This is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read about peace and love.
“In May 1945, immediately after the end of World War II, George Ritchie, a young American soldier, found himself with a group of American physicians in a German concentration camp near Wuppertal.'” They offered medical assistance to the thousands of former prisoners who were close to dying of starvation. In the midst of this unimaginable misery, Ritchie encountered a man who made a profound impression on him. He stood out among the other prisoners because, in contrast to them, his bearing was bolt upright, his eyes clear, and he had a virtually inexhaustible energy.
Since he spoke five languages fluently, the Americans appointed this man interpreter, in the course of which he was tirelessly busy helping people for 15 to 16 hours a day. He radiated an atmosphere of love and compassion from which others drew nourishment. Ritchie called this man, a Polish Jew, ‘Bill Cody’. To Ritchie’s astonishment he had apparently spent many years in this camp, during which he lived on the same starvation diet as all other prisoners and slept in the same disease-infested barracks. But unlike the others he did not look like a living skeleton.
Each group in the camp seemed to regard him as their friend. If a quarrel erupted he was called to arbitrate and mediate. He also continually talked with the former prisoners, who were so locked into hatred that they wished to shoot every German on sight, and urged them to forgive their enemies. When Ritchie comments that this will not be easy for them after all they have experienced, Cody tells him his own story, as follows:
We lived in the Warsaw ghetto, my wife and I, our two daughters and our three small sons. When the Germans reached our street they put everyone against the wall and opened fire with their machine-guns. I begged to be allowed to die with my family, but because I spoke German they put me on a forced-labour crew.
He pauses for a moment and continues: At that moment I had to decide for myself whether to hate the soldiers who were responsible for this or not. It was in fact not a difficult decision. I was a lawyer. In my practice I had seen all too frequently what hatred can do to people’s body and spirit. Hatred had just cost the lives of the six most important people in my life. This is why at that moment I decided that for the rest of my life—whether this was a few days or many years—I would love everyone I came in contact with.
Ritchie suddenly realized that this—love for everyone—is the force that had kept this man, Bill Cody, so healthy and fit despite all the misery and deprivation he experienced.”
Quoted from “Time for Transformation – through Darkness to the Light” by Margarete Van Den Brink and Hans Stolp.
Painting: Christ by Leonardo Da Vinci