From the Stars and Stripes archives

The story of Lichtenstern

By HENRY B. KRAFT | Stars and Stripes | Published: August 24, 1957

THE ANCIENT walls of the orphanage of Lichtenstern are slowly crumbling before the inexorable onslaught of time. The valley below echoes the laughter of the scores of children who call the former convent home and who know little of the struggle which its managers wage to keep them happy and contented.

Lichtenstern, located in the village of Loewenstein, Germany, is another orphanage adopted by American soldiers, but with a considerable difference. The difference as far as Lichtenstern is concerned is not only have the American soldiers adopted the orphanage, but many of its children have been adopted by American families.

The orphanage is about 10 miles from headquarters of the 28th Battle Group at Heilbronn, Germany, and the men who contribute much to its support today carry on as their predecessors have done for several years.

The story of Lichtenstern goes back to the 12th Century when it was a convent. The nuns were warm, generous-hearted women who helped the poor and who led an austere life, seeking only peace and solitude to which they were dedicated. There were no children's voices in the convent at the time and it was many years, according to legend, before children were accepted there.

There is a song, someone said, which tells how the first child came to Lichtenstern hundreds of years ago. There was an Italian prince who died and left a young daughter. It was his wish that a German knight take the child to Lichtenstern where a sister of the prince was a nun. This was against the convent's custom for it was felt that a child might disrupt the normal peace and quiet of the convent.

But when the young girl came she so won the love of the good nuns that soon another child was admitted and then another.

It was 750 years ago that Lichtenstern was a convent, and so it remained until the Reformation in 1550, when it became property of the government. Little is known of the structure for a few hundred years until 1834 when someone bought it and made it a home for orphans.

The church on the property was built during the 14th Century and is presently undergoing repairs. Some of the money for the repair work was contributed by American soldiers at Heilbronn. Another building on the premises, erected during the 16th Century, contains facilities for the boys and also administrative offices.

There are about 140 children at Lichtenstern. Half of them have lost their parents, while the others have what officials characterized as a difficult social life, meaning they are handicapped.

Heinz Klett, director of the orphanage, said the institution must virtually support itself. "We more or less have to depend upon gifts from the people to help us," he said.

The "Jugendamt" (children's organization) contributes about $1 a day for the support of each child. During World War II, the orphanage was damaged during fighting in that area, but it still remained in use as an orphanage.

Eleven years ago American troops stationed in Heilbronn chipped in to help the orphanage. They assisted with rebuilding and contributed money and food.

The 1st Bn, 28th Inf Regt, first heard of the orphanage when an advance party arrived in Germany last summer. The orphanage was even then being sponsored by the 1st Bn, 60th Inf Regt. Members of the advance group sent word back to their battalion at Ft. Carson, Colo., telling about the orphanage and asked whether the battalion would sponsor it. Back came the word "yes."

Members of the battalion brought gifts from the U.S. with them for the kids. They handed them to the orphans on Christmas. Since that time the 1st Bn has continued its active support. They, have given parties for the orphans and went so far as. to supply volunteer work parties to improve the buildings and grounds.

About four months ago work was started on renovation of the interior of the small and ancient chapel. Its interior. with the 14th Century murals and paintings was falling into decay. Now, with the soldiers helping out, the work is progressing rapidly.

Incidentally, the 1st Bn is no longer a battalion as such, but has been integrated with the 28th Inf which is now a battle group. Thus, while the battalion was the contributor at one time, the entire group now contributes to the orphanage. This means that the amount of the donations has been tripled.

Klett said the orphanage has been having much trouble with the old buildings because as time goes on the walls become weaker and weaker. But he is very happy with the attention shown to the orphanage by the American soldiers — happy and grateful that his charges have found so many friends.

"It isn't something we have to do," one of the soldiers said on a recent visit to the orphanage. "It is something we love to do. They are pretty wonderful kids and we are devoted to all of them."

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