Heroes You Should Know: August Landmesser

350px-August-Landmesser-Almanya-1936If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth a million.  It’s 1936 and the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg is hosting Adolf Hitler, who has come to witness the unveiling of a new ship for his Nazi war machine.  The German newspaper Die Zeit is there to capture the moment, and the adoring audience of laborers facing their Fuhrer—manufactured propaganda.  But then courage breaks through.

 

In the sea of “Heil Hitler” salutes, a lone figure stands in defiance, arms crossed in silent protest.  No big deal?  In 1936 Nazi Germany, this man could have been put to death for such an act.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

 

Five years earlier, at the height of Germany’s post war depression, August Landmesser decided to join the new Nazi party, which promised reform for the stagnant economy and jobs for all—while conveniently leaving out the part about world domination and a “final solution” for the Jews.

 

But in 1935 when August became engaged to the Jewish Irma Eckler, and applied for a marriage license he was expelled from the Nazi party.  Later that year Irma gave birth to their first daughter.  So when the now iconic photograph was shot, August was already in trouble deep with the Nazis.

 

A year later, recognizing that their future together was in serious jeopardy, the young family tried to flee to Denmark, but was stopped at the border.  August was charged with “dishonoring the race” under Nazi racial laws because he had not abandoned his wife, who was now pregnant with their second child.  The case was dismissed for lack of evidence, as Eckler’s step-father had been Christian and she’d actually been baptized.  Even so, August was given strict orders to not repeat the offense—code for “leave your woman.”  But he chose love.

 

And later that year, when the “Rassenschande” policy was passed, which gave soldiers permission to detain all non-Aryan women married to German men, Irma was captured by the Gestapo.  She was allowed to give birth to their second child, but was then sent to Ravensbruck where she was gassed in 1942.  August was sentenced to two years of hard labor in the Concentration camp at Borgermoor.  When he was released, he was immediately drafted into a penal battalion and killed in action in Croatia.  Their two daughters, Ingrid and Irene, were placed in foster care but would survive.

 

And it was Ingrid, August and Irma’s first born, who in 1991 identified her father in that remarkable photograph, taken in that Nazi shipyard in 1936—one man, arms crossed, refusing to salute evil and making a radical statement about love.

 

Non-conformity has seldom said so much, or looked so beautiful. 

 

August Landmesser is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Heroes You Should Know: Horatio Spafford

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Horatio Spafford was a prominent, well-to-do Chicago attorney in the late 1800’s, who was happily married with four young daughters.  He is best known for the traditional hymn he penned, “It Is Well With My Soul.”

 

But the story behind the story reads more like something taken from the Book of Job.

 

His fortunes began to turn in the Spring of 1871.  Having invested heavily in real estate, the Great Fire of Chicago which burned for three days wiped out most of Spafford’s investments.

 

Two years later, still trying to re-build his financial world, Spafford decided to vacation with his family in England.  Delayed by business at the last minute he sent his wife and their daughters—ages eleven, nine, five, and two—on ahead.  Off the coast of France, the ship collided with another ship and sank.  All four of the Spafford daughters perished.

 

One can only imagine what Horatio Spafford felt as he sailed for England to console his grieving wife Anna.  But what we do know is that as he passed the area where his daughters had died, there is where he penned the immortal words, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

 

The cynic might be tempted to wonder if poor Mr. Spafford was simply in shock, or trying his best to spiritualize away losses of Biblical proportion.  Well with his soul?  Denial, right?  Eventually his spiritual and psychological house would collapse in the face of his crushing reality, right?  Wrong.

 

After their church declared their tragedies to be a sign of divine retribution, and the Spafford’s lost another child—this time to scarlet fever—Horatio and Anna left for Israel, to establish the ‘American Colony’ with their two surviving children.

 

This philanthropic organization offered humanitarian aid to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike—showing no partiality, and preaching the Gospel ONLY with their works.

 

Horatio Spafford would spend the last seven years of his life in service to the suffering, dying just days short of his 60th birthday.  He was buried in Jerusalem.

 

It’s been said that how you respond to losses will determine whether your life becomes bitter or bigger.  But Horatio Spafford reminds us that there is a third category:  heroic.

 

He is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Heroes You Should Know: Mary Bethune

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The fifteenth child born to former slaves, Mary McLeod Bethune was the only member of her family to go to school.  She eventually received a scholarship to Scotia seminary where she studied to be a missionary.  But instead of Africa, where she’d dreamed of serving, Bethune was to become a missionary of justice and equality in her own country—the United States of America.

 

Bethune founded a school for African-American women in 1904 that what would become Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach.

 

Along with her efforts in education, her civil rights work had earned her a national platform by the mid 1920’s.  Bethune would go on to serve as an advisor on housing, child welfare, and minority issues to three American presidents.  And Eleanor Roosevelt considered her one of her most trusted friends.

 

Mary Bethune saw opportunities where others saw obstacles.  When she learned that a young black student had been refused admittance to a hospital in Daytona Beach, she helped open one that served the African American community.  During both World Wars, she pushed for integration in the American Red Cross and organized the first officer’s candidate school for black women.  And when Florida segregation law restricted blacks from using public beaches, she raised money to buy two miles of coastline as well as the surrounding homes.  She and her partners then sold the homes to African-American families, and opened up the beach to people of all races.

 

She was fond of saying, “Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.”  But Scripture tells us that faith without works is dead.  Bethune is not memorable because she had faith, but because she had a faith that worked.  And she never stopped working—for equality and justice, for all.

 

And the American dream is more than just a dream to millions of people because of her.
Mary Bethune is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Heroes You Should Know: Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma

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Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma were a farming couple living Markowa, Poland with their six children when the Nazis came in 1939.  At the time, Markowa was 90% Catholic, and 10% Jewish.

 

And in 1942 the Nazis began coming for the 10%.  The majority of the Jews were massacred, but a few survived because Catholic families gave them refuge.  From the beginning of the persecution, the Ulmas were one such family.

 

Even giving a Jew a drink of water in occupied Poland was punishable by death, let alone hiding Jews.

 

But Jozef and Wiktoria took in two Jewish families anyway, and these eight neighbors lived in the attic of the home and worked on the farm alongside the Ulmas.  The farm was seen as a safe refuge, being several miles outside of town.  And for two years it was.

 

But on the morning of March 24, 1944 Nazi soldiers arrived at the Ulma farm.  They rounded up the eight Jews and shot each in the back of the head.  Then, they assassinated Jozef, the pregnant Wiktoria and all seven children.

 

But the atrocity did not have the desired effect on the townspeople the Nazi’s had hoped for.   The Ulma’s ultimate sacrifice only encouraged other families to pick up where they’d left off.  And as a result 17 Jews survived the purge in Markowa.

 

Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma were given the title Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1995, and in 2003 their cause for cannonization was introduced in Rome.

 

Love your neighbor as yourself.  For some, these are more than just words.

 

Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma are heroes you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.