The Battle of Pastor Berghaus' Peace Village: Should War-maimed Kids Be Returned to Vietnam?
It’s called Friedensdorf—Peace Village—but a raging ideological battle threatens the continued existence of this orthopedic facility on a hilltop at Oberhausen, north of Düsseldorf, West Germany.
About 80 limbless, crippled, burned, blinded Vietnamese children live in the village under the care of a staff headed by Friedensdorf’s founder, the Rev. Fritz Berghaus, a Protestant pastor.
A ship’s chaplain before settling in Oberhausen, Berghaus visited the Vietnamese war zone in 1968. Upon his return, he used radio broadcasts to convey his shock and outrage to other West Germans. “You see, we had been through it all ourselves in World War II,” is how Berghaus explains the out-pouring of contributions that made Peace Village possible.
Now that the war has ended, the West Germans’ anti-Communism is creating problems. With Saigon now under a red flag, some of Berghaus’ staff feel morally uneasy about sending the children back. Others believe the children—few of whom are orphans—should be returned home and accuse Berghaus of filling the children with fear and hatred of the new Communist regime, a charge which he denies. The controversy has begun to sap the charitable revenues on which Peace Village depends. A brash and dynamic man—”as vain as a peacock,” in the words of one critic—the Rev. Mr. Berghaus dashes about in a turtleneck and leather jacket. “There must be no fighting in the Peace Village,” he reasons. “It is the children who suffer in the long run.”
Berghaus vows that none of the children will be sent back unwillingly. “We must have assurances that if they do return they can receive necessary treatment and that their families are able to properly care for them,” he says. Are these war victims wanted in Vietnam? “When they do get messages, they are hardly ever asked, ‘When are you coming home?’ ”