The secret is out. For nearly 50 years, Clayton has been the
haven for a 16th-century manuscript by the founder of the
Martin Luther's 80-page political and religious call to action,
"Wider Hans Worst," will come out of its vault on the Concordia
Seminary campus one last time this week. Even its margin notes and
corrections are in the theologian's own hand. Copies are well
known, but most people assumed Luther's handwritten, 1541 original
The manuscript arrived at Concordia Seminary in 1950 - having
been mailed from New Jersey by a military chaplin who was Lutheran.
On Tuesday, it will begin the journey back to its rightful owners
in eastern Germany. In a ceremony at the Concordia Historical
Institute, its director will hand the manuscript to the director of
a museum in Magdeburg, Germany.
At month's end the manuscript will be the centerpiece at the
German National Library exhibition in Berlin, marking the 450th
anniversary of Luther's death. By summer, it will be permanently
displayed in one of the 90 rooms of the Magdeburg Cultural History
museum. German television and radio will be here to track its every
"We are very surprised and very happy," said Matthias Puhle,
director of the Magdeburg museum, in a phone interview last week
from his museum. It stokes his city's hope that other museum
treasures, missing since World War II, may be recovered.
Last year, Puhle sent lists of the museum's 338 missing pieces
to museums and auction houses in Europe and the United States. He
searched Army records in Washington.
He found two paintings at an auction house in Lubeck, Germany,
and two Luther manuscripts in the Berlin library. He never heard of
the institute on the Concordia Seminary campus. Its staff never
heard his appeal. The staff just wanted to do the right thing.
"This is the most important of the three Martin Luther
manuscripts we had, because it is not just about the church but
about politics that changed history here . . . caused the overthrow
of a duke," Puhle said. "Now we have all three back."
During World War II, the museum treasure was moved to a salt
mine 20 miles south of the town. In the turmoil, Dutch prisoners of
war set the mine afire.
On April 12, 1945, U.S. Army officers reached the mine. During
a two-week occupation, they reported that museum treasures had been
destroyed in two fires.
That May, the museum director told Magdeburg residents that
fire had devoured its treasures. Three Luther manuscripts, 338
paintings - including masterpieces by Cezanne and Van Gogh - were
That spring, a U.S. soldier said he had found an 80-page
manuscript on a factory floor in Magdeburg. A U.S. Baptist military
chaplain, probably noticing the words "D.M. Luther" in gold leaf on
its "newer" brown leather cover, gave it to a military chaplain
from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The Lutheran took it home
to New Jersey. In 1950, he mailed it to Concordia Historical
"I sent it to you with the proviso that someday I plan to take
it back personally and present it to the city of Magdeburg, when
and if, the city is ever liberated from the Russians," wrote the
chaplain, the Rev. Theodore P. Bornhoeft, in a letter that arrived
just before the package. He wrote 17 years later asking if it was
still there. He died in 1990. His widow, Evelyn, a Florida
resident, will attend the ceremony here Tuesday.
It Had Traveled By Mail
The manuscript's safekeeping was always a concern.
"We never had a fire, but I always felt a little antsy about
it," said the Rev. …