(Past Master of Elmer Timberman Lodge No. 54 and A. Douglas Jr. Lodge of Research No. 1949 in the Grand Lodge of Virginia, and Member of George Washington Lodge No. 820, Zum Felsenstempel No. 424, and Alt Heidelberg Lodge No. 821 in Germany and Kemper-Macon Ware Lodge No. 64 also in Virginia.)
Editor's Note: The following paper was originally presented in the German speaking Arminius Lodge No. 25 and is reprinted here in whole with the permission of is author. To see more about the author, see his longer bio proceeding the article.
This story is particularly significant to me in that I was raised in a lodge under the American and Canadian Grand Lodge in Germany, and at that time was given one of these pins with the card and told this story. A story that is heart-warming to all masons.
Well, maybe not to all. When I was first initiated an Entered Apprentice in Germany, I was very surprised in that half of the lodge was filled with Germans that I knew but did not know them to be Masons. Afterwards, I often attended the Zum Felsen Temple lodge No. 424 in Idar Oberstein. Each time that I attended the lodge I dutifully wore my little forget-me-not pin.
After several visits, one of the brothers presented to me another pin and asked if I knew the forget-me-not story, immediately explaining - it did not happen. What?! How could this be?! How could this so beloved story, symbolic of the challenges of German Masonry not be true? Now, like Paul Harvey, here is the rest of the story…
Hilter had written in his manifesto, Mein Kampf, that “…the general pacifistic paralysis of the German national instinct of self-preservation was begun by the Freemasons.” Further, he claimed that Freemasonry was one of the causes of the German defeat in World War I. The president of the Reichstag, Hermann Göring, proclaimed that “In the National Socialist State, there was no place for Freemasonry.” And on January 8th, 1934, the German Ministry of the interior, using powers granted under the Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz) of 1933, ordered the disbandment of Masonic lodges in Germany and confiscation of all property.
On August 8th, 1935, Adolf Hitler announced (in the Nazi Party Paper, Voelkischer Beobachter) the final dissolution of all Masonic lodges in Germany. In fact, some of the older members of the lodge I often visited, Zum Felsen Temple, had been members of that lodge in 1935 when it was broken into by the Schutzstaffel (SS) – although some had claimed that it was remnants of the “brown shirts” or Sturmabteilung (SA). Either way, luckily, the lodge was not in session, but from pictures on the walls they were able to round up some of the brothers who were taken away never to be seen again.
The ones that I talked to who were Masons at that time still felt deep guilt that they were the lucky ones who simply were not in town that day, or their picture was not recognizable on the lodge wall. Hitler had turned on the Masons and had made being a Mason a crime. Estimates ranging from 50,000 to over 200,000 Masons were arrested and taken to internment camps or killed. Simply being recognized as a Mason could get you arrested or worse. In this environment, who would take the chance of wearing a small blue pin to advertise that you were a Mason? So how did the story start? How did it become such a prominent symbol so associated with German Masonry?
Germany had several Grand Lodges in existence after World War I. One of them, Grossloge zur Sonne (Grand Lodge of the Sun) held annual meetings similar to our Grand Annual Communication here in Virginia. For each annual meeting, the Grand Master would select a pin to be given to each attendee. In 1926, the forget-me-not pin was selected and a small factory in the town of Selb, near Bayreuth, was chosen to make the pins for the meeting. And the Masons in attendance went home with the small flower pin on their lapels.
After Hilter came to power, he established a program called “Winterhilfswerk.” This was started in 1934 and advertised as a charity to assist handicapped and other distressed people in need to get through the winter. Although collections were made by children’s groups (Hitlerjugend and Bund Deutscher Mädel) and the SA, donations were not really voluntary. Solicitations were actively done on the streets, and the "Can Rattlers," as they became known, were relentless in their pursuit of making sure every good German citizen gave their fair share. The collections were made during the winter months with each person who donated given a pin or other trinket (Abzeichen) to wear on their lapel as a visible sign that they had paid the donation. Anyone seen without a pin would be accosted on the streets by the collectors until they paid. This pin was to be worn only during the collection period, and each year a new pin was selected, so someone could not use the one from the previous year.
(A small side note: During this time period, the Germans were forbidden under the reparation acts after World War I from building offensive armaments. Any military-type weapons and vehicles were to be for local police actions or defense only. The winter relief program did provide a lot of help to the distressed, but a significant part of their proceeds was diverted in order to fund the rearming of Germany.)
In 1937, a factory in Selb was selected to make the pin for the 1938 Winterhilfewerk charity collection. The molds saved from the 1926 forget-me-not castings were used by the workers to make the pins for the collection effort. Some Masons who had saved the pin from the 1926 convention simply used that identical pin and in a small way, cleverly beat paying the donation to the war effort that year!
Later, on June 19, 1949, the United Grand Lodge of Germany was established. Most Worshipful Brother Dr. Theodor Vogel (1901-1977) was elected to serve as the first Grand Master of this newly formed United Grand Lodge of AF&AM of Germany. Brother Vogel used the tradition from the Zur Sonne Grand Lodge and had a small pin struck as a souvenir of the convention. He intentionally selected the same factory in Selb to strike the forget-me-not pin to be handed out to all attendees.
And in 1953, when MW Bro. Vogel came to the Grand Master’s Conference in Washington D.C., he brought with him a big bag of these pins. And as he travelled extensively through the United States after the meeting, he visited several lodges, each time taking with him his diminishing bag of forget-me-not pins.
During his travels, he regaled the masses with stories of Masonry in Germany and the tribulations under the National Socialist regime. Over the years his story changed, and his presentation evolved into one in which the pin was more a sign of recognition. He later claimed that he had been misquoted about the history of the forget-me-not pin and it must have been a problem in translation. However, the story lives on and has become a part of our Masonic heritage. But now, you know the rest of the story.
He attended the University of Maryland receiving his BS in Engineering in 1974 before embarking on his career in Computer Science. He received an MBA in 1977, an M.S. in Computer Systems in 1987, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1997. He has worked as an Engineering lead, Chief Engineer, Project and Program Manager, Chief Technology Officer, and adjunct professor around the world.
Brother Marple is a third-generation member of George Washington Lodge No. 820 in Kaiserslautern, Germany, where he was raised in November 1989. In addition to the George Washington Lodge, brother Marple is a member of several other German-speaking lodges in the US and Germany.