Yesterday was a momentous day for me. From my earliest memories, I have been intrigued by WWII history. I have studied it in depth, visited Europe (Especially Germany), and spoken with many who lived through it from many sides of the story.
When I was 12 in 1959, I traveled with Harrison Price, World Evangelist for the Church of God of Prophecy. We went to England and Europe for revival meetings and mission work. Our trip took us to the heart of Germany. While there, we stayed with the people. We didn’t do hotels and such then. Not many existed and those that did were far beyond our financial ability.
The fact that we stayed in people’s homes was an incredible educational experience for me. We stayed with one lady named Krista Koppenhoffer. She was the “textbook” German woman. Her husband had served in the SS during the war. After I asked her a million questions about the war, she took me into her room and opened a trunk. Inside was her husband’s black SS uniform. It was complete with boots and belts and his pistol. I begged her to let me have that. She had no family so she could have given it to me. She refused. It was her only link to her husband, she said.
Her husband had taken part in the plot to overthrow Hitler and so he was shot. She never forgot. But she did forgive. She had been a Christian and decided to dedicate her life to God and winning people to Him. She gave us lodging and food and was a marvelous hostess. She took me to many places to show me the German side of the war. Her stories of the liberation of Europe were not good stories. Murders of over 1 Million German speaking people were enacted. They were guilty by vernacular. She told me how she claimed to only speak Polish. It was all that saved her life. She explained how food was almost non-existent. She hid from the Russians and the Americans to keep from being raped.
While Krista was feeling the oppression of hatred toward the German race, another story was happening in the same country. The story of a young man who was 15 years old when he was liberated from Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He was a Jew and had survived the holocaust. Irving Roth had felt the oppression of the Germans and their allies as a young impressionable boy.
Because he was a Jew, food was almost non-existent. He and his family were forced to hide from the German army because they were Jews. He could not speak his own language for fear of being discovered and killed. Eventually he and his family were put in cattle cars and taken to the death camps. Because he was a young and strong young boy, he was sent to the labor camps. There was a big difference in the two. One was for immediate extermination; the other for slave labor in the fields, building roads, housing etc.
Both of these people have crossed my path in my lifetime. It was surreal to see that ominous black SS uniform and those boots and that pistol. I could only imagine the man who wore that uniform. His wife tried to describe him as a good man who was deceived to believe that Hitler was making a Germany whole. She said Hitler could hold you spell bound with his speeches and the result was prosperity. To a war torn country that was like a soft gentle rain.
Yesterday it was again surreal to see the actual tattoo on Irving Roth’s arm that was placed there by the SS. It was his only identity. His name was of no importance to his captors. He spoke of his childhood being ripped away from him by those soldiers in the black uniforms. All because he was a Jew.
But both of these people who had seen and experienced horror beyond belief, professed to me that God had been the real Savior of their lives and of their world. Krista and Irving might have lived in the same town and maybe have seen each other at some point. I don’t know. But what I do know is that neither of them let their horror define who they became.
I can’t imagine that Krista is still alive. How I would love to have kept in contact with her. I wrote her a few times and she responded , then it became less and less. I wish I had known more. But I do know that she put herself into the work of God to bring hope and honor to her little part of her world.
And Irving Roth? He spoke of his horror without one hint of hatred. I spoke with him briefly. I said “I am so sorry for what you had to endure”. He said…”Yes, but I am here now”. He is a voice for Christians United for Israel. He knows horror first hand. He knows Honor first hand.
So you see dear friends, our lives may take many dark paths. We may endure horrors that are beyond imagining. But Honor…..Honor comes from forgiveness and vision. Look ahead. Look to the future of what God has ordained. Forgive the horror of the past. Find Honor in the future.
Take your life from Horror to Honor!