From Bill Sutter’s Desk Nov/Dec 2007
When Halina entered the room, we immediately realized we were in the presence of someone special. Now 89 years old, Halina has logged 45 years of service with The Friends of Israel and many more years as a choice servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
During World War II, she fought in the Polish underground. Later she experienced hardship as a prisoner of war under the Germans and oppression as a Polish citizen under the Communists. Yet her life has also been characterized by an extraordinary love for the Jewish people.
Known formerly to Israel My Glory readers as Sister Alice or Mrs. Alice due to security concerns under Communism, Halina recently shared with our board of trustees the thrilling accounts of how God established and blessed The Friends of Israel’s ministry in Poland in the face of great adversity. We had traveled to Poland to experience the outreach firsthand and to encourage our workers on this strategic field.
We stayed in downtown Warsaw, in sight of the towering, notorious structure that was once the Russian administrative headquarters for dispensing Soviet oppression to the Polish people. Today this building serves as a cultural and science center in the midst of the capital’s booming economy. The fall of Communism less than two decades ago has led to a new day of vibrant ministry and growth for The Friends of Israel throughout Poland and Eastern Europe.
Our hearts were stirred as we met with our entire Polish team at the farm outside Warsaw. Here, not far from the road that leads to Moscow, our workers recounted God’s faithfulness and rejoiced in today’s unprecedented opportunities. We also saw the children’s summer camping ministry in action. Children from Russia, the Ukraine, and other former Soviet-bloc countries joyfully sang familiar Christian tunes in their native tongues. They recited Bible verses with enthusiasm and answered questions with truths they had learned from the Word of God. The farm also serves as an important conference center for adults from these same countries, who come for Holidays in the Bible, studies in God’s Word, and opportunities to learn of the treasures of His grace in Jesus Christ.
The joy we shared with our workers at the farm contrasted sharply with the darkness we experienced the day we journeyed to Auschwitz. Few sites are more chilling reminders of the Holocaust than this one—the largest of the Nazi extermination camps. We stopped first at Auschwitz I, the administrative headquarters for the mass murder of the largest number of European Jews. We toured its stark brick structures that warehoused up to 20,000 inmates. Daily, they were force-marched under the disingenuous German sign ARBEIT MACHT FREI (“work will make you free”) to jobs in construction and farm labor.
Some held here were non-Jewish political prisoners, but the Jews were the ones treated with the severest inhumanity. We saw the standing cells where prisoners, four at a time, were forced to spend their nights in areas so small that they could do nothing but stand. Other cells were designated for starvation, where prisoners were denied food and water until they died. Outside, at the execution wall, thousands were shot to death.
Then our somber group continued for less than two miles to Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, the main killing center designed to carry out Hitler’s “final solution.” Jewish people from throughout Europe, along with other prisoners of war, were stuffed into cattle cars on trains and sent to Birkenau. We walked through the notorious “death gate” and stood on the railroad tracks where German SS officers made their infamous selections: Most of the women and children and those who looked “unfit” (the majority) were sent to the left, while most of the young men and others judged “fit” were sent to the right. The left meant certain death in the gas chambers followed by cremation in the ovens, and the right meant hard labor and housing under the most inhumane conditions imaginable. Of the 405,000 recorded laborers between 1940 and 1945, about 340,000—84 percent—were starved or beaten to death or died via execution or sickness.
We were gripped by the huge 425-acre expanse of Birkenau. Forty-five buildings still remain of the more than 300 originally constructed. Some 1.1 million people, mainly Jews, were murdered there, largely by gassing.
The inhumanity and depravity of what we witnessed at Auschwitz renewed our commitment to mankind’s real hope: the grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our board members and staff leaders left Poland more determined than ever to combat anti-Semitism and more grateful than ever for the privilege of witnessing the Lord’s ministry through our Polish workers who are impacting Eastern Europe for the glory of God.