For Gottfried Müller, his trip to the orient was a crucial experience. As he knew Kurdistan from a former visit and had found friends there, he was, on Marshall Keitel’s instructions, on a secret mission during World War II. In Kurdistan, which was at that time occupied by the British, the German Armed Forces wanted to come into possession of Persian oil.
The operation was, however, betrayed. The plane which was expected to take them to the area of the river Saab dropped them with parachutes over Kurdistan, directly above the area which was controlled by the English. They were captured, Gottfried Müller as the leader was sentenced to death by hanging. Then came the agonising wait for the execution.
But, while the English and the Iraqis argued about Gottfried Müller’s head the execution was delayed. For a whole year he was sitting in the death cell. Finally he escaped. Caught again, he ended up in the English prison camp of Neuengamme near Hamburg where he was able to do his Abitur (German school leaving examination) during the remaining war captivity. When finally back home with his wife and two children in Stuttgart, he decided to help build up the “ruined world” that surrounded him and his family.
Gottfried Müller was working successfully as a sales representative and for an insurance company. There was one thing, however, that he could not get out of his mind: the death cell where he already had thought his hour was come and where he had appealed to God in desperation. He had promised Him never to do something for a war again but to live for peace only. This promise changed his life. He gave all his property to two crippled Yiddish women who had escaped from persecution in World War II and founded Brotherhood Salem together with some friends in Stuttgart on 16th September 1957. Salem — in English meaning: Peace.
As he passed by homeless people and “idlers” each day on his way to work, he asked them, “Why aren’t you working?” They replied, “We are in a vicious circle — without a place to live we do not get any papers, without papers we do not get an employment, without an employment we do not get any money, without money we do not get a permanent address. His answer was, “I’ll help you”.
At that moment he decided to finally do what he had promised God when he had been in the death cell. He began to help the homeless in Stuttgart, then also in Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, Nürnberg, Munich and Berlin. The longer Gottfried Müller was occupied with the help for homeless and ex convicts the more he realised what they told him, “We had a bad childhood, our parents divorced, we were pushed around and nobody took care of us. If we had had a loving home at that time we wouldn’t have gone astray.”
This touched Gottfried Müller’s heart and he started building the first Salem children’s homes in Neukeferloh, Starnberg, Wartaweil and Pasing.
Then in Fürth, Postbauer, Königsdorf and Königshofen. Further homes soon followed. In 1969, Gottfried Müller was able to buy premises at a good price in Upper Franconia, in northern Bavaria near the border. This was the place where the first Salem children’s village was built and they served as an example for further homes that followed.
There all the children from various Salem homes could live together in individual extended families including both old and young and those with disabilities. A children’s orchestra and a health programme were launched, both had much success. Success, however, led to the envy and jealousy of opponents who kept trying to hinder his work. Numerous legal proceedings were instituted against him, which, however, all ended up in his favour. Gottfried Müller kept hold of his aim.
In the meantime his faith in God, reliable close co-workers as well as numerous Salem friends and supporters standing behind his Salem idea filled him with power and courage. The work of the Salem children’s villages in Germany found more and more friends and news about them spread abroad. There were inquiries from Israel, Switzerland, the USA and many other countries. They were all convinced that the concept of Salem was effective and that it could provide a good future for the world.
In the 1970s, Gottfried Müller created autonomous Salem organisations in Israel and in the USA.
Today they care for many hundreds of children, young people and adults from difficult social backgrounds – they are giving them a home and a meaningful future. In 1980, friends of Salem approached him about the misery in the East African country of Uganda which, at that time, had been devastated by the civil war that surrounded Idi Amin and later Obote, and asked Gottfried Müller to give urgent help there. He swiftly responded and went to Uganda together with Horst von Heyer and was horrified with the misery he found.
