history and systematic disenfranchisement as well as reflecting on his own religious identity in German.

In a book titled Faith and Citizenship he dedicates his final chapter to recounting the shameful history between the Nazi Party and the Protestant faith, and asks, “how could christians have supported a regime just to ‘obey an order?’”

As the director of the Ecumenical Postgraduation Programme of the Evangelical Church in Germany (ÖSW - Ökumenisches Studienwerk der EKD) in Bochum, he fostered a relationship with  – FIDENE – UNIJUÍ, a Brazilian public university in the south, to encourage postgraduate studies in Germany, France, Belgium, Great Britain and Spain while supporting them in such a way so that they could advance their work and refuse funding from the military government in Brazil in the 1970s – funding that would undoubtedly come with strings attached.

And then, Pastor Heinz wanted to do more.

He asked the church to approve the acceptance of political prisoners and refugees.

As Walter Franz, a Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at the Northeast Regional University of Rio Grande do Sul - Unijui put it,  

“Pastor Heinz, as a Christian and as a humanist, committed himself to the opening of the Ecumenical Studies Project in Bochum for those whose lives were  in danger because of repressive state politics in their country of origin -- they were given spots to study there regardless of creed or ideological convictions.

The Ecumenical Language School Project and Heinz Dressel demonstrate in their politics and actions that social development is possible when diversity and all that, which makes us different,  is comprehensively acknowledged  with cooperation and solidarity…”

Pastor Heinz and I sit down on the couch in his office.

He looks down, smiles and breaks into dialogue as he remembers an exchange he had in his travels:

“ah I hear you help the communists…” someone said

He wasn’t sure if it was meant as a joke or not but he laughed and simply responded,

“I help anybody who is in need and… and I have helped people whose life is at risk because of their government.

They are, as far as I know, still humans in need.”

In between anecdotes he sings to me in English, songs he tells me  “the American GIs left behind during the war...”

This is my second time in Nuremberg.

The first was to interview him for a documentary I have been working on for some time, Portrait(s) of a Revolutionary.

He was incredibly important to the life of the protagonist of my film, Maria Auxiliadora Lara Barcelos as he provided her with a scholarship at the ÖSW and a place to live while studying. In 1971 she was forced to leave Brazil, then in 1973 she, following the coup of Pinochet, was forced to leave Chile. She floated from place to place, until, by word of mouth in Köln, she heard about Pastor Heinz. She found the pastor and found refuge in West Germany.

On June 5th, I am showing an early version of my film at the  FDCL e.V. Forschungs- und Dokumentationszentrum Chile Lateinamerika in Berlin (http://www.fdcl.org/event/portraits-of-a-revolutionary/)

I invited Pastor Heinz. But due to a series of unfortunate personal circumstances he does not know when he will be able to go to Berlin or travel anywhere to see a film, for that matter.

Naturally, I brought the film to him.

The hardships he has faced and has helped others navigate through, has not made him bitter or cynical.

In fact, we made fun of “warmongering idiots” and the hilarity of language.

Regarding the latter, he recalled his first move to Brazil in 1953 and one of the several linguistic misunderstandings that he would have:

“Como vai pastor?” someone asked him.

To which he responded,

“Vai de Santa Rosa, Ônibus!”

His new friend seemed confused, and the Pastor felt like he had been falling short on his Portuguese skills. He would soon after laugh at his misunderstanding.

Let me explain:

"Como vai” is an idiomatic expression that means, “How are you? or How’s it going” but literally it can mean: "How will you go [to where you are going]" or "By what means do you get to where you are going." Nevertheless, It is most commonly used in its idiomatic form and so the confusion experienced by his new Brazilian amigo was warranted. The pastor responded to a greeting by stating the name of a local bus. 

We talked about the role of the church past & present and his countless moments of self doubt as he was questioned for his “progressive” ideas. I shared my own personal turmoil with religion.

In a kind and assertive tone Pastor Heinz makes the following concept very clear to me:

“If this work is not about love and about loving humans, then I don’t know what it is about...”