Chaplain recalls East Germany's struggles with communism
Last updated 5/4/2021 at 6:32pm
The year was 1967, a year when the U.S. and the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics remained locked in the Cold War. As Ron and Judy Ritter walked the
grounds of Wartburg Castle – in East Germany – they observed another man
and woman, likewise on a stroll.
"They were a distinguished couple," Ron Ritter recalled. "When they reached an area with a view to the west they just stopped, staring into the distance. They just
stood there, whispering I think, so still, just looking across the border."
"It was puzzling, so I had to ask what they were doing," Ritter said. "They replied,
'The West is free. We pray that someday we will be able to live in a free country
Again.'" The couple also had relatives living in East Berlin,
"I'll never forget the difference between the two countries," he continued.
"The East was so dark and quiet. It looked like a war zone. There was an economic
difference for certain, but also a spiritual depression. Communism stifles the
individuals. The people in West Germany had hope."
Ritter and his wife were on a tour with other Lutheran college students – led by
two professors – to both West and East Germany.
He served in the Marine Corps from 1960 to 1965 before going to seminary. After
he completed his degree at Concordia Theological Seminary, he joined the Navy
as a chaplain in 1974 and served for six years.
"In my travels, I've observed first-hand the problems with communism and
socialism," he said. "It's not good by any imagination. The best friend America
has in Southwest Asia is South Korea. The people are so dedicated to their
Christian faith. The people remember what the U.S. did in the war."
After leaving the military as a Navy commander, Ritter served in various clergy positions, including pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Hemet.
The Ritters have been married for nearly 60 years. The Fallbrook couple are
members of Zion Lutheran Church, still occasionally helping with the
1967 marked the 450th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on
Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany – the beginning of the Lutheran
Reformation. Most of the events surrounding Luther's attempts to reform the Roman Catholic church occurred in what was known in 1967 as East Germany.
The East German government was lifting its travel restrictions because of the
anniversary. Cities and towns in this part of Europe are well-known to Lutheran
historians, such as Wittenburg, Eisleben, Eisenach, Erfurt, Leipzig, and Wartburg.
The Ritters and other seminary students were allowed into East Germany to visit
these significant sites.
There was also another reason for the trip – that the Ritters didn't discover until
the day before going into East Germany – that brought some intrigue into their
"After arriving in West Berlin, the day before going to East Berlin, we were told
there were items to take into East Berlin," Ritter recalled. "There were volumes of
theological books for an underground Lutheran seminary in East Germany."
The next morning, the traveling party began, having to pass through Checkpoint
Charlie. Constructed in 1961 as an action of the totalitarian reign to stop the
mass exodus of East Germans to the West.
Once through the Allied sector of Checkpoint Charlie, the East German VosPos
stopped the tour bus.
"Their orders were to make a thorough search of the bus, its passengers and their
luggage to ensure that nothing of a contraband nature was being smuggled into
East Germany," Ritter said. "The guards were armed and very determined in their
efforts to stop anything of a prohibited nature from crossing Checkpoint Charlie.
"As the bus was searched, one of the guards stopped immediately behind my
wife. He stood quite a while, staring intently and suspiciously at what the lady sitting behind Judy was doing.
"She was working on a crossword puzzle! Perhaps the guard thought it was some
kind of codebook. Apparently, he had never seen one. My wife who had a big religious book on her lap, told me later she was deathly afraid – but they never asked about the books."
Selected passengers were searched, but no contraband was discovered other than a box of over-the-counter drugstore items like aspirin and cough drops, which they took away, he said.
That "discovery" took the attention of the guards and they ignored the books, which went through, Ritter said.
Ritter said he knows God was at work in that situation, as well as all things in his life.
"I'm pleased to tell this story. I'll do anything to further strengthen our nation and God's will," he added.