Matt Jones, the author of A Joyful Stammer (which can be found in the blogroll to the right), shared this article on Facebook today, and I was rather touched by it. The Holocaust has always loomed large in my mind -- possibly because my father was a history major with a particular interest in the twentieth century; or because my mother elected to read me and my sisters The Hiding Place when I was maybe eight, because it is never too early to traumatize your children with genocide (love you, Mama). And I've always felt, not just horror and pity, but a mysterious connection to it. I like to imagine that it is because, as I was pleased to find out some time last year, our family does have just a drop of Jewish blood; it doesn't "count," so to speak, since it's on my dad's side, and is a couple of centuries back anyway, but it feels close to my heart all the same. The peculiar difficulties that attend discussing the Holocaust in an Arab context cannot be lightly dismissed -- the state of Israel is far from guiltless in the dispossession of the Palestinian people -- and it makes this woman's brave and noble spirit shine more brightly in her writing.
Speaking of The Hiding Place, I reread it over the Octave of Easter; it is one of the books that I go back to over and over. If you're not familiar, it is a memoir written by Corrie ten Boom, a devout Christian who, with her sister and father, ran an operation for the Dutch Resistance, transporting and hiding Jews. It's impossible to read it without crying. The events it records are ghastly: not only was the work itself difficult and dangerous, but the ten Boom household was found out, and most of its adult members were committed to concentration camps; of the three who lived in the house that hid several Jews for a stretch of two years, only Corrie survived. And yet it is one of the most astonishingly beautiful books ever put to paper. The simplicity, the instinctive and total trust in God, and the boundless love and compassion of the ten Booms radiate from the pages; Corrie and her sister Betsie were able to manifest grace and love in the middle of a concentration camp, and even to forgive and pity the guards, the soldiers, and the traitors who gave them away.
I want to share a passage from the book, recollecting that even in the midst of the blackness and insanity of the Holocaust, the power of Divine grace and beauty remained undiminished; Christ was crucified in the persons of His people, and was again victorious. Almost any paragraph would do to set you sobbing once you're acquainted with the book, not least because almost any would do to display the brilliance of love, at once natural and supernatural, that illuminated the ten Booms' lives and, by extension, those with whom they lived and worked. I have selected one of the passages from the time before the concentration camp, when Corrie was contemplating taking in another secret and perilous lodger.
Mary Itallie, at seventy-six the oldest of our guests, was also the one who posed the greatest problem. The moment Mary stepped through our door I heard the asthmatic wheezing which had made other hosts unwilling to take her in.Since her ailment compromised the safety of the others, we took up the problem in caucus. ... "There is no sense in pretending," I began. "Mary has a difficulty -- especially after climbing stairs [the secret room, for emergency use, was on the topmost floor of the house] -- that could put you all in danger."In the silence that followed, Mary's labored breathing seemed especially loud."Can I speak?" Eusie asked."Of course.""It seems to me that we're all here in your house because of some difficulty or other. We're the orphan children -- the ones nobody else wanted. Any one of us is jeopardizing all the others. I vote that Mary stay.""Good," said lawyer Henk, "let's put it to the vote."Hands began rising but Mary was struggling to speak. "Secret ballots," she brought out at last. "No one should be embarrassed."Henk brought a sheet of paper from the desk in the next room and tore it into nine small strips. ... He handed around pencils. "Mark 'No' if it's too great a risk, 'Yes' if you think she belongs here."For a moment pencils scratched, then Henk collected the folded ballots. He opened them in silence, then reached over and dropped them into Mary's lap.Nine little scraps of paper, nine times the word, "Yes."