‘Bearing witness’: Brunswick woman dedicates herself to peace

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BRUNSWICK — Christine DeTroy says she could sense that the world around her was wrong as she grew up in Nazi Germany.

Even in the progressive artist’s colony where she lived in Worpswede, just outside the city of Bremen, “you learned to keep your mouth shut,” DeTroy, 87, said in an interview June 30.

“Because it could mean, you know, that your parents … would be taken, be incarcerated, put in a concentration camp.”

But she credits her mother with teaching her to think independently, recognizing injustice. “She was as honest with us as possible, under the conditions,” DeTroy said.

She grew up knowing that dictatorship and war were evil. She remembered going to school some days and seeing kids missing from her class: killed by bombs, or taken from their homes.

After liberation, 19-year-old DeTroy married an American GI and moved to the U.S. But she took the lessons of her childhood into her new life.

“We were focused on survival,” she said. “But you’re surviving at the cost of somebody else.”

DeTroy wanted to live a life of peace. She marched in the 1960s in Chicago with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and worked for organizations like Habitat for Humanity. She went back to college to study German literature and Africana studies, and graduated from Bowdoin College at 72.

Since then, she has published a book about her childhood, “Remembering: Years of Hiding Behind Silence.” The book grew out of her work with Bowdoin professor Steven Cerf, who had relatives who were murdered in the Holocaust.

Her life, and her book, DeTroy said, “is about bearing witness to what happened at that time.” She has translated the book into German, and this fall will travel back to her hometown for a reading.

“It’s been an incredible life,” she added.

In June, her church, the United Methodist Church in Brunswick, honored DeTroy with a ceremonial peace pole.

It says “May peace prevail on earth” on four sides, in English, German, Spanish, and Korean. She was also awarded the 2016 John Bryan Award for Excellence in Social Justice Action, which is presented by the New England Methodist conference.

But the work is not done, DeTroy said.

She says she worries about growing divisions and nationalism, because in Germany, “nationalism was the cause” of all the violence and persecution she witnessed.

She’s also struck by the deep racism and segregation that still runs through this country.

“The Unites States is held up for the Bill of Rights … and then I (came here and) noticed segregation. … That was a shock, that was a great shock,” she said. “That a whole race would be diminished … it affected me.”

“We came from one cell,” she said. “There’s a unifier there.”

DeTroy says the only way forward is to promote a message of peace, “to be an example, to be peace.”

DeTroy said peace is about recognizing people – regardless of country or race – as human. Social divisions are just “an accident of birth,” she said.

Then she quoted a favorite hymn: “My sky is beautiful but all skies are blue.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Christine DeTroy, 87, second from left, was honored in June with a peace pole at the Brunswick United Methodist Church. She said the goal of her life is “to be an example, to be peace.”

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.