Vol. XXXVII No. 7 — July 1959

The Younger Generation of Freemasons

Conrad Hahn


The problem of attendance at meetings and the significance of declining membership in some grand lodges have aroused considerable comment in Masonic publications this year. Paul W. Grossenbach, grand secretary of Wisconsin, addressing the Conference of Grand Secretaries in Washington, D.C., on February 15, 1959, discovered the three chief causes of declining membership in "the sociological change in the husband and wife relationship,” the modern media of mass entertainment, and the large group of contemporary organizations competing for the time and services of men. Arthur H. Strickland, P.G.M. (Kansas), writing in The Philalethes, attributed attendance problems to poorly planned meetings that overemphasized the recognition of Masonic dignitaries and showed no variety in programming; declining membership, he believes, is the result of laxity in the work of investigating committees, which permitted quantity rather than the quality of candidates to be the criterion of admission during the last few decades.

The fundamental problem, of course, is that of creating a compelling interest. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” What is the “treasure” which all good Masons wish to preserve? Why does it fail to glitter like a treasure for others? What is the compelling interest that has given Freemasonry its vitality for centuries? The following essay, translated from Die Bruderschaft, the official magazine of the United Grand Lodges of Germany, suggests an answer in philosophic terms.

German Freemasonry suffered bitter degradation in the years of Hitler’s tyranny. It was rendered powerless and reduced almost to extinction at the hands of the Austrian paperhanger, as revealed in the following paragraphs from the Digest, After Fifteen Years, Freemasonry in Germany, published by The Masonic Service Association in October 1949:

As early as 1929 a huge propaganda program had been developed; in the public press, in various assemblies, and in special training courses, Freemasonry was being slandered; it was quite generally referred to as an international union of conspirators guilty of high treason. Attempts on the part of Masonic groups to defend themselves in the press were refused. As a result none dared petition Masonic lodges and many civil servants were forced either to sacrifice their positions or to take their dimits. Anyone opposing the propaganda program was suspected and sent to a concentration camp. The master of the oldest lodge in Hamburg, “Absalom,” and the grand master (Dr. Bordes) of the Grand Lodge of the Three Globes were sent to concentration camps.

Those officials who had been Freemasons were excluded from promotion, and in many instances dismissed. In 1933 the lodges were forced to dissolve by government decree. Their premises were ransacked; where inventories were made, they were destroyed. Much of the property was taken to enliven the so-called “Nazi Masonic Museum” to be found in several of the large German cities.

Ley, a Nazi leader, author of a booklet “illustrating” and describing the Masonic museums, stated in his pamphlet that “should a man declare anything in the pamphlet to be untrue, he should be regarded as a Freemason — since all Freemasons are liars.” Ley committed suicide while awaiting trial at Nürnberg.

As late as 1944 the German high command attributed the successful landing of the Allied Forces on the Normandy Beach to be due to the machinations of the Freemasons, although no Freemason was permitted to hold any office in the German Army. Field Marshal Paulus, who deserted the Germans to become the heroic defender of Stalingrad, and his associates were proclaimed to be “High Grade Masons.”

Certain religious elements, eager to assist in attacks on Freemasonry, aligned themselves with Hitler hoping thereby to advance their own interests.

Having placed the fraternity on the defensive and being well assured of the attitude of the general public toward Freemasonry, the next step was to seize Masonic properties; this Hitler did under a declaration that Freemasonry was antagonistic to government and therefore it was the duty of the government to take over Masonic properties. The amount of properties thus taken ranged up into the millions of dollars; they have never been officially restored. This condition is quite different from that existing in Italy, where Mussolini forced a sale of Masonic properties at very nominal value, so that the Italian government has, even to this day, issued statements that the Masonic properties were purchased. Not so with Herr Hitler; the properties having been taken over were not sold, but were utilized as headquarters for Gestapo, storm troopers, youth activities, and other national movements. In one instance a Masonic building was occupied as a seminary for the education of Jesuit priests.

Even more destructive was the fury of Allied air attacks during World War II, which smashed to rubble many of the beautiful Masonic temples in cities like Berlin, Dusseldorf, Darmstadt, Hanover, Frankfurt, Coblenz, and Kassel. The Masons of Germany paid a heavy price for Hitler’s dream of world hegemony.

