Shoes

It was, however, the shoes left behind the spoke their message so quietly that it was deafening

We have heard the analogies perhaps dozens of times growing up. We should never think of judging anyone until we have walked a mile in their shoes. An ‘Americanized’ version of that is from what is known as ‘an American Indian proverb.’ Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins. I imagine it is the use of the moccasins that makes it an American Indian proverb. Still, the thought is there.
The Bible also placed some tradition upon shoes. It was customary in a Jewish home and perhaps, too, in homes of Arabs of similar times in history; that a guest in the home was to have his shoes removed so that his feet could be washed by the host or the host’s designee. It was not a light issue but one of great importance. To fail to treat someone in this way was to show them disrespect. Jesus instructed His disciples that when they came to a town and were well received, they were to allow their blessing to remain on that town. But, if they were mistreated, they were to remove their sandals and shake the dust off of their feet, symbolizing the removal of blessing. Jesus said it was better for Sodom and Gomorrah than it will be for that town’s people upon the Day of Judgment. Paul and Barnabas, when the irreverent people of the Antioch stirred up the populace against them, took leave of the city. Following the direction Christ gave to his apostles during His earthly ministry, they stopped at the city gate to shake the dust from their feet and then they continued then on their way.
Shoes, in many cultures may define their wearer. My own propensity is to almost always wear a western style “cowboy” boot even when donning a tuxedo for some special occasion. My boots have defined me to some folks. The business man or the sports enthusiast each may be defined by their shoes; as too, the child who cannot get a new pair of shoes before school starts because mother and father are simply too poor. All of these things help to define the wearer. There are, too, the ‘baby’s first shoes.’ Shoes that are bronzed and kept often with a photo of the baby who first toddled about in those clumsily formed shoes that looked like they were more of a prison for those tiny feet than a comforting wrap against the elements.
Twice, I had the inner-peace shattering occasion to view such baby shoes, not bronzed, but still immortalized in a macabre fashion that cried out against the evil that had stolen that small life from this world. Perhaps nothing can speak such a message about a person more than shoes that they have worn in a time or in a way that tells such a horrifying tale. A pitiful message across the years. It is a message that is given to those who happen upon those shoes, either by chance or choice; but in either way, the recipient, not being prepared for the impact those shoes would have upon them will most certainly be taken aback for some time to come.
The first encounter that I had with such shoes was in a stark building, darkened by dust encrusted windows and the absence of any produced light made it even darker. It was darker, still, in the evil that enveloped the building. The long center of the main room was roped off and within it, was a pile of shoes ten feet high at the crest of the pile and more than thirty feet long at this farthest edges. The building was in Stuthof Camp. It was one of the few buildings left in this, the first Nazi ‘relocation’ camp for Jews during WWII built on Polish soil, just about 21 miles NE of Gdansk Poland and less than 2 miles from the Baltic coast. Stuthof had as few as 250 prisoners and grew to a maximum of 52,000 with over 1,000 SS guards by January of 1945. It began not just for Jews but for the undesirable Polish elements. It was, however the shoes left behind that spoke their message so quietly that it was deafening.
Poland Stuthof Shoes

An early photo before the building was used to memorialize the shoes left behind

As difficult as this site was to view, particularly the small children’s and infants’ shoes, it did not prepare me for my next encounter with another such site; shoes whose souls are still speaking their silent message across the miles, the years and into the hearts of all who will stop long enough to listen.
The City of Budapest is one of the most beautiful in all of Central and Eastern Europe; perhaps even further. From Hero’s Square to the Opera House, to the casual promenade along the banks of the Danube River all the way to the base of the Chain Bridge which is known for its majestic lions and massive expanse across the river the cities of Buda and Pest have joined to make an amazing cultural venue. There is one site, though, along the shores of the Danube in the shadow of those majestic lions that bespeaks a horror so intense it will take away one’s breath. I found that it left me spell-bound in the mystery of what the last words, the last thoughts and the last looks between loved ones might have been as they were lined upon the bank of the river and murdered. Their bodies – from the smallest of children in their mothers’ arms to the old and infirm stood, awaiting the sting of the bullets that would dispatch them to their certain death and a watery grave marked only on this earth by the shoes the left behind. Immortalized by the townspeople of Budapest as a defiant call to never allow such a horror to happen again – the shoes are lined up along the banks as if their owner’s next steps would be into eternity.

