Don’t ask me where I heard the story, but one motif remained lodged in my memory: the winter boots. Perhaps some compelling reasons are pushing that mental note to my consciousness now.
I remembered that the scene took place during early stages of the Jewish holocaust of the 20th century. German Nazi soldiers, having invaded Poland, forced Gerda Weissmann and her Jewish family out into the streets to meet their fates in concentration camps. On that sunny, spring day—before soldiers sundered this family, never to see each other again—the girl’s father insisted that she wear her ski boots.
Young Weissman trudged thereafter through death and labor camps. At length, she found herself driven in a 350-mile death march throughout Germany toward Czechoslovakia with 4,000 other women prisoners. Their captors did everything they could to avoid their being discovered and freed by Allied forces. Yet, through the march, deprivation, executions, starvation and cold, she had her boots.
In the end 120 women survived. Weissmann, even though white-haired and just 68 pounds on the day before her 20th birthday when she was liberated, was one of them. She credited her father’s foresight and instruction with her survival.
Upon being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011, her husband Kurt Klein—the actual Jewish American soldier who liberated her—read this, her statement: “I pray you never stand at any crossroads in your own lives, but if you do, if the darkness seems so total, if you think there is no way out, remember never give up.” (jwa.org/encyclopedia) Weissman’s experience is a fundamental teaching point for high schoolers, and the topic of an Oscar winning documentary.
The only detail for me, however, was the boots. Watching families flee for their lives from Ukraine, babies on backs, suitcases in tow, headed to an uncertain refuge evokes this poignant memory of intuition and providence.
A few months ago it was Afghanis. Months before that, it was black and brown migrants escaping their own kind of hell, yet halted at our southern border. We’re shaky on our feet after two years of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, and the punches keep coming. As the rising tide of global troubles seep into your home and mental space, I invite you, (and me) to find the boots.
The boots. They represent the one thing you have that is your gift that pulls you through. They are not just the tool of resistance, but the tool of resilience. Long before Gerda Weissman Klein’s father gave her the boots, the Word tells us that Jesus outfitted us with a special brand of peace that can trample through, traverse the destruction to outlast both the world’s small t troubles, and the world’s big t terrors.
“I am leaving you with a gift,” Jesus said, “peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid,” John 14:27 (NLT).
It is truly a gift to meet the world’s powers with this kind of resistance and resilience. Whether you’re caught in the crosshairs that could mean instant threat and destruction, or stuck in the historical structures—the effects of which drain your life’s blood and or vitality—you have a transcendent connection to heaven’s power, provision, and peace. It is Jesus who whispers to us now.
And, just as trauma and stress can carry from one generation to the next through epigenetics, we can gift to others the spiritual beliefs and practices that will help them survive and even thrive. That is the gospel of peace, (Ephesians 6:15), and much to my delight in this moment, the very metaphor depicts that peace as shoes.
This article is part of our 2022 March/April Issue