The next step was the disfranchising of members of the fraternity, preventing them from voting and from holding public office. No member of the fraternity, known to be such, was permitted to become a member of the Nazi party, and no member of the fraternity was permitted to engage in army service for the reason that all Freemasons were suspect.

And it did not stop at the seizure of property or the disfranchisement of the membership, for every member of the fraternity, being a suspect, was spied upon by his neighbor and his every move reported to police headquarters. No Freemason was permitted to visit another Freemason, if known to be such, nor were any gatherings of brethren permitted, such as at dinners, clubs and the like.

From such bitter persecution and spoliation German Freemasonry has risen phoenix-like from the ashes. Although it lacks the wealth and numbers it had in the pre-Hitler period, it is strong in its deep spiritual convictions, like the three who emerged from the fiery furnace.

While the following essay may be applicable only to the younger generation of German Freemasons, it contains a valuable reminder of the universal appeal that Freemasonry has always had in its best and most fruitful periods.

The Younger Generation of Freemasons

By Kurt Mauch

The time has passed, in which the Sybils prophesied here on earth. Today we demand criticism, and we want to judge before we accept anything and apply it to ourselves. — Goethe

The sixty-seven members of one of the oldest German lodges, in which ten generations of Freemasons have been raised, average 55-8 years in age. At the founding of this lodge in the eighteenth century the average age was only 27! But this situation by itself is not so alarming; there are other lodges with a higher average age. What is really cause for concern is the fact that of these sixty-seven members of one of the ancient and worshipful lodges only eight are under 40 years of age!

The easy slogan, “Whoever has our youth has our future,” has frequently been quoted in our meetings. But youth alone, in actual numbers and in the percentage of our total membership, really tells us nothing. There are a great many other factors to consider. What places are young men taking in our fraternity? What kind of men are they really? What ideas are they concerned with? What desires do they really want to fulfill?

And what are the prospects for our younger generation of Freemasons in relation to the following question? Can their elders calmly and confidently lay down the gavels of authority? Everyone knows that these are the men who secretly guarded our working tools in the dark valley between 1930 and 1950. These are the men who preserved the celestial fire beneath the ashes of destruction, and even risked life, limb, and livelihood to do it. These are the men whom only later generations will know how to appreciate and to be grateful for. Can these men now yield the work on the great temple to the younger generation? Can they surrender to younger masters the supervision of the lodges?

What does it look like, this younger generation in our fraternity? What kind of men are they, who comprise two-thirds of our new recruits today, and who more and more are stepping into the foreground, in the lodges, in the officers’ stations, and even in the leadership of the grand lodge? A character sketch of this generation of 25 to 45 year olds has frequently been attempted. We know that these men are critical and mistrustful, without being actually skeptical. Their experiences in the twelve years of National-Socialism, in the War and during the post-War period, were painful and bitter. Too often their zeal, their courage, and their willingness to serve were misused. Too often have those who were born between 1910 and 1930 been induced to follow false prophets and false teachings of salvation. Too often have they been disillusioned, deceived, and cheated. It’s no wonder that so many of them became gruff and uncooperative — harassed wolves in a lupine age!

Yet these are the men, this is the “lost generation,” which has come rushing to us, and not in a little trickle, either. They have been probing and testing for a long time, before they began knocking at the doors of our temples as petitioners. They have not been looking for “soft berths” or “business contacts.” They have not been looking for special advantages to boost them up the ladder of success. They display no false respect or weakness for ancient decorations or traditional marks of distinction. In World War II they escaped death by the narrowest margin so frequently, that medals and decorations seem of questionable importance, to say the least. Even the simple existence of esoteric forms and ritual doesn’t impress them in the slightest, if the contents do not “come alive.” They are not looking for an opportunity for speculative philosophizing, and they certainly have no desire to see philosophical peacocks spread their tails within our temples.