Budapest WWII Memorial to those murdered on the banks of the Danube River 1944-1945 by ArrowCross Militia
Budapest WWII Memorial to those murdered on the banks of the Danube River 1944-1945 by the   Arrow Cross Militia

On the night of January 8, 1945, an Arrow Cross execution brigade forced all of the inhabitants of the building on Vadasz Street to the banks of the Danube. Arrow Cross was an extremist socialist party holding power in Hungary’s government in collusion with the Nazis. At midnight, Karoly Szabo and 20 policemen with drawn bayonets broke into the Arrow Cross house and rescued everyone there. Among those saved were Lars Ernster, who fled to Sweden and became a member of the board of the Nobel Foundation from 1977 to 1988, and Jacob Steiner, who fled to Israel and became a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Steiner’s father had been shot dead by Arrow Cross militiamen on December 25, 1944, falling into the Danube. His father had been an officer in World War I and spent four years as a prisoner of war in Russia. The Arrow Cross had usurped the symbol from the ancient Magyar for themselves and was then used it to symbolize their fascist movement known later as Hungarists. They oversaw between ten and fifteen thousand people murdered outright and another 80,000 deported to Auschwitz.

Hungarist flag
.
Dr. Erwin K. Koranyi, a psychiatrist in Ottawa, wrote about the night of January 8, 1945 in his Dreams and Tears: Chronicle of a Life (2006), “in our group, I saw Lajos Stoeckler” and “The police holding their guns at the Arrowcross cutthroats. One of the high-ranking police officers was Pal Szalai, with whom Raoul Wallenberg used to deal. Another police officer in his leather coat was Karoly Szabo.
The memorial along the Danube almost always has flowers or candles laid within the shoes. No one particular pair is identified with an individual victim, rather the sixty pairs that are made from iron are fashioned and welded in place as a lifetime remembrance of the evil which can overtake mankind when he fails to stand for the laws which protect humanity and to stand for the biblical principles that demand one brother look after another regardless of nationality or genetics. Such evil happens when people forget that under the depth of skin lies a heart that beats every single beat only by the permission of God the Creator. The shoes serve as a reminder not only of the brave heroics of the policemen that night who took a stand for what is right and what is fair; for justice and for humanity as a whole but also as a call to all future generations to not allow this to happen again. By Christmas of 1944 when Jacob Steiner’s father was murdered on the banks of the Danube, millions had already died at the hand of demonic forces masquerading as military officers and enlisted soldiers, as well as government officials and ordinary people who simply did nothing.
This short monograph, Shoes was not meant to be light-hearted or lightly up-lifting. However, it is, if the reader allows it to be, a source of encouragement. Our world again faces demonic extremists that have only one desire: to rule and reign by terror and violence, murder and mayhem at the edge of a sword, inflicting the name of Allah upon those they call infidels, as well as, on those who might consider themselves of the faithful.
The encouragement lies within a simple maxim: The darker the room the more luminescent even the feeblest light. The brightness of that light is proportional to the depth of the darkness within which it burns. When the light is that which burns within a believer in Jesus Christ, even though the strength of that believer’s faith may provide only a modicum of power for the light to glow, the darkness that envelopes it enables that light to have an effect far beyond its means. Scientists tell us that under ideal conditions our unaided vision can detect a light as dim as a candle flame or a lit match 30 miles away on a dark clear night. You can perhaps imagine the strength of the light which has the full power of Jesus. In Him there is no darkness. God is truth, life and light. In these darkest of times, may the power of the light of Christ light your life, embolden your witness and may it never be said of this generation of Christians that we stood by while others collected shoes.

Night of the Murdered Poets

But this Resurrection Morning, April 20, 2014 I write with a very heavy heart because you see, another type of discovery was made this time just outside of Jewish synagogues in the Crimea.

