Rachel froze as she faced the door. Her delicate features hardened with the strain of the past two years. Her tiny, soft hands were calloused from harsh living conditions and her struggle to survive. “They just arrested the Weinstein’s.” Fear had contorted her face almost beyond recognition. “Oh God, why? Why are they doing this to us? This is senseless. It’s crazy.”
Phillip pulled her against his powerful chest. Rachel felt like a small child in his familiar embrace. His vast frame overshadowed her. “Shh, my Beloved. I cannot tell you why. Who can understand the rantings of a madman?” Philip was always calm. Rachel depended on his strength.
Philip and Rachel warmed themselves by the fire barrel on the internment camp street. Rachel stiffened at the crunch of truck tires sliding to a stop on the next block. The boots were louder than the tires. Gunfire. Screaming. Cursing. Rough hands pulled at her and shoved her toward the trucks. She could see Philip’s face in the dim firelight. Their eyes locked for a split second before the butt of a rifle slammed into the back of his skull.
The long ride in the overcrowded truck was only the beginning of Rachel’s nightmare journey. Armed uniformed guards with dogs surrounded the train station. Her resolve crumbled when they put Philip on a different train. The endless ride was worse than the rumors circulating in the internment camps. There were no bathrooms or room to sit, and the stench of feces, urine, and vomit permeated the air. The dead body of an old woman, pressed against her, held up by the crowd. For four days, they stood in cattle cars; bodies were pressed together as people died from starvation and lack of oxygen.
The train whistle announcing their arrival hardly stirred the suffering passengers. After an eternity, the doors opened, allowing the passengers to move again. The bright sun reflected off the snow. Once her eyes stopped burning, she saw they were in Northern Germany, at Ravensbruck. Discovering she was in a women’s concentration camp, Rachel felt terrified and hungry, fearing she would never see her beloved Philip again.
The overcrowded barracks housed three to a bunk. The acrid stench of urine and rotting flesh assaulted her senses, giving her a blinding headache. The women worked sixteen hours a day. At night, they sat on the beds scratching fleabites and listened to the Scriptures read by two old Dutch sisters from Holland. They were daughters of a watchmaker who were there because they hid Jews from the Nazis in their home.
Rachel couldn’t understand the demeanor of these two women. Betsy was sick all the time, and her sister, Corrie, smiled incessantly. They even thanked God for the fleas that caused the German guard’s refusal to enter the barracks and discover their Bible. These two “crazy ladies” confused Rachel. They had nothing to live for; nobody waited for them at home, yet they insisted that God’s love would sustain them.
The months passed slowly. All she could think about was finding Philip. Day after day, she worked hard, and at night she listened to the crazy women reading the Scriptures. She occasionally asked a question, but mostly stayed to herself.
Rachel had been at Ravensbruck for three weeks when she made her way across the room and sat on the edge of Corrie’s bunk. “Corrie, I don’t understand how you can keep such an attitude with all you’ve been through. If I don’t get some relief, I’ll go mad.”
“My dear, Jesus went through much more than I have suffered. Only through his strength can any of us survive.” The kind old woman’s raspy whisper cut deep into Rachel’s anger. “The Bible says…The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). This encourages us to continue as we pour ourselves out for the needs of others.”
“Help me, please; I need this God you speak of.” A tear escaped as Rachel took Corrie’s withered hand and walked her to the throne room in heaven.
Betsy died a few days later. Shortly after that, an accidental clerical error ordered the release of Rachel’s friend Corrie Ten Boom one week before they exterminated all the women her age.
Death, starvation, hard work, excessive punishment, and harsh weather surrounded Rachel. Despair, her constant enemy, sought to destroy her. Rachel, however, would not let go of Corrie’s Savior. Occasionally, she could be heard humming, and if you asked her why, she would simply say, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”