"... we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we
despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in
ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God ...." 2 Corinthians
Muehlberg concentration camp,
built by the Nazis in 1940 to house prisoners of war, was
one of those which the Russians took over intact with
scarcely any interruption to make the change of management.
As time went on (and I was there for eighteen months), this
place came to have a double meaning for me: I was to witness
evermore cruelty and injusticeówhich was Godís plan for
meóand I was to undergo a further test of my faith through
being exposed to an ever deepening depravity.
At first the transfer seemed
to my father and me almost like receiving our freedom when
we compared our new conditions with the exceedingly close
confinement we had known for fourteen months within a single
wing of Dresden Prison, most of that time caged like beast
behind bars. Here we were soon freed to walk around the barracks and talk with people. Although the Muehlberg
buildings were of temporary wartime construction and we
slept with head to wall on crowded wooden shelves which ran
around the earthen-floored room, the new freedom of movement
seemed for awhile to be all we needed.
At the time we arrived, in
September, 1946, there were about 6,000 prisoners in the
camp. All but one hundred were German civilians who had been
arrested in the East Zone, about 1,000 of them women.
Conditions were bad for the women, but not nearly so bad as
at Dresden Prison.
Some of the women had been so
broken morally that they would voluntarily enter into
liaisons with the
Russian guards in the hope of gaining special favors. The
Russians would go to the womenís barracks in the daytime and
did not mind the lack of privacy.
There were enough women
prisoners at Muehlberg so that women who wanted to maintain
their decency had some chance to do so, despite the
debauchery they were often forced to witness. Attacks on
women were rare at Muehberg, as there were enough poor
creatures who willingly submitted to their Russian guards.
Moral virtue was something women prisoners had to pay a high
price to retain, but many had the strength of character to
I need not elaborate on the
extent to which the mental and moral condition of the women
who gave up the fight deteriorated. The same was true,
although to a less obvious extent, with the men. Unless some
standards of decent behavior are observed in a concentration
camp, men and women tend to revert to a bestial level....
I had firmly resolved
that my life was dedicated to Christ and that I would not
again forget my obligation to Him. The task was far from
easy in the harsh environment of the camp, but I found that
it was of great
help to have a Christian goal, to try to serve Christ
wherever I was, during the aimless, interminable days of imprisonment. That objective, I soon found, made life just as meaningful in prison as it
would have been in the free world outside.
My father and I had an
opportunity now to pray together again.... Now he could tell
me about his own experiences in faith at the Dresden prison.
One of the most amazing of these had occurred just after the
starvation period, while he was still in solitary
confinement. The door to his cell suddenly opened and a
badly frightened man... was thrust in. My father told him
there must be some mistake (Dad had been told several times
that he was to be kept in solitary confinement pending
A little later, when the Russian guards came along
to make a check, they too were surprised to see two men in
the cell and went away to investigate the matter. That
evening at roll call they returned and said that the other
man was to be removed from the cell at once. But, somehow,
no one came for him.
My father and his unexpected
cellmate then knelt together to pray. The man told my father
that he had prayed that he might be placed in a cell with a
Christian man.... He prayed now that he might be permitted to stay with my father. The communist guards said
again next day that he would be removed but, through some
incredible mixup in the prison records, he did stay on in my
fatherís cell not just for a few days but for many weeks.
During this time he suffered
greatly from the poor food. Finally, stricken with
dysentery, he became so weak that he could not raise himself
on his cot. It became a most difficult, disagreeable job to
care for him but one my father gladly performed -- drawing
on experience be had gained in World War I Red Cross work.
The manís weight dropped to
about eighty pounds and finally he could no longer take
food. He realized be was dying and his mind dwelt constantly
on his wife and fifteen-year-old daughter whom he had not
seen since the end of hostilities. My father and be prayed
earnestly together that he might receive some word about
The very next day, as the watery soup was being ladled out
at noon, he heard a familiar name called out. It was the
name of a prisoner who bad just been assigned to the next
cell. Fatherís cellmate listened carefully and, when the
new prisoner replied, there could be no doubt that this was
a neighbor from his own small village who, having just been
arrested by the Communists and, out of hundreds of possible
cells, had been placed in the one next door!
Through one of the prison
workers, my father soon sent a message asking if the man had
seen his friendís wife or daughter. The reply was, yes!
They had returned to the village only the day previous to
his own arrest; he bad seen them and talked to them, and
they were both in good health.
Upon receiving this wonderful
news, my fatherís friend got out of bed, sick as he was, and
knelt down to give
thanks to the Lord. He said he was now ready to die if it
should be Godís will but, with hope restored, he began to
get better until eventually he was quite well again.
Meanwhile, the neighbor who had been able to pass along this
joyous news was taken to another prison the very next day.
A few weeks later, my
fatherís cellmate was sent to serve a two-year sentence in
another prison from which he was eventually released to
rejoin his beloved wife and daughter. There again was a
chain of circumstantial happenings that seems more than can
be attributed to mere coincidence....
In April, 1946, my father had
undergone another terrible physical ordeal, one which I had
been spared. He was taken to MVD headquarters for
questioning and there subjected to the sadistic Communist
version of the ďthird degree.Ē
Although the agents made no
accusation against him, they questioned him closely about
the activities of members of the 76th U.S. Army Division who
had come to our house to assist with the repatriation of
United States prisoners of war. They wanted him to
confess that these American officers and men had used
our home as an espionage center to gather information
against the Red Army.
When my father refused to
bear false witness against the men, the agents confined
him to a special torture cell which was three feet wide and
six feet long, a veritable living coffin of damp stone....
Water dripped from the ceiling and the cell was bitter cold.
Here my father contracted such severe and painful rheumatism
that he could not move his legs and feet or endure having
anyone touch his red and swollen hands.
The MVD agents apparently
became worried that he would die on their hands. Breaking
off their interrogation, they had Father carried to the
prison doctor. When the doctor examined him, he shook his
head and told the guards to take him back to prison,
explaining, ďThere is nothing I can do for him. He will last
no more than three or four days.Ē
But when they took him back
to Dresden Prison to his old cell to die, I was able to
leave him extra food... and soon my father found his health
said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made
perfect in weakness.'" 2 Corinthians 12:9