Seventy years ago Victory in Europe Day was proclaimed. On May 8, 1945 the mass celebrations took place, just a day after the full surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allies had occurred. Much of Europe had endured five years of Nazi occupation, and all of Europe had endured great turmoil for even longer than that.
On January 30, 1933 Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany, with the first concentration camp opening on March 12. On March 7, 1936 the Rhineland was occupied by German troops, and the infamous Kristallnacht happened on November 9-10, 1938. In 1939 Czechoslovakia and Poland fell, and by late 1940 much of Western Europe was under Nazi occupation.
What happened during this bleak period of human history of course has spiritual parallels. The biblical story line posits a good creation rendered bad by the Fall and the usurpation of Satan. Planet earth has been under enemy occupation, but one day Christ will return to finally put things back to how they were meant to be.
Just as there were many stories of courage, heroism and perseverance which emerged from the Nazi occupation, so too there have been plenty of great stories of the same in the spiritual war we are in. Two recent books which I just bought today highlight both cases.
In Don Stephens’ War and Grace: Short Stories from the World Wars we learn of many such amazing individuals and incredible tales of survival. Let me mention just one of the stories recounted here. Exactly 75 years ago, at 4:30am on May 10, 1940 Johanna-Ruth Dobschiner and her Jewish family were awoken by the sounds of gunfire, airplanes, and Nazi parachute troops landing in Amsterdam.
For the next five years she, like so many others from around so much of Europe, would endure Nazi occupation. Another famous Amsterdam Jew, teenager Anne Frank, was one of over 100,000 Dutch Jews killed by the Germans during that period of occupation.
Johanna-Ruth managed to survive, but her family was not so lucky. In February 1941 her two brothers, along with thousands of others, were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, never to be seen again. Two years later her mother and father were also taken away. She was left alone.
A minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, Bastian Johan Ader was a resistance fighter who sheltered Jews and protected airmen who had been shot down. He took in young Johanna-Ruth. While there she heard his sermons and read from his Christian library. She became a follower of Jesus on Easter Monday, 1944.
Ader however did not last long, as he was betrayed for money. He was arrested in Haarlem, taken to a Gestapo prison in Amsterdam and tortured. He would not divulge any names however, and was shot and killed in November of 1944. After the war Dobschiner found other Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, but most reacted angrily when they learned about her conversion to Christianity.
She went to a Bible College in Glasgow, married a Scotsman, and worked tirelessly to foster good relations between Christians and Jews. Several television documentaries were made about her amazing life. She died of cancer in 2002.
The great suffering of Christians and Jews during WWII was not unique of course. God’s people have always been persecuted. Indeed, one of the other books I picked up today recounts the story of early Christian martyrs, and all the horrors they had to go through for Christ.
Bryan Liftin’s Early Christian Martyr Stories is a sobering but necessary read. In it we learn about two things quite clearly: the utter rage and demonic hatred which so many rulers and others back then had against these believers, and the tremendous fortitude, commitment, endurance and heroism of these Christian martyrs.
Many well-known names are featured here, such as Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Justyn Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen of Alexandria. Men, women and children were all horrifically tortured and killed, but so many stood steadfast, refusing to recant or denounce their Lord.
Let me recount but one story from the Amphitheatre:
So the day came when Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and Attaius were led in to face the wild beasts – and also serve as a public display of the pagans’ universal inhumanity. Now, this day of animal-fighting games was specifically arranged for the Christians. In the amphitheatre Maturus and Sanctus once again faced every kind of punishment – as if they hadn’t already suffered the whole range of tortures before! Or maybe it would be better to say, it was as if they’d already tossed their opponent out of the ring in numerous matches, and now they were vying for the victor’s crown itself. Once again they endured a gauntlet of whips, as is customary there, and mauling by wild beasts, and everything else the crazed horde demanded with shouts that rained down from all corners of the arena. And to top it off the martyrs were put on the iron chair, where their frying bodies gave the crowd its fill of savoury smoke. But the onlookers didn’t stop there. They kept on raging, driven insane by their desire to overcome the martyr’s endurance. Yet they never heard a single thing from Sanctus except what he’d been saying from the beginning: the cry of his confession, “I am a Christian!”
That is just one example of what so many Christians had to endure for the sake of Christ back then. While some did succumb, most remained resolute, choosing to honour Christ fully, despite the incessant and horrific torture and suffering.
They were faithful till the end. Of course they all knew that one day they would have their reward, and one day their vindication would come about. They had a Lord who suffered terribly for them, so how could they not do the same for him?
So whether it was Christians tortured in the early church, or during the time of the Nazis, or by the scourge of IS today, there have always been Christian martyrs who stood strong for Christ. All knew they were living in enemy-occupied territory.
All knew that one day Christ would return and right every wrong and reward all those who remained true in times of great suffering. And of course right now we are commemorating all that as well. As the 70th anniversary of VE Day is being celebrated, we recall the courage and fortitude of so many who stood strong, knowing that one day the occupation would come to an end.
There was tremendous rejoicing and celebrating on that day in 1945. The streets were filled with dancing, cheering crowds, so relieved to know that the war had finally come to an end (at least in Europe), and that there had been a great rollback of the evil Nazi empire.
But many lives were lost of course. The casualties were utterly enormous. But the blood of many secured the freedom and release of all. Many died so that we all might live. The blood of Christ was the ultimate sacrifice so that we too could find liberation and release.
And the blood of the martyrs over the past two millennia is an ongoing testimony to the power and sway of that one man who died on a cross 2000 years ago. As I have written elsewhere, the work of Christ at Calvary was to D-Day what his second coming is to VE-Day.
Just as the Allied landing on the beaches on June 6, 1944 was the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of Europe, so too the death of Christ on the cross was the beginning of the end of Satan and the occupying armies from hell.
We are now his foot soldiers in the mopping up operation. It took a year of heavy fighting in Europe before VE Day was secured. And it has taken some 2000 years of fighting as we implement what Christ has already won for us at Calvary.
Soon he will return and full vindication and complete justice will transpire. In the meantime we have a job to do, just as all those young soldiers had a job to do in Europe during that incredible year. And the blood of the martyrs is what inspires us to keep going strong.
So many have given their lives for the gospel. We must be willing to do the same. If we persevere, we will be able to stand strong and welcome Christ when Victory on Earth Day soon arrives.