I remember Tini. She was a teenage girl who lived with us during the war. When I was old enough to understand, my mother told me who she was and why she was with us. I had always wondered why this friend from my toddler years had suddenly left us.
Tini’s father walked all the way from Amsterdam with his teenage daughter. She needed a safe place. He knew he could not continue to feed her if they stayed in the city. Like so many others, he took to the road in order to escape the ravages of the Nazis.
He knew my father through an acquaintance and hoped our family would take her in. He figured we probably had some food because we lived in a small town with gardens to help supply us.
They were fatigued and hungry by the time they got to our house. Hope kept him upright. When my mother opened the door he saw a kind face. “This is my daughter, Tini,” he said. “We can’t feed her anymore. I wonder if she could live with you for a while. She is a good girl and will help with the children.”
“Come in. Sit down. Let me get you a bit to eat. We don’t have much either, but you can have some bread and soup.” My mother cut the bread, which was more like hardtack. The watery beef soup would help, she explained; it could soften the bread if one dipped it.
They were so grateful. He ate the bread like a man starved, as did Tini.
Tini lived with us for the duration of the war. She had found her safe place.
But all was not well in our town. The occupation covered the entire country, and Hitler had vowed to make the Dutch “eat grass.” It never came to that for us, but it was close. The Nazi occupation reduced entire countries to hellish conditions.
One night, around three in the morning, there was a loud knock on our door. My parents awoke. They knew what that knock meant. It was better for my mother to answer even though she was visibly eight months pregnant. The Nazis sent their soldiers through all the towns to gather able-bodied men and cart them off to Germany for the workhouses. Few ever returned. Mother went to the door. There stood two very young German soldiers. They took one look at her and asked her husband’s age. She told them. He was the right age and in apparently good health; they knew they had orders to take him.
But they paused. My mother tried not to tremble, but she had two little boys upstairs and another on the way; what could she do? The soldiers looked at one another, nodded, and noted my father’s age as a few years older than he really was. Then they left. We were safe.
When the war finally ended, there was great relief. But my mother was not at peace. She agitated to emigrate to America. My aunt was already there and would sponsor us. Three years later, the family sold everything they had, bundled up their children, and left for America. Mother had found her safe place. For now.
I know now that there is no totally safe place on this earth. But I am reminded time and again of Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” And so I know we have a safe place after all. In Christ, we have a truly safe place, no matter what.