Christmas 1944

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled Stepping off the midnight train on New Year’s Day about Corrie Ten Boom’s release from the concentration camp Ravensbruck just in time to ring in New Year’s Day a free woman as her sister Betsie had foreseen.  Backing up a few days before this new found freedom, Corrie endured what she described as her most tortured days at Ravensbruck.   Corrie was called to the side during roll call one morning and she found out that she was to be discharged.  (She later found out this was a clerical error, and she had actually been scheduled to be killed in the gas chambers.)  But on that morning, Corrie’s heart must have leapt at the prospect of being released from the prison camp, only to have her hopes quickly dashed again when the camp doctor declared she was unfit for release due to edema in her legs and she was sent to the concentration camp’s hospital ward.

“Whether that ray of freedom shed a new, relentless light on Ravensbruck, or whether this was truly the most savage place yet, I could not tell.  The suffering was unimaginable.”- Corrie Ten Boom

 Corrie spent about a week in the hospital ward prior to her release, and her description of the place paints the picture of a horrific nightmare.  The cramped room held double decker cots, and Corrie was placed on an upper cot with a woman whose body was covered in open wounds.  She writes of being surrounded by survivors of a prison train that had been bombed on the way to the camp. The women who were severely injured from that attack lay in cots all around hers in terrible pain, but whenever they would cry out, the nurses in the ward would only make fun of them.  Her first night in the hospital, four women fell from the crowded upper cots and died on the floor.

Corrie describes witnessing and experiencing what she calls “the most fatal disease of the concentration camp”.  Indifference to others.  “I felt it spread to myself; how could one survive if one kept on feeling!….It was better to narrow the mind to one’s own need, not to see, not to think.”

But Corrie didn’t keep her mind narrowed to only her own needs.  All around her women were crying out for help, and she realized that one German word she kept hearing over and over meant bedpan.  So, Corrie lowered her own edema wrecked legs and began to assist the others around her with the bed pans.

Corrie writes that the gratitude and questions of “why are you doing this?” from the other patients was “heart-wrenching” as cruelty was the norm of that place and anyone practicing simple kindness was unimaginable.  Corrie realized the morning that she climbed down off her cot to begin to help the others around her that it was Christmas Day.

“As a wintry dawn crept through the windows, I realized it was Christmas Day.”- Corrie Ten Boom

How easy it would have been to keep her mind and heart closed to those around her.  One could even justify it as the only way to survive such as place.  Corrie could have stayed put on her cot, giving her legs as much opportunity as possible to heal quickly so she could get out of there.  No one would have thought anything against her if she had considering the circumstances.  It would be easy to ask how could one 53-year-old woman, who was herself very ill after spending most of the year in concentration camps have made any difference anyway in the face of such pain and suffering?  Corrie had been arrested in February, spent most of the year imprisoned in inhumane conditions, experienced the deaths of both her father and her sister, and now she was spending Christmas in that place.  I know I wouldn’t think less of her if she had stayed in bed with her legs propped up so she could get the swelling down and get away from there as quickly as possible. 

“I have found that it is the small everyday deed of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”- J.R.R Tolkien- The Hobbit

As another Christmas is upon us, I pray that I can demonstrate even a fraction of this kind of love and selflessness, to not have my mind so narrowed on only myself that I close my eyes to the needs of those around me.  Because even though it might seem like Corrie didn’t have much to offer those around her, in this world where cruelty and selfishness can feel so normal, it’s in the small, simple acts of human kindness that we can hold up a small light in the midst of darkness for others. 

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