03 Dec Blitzkriegs, Babies, and Blessings
As the Nazi blitzkrieg pushed toward my father’s little village in northern Norway, allied troops began to retreat past wee Knut’s farmhouse. All too soon, word came from his papa: time to head into the mountains for safety.
In those fretful mid-day hours, the family hurriedly gathered what supplies they could. Dad still recalls seeing his elderly next-door neighbor, atop a wicker chair, with makeshift poles affixed, carried toward the steep trail bordering the valley.
Though my Far Far (Father’s Father) Paul sneaked down to milk the dairy cows that night, the rest of his brood stayed in the alpine forest for several days. When they were finally able to return to the farm, things were vastly different. For one, the Germans built a small prison camp roughly 500 yards from the Johansen property.
Each morning, Dad watched soldiers of the Third Reich forcibly march a work party of Russian and Polish POWs past the family’s front stoop. In perhaps the most pure example of childhood resilience that I know, Knut—together with his equally impish buddy Roald—eventually tricked the Nazis.
Upon finding a recently deceased chicken, they approached a group of Germans and traded their “fresh” poultry for Bavarian chocolate. It was one of many interfaces my too-young-to-know-any-better papa had with the occupying forces before the invaders pulled out in early 1945.
If Dad and Roald’s chicken fiasco was brave, one of their final interactions with enemy troops was flat-out brazen. “It” happened right after word came that the Nazi’s were leaving. The two toe-headed boys, always curious about the prison camp, approached a familiar guard at the jail’s front gate.
Using bits of German and Norsk, the now-older boys queried, “Can we come in and look around?” The bemused guard disappeared back into the compound.
A short time later he reappeared and actually opened the gate! After “touring” the facility for a time, the two boys entered one of the bunkhouses: home to three raggedy detainees.
The first prisoner to glimpse the blue-eyed youngsters stood up in stunned silence. Recovering his wits enough to converse with the guard/translator, the captive wondered aloud if he was dreaming.
Assured that he was, in fact, actually seeing two local boys, he and another bunkmate insisted that Dad and Roald sit down and share in some of their simple gruel. That’s when my papa noticed that the third inmate was, with eyes closed, as still as a stone.
As only a youth would, Dad reached toward the upper bunk and tickled the motionless man’s foot.
Broken from sickness and hopelessness, with great lethargy the man slowly opened his eyes, just a little, before snapping to alertness! All three prisoners wept. For —if children could come into the dirty jail—maybe, just maybe, the hostages might live after all.
In ensuing days, the Third Reich departed. Strangely enough (perhaps because a couple of farm boys were unexpected witnesses) the Russian-hating Germans left those weary men alive. Locals took it upon themselves to nurse the fellas back to health.
Before the few survivors departed, they made a special request: could they “payback the locals for their kindness?”
And so it was that one evening the whole town gathered in the crowded school to see limping, recently freed men “dance,” and sing, and bid the hamlet of Rognan adieu. Dad and Roald, the blue-eyed bringers of optimism, enjoyed the show from the front row—seats of honor for the little boys who tickled aching hearts with hope and expectation.
Speaking of hope and expectation, later this month my wife, children, and me will gather with Dad, now 79, and Mom. Like those Russians and Norwegians in 1945, we’ll also celebrate a child who took the despair from our lives.
I’d been held captive by anger, hemmed in by fear, and was just starting to be shackled by alcohol. When achievement and athletics didn’t fill the void in my heart, I met a Son who brought me peace, and opened the cell doors of my spirit.
After I prayed to ask Jesus into my heart, he began to change me. Thankfully, he continues this process today. As one lyricist wrote, “I am still a man in need of a Savior.” For —since the Christ baby did come into our dark world—surely, absolutely surely, former sin hostages like me, and you, will live eternally after all.
Though my family is far from perfect, in upcoming days we will join with many others as, for at least one night, we give this now-grown man the seat of honor in our lives. After all, it’ll be Christmas, when we celebrate His birth.
Can a child bring hope? You better believe it.
Does the Child bring healing? Absolutely.