Image       

Soviet Anti-Semites Deny Jewish
Heroism in War time circa 1946

                                             

         Image

“In January 1948 Solomon Mikhoels, a popular actor-director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater and the chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, was killed in a staged car accident. Mass arrests of prominent Jewish intellectuals and suppression of Jewish culture followed under the banners of campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans” and anti-Zionism. On 12 August 1952, in the event known as the Night of the Murdered Poets, thirteen most prominent Yiddish writers, poets, actors and other intellectuals were executed on the orders of Joseph Stalin, among them Peretz MarkishLeib KvitkoDavid HofsteinItzik Feffer and David Bergelson. In the 1955 UN Assembly‘s session a high Soviet official still denied the “rumors” about their disappearance.

In 2012, Yad Vashem began releasing more than a million new testimonial pages about Jews in the Soviet Union that are expected to help researchers measure the scope of persecution and extermination of Jews in the former Soviet Union.“(1)

Right now, as I write these words, there are Christians at the Garden Tomb just outside of Jerusalem celebrating the most magnificent act of love and grace the world will ever know – it is Resurrection Morning in Jerusalem! Praise Be to God! But this Resurrection Morning, April 20, 2014 I write with a very heavy heart because you see, another type of discovery was made this time just outside of Jewish synagogues in the Crimea. According to a USA Today report, as Jewish worshippers left the synagogue they were met by people handing out flyers to each of them. They were being ordered to report to the Russian authorities and register their families, the addresses, a list of all of their property and proof of citizenship. They were warned that if they failed to do so they would have their passports and citizenship revoked and their property confiscated. The only thing missing was the time of their curfew and their being ordered to wear a ‘Jude’ star identifying them as Jewish. Where is the worldwide outcry? According to the media U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made known his displeasure at the announcement. Heaven forbid that the U.S. Secretary of State boil over and call the anti-Semite acts the horrific crimes against humanity that they are! Whether they are carried out by Putin himself or some radicalized group of Russian citizens of Crimea acting on Putins orders, it might even warrant hearing some measured disdain from President Obama himself. The Nation of Israel did step up, as they always do, and rightfully declared the horrid nature of this crime, but the world seems to turn a deaf ear (See: Chamberlain – comma, Berlin – comma, Hitler – comma, 1938 – comma, Peace in Our Time – comma…)

I do not write this to rain on anyone’s Easter Parade. Today, in the Christian world is a time of celebration of our Savior, but it is also a day to remember that our Savior, the Son of God determined to come to earth as a Jewish carpenter. Maybe, as we celebrate here in the United States this Resurrection Morning in just a few hours, just maybe, this should be a picture in our minds..

.Image

                        with the declaration… “NEVER AGAIN”

 

 

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust_in_Russia

Those who cannot remember…

It had been a lush grass field on the outskirts of Gdansk before the war and then it became nearly one square mile of human suffering, mud, blood and shoes.

George Santayana wrote a first volume titled Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason and in it he made a statement that has been quoted and misquoted (more the latter than the former) since he penned it around the turn of the 20th Century. Santayana was born in Spain during the American Civil War and lived in America through the ‘Great War’  and WWII and died while the Korean War was raging. It is a curiosity as to how he would have sided in the Spanish-American War in 1898.

In his book, on page 284 in fact, is the quote: “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Perhaps it is appropriate that it is so often misquoted, since Santayana himself turned the phrase of Edmund Burke, a British philosopher who would have been about fifty years old at the time of the American Revolution. Burke was first to write: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” There is a slight turn of phrase, not remembering the past as compared to not knowing history. I don’t think the two are inter-changeable particularly in this instance. Not knowing seems to indicate and ignorance of or indifference toward history. Not remembering the past has different  variables such as physically being unable to recall or being negligent in initially retaining the information.

Memories can be fickle things; clear one moment and as a wisp of air, gone the next. We can come to a point where we are not sure if our memories are actual records of events as they were or as we think they might have been. They may even be simply as we were told they were so repeatedly. I prefer to know something rather than remember it. One is solid the other vapor. Often, as I have left places, particularly in the Balkans or Eastern Europe; I have prayed that God would not permit me to forget what I have seen. I took to writing a travel log of sorts for my Balkan memories. It helps me to know my history there.