Most serious was the hunger and poverty being suffered by the children. They were dying in front of his eyes without him being able to help them. Back home, he remembered the words of the Bible, “I was hungry, and you gave me food …” and the misery he had seen and he decided to help immediately. With great effort, a well was drilled to provide a safe water supply and an emergency first aid post with an ambulance followed. German doctors treated the injured people. The Salem children’s village for 120 children, a hospital, a nutrition ward to help the malnourished, training workshops and other facilities were built.
Today, more than 25 years later, the Salem village in Uganda has become a prosperous place offering many people the means to become self sufficient. When Salem began in the starved and dried out country of Uganda, it was important to Gottfried Müller to give priority to the planting of trees because it is the trees which offer shade, hold the much important ground water with their roots, create a living space and give fruits. When you visit Salem-Uganda today you can see the numerous big trees in the Salem village which have grown on an area once regarded as a “desert” and “useless”.
In its environmental training programmes Salem promotes the planting of trees and effective organic agriculture, the sinking and preservation of wells and encourages the development of respect for all of God’s creation, including animals. Gottfried Müller was not idle at all. He felt great sadness at the Iron Curtain, of the splitting into East and West, into good and bad. At the earliest opportunity, he travelled to Russia. In the area of the former North East Prussia, today named Oblast of Kaliningrad, where he decided to build a bridge of peace for “our children”, as he used to say.
His co-workers of many years, Horst von Heyer and Gerhard Lipfert, began to build up the Salem village there. Known as “Rainbow”, in Russian “Raduga”, the Salem village in Russia is the sign of peace and friendship between Russia and Germany.
Salem gives hope for the future and a home to Russian children who have been rescued from social poverty. Salem children’s homes, an organic marketgarden and an organic farm to help develop self-sufficiency have all been built there.
Today Brotherhood Salem has been recognized as a charitable limited liability company. Annual accounts are published regularly with the DZI, the German central institute for social questions in Berlin. Each year our annual accounts are examined by an independent certified public accountant.
In Germany, Salem employs over one hundred co-workers in the Salem villages in Stadtsteinach (Upper Franconia), Höchheim (Lower Franconia) and Kovahl (near Lüneburg/Lower Saxony). It has always been most important to Gottfried Müller to give active support to animals, particularly to those being used for tests in laboratories of research institutes. This is why he founded the Salem research institute for alternatives to animal experiments, first in Munich, later in Stadtsteinach, which, for many years, developed effective alternatives of test methods without using animals.
At the present time, Salem research institute has been put in abeyance for economic reasons, waiting for a reopening as soon as we have got the necessary money and the right person, an ardent protector of animals, for it. Salem’s commitment to the protection of animals, especially in the southern countries of Europe, caused a bill to be passed through the European Parliament in Strasbourg which bans the catching of song birds. Until that time, particularly in Italy, thousands of song birds were caught in nets and traps during their migration flights over the Alps.
For many years Salem had organised large-scale actions with warning whistles to startle the swarms of birds so that they flew over the trapping systems. The protection of animals is very important in all Salem villages.
At Salem Höchheim, for example, residents have built many hundreds of nest boxes and have launched actions to offer protection for the many species of birds in our country. Salem also demonstrates its love towards animals through the adoption of a vegetarian diet (lacto-ovo) in all Salem communities.
Salem projects are in various stages of development around the world. Some require further financial help while others have greater self sufficiency of resources.
For example, the Salem village in Uganda with its hospital and the children’s village is not at present completely independent although this is a longer term objective. In Salem-Uganda about 50 % of the monthly budget has already been financed by its own through sponsorship programmes or the sale of products manufactured in the training workshops.
What will the future hold?
In addition to the importance of maintaining the Salem institutions which offer so much help to those in need, there are new fields which drive us to act. In particular, there is the increasing tendency for children and young people to use violence so we must find effective solutions and become active in helping them to find a better path. Salem is an open-minded organisation which seeks to assist all people who are in need of loving help. It is necessary to give children values which are viable and acceptable in society.
Moreover, the responsibility towards our neighbours, also towards animals and environment, must become more important than pure economic growth only.