Gottfried Müller

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Gottfried Johannes Müller
Born (1914-04-10)10 April 1914
Gschwend, Germany)
Died 26 September 2009(2009-09-26) (aged 95)
Nationality German
Spouse(s) Susanne Firgau (married 1948, divorced mid-1960s), Ursula Schweizer (m 1973)
Children Amadé, Alexander, Samuel and Nathan
Parent(s) Johannes Mattäus Müller, Katharina Schurr

Gottfried Johannes Müller (10 April 1914 – 26 September 2009) was a German philanthropist.

Early life[edit]

Gottfried Müller was born on 10 April 1914 in the small Swabian village Gschwend. Müller was the second oldest of three siblings. His father, Johannes Matthäus Müller, was a skilled saddler, and the district male nurse. Johannes Müller had a small, self-sufficient farm. His mother, Katharina Müller née Schurr, was a housewife.

From 1926 to 1929, Gottfried Müller worked in the Kienzle grocery store in Gschwend. Müller wanted to become a doctor, but did not have the financial resources to study medicine. He worked in the sales department of the company Ploquet in Heidenheim an der Brenz and later in Vienna as a salesman of menswear in Austria and Italy until 1935.

With a bicycle and 60 German marks, he and a friend traveled to the Orient by land and by sea, visiting Cairo and the Pyramids, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Baghdad and venturing into the secluded empire of the Kurds. Müller's first book, Breaking into Secluded Kurdistan, the travelogue of this first journey to the Orient, was published in 1937 by Philadelphia Reutlingen.

Military service[edit]

After returning from the Orient, Müller had to do his military service. He was stationed in Ulm, where, among other things, he was trained to ride horses and drive a coach. Eventually, his service ended and he left in the rank of Reserve Second Lieutenant.

During 1939–40, he was a salesman in Vienna and a horseman in the traditional cavalry regiment "Hoch- und Deutschmeister". In the meantime, World War II broke out and he was drafted to serve in France. In 1940, his brother Christoph was killed in Russia by an exploding grenade.

From 1940 to 1942 he was stationed in Reichenbach im Vogtland, working as an instructor for warfare in Russia, and later for the Stalingrad campaign. In between times, he was trained by the German Air Force.

He attempted to conquer oil fields for the German army with the help of the Kurds. His secret mission (Operation Mammoth) was betrayed, and he and his Kurd friend Ramzie were taken prisoner by British and Iraqi forces. He was tortured and sentenced to death. He spent one year in the death cell, where he contemplated life and death. This was his inspiration to later found Salem. He eventually escaped and wrote about his experiences in his book In the Burning Orient, which was first published in 1959. (The book was later translated into English, Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish.) After the war was over, he was transferred to the British internment camp Hamburg-Neuengamme in 1947 and later to Camp Augsburg.

Return to civilian life[edit]

Müller was released in 1948. The same year he married his first wife, Susanne Firgau, who raised their son Amadé during the war. They later had a second son, named Alexander. During these years, Müller lived with his family in an attic flat in Backnang studying economics and working as an insurance agent.

From 1951–1954, he worked for Siemens selling vacuum cleaners. He moved his family to Stuttgart, but he was not satisfied with his regular life and the relative prosperity it gave him. Often, pictures of his imprisonment and escape, the death cell, and his rescue came to mind. After being imprisoned he vowed to be a vegetarian and non-smoker. Moreover, he had promised God: ‘If I get out of here, I want to serve You and help the poor’.

He became more distanced from the idea of making money. The reconciliation between Christians and Jews meant a lot to him. He contacted Abram Poljak, a Messianic Jew, and during these years, he organized a number of lectures with Poljak in Germany, Switzerland, England, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. At this time, he gave everything he possessed to two old and disabled Jewish women who were in need. His marriage had begun to suffer from his continued social commitment, and he and his wife separated, eventually divorcing in the 1960s.

The foundation of Salem International[edit]

In 1957 Müller had a lightbulb moment: in Stuttgart he overheard homeless people saying that nobody would take care of them. When he asked them why they weren't working, they answered ‘Because we are homeless, nobody gives us a job. If we had a home we would get a job’. So he promised he would help.

Together with friends, he founded the Brotherhood Salem on 16 September 1957 as a registered association in Stuttgart-Leonberg, Germany. An SOS-Salem emergency service was opened in the red-light district of Stuttgart, near the Leonhard church. There, the homeless and jobless, ex-convicts and prostitutes could find shelter, a hot meal and help.

The Old Town Theatre was founded in 1958, and built with Müller's help and under the direction of Klaus and Elisabeth Heydenreich. The theatre still exists today and is maintained under the same name by Susanne Heydenreich, daughter of Klaus and Elisabeth. The original theatre building later burned down, and the theatre was transferred to the subway passage at Charlottenplatz with the help of the City of Stuttgart.

In a time of challenges and defamations Salem received valuable help from senior nurse Lotte Rokitta, a Protestant sister experienced in dealing with homeless people. She took on the responsibility of running the homeless shelter in Stuttgart, enabling Müller to fulfill his vision. New homeless shelters were created in Berlin, Nürnberg, München, Karlsruhe and Frankfurt.

Castle Solms, Baden-Baden, was purchased in 1960 with the intention of becoming a 'House of the Nations', a meeting place where people could learn to understand each other. However, some of his colleagues had political aspirations rather than social work in mind and instituted proceedings against him at the public prosecutor's office Stuttgart, for allegedly embezzling donations. Müller was arrested and imprisoned along with two street robbers. Documents were confiscated so that Salem was no longer able to collect donations and faced complete financial ruin. Müller was on the verge of a breakdown and had to see a psychologist to obtain an expert opinion. Several trials were held at the district court in Stuttgart. He won, but only shortly after, the public prosecutor's office in Stuttgart raised an objection which resulted in a retrial at the Federal Court of Justice. When the case came to trial in 1964 at the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, the prosecutor declared: ‘I cannot lay any blame on this man’. Müller and Salem were found not guilty. The date was 7 July 1964 – the day of Abram Poljak’s funeral in Möttlingen.

Following this, he was keen to know why so many ex-convicts re-offended. He asked many of them and they told him ‘We didn't have a happy childhood, no happy home’. Realizing that he had to tackle the problem at its root, he started the first Salem children’s homes in Neukeferloh, Starnberg, Wartaweil, Pasing, Königsdorf, Fürth in Bavaria, Postbauer near Nürnberg, and Königshofen, travelling between the towns.

The later years[edit]

He remarried in 1973, to Ursula Schweizer from Backnang, who had been working for Salem as a children’s nurse since 1963. They later had two sons, Samuel and Nathan.

Toward the latter part of his life, Müller interacted with many countries of the world, with Stadtsteinach at the centre of his activities. Every day he dealt with a huge amount of correspondence and travelled to spread Salem’s idea of peace. He journeyed several times to Israel, endeavouring to create the Orr Shalom children’s homes for Jewish and Arabic children.

Among his primary concerns were his travels to Africa, to countries like Uganda, Somalia, Namibia and Togo, where he began children’s villages and other projects. The USA, Colombia, the better part of Europe, Taiwan and Russia were also on his travel schedule. His last journeys led him to Togo/West Africa, at the age of 84, and to Königsberg in Russia, at the age of 89. Müller died on 26 September 2009.[1]


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