As a young girl, I was inspired by wonderful stories of human survival and our capacity to love. Whether reading a fairytale or an autobiography of a girl hiding from evil in a tiny annex, I was mesmerized. To actually travel to many of those places last month was a thrill!
My first stop was Haarlem, Netherlands, where I went to see the home of Corrie Ten Boom, the Beje, aka The Hiding Place. Corrie and her family had hidden, placed, and saved the lives of over 800 Jewish people during WWII. They were eventually caught by the Nazis and brought to concentration camps where they were starved, tortured, and killed. Corrie was released due to a clerical error and survived. While sharing their faith to all they encountered at the camps (including the guards), Corrie and her dear sister, Betsy, prayed for their captors, guards, and even the “friend” who turned them into the Gestapo, asking God to forgive them. Corrie taught in order to heal from our pain in life and truly love, we must forgive. “There is no pit so deep that His love is not deeper still.” – Corrie Ten Boom
I then visited many other fascinating sights near Haarlem, including the largest organ in the world that Mozart played when he was 10 years old (Grote Kerk), the many paintings by Vermeer, Van Gogh and Rembrandt, the windmills of Kinderdijk, the countless canals, and rows and rows of tulips. Coming upon two small tulips growing amidst a wild patch of dry grass, I was reminded of the hopeful message of renewal tulips bring us after a hard winter or a difficult time in life.
Anne Frank’s annex where she and her family hid from the Nazis, again in WWII, was nearby in Amsterdam, Netherlands. As a girl, I never could finish her book, The Diary of Anne Frank, as my heart broke with each page. But as a grown woman now on this journey, I went to the annex to see her actual diaries, first hand. Her penmanship was impeccable and delicate. I felt as if she were talking to me personally as I read her words, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart…the good news is that you don’t know how great you can be…how much you can love!”
Traveling on, Spring showers set in which made the Rhine sights difficult to see through the dark fog and sleet. Yet coming into Oberdiebach, there were so many rainbows settling over the hillsides, I had to laugh out loud! Once again, I was reminded of the tulips’ message of hope and renewal, and new joy!
“Love is a present of nature on the whole world and without it one cannot live” is the inscription of a Russian prisoner in the dungeon of the Gestapo Headquarters, Cologne, Germany. I felt cold to the bone at this site but once again, inspired by one’s capacity to rise above all and love in such darkness.
Further down the Rhine, I felt the soft warmth of sunbeams break through the Black Forest’s dark and ominous trees of the Brothers Grimm. Picturing Hansel and Gretel, I had a slice of Black Forest Cake which I never cared for prior to this particular slice. (The bakers soak the cherries from the region in schnapps which I think makes all the difference.)
I ended my journey standing at the highest peak of the Swiss Alps, overcome by endless white snow, vibrant blue sky and intimidating rocky heights. I reflected on all I encountered on this special journey, from the courageous lessons of forgiveness, healing, and love to the messages of renewal, to the quiet majesty of God’s creation. Standing there in awe, I concluded my journey and thoughts with the powerful yet comforting words of Hebrews 13, “I am the same yesterday, today and forever.”