My very first visit to a “Concentration Camp”, better understood as Death Camps, this one,  Stutthof, is in Gdańsk Poland and was run by Hitler’s SS (secret police) rather than like the prisoner of war camps run by the Luftwaffe (air force). Each was horrific in their own ways. This, the first camp built outside of Germany was near the town of Skopje where Hitler kept a residence in the early part of the war following the Blitzkrieg of Poland. It was first run by the local chief of police from 1937 to 39 when in September it was transformed to a deportation center and  a re-education camp by the SS. Eventually, Stutthof  had some of the most brutal female guards in Third Reich (perhaps world) history.

There is mostly pristine grass fields and woodlands there now, just a couple of buildings and a gate to let you know where you are. A small memorial stands solemnly to the victims of this Satan’s lair. I trust I will not forget the shoes of Skopje. Taken from prisoners after their death, they are all sizes; many of them are women’s and children’s shoes, even tiny pinkish slippers the size for a toddler. One building houses nothing but the largest pile of discarded shoes I ever expect to see. Other than a small area for visitors to stand, the pile of shoes fills the building. In the center of the long building, the pile of shoes stands as a silent memorial from the floor to the ceiling. Estimates of the number murdered there are around 100,000 but most historians believe that to be a low number because those sent during the  final solution for immediate execution were never registered. Two things stand out in my mind. The first the most horrific, I think, that a small factory near the camp made soap from human bodies. How can one human being do that to another? The other is this solitary hangman’s post. The center of the camp as it is today in the background, the image is stark against the quiet backdrop. But not so in the days of Stutthof. Graphic images from the days of its liberation in May 1945 should be viewed by those determined not to forget, but to know history so we do not repeat it. Hangman's noose Stutthof Nazi Death Camp Gdansk Poland

On the door frame of my home is a small olive wood box from Jerusalem with an inscription on the front depicting Romans 11. The passage describes new believers as grafted in to the tree that began as the Nation of Israel. Inside the small box is a scroll on which is the Shema passage that God instructed the Israelites to know and to pass down to the generations that followed them. They were to place them on their door posts and speak of them in their goings and comings, in their sitting down and rising up. Hear Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength. I do not keep it there because of the commandment given to the Israelites in the days of Moses; I keep it there so I will not only remember, I will know. As I go out and as I come in, I am reminded again who is the reason for my hope.

We, as a people and particularly as Americans, need to know our history. We need to be reminded of why this country was founded and upon what and who it was founded. Do not ever say that what happened beginning in Gdańsk, Poland can never happen here. Remember, the first kommandant was the chief of police of the city whose full name was The Free City of GdańskI do not believe that on one day the chief of police just woke up and said, ‘today I will start imprisoning my friends and neighbors.’  Records indicate that, before the camp began in 1937, that since at least 1936 the SS had been secretly creating dossiers on the locals. They gathered information on political enemies of the government. We must also remember that Adolf Hitler was elected to office. 

Look past the hangman’s post and see the fresh grass growing green and new. It had been a lush grass field on the outskirts of Gdańsk before the war and then it became nearly one square mile of human suffering, mud, blood and shoes. Then, it became fresh, green and growing grass again. Gdańsk did not have to endure that interlude. Somewhere in the line of events, someone, some one, could have stood up and said No! Once it began, many tried to say, No, and they paid for it with their lives. But before that power was in place, somebody had the chance to say No! but they didn’t.

Sociologists and historians give us lots of reasons that Hitler was able to be elected and able to change his job title from Reich Chancellor of Germany  to Führer (father). We do know that a group of conservatives who understood the threats Hitler posed were loyal to President-for life Hindenburg. One, a vice-chancellor (Franz Von Papen) almost convinced Hindenburg to return the country to a constitutional monarchy. Hindenburg himself, dying at the age of 87 told Von Papen “…things are going badly, see what you can do.” Von Papen urged Hindenburg to put the declaration in his will that the country was to be returned to a constitutionally based monarchy. Rather than put it in his will, Hindenburg put the decree in a personal letter to Adolf Hitler. I wonder what Santayana thought.

