By Rev. August P. H. FREUND
Journal: “Harim Tok Tok, PNG Volunteer Riffle Ex-Members Association Inc”
Issue #: 116, June 2019
After WW2 began in Europe most of the German Staff Members of the Lutheran Mission, Finschhafen was taken to Australia for internment.
31-year-old Adolph Wagner was allowed to stay at his post as he was trying, single-handedly, to keep the training of teachers going at Heldsbach. He figured that in due time all Missionaries would be taken away and then it would be disastrous if the war came to Finschhafen if no Missionaries were left to support and advise and calm the natives and explain what was happening.
So when the Gnair arrived with NGVR soldiers at Finschhafen to take all the Missionaries to Lae for movement on to Australia he quickly grabbed some food and clothes, quickly saddled his horse, and went into hiding. Both he and his brother had been born at Wareo, north of Finschhafen, and grew up with the native children and learned all their customs and superstitions. He knew that in the Wareo area there was a cave in which an evil spirit allegedly lived and no native would go near that cave. Since he went there at night nobody saw where he went. He hid there until a half-hearted search for him had finished and the Gnair left for Lae, he quietly returned to Heldsbach and resumed teaching. Normally it is absolutely impossible for any white man to hide from the natives. Adolph must be the only one who has ever done it.
Wagner’s evasion of internment was, naturally, interpreted by soldiers and war correspondents as a move to help the Japs. I believe it came into the “Lutheran Missionary leads the Japs up the Markham Valley toward Wau” hysterics in Australian newspapers at the time. Their pitiful lack of insight completely prevented them from understanding that a dedicated Missionary,
such as Wagner was, would do what he did solely for the welfare of the natives and as a service to God.
In due course, the Japanese killed Wagner because he fearlessly admonished them over their cruel treatment of the natives. That’s the price he paid for his dedication to duty. And he was fully prepared to pay that price, I know, for when we were coast-watching in the Finschhafen area, I had to spend three nights at Heldsbach and he and I had a frank discussion about his motives Harris also thoroughly investigated Wagner’s situation and motives with the result that he sent a signal to the authorities at Moresby stressing that Wagner was an effective, pacifying, reassuring influence on the natives and he should be officially left there. The authorities accepted this recommendation.
Murdered in New Guinea, 10 March 2014 by Lyall Kupke
In September 1943 the Allies began to retake mainland New Guinea, causing the Japanese soldiers to retreat. As they fled through the forests, the Japanese pillaged villages for food and forced the men to act as carriers. When Wagner heard of the destruction and atrocities being committed on the people, he confronted a Japanese officer. He was arrested and, over the next two months, was forced to act as an interpreter to engage carriers.
Because he defended the New Guineans whenever soldiers mistreated them, he was hated by the Japanese. Finally, in December, he was murdered by them as he walked with a group of soldiers along a bush track. His faithful companion, Gahazia, escaped telling the tale.
Why had Adolph Wagner stayed in New Guinea? Adolph saw his life as dedicated to bringing the gospel to the people of New Guinea. He was not prepared to abandon his fellow Christians but regarded it as his duty to remain with them. His fearlessness towards the Japanese demonstrated the depth of his love for his people. As he wrote in his diary, ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4:18).