Forgiveness in the face of this unimaginable evil is not an easy task. But, in evil’s midst, one discerns the quiet and patient pathways of God’s caring guidance.
No Heil Hitler!, the life story of Polish-born minister Pastor Paul Cieslar, takes its readers on a fascinating, painful, breathtaking journey through the years of Nazi occupation. The peace of Paul’s childhood home in the picturesque regions of Upper Silesia was shattered when the war arrived on their doorstep, bringing chaos to their quiet village. Amid stories of deception, betrayal and murder, Paul’s turbulent journey allows readers to discern bright sparkles of hope entrenched in the darkness of evil.
I read Paul’s book from cover to cover in the quiet safety of a hotel room, realising no-one can fully comprehend the depth of utter desperation and confusion unless one travels the journey. Paul’s story comes from the depth of such an experience. It flows from a heart nurtured by a family’s love, determined to stay faithful to God and to stand up with a boldness for what is just.
Paul’s story left me emotionally drained and angry, for I know well the region described in the book. I was born in Lower Silesia, a mere 20 kilometres from the concentration camp in Oświęcim (known in German as Auschwitz), so distinctly described in Paul’s book. As a post-war child, I was raised on similar stories.
A few years ago, I visited the famous Block D in Oświęcim to trace the story of my uncle’s death. Unknown to his family, my uncle had joined the Polish Underground Liberation Army. Betrayed by his German girlfriend following an argument, he was apprehended by the Gestapo and transported to the concentration camp. I stood at the very wall where, after six months of torture, he was stripped naked and executed. I walked through cells in Block D and examined the marks on the walls, signs of human pain. I stood in silence in the famous dark, windowless cell where the Catholic priest Maximillian Kolbe died of hunger, offering his life for another prisoner. I walked through the rooms full of human hair, the gas chambers where thousands were burned to death. The visit to Auschwitz made me physically sick. That very night, the cry of a Jewish lady from Sydney, a survivor from the death camp, kept me awake—“Where was God when our children were dying?”
Dr John Skrzypaszek.
Forgiveness in the face of this unimaginable evil is not an easy task. But, in evil’s midst, one discerns the quiet and patient pathways of God’s caring guidance. Paul’s concluding chapter challenges the reader with a question he was once asked—“Can you, as a Christian, forgive?”
His response spoke to my heart. “If this SS man ever had a moment of truth and asked God for forgiveness and if he is in heaven, then I would like him to be my neighbour,” he says. “He would have had to first find a God other than Adolf Hitler.” Perhaps this is the spirit that gave Paul’s mother the boldness to say, “No Heil Hitler.”
Inspirational—yes. Worth reading—beyond doubt.
Dr John Skrzypaszek is Director of the Ellen G White Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, based at Avondale College of Higher Education.