What then, you may well ask, are they seeking in our midst? Above all, they want to identify themselves with a universal point of view, a conception of life, which still has permanence and value in a world that has “gone to pot,” and that is threatened by a very real physical dissolution and destruction. The best of this younger generation is coming to us because of the age-old yet ageless yearning for freedom from dogma, because of the instinctive feeling that here one may find a safe retreat for unfettered humaneness, tolerance, and sincerity, in the middle of a world that is torn and shattered by sectarian strife, a world in which even a new “will to believe” is often arrogant and intolerant. They realize with the instinctive certainty of “the chosen,” that right at this time Freemasonry is “real” and “modern,” and that it transforms its adepts into the apprentices of a truly “royal art,” which is more necessary today than ever before.

This younger generation has a very delicate sensitivity, which has been sharpened by its own bitter experiences, for genuine freedom of the spirit. This generation knows only too well, that this freedom is threatened everywhere, in spite of the superficially reassuring guarantee of a democratic but security-minded governmental system. This generation knows that along obscure paths the militia of a medieval persecution is on the march again.

These young Freemasons take the universal character of our fraternity more seriously than many of their elders. Room on earth has become quite narrow for them; its boundaries are in doubt. The urge to expand their horizons, after years of restriction and of spiritual and political autarchy, is greater than ever. The search for international agreements, contacts, and covenants is stronger and more positive. To forge a chain of worldwide brotherhood is no empty symbol for these younger men; they regard it as a concrete assignment, a positive mission. And it is just in this area that they are frequently and painfully surprised by the failures and procrastination of earlier generations of Freemasons.

The journalist Eugen Kogon some time ago demanded “the establishment of an organization spanning the entire world, which will permit mankind to develop in freedom, dignity, safety, and well-being.” With these words he spoke the deepest aspirations of many young men. Therefore, we ask in all humility: “Hasn’t such an organization been in existence for almost two and a half centuries? Isn’t the chain of worldwide brotherhood exactly what Kogon regards as necessary, an organization spanning the globe, which strives to create freedom, human dignity, tolerance, and brotherhood across the oceans and the continents?”

We dare not show these young Freemasons any “realistic” or “modern” goals. We may not create for them, either, a Freemasonry limited to a particular era. They simply don’t want to be talked to in any special way. They have a remarkably sensitive organ for understanding the active forces of our royal art, those genuine forces of the spirit that are independent of either time or place. “Freemasonry has always existed,” and in every age it has helped to solve particular problems, which originated in the political, social, spiritual, and cultural conditions of that day.

And so it is even today. Problems framed by our world situation are plentiful enough, and we don’t have to push our younger brothers into them. They know what Goethe meant, when by “duty” he tried to suggest “fulfilling the requirements of the day,” and that for the best men in any age there was enough to do, “to have lived for all ages.”

These young Freemasons stand squarely in the middle of these times, without permitting themselves to be ruled by them. They stand in the midst of life, without losing a taste for higher aspirations. They say “Yes” to life deliberately — let it be what it will. They acknowledge their indebtedness to Hegel’s philosophy, as it has been newly interpreted by the Viennese cultural philosopher, Friedrich Heer, with its exciting “existentialism”: a philosophy of self-confidence, and a philosophy of fundamental trust in the ultimately beneficent meaning of all things and all events.

This does not denote a glib opportunism or a harsh materialism, and most certainly not a cold atheism. These young men feel themselves akin to Hegel in refusing to accept that abysmal gulf, which is so fateful to German thinking, between matter and spirit, reason and faith, “I” and the group, heart and mind, God and the world.

With Hegel they trust in God, Spirit, Reason, and in spite of everything — Man! With Hegel they arm themselves against the inquisitors, who like Dante regard themselves as qualified to condemn others to hell.

With Hegel and Goethe they know that God, like Nature, dispenses “good” and “bad,” and that man, in the beautiful words of Brother Ruckert, can find God only when “he carries Him within himself.”

And with Hegel our young men rise up against the great purveyors of fear, who from Augustine down through the Reformation and even to Kierkegaard, have plunged mankind into useless mortification and self-abasement, because of a supernaturally frightening concept of God, before whom man must grovel like a worm in the dust.

The links in the chain of worldwide brotherhood are forged by sons of God, by men, and not by worms! This our younger men know; this they want to do!

The Masonic Service Association of North America