Truth, even painful hard-to-deal with truth, can facilitate healing in unexpected ways.
What a blessing to be with Sheba's sister Daisy, her husband Ramesh and their children Frankie and Shofar here in Phoenix, Arizona. We are living out our jubilee year - and we are so grateful to be on this journey to the United States - a kind of a trip lifetime as our daughter Asha starts college in 2 weeks from now.
Being in Arizona for over a week gave me an opportunity to write some of the thoughts that were haunting me about my family's involvement with the holocaust. I finally wrote them down, prayed about what was written and pushed the 'publish' button on the blogger site. I felt a certain relief in doing so. In getting things out.
The post was actually a kind of an open prayer. A small act of public confession and a modest step on my desire to keep walking the road of repentance and restoration.
And within 2 days I have been blessed beyond belief.
My dear Auntie Hanna Zack Miley - who had worked along with her husband George with my parents from the early halcyon days of their visionary volunteer movement - read what I had put on this blog and wrote a very gracious comment on our Facebook account.
Hanna Zack Miley is a holocaust survivor - who was spared the terrible murder that her parents went through as she was sent by her parents through the Kindertransport to Britain before the war began.
I had an inkling that she and her husband would be in the US and so I clicked onto her facebook page... and what do I see as her home-town? Phoenix, Arizona.
Wow. I shot off a quick note to her... wondering if she and her husband would be in town....
The next morning Uncle George calls us. They are very much in town. And further we find out that they worship at the same Anglican church where Daisy and Ramesh's Asian Indian fellowship meets. Of all the churches in Phoenix - Uncle George and Auntie Hanna attend the morning service while Daisy and Ramesh are part of the Indian group that meets just before noon in the same premises! We had been within minutes of each other last week.
On the phone Uncle George invites us for lunch with him and Auntie Hanna.
What an amazing experience we had yesterday.
We are here as a family in the scenic beauty of Phoenix, at a lovely restaurant at noon, and were bathed with a beauty of a very different kind.
We met two people whose lives are and continue to be a fragrance.
Auntie Hanna (short for Hannalore) left her parents on the fateful day of Monday July 24th 1939 at Koln railway station. She did not know at the time what the parting fully meant - but her crying parents had sent her away in the hopes that she would survive the murder that was sweeping away so many sons of Abraham and daughters of Sarah. Less than three years later Hanna's parents Markus and Amalie Schneider Zack were murdered in Kulmhof, (now Poland) in May 1942.
We were with a daughter of miracle. She is 87 years old now. A small petite woman framed with snow-white hair and with so much love in her that it literally hurts. And her amazing husband who has walked a lifetime of faith together. Auntie Hanna reminds me so much of my own mother and has aged with much grace punctured with a sharpness of wit and insight.
As we settled down for the meal, Uncle George and Auntie Hannah first asked us to tell them about our lives. I had not seen them since... when? Perhaps when I was 4 years old? Almost a half century ago they had lived with my parents and others in a small shared (and fairly shabby) apartment in down-town Bombay. So we filled in what we could.
The delicious meal meandered in its own beautiful, lazy way. Then it was our time to hear a bit of their story.
Uncle George and Auntie Hanna told us that they now live half the year in the US - and half the year in Germany.
Auntie Hanna shared how growing up in England as an alien child, that she had hated the Germans so much, but how Jesus has been helping her over the years to reach out and walk a journey of forgiveness and restoration.
A journey which has included her taking up residence in her home-town of Gemünd which is today on the border of France, the place where she and her parents had been driven out by their fellow villagers 80 years ago.
She told us about how she was able to slowly make connections with people, to slowly address the sorrow of her past and gingerly find out about what happened to her parents. About how she had been welcomed by people who had been children when she was a child there. And how gradually, over invitations to coffee and cake (a noble German tradition) walls had come down.
In the short time we had, we could obviously not hear all the levels of discovery, but were enthralled to hear about how Auntie Hanna has been reaching out to her fellow villagers both past and present.
In 2012 she was invited to be the official Patron of Gemünd for the town's 800th year celebrations!
Part of the letter she received reads as follows:
… we want to thank you for your efforts toward reconciliation. We are thankful that you have come back to Gemünd and offered us the hand of forgiveness - in this country and town where your parents and family were murdered. We want to honor the Jewusih citizens of Gemünd, and we want to honor you as a Jewish citizen of Gemünd and as a woman who is seeking peace and blessing.
And that is what she has been doing. Every year she and her husband George spend around 6 months with people of Gemünd. Part of their ministry has been to share about Auntie Hanna's past - some of it one-on-one, some in small groups or in meetings. Part of their work is spending time individually with people in the town. Part of it is hosting and faciliating visitors and groups who have come for peace and reconciliation, who are there to confess to each other and begin to look truth in the eye. Some of it has been to take groups for times of discovery and forgiveness at sites linked with the Holocaust.
Auntie Hanna has written about the process of discovering her past, addressing the perpetrators and building peace in an amazing book called: A Garland for Ashes. She continues to meet people and speak out. She is on instragram and meets with researchers, fellow survivors as well as anyone trying to take steps of real peace. She and Uncle George are also part of the Eifel Fellowship a community for reconciliation.
As a family we were presented with a copy of A Garland for Ashes by Auntie Hanna, as well as one for Asha as she starts her new steps forward in life. Having this book in my hand today, and reading it again having just met Auntie Hanna led to many tears flowing. Tears at the hopelessness of the little girl as the torrent of evil swept along. Tears of sorrow at the horrors that happened to her family and so many other Jewish people. Tears of hope as I read about the steps Auntie Hanna has taken to gain help from the Messiah Yeshua Himself.
So here we were outside the restaurant in the heat of the Arizona sun being given this precious book by Auntie Hanna. We found out later in the evening that at 115 F (46 C) this was the hottest 5th of August ever recorded for Phoenix. What a strange beautiful world. To have a worm-hole open up and meet Auntie Hanna here. To get a glimpse of the extraordinary stories that she is involved with. To talk about things that perhaps as young idealistic women, with the war still so raw and recent my mother and Auntie Hanna may not have been able to talk about at that time.
Auntie Hanna is one of the last survivors of the Holocaust. She was just a small child when she was separated from her parents who were murdered three years later. Very few of the survivors are still alive. Meeting her is a deep link to the terrible past, and also to a glorious future. Auntie Hanna believes that Yeshua has come and will come again. There are still many things that we do not understand about this dark world, but we know that there will come a day when He Himself will wipe away every tear from the eyes of those in the New Jerusalem.
Thank you Auntie Hanna for sharing this precious part of your life with me. And for accepting the small and feeble attempts to ask forgiveness for what my people have done to you and your family.
There are more tears ahead. There have to be. But we have a common joy in looking forward to Yeshua who has adopted us into His great and extended family.
L' Chaim! To Life!