Sunday, 10 May 2015

70 YEARS ON

70 years ago the war in Europe officially came to an end after six years of horrific bloodshed and slaughter that left millions dead and millions more homeless and displaced.  New borders where drawn across Europe, whole communities were up rooted.  Many who had fled westwards to escape the steamrolling victorious army of Russians, thirsting for revenge, were caught up in all the turmoil. 

Russian Cossacks who had ended up in Austria and had fought with the Germans against the Soviets were forcibly sent back to Russia to face annihilation in the Gulag.  Abortions in the occupied zones of Germany rocketed in 1945 and 1946 as Stalin's army of rapists, as he called them, subjected German women of all ages to atrocious brutality and terror. 

The Nazi death camps had all been liberated and the absolute horror of it all had become known.  The numbers of deaths beggars belief.  The mountains of spectacles, suitcases, and extracted gold teeth speak of families destroyed and lives shattered.  70 years ago the ash filled crematoria no longer belched out black human smoke and the gun fire and bombs had finally stopped.  The church bells began to ring again across Europe as they did in the UK this weekend.

Throughout April and May we have been driving east across Europe.  We started by going through Holland, where the bulbs were again blooming that 70 years ago had been eaten by the starving Dutch.  This year we saw hundreds of Dutch people at a Fatherheart conference filled with the love that comes from God embracing their German neighbours and celebrating that they are sons with the same Father.

We drove across Germany having been with German people who have risen above the national shame that defined postwar Germany and rejoiced in the new hope that they have, that their nation has a true Father and their real Fatherland is in their hearts.  

We spent two nights in Berlin.  We saw the ruined Church that stands as a memorial to the destruction of the city by the cascades of American and British bombs that carpeted Berlin and by the onslaught of the Red Army. The city 70 years ago was a colossal pile of rubble and broken lives. Today it is a vibrant capital to a reunited nation. Yet I could not help but think of the awful consequences that ordinary Germans were facing all those years ago in Berlin.

We continued east crossing rivers that I had only heard about from history, the Elbe, the Oder, on into the east, into Poland.  We met Poles whose grandparent's had fought in the courageous but fruitless Warsaw uprising against the Nazi occupiers. We heard how they pleaded for help from the Russian armies across the river Wistulla, to the east of the city, but who heartlessly watched as Warsaw burned and who did nothing to help. We met one young woman whose grandfather survived the uprising only to be captured by the Nazis and sent to one of the death camps.  Warsaw has been beautifully rebuilt and restored but the scars are still in family memories. 

We stayed in a hotel overlooking the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto that had housed 400,000 Jews before they were sent to the camps for the final solution.  The streets are now renewed and filled with cafes and businesses but the trams still roll past where they once stopped to be filled with thousands of people.  Where shattered lives and families were torn apart as they were shipped off in cattle trucks all those years ago.  We had spent a week with 21st Century Poles and Russians who embraced each other and celebrated that they now see that they have the same Father.  They were young representatives of two nations that had so suffered, nations where there is still fear and suspicion but here were a few showing the way forward.  I felt such hope in my heart.

Today we head south through Poland.  We are going to Krakow, where once a German businessman saved over a thousand Jews from annihilation.  Oscar Schindler had a factory there in the 1940s.  Then we head for Slovakia but will stop on the way at perhaps the most notorious place in Europe, a name that speaks of the total depravity of the human heart.  We will stop at Auschwitz.  We will pause to mourn, to remember, to honour and weep no doubt.   But we will also give thanks that as one inmate of Bergen Belsen once said.  "There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still."  Betsie Ten Boom encouraged her sister Corrie with these words amid the horrors of the camp.  Corrie survived to tell her tale in the book she wrote, "The Hiding Place."

As Europe celebrates 70 years on, I wonder what we have learned from the past.  Not a lot, I fear.  Europe has had its ongoing wars in the former Balkans.  Russian rockets rain down on Ukraine and former communist Eastern Europe fears the start of another cold war.  Genocide still blights our world in the Middle East and Africa.  What have we learned?  

I have learned that nationalism can be a deadly disease, that reconciliation is possible, that hearts can change, that forgiveness for the most horrific deeds is possible.  I have seen Russians, Poles, Germans, Dutch and British embrace one another as they discover their true identity as God's sons and their true brotherhood in Christ, filled with his love, building relationships with each other.  This gives me great hope.

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