Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Joy (05/18/06)
TITLE: A Train Ride to Hell
By Dr. Sharon Schuetz
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Phillip pulled her against his strong chest. Rachel felt like a small child in his familiar embrace. His huge frame overshadowed her. “Shh, my Beloved. I cannot tell you why. Who can understand the rantings of a mad man?” Philip was always calm. Rachel depended on his strength.
Philip and Rachel warmed themselves by the fire barrel on the street of the interment camp. Rachel heard the truck tires crunch the ice and slide to a stop at the end of the street. The boots were even louder. Gunfire. Screaming. Cursing. Rough hands pulled at her, shoving her toward the trucks. She could see Philip’s face in the dim firelight. Their eyes locked just for a moment before the butt of a rifle slammed into the back of his skull.
The long ride in the crowded truck was only the beginning of Rachel’s journey. Men in uniform with guns and dogs surrounded the train station. Her determination crumbled as she realized that Philip was on a different train. The endless ride was worse than the rumors had described. No bathrooms, no room to sit, the stench of feces, urine, and vomit permeated the air. The dead body of an old woman, pressed against her, held up by the crowd. For four days, they stood in cattle cars; bodies pressed together, people dying from starvation and lack of oxygen.
The train screeched as it pulled to a stop. Finally, the doors opened and the passengers could move again. The bright sun reflected off the snow. Once her eyes stopped burning she saw that the train had taken them to Ravensbruck, in Northern Germany. Rachel’s empty stomach wrenched with terror as she realized that she was in a women’s concentration camp and that she may never see her beloved Philip again.
The overcrowded barracks housed three to a bunk. The acrid smells of urine and rotting flesh assaulted her senses. The women worked sixteen hours a day. At night, they sat on the beds scratching fleabites and listened to the Scriptures read by two old Dutch sisters from Holland. They were daughters of a watchmaker who were here because they hid Jews from the Nazis in their home.
Rachel couldn’t understand the demeanor of these two women. Betsy was sick all the time, and her sister, Corrie, smiled incessantly. They even thanked God for the fleas that caused the German guard’s refusal to enter the barracks and discover their disobedience. These two “crazy ladies” confused Rachel. They had nothing to live for; nobody waited for them at home, yet they insisted that God’s love would sustain them.
The months passed slowly. All she could think about was finding Philip. Day after day, she worked hard and at night, she listened to the Scriptures and occasionally asked questions.
Rachel had been at Ravensbruck for three weeks when she pensively made her way across the room and sat on the edge of Corrie’s bunk. “Corrie, I don’t understand how you can keep such an attitude with all you’ve been through. If I don’t get some help I’ll go mad.”
“My dear, Jesus went through much more than I have suffered. Only through his strength can any of us survive.” The kind old woman’s raspy whisper cut deep into Rachel’s anger. “The Bible says…The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). This encourages us to continue as we pour ourselves out for the needs of others.”
“Help me, please; I need this God you speak of.” A tear escaped as Rachel took Corrie’s withered hand.
Betsy died a few days later. Shortly after, an accidental clerical error caused the release of Rachel’s friend Corrie Ten Boom, just one week before they exterminated all the women her age.
Death, starvation, hard work, excessive punishment, and harsh weather surrounded Rachel. Despair, her constant enemy sought to destroy her. Rachel, however, would not let go of Corrie’s Savior. On occasion, she could be heard humming and if you asked her why she would simple say, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
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