Origins in wartime
The first body to use the name “Fellowship of Reconciliation” was formed as a result of a pact made in August 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War by two Christians, Henry Hodgkin (an English Quaker) and Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze (a German Lutheran), who were participating in a Christian pacifist conference in Konstanz, southern Germany (near Switzerland). On the platform of the railway station at Cologne, they pledged to each other that, “We are one in Christ and can never be at war”.
To take that pledge forward, Hodgkin organised a conference in Cambridge in 1915 and founded the “Fellowship of Reconciliation” (FOR England). The German branch, Versuhnungsbund, was founded later. It held its first conference in 1932, but in 1933, when Hitler came to power, it dissolved. Schultze was arrested twenty-seven times during World War I and was forced to live in exile during the Nazi period. FOR Germany was officially reestablished just in 1956 with Dr Siegmund Schultze as President.
Shortly after the Cambridge conference, in the autumn of 1915, Henry Hodgkin went over to America and, the 11th and the 12th of November, the American Fellowship was founded during a Conference at Garden City, Long Island. More than a thousand members enrolled in the American Fellowship before and during the war, which, for the U.S.A., begun on April 6th 1917. Because of the war, it was not possible to travel to other countries and the Fellowship of Reconciliation focused its activities on trying to influence public opinion, to help victims of war and war prisoners. 600 people in England went to prison for helping more than 16.000 imprisoned during the war. When conscription began in Britain in 1916 and in the United States many FOR members refused military service.
After World War one: strengthening the international movement
After the end of the war, in 1919, the different Fellowships of Reconciliation raised in those years all around Europe and in the USA agreed to found the International Fellowship of Reconciliation as an umbrella organisation to which they affiliated as members. In October 1919 Christian pacifists from 10 different countries met in the Netherlands, in the town of Bilthoven, to establish the “Movement Towards a Christian International” later called “International Fellowship of Reconciliation”.
IFOR first secretary was the Swiss pacifist Pierre Ceresole jailed several times for his peace witness. He established the Service Civil (International Voluntary Service for Peace), initially organizing work camps in areas torn apart by war, with volunteers from former enemy countries. Relief for the victims of war was carried out, and international conferences and meetings spread the work of peace to many other parts of the globe.
Immediately after Bilthoven IFOR apponted travelling secretaries such as John Nevin Sayre, Andre Trocmé, Muriel Lester, Henri Rose and Percy Bartlett.They travelled carrying the Fellowship’s messages around Europe, in Scandinavia, Central Europe, Poland, the Baltic States and the Balkans, giving life to several international conferences that took place between the two world wars. The first one gathered 200 delegates from 20 nations (also India, Burma and Ukrain) in Sonntagberg in Austria. Many others followed and, in such a tense historical moment, IFOR members discussed about the necessity of disarmament and of a new role of Churches, asking clergymen to make a strong stand against the idea of “righteous wars”. In 1932, the IFOR led a Youth Crusade across Europe in support of the Geneva World Disarmament Conference. Protestants and Catholics from all over converged on Geneva by various routes, reaching over 50,000 people and presenting to the Conference a petition calling for total disarmament among the nations.
Ambassadors of Reconciliation
At the end of the 1930s, given the unstable international situation, IFOR established Embassies of Reconciliation that initiated peace efforts not only in Europe but in Japan and China as well. “Ambassadors of Reconciliation”, such as George Lansbury, Muriel Lester and Anne Seesholtz, visited many world leaders, including Hitler, Mussolini, Leon Blum and Roosevelt. Muriel Lester, English social worker, served as IFOR travelling secretary throughout the world, helping to establish its work in many countries. She met Gandhi, first in London when, in 1931, he spent some time at Kingsley Hall, a community center with educational, social and recreational purposes, run by the her and her sister Doris, and then in India when she went with him in Bihar on his anti-untouchability tour during 1934. When World War II broke out, travels and communications became almost impossible.
In many countries IFOR members suffered persecution for publicly preaching pacifism. IFOR’s members, especially in America tried by inter-church mediation to find ways of ending the war, to help coscientious objectors, and struggled against internment of Japanese Americans. In France, IFOR members André and Magda Trocmé, with the help of the villagers of le Chambon sur Lignon, saved the lives of thousands of Jews escaping the Holocaust. In Belgium, feminist Magda Yoors Peeters defends Jewish refugees and conscientious objectors.
Supporting nonviolent movements around the world
After the war, travelling secretaries continued their work. IFOR branches and affiliates in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East grew consistently also thanks to the work of Jean Goss and Hildegard Goss-Mayr from Paris and Vienna, three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. From such labors arose Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ) throughout Latin America. SERPAJ’s founder Adolfo Perez Esquivel from Argentina was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980. SERPAJ participated in the nonviolent resistance to Chile’s 16-year long military dictatorship, which culminates in free elections that restored democracy. Hildegard Goss-Mayrs’ training in active nonviolence contributed significantly to the people power overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines in 1986, as well as the growth of nonviolent movements in Asia and Africa. The Goss-Mayrs, IFOR Honorary Presidents, were central to the global spread of active nonviolence.