93: A Tradition of Kindness

93: A Tradition of Kindness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

A Tradition of Kindness

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.

~Matthew 25:35

My husband John has a close friend from Germany. In high school, they were exchange students at each other’s homes; John spent six months living with his German friend’s family and then his friend spent a year living with John’s family. Shortly after we were married, John and I took a trip to Germany and Austria. He wanted me to see the beautiful Alps and meet his German family before we had children and were more tied down. I am so glad we took that trip! The Alps were beautiful, and his German family was delightful.

Sitting around after dinner one evening, the German father, Vati, as my husband and his friend called him, told a story that I will remember and treasure all of my life.

He explained that he served in the German army in World War II. He was only nineteen years old and did not understand all that his country and its wicked leader were doing. He was drafted and so he served as was required of him.

Toward the end of the war, in the middle of winter, Vati was captured by the Americans. Tired, hungry, and cold, he had not eaten in days, his coat was threadbare and his boots were so worn that his sockless toes were exposed to the elements.

I still remember sitting in his warm living room, along with his wife, son, and my husband, sipping hot tea, while he told his story in German with his son interpreting for me — the only one in the room who could not understand German. The story must have been familiar to his family but it was mesmerizing to me.

Vati said he saw a fellow soldier cross an open field successfully, so he tried it. He figured if that man could make it, then the enemy must not be watching the field closely. But his assumption was incorrect and American soldiers quickly surrounded him, pointing their guns directly at his head. He dropped to the ground with his hands up. I’m not sure if he even had a weapon but if he did, it had no ammo. At any rate, he knelt in the snow, unarmed, expecting to be shot in the head, where their guns were aimed. But he was not shot.

Instead, the soldiers told him to get up, keep his hands held above his head, and go with them to a nearby prisoner of war camp.

“Oh,” he thought, “they are going to torture me before they kill me.”

He trudged slowly over the snow-covered field, fully expecting that upon arrival he would be tortured. How he dreaded the ordeal that was about to unfold!

When they entered a clearing, hidden deep in the woods, the Americans pointed to a log on the ground near a campfire. “Sit down,” one of the soldiers instructed. Vati did not know much English, but he at least understood those words. He made his way to the log and sat down, fearing what would happen next.

At least the fire felt warm. It was the first warmth he had experienced in weeks. Small comfort under the circumstances, but it did feel good at that moment.

As he waited, one of the American soldiers brought him a bowl of hot stew and a spoon. He hadn’t had a hot meal in weeks. It was delicious! Then shortly after, they gave him new boots and a new coat.

Vati smiled as he said, “They did not torture me. They gave me shelter, warm clothes and food.” His eyes danced as he continued, “If I had known this is what it would be like to be captured by the Americans, I would have surrendered much earlier.”

~Harriet E. Michael

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