Living As A Forgiver
Sometimes it seems impossible to forgive, for the act committed was too offensive. Here, Elisabeth Mann could us teach many lessons about tolerance, love, anger, and forgiveness.
Elisabeth has much to be angry about. When she was a teenager, she and her family were rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, a concentration camp where the average life expectancy was brief. Shortly after her arrival there, she asked a guard where the rest of her family was, He pointed to the smoke coming out of a massive chimney, saying, “That’s where they are.”
After the camp was liberated by Allied soldiers, Elisabeth found herself in Denmark, waiting for a train to Sweden. There were other survivors with her, but her family was gone. “I was given a cup of coffee that tasted so good, I’ve never had anything to match it,” she declares. A nurse brought in two women and a man, saying they were also concentration camp survivors. “I suspected they were not, for they had bags with them. No one from a camp had luggage, we didn’t even have a piece of cloth. These two women and the man started asking us questions about which camp we were from, how we got here. My fellow survivors shared their stories.
“The next morning the train arrived to take us to Sweden. I was put in a compartment with the two women who had asked the questions, plus three others. There wasn’t a lot of room in the car, especially with the suitcases the two women had brought. The two of them sat on the floor, the three others took a bench, and I climbed overhead, in the place where you normally put the luggage. That night, when they thought everyone was sleeping, I heard a noise. Looking down, I saw that the two women had opened one of their suitcases, and inside were photos of people in SS uniforms. The women were tearing the pictures up and throwing them out the window. You have to understand that no one in a camp would have had, or even wanted to have, pictures of the guards.
“Some officials got on the train at one of the stops and asked us all questions. When he asked the two women and the man where they had been, which camp and so on, they recited the stories they had hard from my fellow inmates the night before. I could have said something, but I was so full of happiness that the war was over. I was convinced that every soul had learned from the war. I thought it was not my place to punish these people. If God wants to punish them, he will. We arrived in Sweden and I never saw them again.
“What I did was not to condone what these people had done. It was to trust God that forgiveness was in his hands, not mine. It wasn’t my place to decide their fate. With all the people who had died, my little brother, my parents, how could I say, ‘It’s okay, it doesn’t matter?’
“But it was important to me to never have the desire for revenge in my heart. I remember, in the camp, we would pass a bakery every morning as we were taken to clean the streets. We were always hungry, and that fresh-baked-bread aroma would hit us. We would say, ‘When we are free, we will run to the bakery and eat up all the bread.’ We never said we would run to the bakery and kill the baker.”
Elizabeth Kubler Ross: Life Lessons Page 201
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