History of “The Holy family in the desert”


The story of this Painting

During the days of World War II, Pastor E. Boxdorfer, pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church at 7th Ave. and 7th Street, Yuma, Arizona, was serving as a Lutheran service pastor to the Army men – on desert maneuvers, and to the Yuma Air Base. While doing so, he serviced as Pastor to two large groups of prisoners-of-war brought to the Yuma area and placed in two camps under the guard of the United States. The camps were well fenced to avoid any escape. The German, prisoners were treated very well by the U.S. officers in charge. They ate as well as our U.S. service men. They were permitted to work under guard at some ranches. They were not allowed to be brought into Yuma except under special guard. The U. S. Government also promised the prisoners spiritual help, therefore had to select clergymen who understood German. In Yuma at that time this meant Father Augustine (who was formerly of St. Louis Catholic Church), who was at the Indian Mission, and Pastor E. Boxdorfer. The two pastors then proceeded to plan their visits and to offer pastoral services.

Quoting Pastor Boxdorfer, “I will remember my first visit. The American officer in charge briefed me and let me know that among the prisoners were a number of disgruntled younger Nazis who might not welcome me. He stated that I should be ready to have rocks or anything else thrown at me. Naturally, I walked in slowly, cautiously, and somewhat timidly. There was a barracks building inside where I was to meet whoever wished to see me. I got to the building without harm. A few small rocks were thrown that were intended to show me their hatred of the Americans, but not thrown accurately, so as not to be guilty of hitting and harming me. The American officer stated that inside the building would be a sergeant by the name of Max. I walked in and Max greeted me in a very warm, friendly manner, even with a little tear in his eye.

Max told me the story of his captured. He was a famous German artist and had been in the United States several times visiting the art galleries in New York. He was very friendly to the Americans and regarded us highly. At the time that Hitler’s troops entered Warsaw, Poland, Max was in Warsaw supervising a German art exhibit for the German government. As soon as the German troops entered Warsaw, Max was taken by the Nazi troops, Max was placed under arrest, taken back to Germany, and forced to enter the German navy. The Germans knew of his art ability, and because they needed artist to produce war propaganda posters, pictures, etc., Max was placed into this department. Max was put on a Garman ship that was headed for Japan to cooperate with the Japanese in war propaganda against the United States. Max was very anti-Nazi. Later he poured his heart out to me about how he felt about the war and how he despised Hitlerism. His wife had been a German teacher and was placed under guard by the Nazis. He had sons who at that time were too young, but later were forced into the War. The Germans were collaborating with the Japanese in producing war propaganda, and on the way to Japan the German ship was torpedoed and Max and the other navy men were taken as prisoners. This either was in the Christmas cycle, near to Christmas, during or right after. The prisoners were brought back to the United States, and than placed in various prisoner camps, that is how Max and others were centered in the camps near Yuma, Arizona. That is how I met Max, and we formed a very were friendship.

At the first services, I conducted only a few Germans attended. Those who did come were very friendly and gradually our attendance increased to 25, 30 and more. Meanwhile Max was so highly regarded by the American officers that they gave him special privileges. Although it was absolutely against war rules to let the prisoners roam around, The American officers trusted Max with me, and one day even allowed me to take Max into town to meet my family, and this was without a guard.  He was so glad to meet a Lutheran family, and to see a Lutheran church again.  As he walked through Calvary, tears came to his eyes.  He was so homesick for his homeland and his German church.

When I took him back to camp, he asked permission to return sometime to make a sketch of our Calvary church, and he was promised permission to return with me.  I brought him in again, parked my old car across the street where Max than sat on the sidewalk making a sketch of the church.  As he was sketching, a winter visiting couple passed by and he placed them in his sketch.  Max made a very beautiful painting of Calvary, even made the frame out of scrap lumber that was to be used for firewood from the German camp. After another service or so, he presented the painting to me in gratitude for my services to him and the boys in the camp.  I value the painting very highly.

Max spent much time making sketches of the desert, and that is how the painting came about.  He made two paintings of the Holy Family.  One was very unique, showing the Holy Family out on the waves of the ocean, a simple little home with the family surrounded by the ocean waters.  This reminded him of how he was mad a prisoner aboard the navy ship that was torpedoed.  We all know how much Christmas meant to the Germans.  This was their great feast of joy for the home and family.  This painting, as far as I know, Max took home with him after the war.

Because he was living as a prisoner on the desert, he painted “The Holy Family in the Desert.”  The inscription on the bottom of this painting reads, “From Peter Carstens to the Calvary Lutheran Church by Max Bredfeldt.” Max painted and presented this painting to Peter Carstens (old Pete) who in turn wanted the painting for a gift to Calvary Lutheran Church, Yuma, Az., in 1943. Pete was a native of Germany who had immigrated to the United States as a youth and at this time was a very successful farmer in the Yuma Valley. Old Pete being a true Christian had a heart of compassion for his fellow men, and Max was one of them.”  This is the story as told by Pastor E. Boxdorfer.