Forgiving those who hurt me – WW2 prison camp
fear, prayer, the Bible, heaven
Listen to this and think what you’d do if you were in Emma’s situation.
It was the first day of secondary school – but already Emma knew she was going to like it. Her parents had asked if she could be put in the same group as her two best friends. And it had worked out. She’d met up with them outside the school a few minutes before and they’d been directed to a classroom to wait for their group tutor.
The last year in the old school had been a miserable one for Emma, and all because of Lisa Jo, who’d bullied her – she’d poked fun at her, got her into trouble, it had just gone on and on. Emma’s only friends had been in another class. But now it would be OK.
Late ones were still coming in. Suddenly Emma felt a shudder run through her. Lisa Jo had entered the room. She looked different though – lonely, unsure, gone were the swagger and the smirks.
She came right up to Emma whose heart had begun thumping.
“Looks like we’re together again,” Lisa Jo said. “Look, Emma, we didn’t get on last year, but what about making up, being friends from now on?”
Emma’s fear turned to anger. Friends? With Lisa Jo? No way. She hadn’t even said sorry, she only wanted to be friends because she’d been split from her old mates. So – just forgive and forget? As if last year never happened? No way!
Is Emma right or wrong to think this way? What would you do in her situation?
(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)
Now here’s a true story.
When the guards slid open the door, Corrie Ten Boom could see only darkness inside. Outside was bright sunlight. In there it was as dark as death.
“Quick! Get in! In!” one of the guards yelled.
Corrie and the other women hauled themselves up into the darkness. There was no choice – the guards had guns. It was the carriage of a goods train, but now it was being used to transport people. In seconds the carriage was so full that Corrie was pushed up against the back wall. Many of the women were crying, some were screaming. How glad Corrie was to have her sister Betsie with her. And how glad she was that God was with her. She was not afraid, not deep down. For what was the worst thing these German soldiers could do to her? Kill her? But then she would be with Jesus for ever.
There were eighty women in the carriage now. They were just able to sit down with their legs wrapped round the person in front. It grew unbearably hot. The train began moving but it didn’t help much.
As Corrie stroked her sister’s feverish forehead, she thought back through the last years, back to when the German army had invaded their country, Holland, soon after the start of World War 2. It was a terrible time for everyone, but the Jewish people suffered the most. Corrie saw them being pushed into trucks to be taken to the prison camps.
As they prayed for them, Corrie’s family had the idea of building a secret room in their house where Jewish people could hide from the patrols until an escape route could be found for them. But someone betrayed them and the family was arrested, to be taken to Germany. Corrie and Betsie had been able to stick together, but they didn’t know how long they would be allowed to live.
On the fourth day the train clanked to a halt.
“Out! Get out!” shouted the guards. “You walk now!”
The women were so weak but what choice was there? Finally they saw their destination: Ravensbruck prison camp. As Corrie and Betsie entered the massive gates, they knew there was almost no chance of coming out alive.
All the women were taken to the shower room. Corrie’s heart started thumping when she saw that everyone had to undress in front of the guards. For under her dress she had hidden her precious Bible and some medicine for Betsie. They’d be discovered and taken away! No, it mustn’t happen!
“Dear god, please…” she murmured.
Just then Betsie, even sicker now, needed to be taken to the toilet. “Use the drains in the shower room,” said the guard harshly. The sisters moved ahead of the queue of women undressing and went in.
“Dear God, please…”
Yes! There in the corner was a pile of old benches. She could hide the Bibles and medicine behind them, together with Betsie’s warm sweater.
Later, after their shower, Corrie slipped over to the benches and pushed the things under the prison dress she’d been given. “Thank you, God, thank you,” she prayed.
But – wait – what was this? A guard was searching the women on the way out of the shower room. Corrie prayed again – she knew that the God who had answered one prayer could answer another. She stood in the line. She came nearer and nearer to the guard. The bulge under the thin prison dress was so obvious.
Now the woman ahead of Corrie was being searched. She was searched three times before being allowed to move off.
Then something strange happened. The guard didn’t seem to notice Corrie. He went straight to Betsie, next in line.
There was another search as they left the building. Same thing. The guard came to Corrie, but instead of searching her, just told her to hurry up, and then pushed her out – with her precious possessions undiscovered.
That Bible was certainly well used. Corrie would hold services in their dormitory, Barracks 28 – with softly sung hymns, whispered prayers and Bible verses telling of God’s comfort and love.
More and more women came to the services. Corrie knew if a guard came in, the Bible would be taken, and they would all be punished. But no guard came near. Only later did she find out why. Barracks 28 was famous amongst the guards for its fleas, and the guards did not want their smart uniforms crawling with fleas. Corrie reckoned each flea was a tiny miracle from God.
Long hours of heavy work and very little food weakened Corrie and Betsie, and pain, cruelty and death were all around them. But they could see beyond these things to heaven – a place of no pain or sadness, waiting for them.
And one day Betsie died. Her face was full of peace and happiness.
Two days later, Corrie was ordered to go to the prison office. She feared they’d found out about the Bible. But she was just handed a piece of paper. It said: “Released”. She was free.
But – how…why…?
She found out later it had been a mistake. But she was well away by then.
A week after Corrie’s release all the women in the camp of Corrie’s age were killed.
When the war was over, Corrie asked God, “What do you want me to do?”
And she knew that she should open homes for those who had survived the prison camps. And she should travel, all over the world, telling how much she had known God’s help and love even in Ravensbruck.
One evening, in a church in Germany, after she had spoken, a man came up to her wanting to shake hands. Many people did of course, nothing unusual in that. But then her blood turned cold. For she recognised the man. He was the guard at the shower room door in Ravensbruck. And she remembered his cruelty, his total lack of pity. It was because of him, and the many like him, that millions had suffered and died.
“I am a Christian now,” he said. “God has forgiven me.”
Corrie’s thoughts screamed out, But I cannot forgive. I will not forgive. And then she thought of Jesus. Jesus, who’d been nailed to a cross and who’d prayed for his executioners, “Father, forgive them.”
“Jesus,” Corrie whispered in her heart, “give me your forgiveness for this man.”
And Jesus did. She was able to take the man’s hand and forgive him from her heart. Just as Jesus forgave.
She went on spreading the message of forgiveness and love until she died, in 1983, on her 91st birthday.
Time of Reflection
Think now: are you holding a grudge against someone, unwilling to forgive them? Is the wrong they’ve done greater than what those camp guards did to Corrie? Is it greater than what those Roman soldiers did to Jesus? Yet they forgave.
Just take a moment to think about this.
This is what the Bible says:
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
“You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.” (Colossians 3:13)
(Jesus’s words to Peter about forgiving again and again – Matthew 18:21,22 – are appropriate too.)
Father, help us to be ready to forgive, never to hold on to a grudge. This won’t be easy. Like Corrie, we need your help. Amen
Variations on a Theme
The pupils could be reminded of the section of Joseph’s story which shows his forgiveness for the brothers who had put him in a pit and sold him into slavery (Genesis chapters 37 and 45).