Friday, January 28, 2022

A refugee's gratitude

All photos courtesy of Unsplash

Eric Schwam died in December 2020, at 90 years of age. His entire estate, the total was thought to be around Euro 2 million (£1.7 million), was bequeathed to a village, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in south-east France. Why would anyone be so generous? Eric, an Austrian Jew, arrived there with his parents and grandmother in 1943, fleeing from the Nazis. We do not know how the refugee family got there. They had previously been held at Rivesaltes camp, a military facility in southern France used to intern civilians, before its closure in 1942.

The village people hid them in the local school, where they remained, undiscovered, until the end of the Second World War. Mr. Schwam intimated that the legacy was ‘in gratitude for the welcome he received 78 years ago’. Le Chambon-sur-Lignon had a reputation for protecting thousands of Jews, shielding people from persecution, and being a place of refuge dating back to the French Protestant Huguenots. The village, which currently has about 2,500 people, undoubtedly never expected such a generous payback decades later. 

This story is very touching for at least two reasons. The first is the selfless sacrifice made by the people of that village to save this family. It is estimated that they took in two and a half thousand Jews during World War II from almost certain death. A plaque outside the school records the villager’s bravery and states that they acted ‘in peril of their own lives’. It makes me think of an even more outstanding example of selflessness and sacrifice, made by God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our situation was even worse - we were sinners, and not just in mortal danger, but facing guaranteed condemnation by God and exclusion from all He created us for (and all that we as humans long for – hope, joy, peace, justice, contentment, etc.). Yet He (Jesus) loved us and willingly came into our world to take our punishment by laying down His life as the sacrifice that was needed to free us from the judgment for our sins. The Bible states ‘Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,’ Eph. 5.2,  He ‘put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself,’ Heb. 9.26,’God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,’ Rom. 5.8 and ‘Christ died for our sins . . . he was buried  . . . he was raised on the third day’ 1 Cor. 15. 3,4.

The second reason I was moved by the story was to think how highly this man had valued the sacrifice that had been made for him all those years ago. The stipulation in his will was evidence of his profound gratefulness. Yes, there were strong grounds for his deep appreciation. Still, there were other people who were sheltered by the same villagers but never expressed any thankfulness. How sad to think of such ingratitude for such a sacrifice! Yet the Lord Jesus did so much more in sacrificing Himself for the people of this world! How sad it is that so few are thankful to Him. What about you? Are you, like the majority, indifferent to Him and to what He has done? He is looking for a response from your heart. He is not asking you to show gratitude by giving your money or doing works, but simply by coming to Him in all your need as a sinner, with thankfulness for the work He did on the cross to save you, turning away from your sins, and receiving the gift of eternal life, which is freely available to you, today. If you do, you will be able to say, truthfully, along with all those who are saved: ‘We have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us,’ 1 John 4.16; ‘Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift,’ 2 Cor. 9. 15.

Some of the information in this article came from general news publications and from Assembly Testimony


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