“But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”
(Betsie, Corrie and Nollie Ten Boom)
Survival of the fittest.
We’ve all heard of it…
that notion that the strong, cunning, stealthy and fortuitous among us usually come out
on the other side..
Whereas the weak, sickly, naive and unlucky, more often than not,
will succumb to those more trying events of life.
Many a survivor of all sorts of traumas and events are often heard to opine as to “why me?”
“why did I survive, making it to the other side, when the other’s did not??”—
those others who seemed to be perhaps better people, more kind, more gracious, more giving,
seemingly to have more to live for or even greater purpose…
why didn’t they live, while the now living survivor laments to still be breathing….
I think it is called survivor’s remorse…
a natural reaction…
Yet perhaps there is a deeper purpose for those who survive…
something that reaches to a place far greater than any mere mortal can comprehend….
Ravensbrück Concentration Camp…
A “death” camp north of Berlin constructed in 1938 in order to house female prisoners.
It was a camp initially built to hold roughly 900 women…
but by the end of its first operational year, it had far exceeded its maximum number,
swelling to 10,000 women.
A reasons for the Germans to continue with construction.
Mostly Poles, but there were prisoners from every Nazi occupied nation.
Many of these women came with children and many more gave birth while being held
There were unspeakable medical trials and tests carried out on many of Ravensbrück’s women,
leaving many to die agonizing deaths while others toiled through 14 hour days of
extreme manual labor.
During its operation from 1939 to 1945, it is estimated that 132,000 women came and
went from Ravensbrück…most of whom went out by way of death.
Betsie Ten Boom, Corrie Ten Boom’s older sister, was one of the thousands of victims
She was humiliated and worn down physically from months of being treated more
like a hated animal than a humanbeing..
Gravely sick and malnourished, her body simply gave out while her spirit
Betsie saw it as her Christian duty to minister to the other women–
both believers and non believers…
even compelling her fellow prisoners to pray for their monstrous
and sadistic guards.
For it was in those guards who beat, tortured, belittled, mocked,
demeaned and ridiculed their captives, who Betsie saw as people in need.
Betsie knew that Christ died not only for her but for those guards as well…
and if Christ would give his life for these Nazis,
then why should she not be willing to do the same….
“Let any one of you who is without sin…”
Betsie knew that no one on this earth was without sin and therefore…
all, both captive and captor, were in need of Christ’s saving Grace.
Corrie had seen the dead bodies of prisoners stacked up like cord wood…
those who had lost their battle to survive,
staked inside one of the bathrooms of the infirmary…
the same room where she would eventually see Betsie’s body,
discarded and waiting to be incinerated…
And yet without hate for their captors, Corrie returned to the barracks,
determined to carry on Betsie’s mission of love in a place that knew no love.
Shortly following Betsie’s death, Corrie was, as it was later discovered,
mistakingly discharged from Ravensbrück.
However before she could be released, she had to be “healthy” enough to leave.
Corrie was currently suffering from staggering edema in her legs and feet…
So as in a case of deep irony, she was sent to the infirmary to heal,
the very infirmary where women were merely sent to die,
in order that she might pass the physical exam necessary for release.
In the dank and dirty infirmary she was placed with those who were dying
from all manner of disease. The air was putrid with rotting flesh.
Yet she was thankful to have a wooden platform in which to lie down,
while being able to prop up her grotesquely swollen legs against the wall.
As she later reflected in her book The Hiding Place,
Corrie knew that living in such a place as Ravensbrück made the retreating of self,
that of one turning deeply within self to a place that normal humanbeings
dared not tread,
a necessity of simple survival.
It was a place of survival by any and all means…
a place that she would later recall as being Satan’s ploy….
“this was the great ploy of Satan in that kingdom of his: to display
such blatant evil that one could almost believe one’s own secret sins didn’t matter.”
A place where morality, kindness and decorum were strangers.
She found herself fighting hard to continue loving and offering hope where
none was to be found.
At night in the infirmary she would be unable to sleep due to the constant wailing
of women pleading for the guards to bring a bed pan as the women were all too ill to
make their own way to the latrine.
Knowing what she must do, Corrie painfully dropped her heavy swollen legs from their
elevated position and climbing down from the platform, found the bed pans as she would
carry them from patient to patient.
Serving her fellow “woman” as only she knew Christ would…
On one of the aisles full of the sick and dying were a couple of Hungarian gypsies
who were suffering with severe gangrene.
Sadisticly they enjoyed waving their pus covered black dying limbs in Corrie’s face,
shrieking and laughing at her…taunting her efforts of simple kindness.
As these women had tragically become the animals they were assumed to be.
One night, Corrie couldn’t find the bed pans.
The other patients told Corrie that the Hungarian women had taken the pans and were hiding
them in their cots so they wouldn’t have to get up.
Suddenly Corrie felt the sensation of a wet piece of cloth, which had a wretchedly
foul odor, land on her face.
The gypsies were laughing as they had flung their diseased soaked bandages on her face.
Terrified and demoralized, Corrie ran sobbing to the latrine to wash her face under
the lone working spigot…vowing never to offer aid again….
the one prayer that she would say over and over throughout her life came to her lips..
“Jesus, I cannot forgive them/ him/ her. Give me your forgiveness.”
She marched back into the ward, heading directly toward the Hungarian women,
when she heard the bed pans crashing down on the floor.
The thing is that Corrie could have, and by world standards should have,
selfishly thought of her own health and legs,
not bothering to sacrifice her health and potential release,
for the sake of others who openly mocked and ridiculed her selfless acts…
but as a Christian, who was actually living her faith…
Corrie knew there was no option
“And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than
on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His.
When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command,
the love itself…”
And so as we now find ourselves marching forward into this new strange and hate
filled world of this 21st century,
may we recall that same command to love… as well as to forgive…
knowing that we have been given the love necessary…
a love that far exceeds the depths or capacity
of the human heart….
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
1 John 4:7