4 • Hedwige Bull

Hedwig BULL: A lifetime of service to the Armenians

Born in 1887 in Estonia, into a Lutheran family, Hedwig Bull developed a gift for languages and teaching at an early age while her faith urged her to serve the  most  deprived. She trained in the fields of education and social work and she studied the Christian faith prior to being sent to Marache in the region of Cilicia in Anatolia by the German mission of the Hilfsbund.

Hedwige Bull in Aleppo
Her mission
there was to care for Armenian orphans resulting from extensive massacres conducted from 1895 to 1897 by the Ottoman Sultan. Hedwig was welcomed by the Swiss missionary Béatrice Rohner with whom she shared a deep faith and an unfailing commitment. They both provided quality education and support to the children in their care.

During the genocide, from 1915 onwards, Béatrice Rohner was a key person in the humanitarian aid illegally provided to the Armenian deportees by the network of Protestant missionaries. Hedwig also witnessed the brutality of these deportations. She was assigned to a new orphanage in 1916, and thanks to her obstinacy, she succeeded with her collaborators in saving the children she felt responsible for. It was in this context that Paul Berron met Béatrice and Hedwig.

Béatrice Roher, Marie Steyger (nurse from Alsace) and Hedwige Bull in Aleppo, in the 1920’s

Tried by such difficult years, Hedwig returned to Estonia in 1919 but did not hesitate to answer Paul Berron’s call to go to Aleppo as a missionary for the ACO in 1922. She then dedicated the next thirty years of her life to the Armenian survivors and even mastered their language perfectly well!

Portrait of Hedwige Bull

In Aleppo the living conditions of the refugees were disastrous. With her European and Armenian colleagues, Hedwig worked relentlessly to improve their situation.

She travelled the camps to visit the traumatized survivors, offering them life-saving emergency aid and human and spiritual comfort. A free health centre was soon
set up. She urged the authorities to create a drinking water system. She planned the construction of new buildings to house various self-help projects, including weaving and embroidery workshops to provide livelihoods to the poor. The productions were sold by the ACO in Europe.
Top picture: cod-liver oil distribution / Bottom picture: polyclinic healthcare centre
Families had to face very difficult situations

many women were widows with children. The poorest among them found shelter in a house called Sarepta. Thanks to European donors, a sponsorship system enabled children to benefit from education and food aid. To help the weakest children a holiday centre was created in the mountains in order to improve their health during the summer months. Times of prayer and worship were always part of their daily schedule.

Building new houses / Planks and construction supplies

In the next stage, « Miss Bull » did her best to enable Armenians to become homeowners and to build more dignified housing. She thus participated in the construction of the new Armenian neighbourhoods of Aleppo as the city grew more modern.

Building new houses
Planks and construction supplies

From her retirement in 1955 until her death in 1981, she maintained an ongoing correspondence with her former protégés and collaborators. She remained very active and was able to return to Syria a few times to meet her « children » and their descendants; they expressed their gratitude by calling her by the both affectionate and respectful name of Mayrig, meaning « mother ».

Hedwige in Aleppo
Hedwige with children in her flat in Aleppo

“Having fled the massacres, we took refuge in Aleppo where, at a very young age, I was orphaned when my father died. In those days, by order of the Providence, a charitable hand came to our aid. Like an earthly angel, “Mother” Miss Büll gave us her help. Thanks to her, I was able to study at the Emmanuel College […]

After 16 years of marriage, I found myself a widow with six young daughters. Once again, her helping hand encouraged me and I was able to find work.

We have benefitted from such kindness for many years. It is with gratitude and heartfelt feelings that we bring up the name of Miss Büll, the one who saved us from misfortune and injustice. I ask God that we be touched by grace so that, according to our possibilities, we can help the weakest. May you rest in peace, Mother Miss Büll”.