When I was serving with The Liberated Wailing Wall (our mobile evangelistic music team) we had a chapel at the Lutheran Bible Institute. Toivi Blatt, a Holocaust survivor, happened to be lecturing in one of the classes that day, and we were allowed to sit in. This man was part of the only successful large scale escape from any of the Nazi’s Death Camps, Sobibor. He was thirteen at the time.
Toivi’s survival could only be described as a miracle. As the officers surveyed the line of men and chose which could work and which should march toward the smokestack down the road, little Toivi said probably the only prayer he’d ever say in his life: God, let him choose me to work.” This, he knew, was a long shot since he was too young for any serious labor, and he had not been skilled in a trade. The Commandant approached Toivi and scrutinized him closely.
“You,” said the officer.
Please, please, please, thought the boy.
The man finished: “You shall be my shoeshine boy!”
Suddenly, Toivi began to realize how wonderful the mind was. He recalled in the past having thought on a subject so hard that it came to pass. He forgot that he had uttered a prayer and concluded that “mind over matter” had saved him. As far as he was concerned, life was determined by 99% luck and 1% wits.
He went on to describe what happened after his escape. He was with two other Sobibor teenagers, and they all fled through the woods until they came upon a small shack of a home, where the people shared the space with goats and chickens.
They risked approaching the woman working there and asked her if they might share a meal. She kindly welcomed them in, dividing equally what little rations she and her children had. After supper Toivi offered her some American dollars they had acquired in the Black Market. But she wouldn’t take them. He thought she must not understand the currency, but surely she must be paid. He began removing his ring, but she stopped him.
“My Lord Jesus would have me help those in need,” she told them.
Some time later they found another home. The farmer there quickly settled the terms on how much they should pay for meals, and he would put them up in the barn. In the kitchen hung a picture of the Last Supper. One of the boys said, “Look at that picture. Funny how everyone in it is Jewish!” They all had a good laugh.
That night as they slept on the hay, the farmer sneaked into the barn with a gun, and shot the three sleeping boys, robbing them of whatever money they possessed. Toivi had been shot in the mouth, the bullet lodging in his jaw. It is still there. When the farmer left them for dead to count his plunder, Toivi arose and fled.
99% luck. 1% wits.
After the lecture I wanted to ask him why he still remembered that one desperate prayer, even though he staunchly denies God. (Everybody in the room wanted to ask, but few will openly challenge the views of a Holocaust survivor, especially if they are not Jewish.) I couldn’t get to Toivi with all the people crowded around him. But his son Leon was standing by his side. He knew I was with Jews for Jesus. Almost immediately he said with a grin, “I’d gladly believe in God, if only He existed.”
After talking to Leon a little, I ran and got him one of our books called Yeshua. He tried to refuse graciously, but he wasn’t very good at it. “No,” he said. “I’ll never read it. I’m studying a lot.” “That’s alright. Put it on your shelf, and some day you’ll pick it up.” “No, really. It’s just a waste of paper.” “People are more important than paper.” He took it. And he gave me his card.
When I finally did speak to Toivi, he told me that his grandmother was from the same town as my grandmother. As we left the campus I suddenly remembered that my grandmother’s mother had the name Blatt! Though Toivi believes none of his relatives survived, we may be somewhat related. I hope that he’ll turn his heart and seek his Maker, and that one day we might be brothers in Messiah. While that did not seem likely when I spoke to Toivi and Leon, I know that God can do anything!
(Amer Olson is part of our first class of missionary trainees for the year 2000. Be sure to check next month’s newsletter for a closer look at Amer and our other trainees.)