It was February 1946, and the first ship of French war brides had arrived in New York Harbor. Suzanne and Harry Wiegand’s son Pierre wrote about the event for their fiftieth wedding anniversary: “It was a cold but pleasant day with lots of excitement at the dock along the Hudson River…the troopship S.S Goethals arrived, bringing the brides to their American husbands. Hundreds of men in civilian clothes were milling around, and as their names were called, the women descended the gangplank. An enterprising journalist took a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Wiegand and another couple, and it appeared on the front page of the local paper. It has become a family treasure.”
How did this couple meet and marry? It is a fascinating story, one that shows God’s direction of those who choose to follow and obey Him.
Suzanne descended from the Huguenots who were silk weavers in the east of France. Because of their Christian beliefs they were forced to flee to Switzerland, where they lived for many generations. By the 1800s they had moved back to Alsace, the part of France near Germany and Switzerland, and established a prosperous furniture store. Suzanne was the youngest of eight children and lived in a large house next to a large auditorium where the Christians worshipped. Because of the proximity of their home to the meeting house, out of town guests were often invited to the Grollimund dinner table. Being among many different Christian families and having godly parents who taught the children the Bible and their need for a Savior, had a strong influence on their lives. Suzanne accepted the Lord at age sixteen.
The family purchased a summer home in Burgundy and holidays and summers were spent there. The village was quite small, and all the Christians knew one another and fellowshipped at the assembly there. It was while the family was at their summer home that they received the news on September 3, 1939, that Germany had invaded Poland. Because their home in Muhlhouse was in Alsace, which they knew would be overtaken by the Germans, they felt it would be safer to remain in the country. That home in Mulhouse was occupied by ten German families for the next four years, and they were never able to return to it. In the spring of 1940, Holland, Norway, and Sweden were invaded by Hitler’s forces. The French remembered the atrocities committed by the Germans during WWI and were terrified when Belgium (just north of France) was soon taken over. The frightened citizens began leaving their homes, and soon many refugees had arrived in the city of Auxerre, just three miles from the Grollimund summer home. Restaurants began feeding them, deciding that when the Germans arrived, they wanted no food left for them! Suzanne was one of the many young people who helped the refugees in any way possible as they fled their homes.
Suzanne’s family soon joined the exodus just ahead of the arrival of the German army. Some riding in the family car and some on bicycles, the family left all its belongings, as well as their house, and fled to Limoges. When the French government surrendered, France was divided into the occupied North and the free South. After two months, they were told they could return to their home. Not knowing what to expect, they were not too surprised to find the Germans were occupying the house and using it as a hospital. The family was told they could stay in the stables. After a while, they were allowed to return to the house, but throughout the war they would have Germans living in the house with them. They were able to do some farming and raise food, but the children remember always being hungry. Suzanne recalls hearing every day of people being shot and killed. Three young local men were shot in the woods and the family was told to bury them. Suzanne’s father took pictures of them and displayed them at the city hall so their families could be notified. They also secretly interred them in the cemetery and sang hymns so they would have a decent burial.
Each day, the family thanked the Lord for His protection and care. They were also able to show the love of Christ to their neighbors and others, at great personal risk. What the Germans never knew was that hidden behind a large wardrobe was a hidden closet containing the contents of a small store belonging to a Jewish man who had fled through Spain to England to save his life. M. Grollimund had hidden the goods of a man he did not know; when the man returned after the war, he was able to set up his shop with merchandise that very few others had. Hidden in that same closet were priceless tapestries from the Auxerre Museum, saved from the thieving and looting of the occupying army. Many other selfless acts demonstrated their compassion, including feeding German prisoners of war (Matt. 5:43-44).
Harry Wiegand was sent to France with the U.S Army Medical Corps. Following Patton’s forces, they were scheduled to set up a new hospital in Le Mans. Harry was a chief clerk typist and he and the other clerks were responsible for preparing the medical records of every patient treated in the hospital, which were French and Germans, as well as the U.S. and Canadian military. As General Patton got closer to the Battle of the Bulge, their unit moved east near to the city of Nancy. On Sunday evening after arriving, Henry, along with a Christian buddy, walked three miles to town, looking for believers to meet with. The only protestant church building was dark, but they were told several families were meeting at one family’s home and they were delighted to welcome the Americans.
Harry remembers the wonderful time of hymn singing and fellowship that evening, as well as sharing a meal with the believers, who were delighted to welcome the Americans to their home. A couple of weeks later, Henry met Suzanne, who had come to Nancy to help care for her older sister who was ill. Over the course of the next several weeks, they saw each other often in the different homes of the Christians and spent time together. The sister was not pleased with the mutual attraction she saw between the two, and decided she felt better and took Suzanne back to her parent’s home in Burgundy, two hundred miles away! But Henry and Suzanne exchanged addresses and soon were writing letters. She would write in French and he in English, thereby improving the language skills of both. Henry admits he thought of her very often and was sure God was leading them together.
When Germany surrendered in April 1945, it was easier for Harry to get a three-day pass and he determined to visit her. He traveled first by jeep, then by train, then a ten-mile taxi ride culminating in a three-mile walk. When he arrived at her home, he was met by the disapproving sister. When she realized his determination, she told him Suzanne had gone for a walk, and pointed him in the right direction. The next day June 8, her 18th birthday, he proposed, and she accepted. There was one caveat, however: her parents must give consent. Harry was undaunted—he would seek their permission immediately. However, they had returned to Mulhouse to see what they could salvage of their business. It was two hundred miles away!
Harry’s three-day leave was up, and he had to return to camp. When he returned, he saw his name had been added to a hospital group going to Japan. When he was able to get another pass, he went to see Suzanne’s parents. After questioning him about his faith in God and his future plans, they gave their consent. He found out they had spoken to the Christians in Nancy where he had fellowshipped and gotten a positive report of his love for the Lord and his active participation in the assembly. With time running out before his departure for Japan, and the lack of supplies, they both felt it would be a miracle if they could be married before he left. There were numerous forms to fill out, permissions to obtain, and plans to make. They felt it surely was God’s will or they never would have made it!
After the civil ceremony at City Hall, they were married in the “religious ceremony” in Suzanne’s summer home, with family and friends witnessing their pledges to one another. Harry was surprised at the wonderful meal and the delicious cake—everyone had contributed their valuable sugar, flour, and other food they had been saving. Two days later, he left for Marseille in the south of France to embark for Japan. Suzanne joined him there for three days before he left. When the war finally ended, he was put on a boat and sent home, even though he tried to join the occupation forces so he could stay near Suzanne. Six months later, in March of 1946, Suzanne was finally able to join him in the USA.
After coming to the States, the Weigand’s settled in Philadelphia, PA to begin a family. They fellowshipped with the believers at Olney Gospel Hall, where Harry served as an elder. Throughout the entire war experience and afterward, both Harry and Suzanne came to know in a practical way, the peace that passes all understanding and the protection that the Lord provides for His own.