I will leave you with this: first, there is hope… His Name is Jesus. Second, those who are unable to remember history must know history and be prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our society from repeating it.

 

Dit Dit Dit Dah…

     True North Ministries              Rev. Ross L. Riggs D. Min.        Riggs Ministry Minute: For when there’s only a minute for ministry

www.docriggs.com

11 March 2012

The Longest Day, a movie based on the history of D-Day, the June 6, 1944 Allied Invasion of Europe at Normandy, as recalled in a novel of the same title by Cornelius Ryan in 1959; begins with an ominous timpani playing a Morse  code ‘V’ for victory dit-dit-dit-dah. Though it reminds one of something by Schubert or Handel, perhaps Beethoven, the deep Germanic sound of the drum inspires the Ally’s drive for victory; a victory that was at all times sure, but never certain.  The rhythmic combination of dits and dahs (or dashes) resemble the  code tapped out on a basic  code key that interrupts a continuous signal so that each interruption can be timed to make the sound of a dit (very short) or a dash (a bit longer) and it was done at amazing speeds. The draw I have toward this now, nearly obsolete, form of communication; although still utilized in high speed telemetry in a similar fashion, comes at me through two veterans of that wonderful, horrid war. But if I linger too long on the war, you will leave me before my point is made. Bear with me I beseech you!

The first of the two men is my father. During the war, he was Seaman Ralph L. Riggs, Radioman Second Class, USNR, assigned the Patrol Craft, PC-1261. My father was receiving Morse code over headphones in the radio room mid-ship of the 1261 as it approached the Normandy beaches 35 minutes before H-hour which was 0600 hours GMT. The ship hit by either a torpedo or shore battery, immediately listed to one side and began to take on water. The table and heavy typewriter used to record the code being received slammed into my father’s leg leaving him a lasting remembrance, as if he needed one more. The PC1261 was soon to be at the bottom of the English Channel and is probably still there to this day. My father, thankfully, was among the survivors.

The second veteran of WWII that is forever linked to me and secured with a lock whose only key does not open anything, (the Morse  code key of course), is my Uncle Vernon Clarke. He was not a radioman like my father, but would spend the rest of his life following WWII and Korea, enjoying a hobby of Amateur (Ham) Radio.

A very rapid Morse code key that has its speed accentuated by a series of light weights balanced on the suspended key armature is, in the vernacular, a ‘bug.’ With Uncle Vernon teaching me Morse code on a regular basis as an excuse for me to stay up to all hours of the night to listen and watch him enjoying Ham radio, I caught the bug. I especially enjoyed ‘rag-chewing’ which is the strangely, yet appropriately named pastime simply meaning to have a long talk with someone on the other end of the electronic signal by way of radio waves bounced off the ionosphere. Often, these talks would be interrupted by someone in a far distant land, perhaps a missionary or assigned military personnel; trying to reach their homes in the U.S. when it was impossible to access a phone. My uncle would run phone-patch traffic. This is where the two ‘Ham’ operators, one with the missionary in the Amazon River delta perhaps and my uncle in the U.S., would arrange to meet at a time when the radio signal would supposedly be of good enough quality that Vernon could call the home of the missionary and patch that phone call through the radio to the other ‘Ham’ radio station.

With today’s instant cellular, Skype, internet, texting and messaging; I am sure this sounds like something from the stone-age. The analogy is not far wrong… well, not exactly. In those earliest days, Hams did not always have VFO’s or Variable Frequency Oscillators which would allow them to move their radio frequencies anywhere in the bandwidth. Instead, they had crystals. These were not something that scattered light and brought one to a faith healing utopia but were simply a crystal set that was exactly the right thickness so that when it oscillated, it would put the radio on a specific frequency. Those crystals were, in the vernacular, called ‘rocks’ and if you had no access to a VFO you were ‘rock-bound.’ Hence the stone-age hyperbole!

