Friday, January 22, 2010

Get by With a Little Help From My Friends

As I shared in an earlier post, I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington on Wednesday.  As I came to the end of the exhibits, I decide to stop and watch the closing movie. It was a documentary containing interviews with a number of survivors of the holocaust sharing their personal memories and stories.

The importance of friendship was evident in every story.  Often the only hope and strength they had was each other. They referred to the friends they made in the concentration camp, as their camp family. One lady recounted a friendship she quickly formed with another young girl in the concentration camps.  Food was sparse and if one would get a little more because of the extra work they had done, they would be certain to share it with the other.  She said I would mark the half way point of the bowl, and I would get my spoon as close to that halfway point as possible, ensuring I got my every morsel, but never a spoonful more.  I would never rob my friend and she would never cheat me. "A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor" ~Proverbs 22:9.   My experience is that those who have little give much. People who themselves are struggling are the first to ensure that others are not.  I am reminded of the young boy in Matthew 14 who offered up his few loaves and fishes in order that all might eat. I have seen this time and time again, in Africa, Cambodia, New Orleans and while volunteering in homeless & street ministry.  In the actions of all these selfless people, my favourite verse, 1 John 3:16-18 is lived out "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" 

The most powerful story in the documentary was told by "Stanley", a gentleman who was sent to the concentration camp at the age of 17.  When a 10 year old boy named "Daniel" arrived at the concentration camp, one of the first people he met was Stanley.  He asked him why he was just brought to the camp, and Stanley told him it was because he was Jewish,. At this Daniel asked what is a Jew?  Stanley told him it was because he was circumcised that he was there, because he was born a Jew.  David however, still did not understand why he was being held in this prison.  As Stanley, now a big strong man, recalled their first meeting that fateful day, he kept emphasizing the fact that David was only 10 years old, as he did, he broke into tears and so did most of us watching.

Stanley went on to tell of the death march that he and David were forced to go on.  Death marches were an evacuation, by foot, of all prisoners from the concentration camps  in an effort to avoid the incoming liberation armies.  Prisoners were brutally mistreated on these marches.  Often having to walk through snow, survivors talked of seeing friends snap their toes off like twigs.  Many prisoners died of exhaustion, starvation or exposure, during the marches held from 1944-1945.  Those who simply collapsed or could not go on were shot dead.  Some prisoners would walk 4 in a line, 3 people holding one person up allowing them to sleep in rotation. "Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer." Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 

On this particular march they made a rare stop at a farm to rest.  The owner of the farm, a Czech, had taken pity on David and pleaded with the officers to allow him to provide the boy something to eat.  The SS soldiers agreed, so the farmer gave David hot potatoes, which in turn he would race back and forth to bring to Stanley.  A while later they were set to continue marching, but Stanley had a plan.  He explained to David that the farmer liked him, and that he needed to stay at the farm.  He would hide him in the pig farm and cover him with hay.  David refused, saying he wanted to stay with Stanley, that he would not leave him.  So Stanley yelled at him, and told him he did not want him following him, to leave him alone and stay at the farm.  Then he took him to the barn and hid him in the hay, trusting the farmer would take care of him. David fought him the whole way, not wanting to leave Stanley, knowing  that this would be the last time they would see each other.  Stanley closed his interview with  "I hope he is alive and well somewhere today" and again broke into tears.  Stanley saved David's life at the peril of His own.  He cared for that young boy so much that he was willing to risk His life so that David might be saved.

If it were not for the loyalty of the friends found in the camps, those that did survive probably wouldn't have. "A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need." Proverbs 17:17.  If it were not for the friends God has placed in my life, I know for certain I would not have made it to where I am today. Sometimes  I wonder if I would have survived let alone thrived without them. We can not make it through life alone.  In the words of Joe Cocker  "[we all] get by with a little help from [our] friends", those people God places in our life, to be His hands and feet. Where would David be without Jonathan, Timothy without Paul, Ruth without Naomi. Where would we be without Jesus, a friend who sticks closer than a brother?

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