Saturday, May 23, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: August Landmesser

If picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth a million dollars.  It’s 1936 and the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg is hosting Adolf Hitler, who has come to witness the unveiling of a new ship for his Nazi war machine.  The German newspaper Die Zeit is there to capture the moment, and the adoring audience of laborers facing their Fuhrer---manufactured propaganda.  But then courage breaks through. 

In the sea of “Heil Hitler” salutes, a lone figure stands in defiance, arms crossed in silent protest.  No big deal?  In 1936 Nazi Germany, this man could have been put to death for such an act.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Five years earlier, at the height of Germany’s post war depression, August Landmesser decided to join the new Nazi party, which promised reform for the stagnant economy and jobs for all---while conveniently leaving out the part about world domination and a “final solution” for the Jews. 

But in 1935 when August became engaged to the Jewish Irma Eckler, and applied for a marriage license he was expelled from the Nazi party.  Later that year Irma gave birth to their first daughter.  So when the now iconic photograph was shot, August was already in trouble deep with the Nazis.

A year later, recognizing that their future together was in serious jeopardy, the young family tried to flee to Denmark, but was stopped at the border.  August was charged with “dishonoring the race” under Nazi racial laws because he had not abandoned his wife, who was now pregnant with their second child.  The case was dismissed for lack of evidence, as Eckler’s step-father had been Christian and she’d actually been baptized.  Even so, August was given strict orders to not repeat the offense---code for “leave your woman.”  But he chose love. 

And later that year, when the “Rassenschander” policy was passed, which gave soldiers permission to detain all women married to German men, Irma was captured by the Gestapo.  She was allowed to give birth to their second child, but was then sent to Ravensbruck where she was gassed in 1942.  August was sentenced to two years of hard labor in the Concentration camp at Borgermoor.  When he was released, he was immediately drafted into a penal battalion and killed in action in Croatia.  Their two daughters, Ingrid and Irene, were placed in foster care but would survive.

And it was Ingrid, August and Irma’s first born, who in 1991 identified her father in that remarkable photograph, taken in that Nazi shipyard in 1936---one man, arms crossed, refusing to salute evil and making a radical statement about love.

Non-conformity has seldom said so much, or looked so beautiful. 

August Landmesser is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Mary Bethune

The fifteenth child born to former slaves, Mary McLeod Bethune was the only member of her family to go to school.  She eventually received a scholarship to Scotia seminary where she studied to be a missionary.  But instead of Africa, where she’d dreamed of serving, Bethune was to become a missionary of justice and equality in her own country—the United States of America.

Bethune founded a school for African-American women in 1904 that what would become Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach.

Along with her efforts in education, her civil rights work had earned her a national platform by the mid 1920’s.  Bethune would go on to serve as an advisor on housing, child welfare, and minority issues to three American presidents.  And Eleanor Roosevelt considered her one of her most trusted friends.

Mary Bethune saw opportunities where others saw obstacles.  When she learned that a young black student had been refused admittance to a hospital in Daytona Beach, she helped open one that served the African American community.  During both World Wars, she pushed for integration in the American Red Cross and organized the first officer’s candidate school for black women.  And when Florida segregation law restricted blacks from using public beaches, she raised money to buy two miles of coastline as well as the surrounding homes.  She and her partners then sold the homes to African-American families, and opened up the beach to people of all races.  

She was fond of saying, “Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.”  But Scripture tells us that faith without works is dead.  Bethune is not memorable because she had faith, but because she had a faith that worked.  And she never stopped working---for equality and justice, for all

And the American dream is more than just a dream to millions of people because of her.

Mary Bethune is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma

Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma were a farming couple living Markowa, Poland with their six children when the Nazis came in 1939.  At the time, Markowa was 90% Catholic, and 10% Jewish. 

And in 1942 the Nazis began coming for the 10%.  The majority of the Jews were massacred, but a few survived because Catholic families gave them refuge.  From the beginning of the persecution, the Ulmas were one such family.

Even giving a Jew a drink of water in occupied Poland was punishable by death, let alone hiding Jews. 

But Jozef and Wiktoria took in two Jewish families anyway, and these eight neighbors lived in the attic of the home and worked on the farm alongside the Ulmas.  The farm was seen as a safe refuge, being several miles outside of town.  And for two years it was.

But on the morning of March 24, 1944 Nazi soldiers arrived at the Ulma farm.  They rounded up the eight Jews and shot each in the back of the head.  Then, they assassinated Jozef, the pregnant Wiktoria and all seven children.

But the atrocity did not have the desired effect on the townspeople the Nazi’s had hoped for.   The Ulma’s ultimate sacrifice only encouraged other families to pick up where they’d left off.  And as a result 17 Jews survived the purge in Markowa.

Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma were given the title Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1995, and in 2003 their cause for cannonization was introduced in Rome.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma are heroes you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.