I have had the honor to have a part in the funerals of both Ralph Riggs and Vernon Clarke. I have the joy of knowing that both are in heaven today because of their personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I will someday join them, not because of anything I have done to earn a place; but rather, that I acted by faith alone. Even that faith was given to me by the Holy Spirit who opened my eyes so that I could see my guilt and my need for a Savior, Jesus Christ. I accepted His gift of salvation and now I know that heaven is my home.

This has been a long circuitous route, you say, from The Longest Day to our hope for today; but that, as good as it is to talk about, is not my reason for writing. Go back with me to the “V.”  dit-dit-dit-dah, dit-dit-dit-dah… What is it that stirs a memory for you? Some say it’s a great (or not so great) smell. There is the certain sound of a creaking screen door that puts me on the back porch of my grandparents’ home in Delbarton, W.Va. Tonight, it was the ‘V.’ A rush of synapse electrical impulses reminded me of my Uncle Vernon. Sure, in WWII and in the movie, ‘V’ is for victory but when I hear, dit-dit-dit-dah, ‘V’ is for Vernon. He was one of these two great men who loved me, guided me, protected me; (probably in more ways than I will ever know) and he went home to be with his Lord just a couple of short months ago. In fact, it was two months ago on the 9th that Vernon entered glory and Tuesday, March 13th will be two months since his funeral. Perhaps that is why he is so much on my mind this evening (early morning now I believe) or maybe it is because his daughter, Deb; my first cousin, is on my heart that stirs me to write this much longer than normal ‘Ministry Minute.’ I trust you have stayed with me on my long travels from The Longest Day, through my father’s D-Day crisis which from the English Channel’s icy waters God brought him, and to Vernon’s joy of sharing Ham radio with his so very young nephew. Perhaps this month, in QST, the American Radio Relay League’s magazine for ‘Ham’ radio enthusiasts; ‘W8TJS’ will be honored as a “SILENT KEY.”

QST is Morse code shorthand for ‘stopping transmissions.’ Vernon’s  code key has been silent now for some time. His call sign will remain unassigned for the foreseeable future, unless perhaps my cousin Debbie picks it up, or someone else has a specific use for the call to memorialize Vernon’s achievements and his life. You see, Vernon was the epitome of a ‘Ham’ radio operator because he cared deeply for his faith, his family, his country and his community. Doing a hundred and one volunteer services, Vernon was a ‘volunteer’ before it was the chic thing to do on a Wednesday afternoon when the press is around. Vernon was a middle of the Xenia tornado relief when there are no bathrooms or shelters or hot meals kind of volunteer.  Vernon was the freezing cold winter nights out with a fire department, trying to film the scene to help them train better in the future volunteer. He was the stay way past 11:00 at night working on the electrical display for the high school band even though he had to be at work at 6 the next morning type of volunteer. Vernon was the volunteer chaperone staying in “rustic” cabins on horrible cots with ice cold showers, to watch over a hundred band kids at camp in the middle of August and taking personal vacation time from work to do it kind of guy. When it came to figuring out how to fix something without the right tools or materials; Rube Goldberg would have come to Vernon for advice, if he could have.

I hope that perhaps some group of ‘Hams’ somewhere picks up on the idea that Rag-chewing and DX’ing on the low bands is worth hanging on to, but, more importantly that unabashed love of God and country and caring for your fellowman through community service is something worth hanging on to too; and they ask the FCC to allow their club to carry his moniker. Nothing would have pleased Vernon more, particularly if it meant reaching out to young people to teach them the joy of radio. Believe me, I know that there are a lot of clubs out there that do a ton of community service and I know that Amateur Radio has been blessed with many such people over the years; but this one could be uniquely a personification of just such a man.

Thank you for coming with me on my trip to spend a little time with my uncle.  As we Christians go about doing good in the Name of Christ, a Name that is above all names; I hope that when our ‘keys’ go silent, if someone could go back and somehow replay all of the transmissions those keys made throughout our lives, that they will be as selfless, as giving, as non-judgmental and forbearing as W8TJS. May God bless you richly throughout this new season and throughout the year.

And as we say, “farewell” in ‘Ham’ radio “VERNacular” – 73’s