It is the 3rd of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1943.
It was the year that the Great Depression in America finally came to an end. However, in 1943 America was knee-deep in the Second World War. With the knowledge we have now, it might be tempting to look at 1943 as the second to last year of the war. From our perspective, it was going to wrap up soon. But those alive in 1943 probably didn't feel that way.
Rationing began in the United States to help with the war effort. Shoes, meat, eggs, and oils were all in short supply. A sense of communalism gripped the nation, and the war effort sought to employ everyone. Victory gardens, popular in Britain in WW1, became ubiquitous in America as families began to grow their own food to save off a possible shortage. There was no idea that this war would end anytime soon. People in the US and worldwide had to brace for a long time living with this "new normal."
Over 500 major league baseball players joined the war effort, leaving teams to scramble for players. Pete Grey was one such player who might likely have not made the pros without the war, as he played outfield and hit with only one arm. He has been immortalized in the Pete Grey's Arm-E annual fantasy baseball challenge, and this year won by the incomparable Mike Sycz. In this year as well, plans were made by Phillip Wrigley to begin a new league comprised of women players. The All-American Girls Professional Ball League would be immortalized in the Penny Marshall film "A League of Their Own."
However, on the European continent, it was anything but fun and games. The battle of Stalingrad came to an end marking the first Nazi defeat. But the battle for southern Russia was perhaps the deadliest in the history of warfare with some 2 million casualties. In the same year, Joseph Goebbels declared "total war" on the Allies, while Roosevelt and Churchill met in Morocco to discuss their plans to push Germany to "total surrender." The Prime Minister and President would meet elsewhere this year to discuss plans to invade France to push out the Nazi's.
In 1943 Hitler's "Final Solution" was underway. Heinrich Himmler ordered over 18,000 Roma to Auschwitz. Jews in occupied Bulgaria and Greece were sent to the prisoner of war camps, although this year they would be officially designated as "Concentration camps." With various uprisings from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and others in German-occupied lands, the Nazis began a more all-encompassing approach to Europeans of Jewish descent.
In 1943 German-occupied Denmark was a peculiar place, as it had been occupied for almost two years by the Nazi's. But the population was given relatively free reign as the Nazi's wanted to show off what they thought would be the picture of an ideal Aryan, German-occupied country. But in 1943, the Nazis decided to round up the Jewish population in Denmark and have them sent to their concentration camps. The Danes and the Danish church would respond.
On this, the 3rd of October in 1943, the Danish Lutheran pastor Kjeldgaard Jensen in the small coastal village of Gilleleje read a critical letter aloud to his congregation. This letter, sent from the Lutheran Bishop, urged all Christians in Denmark to resist the Nazis, reminding them that it is better to obey God than men. Jensen's congregation would assist over 500 Jewish refugees in the following days, getting them to ferry's that could take them to neutral Sweden. The Gestapo caught wind of the operation and raided the village of Gilleleje.
Pastor Jensen wrote: "Unluckily for us, the Gestapo and police forces stormed these premises. I, the undersigned parish priest, had been up in the loft on numerous occasions to help and give comfort in the desperate situation that had unfolded. Probably 100 Jews were taken to Horserød Prison Camp, from which they have since left – but for where?"
Despite his understandable fear for those 100 Jewish people, the courage of Pastor Jensen, his congregation, and others in Denmark would save an estimated 95% of the Danish Jewish population. The lesson was that in the face of murderous authoritarianism, it is indeed better to oppose the state to serve your neighbor on account of Christ. Pastor Jensen modeled this to his congregation on this, the 3rd of October, and the following days in 1943.
The reading for today comes from a man who knew the horrors of Nazi Germany well. This is a reflection from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man martyred for his faith, from his "Meditations on the Cross."
"The world is overcome not through destruction, but through reconciliation. Not ideals, nor programs, nor conscience, nor duty, nor responsibility, nor virtue, but only God's perfect love can encounter reality and overcome it. Nor is it some universal idea of love, but rather the love of God in Jesus Christ, a love genuinely lived, that does this."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who reminds you that there is no crying in baseball, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.