My Testimony

Ellen Myers

 

                I grew up in Germany under Hitler as a “half-Jew” and came to America in 1948 as the “war bride” of an American Military Government official.   With the January 1933 Nazi takeover of power my parents could no longer work  for twelve  years in their professions, or really at all.  My  mother was dismissed from her university post, and publications stopped accepting her articles because she was Jewish.  Her church membership did not count: the Nazi’s went by “race.”  My father was disbarred from legal practice. He had belonged to a political party opposed to the Nazis, and, worse, he had a Jewish wife whom he would not divorce.  My father had retired from the Reichstag in 1932, foreseeing the political catastrophe which was about to happen.  Thanks to my mother’s insistence they had bought a small farm, Schopfenhof,” in southwestern Germany in 1932.

                I continued my schooling at the co-educational ‘higher school” in the little city of Neckarsulm some distance  away from the farm. I did very well in school, especially in foreign languages and history.   No one knew that I was half-Jewish, and we sought to avoid  any undue attention so no one would find out….I was the only student in the whole school not in the Hitler Youth! (Non-Aryan  “mongrels” like myself were ineligible for membership.

                The Neckarsulm school stopped at the top grades of the ‘hoehere Schule.’    Therefore I moved away from the farm in 1940 to take my last two years of school in Stuttgart, the provincial capital, at a school for girls only.  In my free time I read serious literature and works of philosophy in German and French. In a large public library not far from my school I spent many hours poring over the works of Nietzsche, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Henri Bergson (his works were there though he was a Jew)

My father did what he could to lead me to Christ. He did this, first of all, by his personal life. His severe wound in World War I had left him able to walk only with difficulty on a heavy cane.  His eyesight grew progressively worse; by the 1940’s he could read only with a magnifying glass and very heavy glasses. He could do no manual labor on the farm, nor could he work as a lawyer. Twelve years unemployed (1933-1945)

My mother had a ferocious temper and was understandably extremely worried about our future.  “What will happen? What will happen?” she would ask despairingly.  Yet my father was always cheerful.  Over and over again he would tell my mother and me,  “You must have trust in God.”   His Bible was always before him in his little office or by his bedside.  I would chide him: “you must know that book by heart now.”  He would say, “I always find new things in it.”  It was his joy in great adversity which impressed me the most about him, and he attributed it to Christ.

My father wanted me to be confirmed in his church, the German Reformed Church.  All the years on the farm we never attended church because there was no Reformed church nearby.  When I moved to Stuttgart in 1940, my father arranged for me to attend the little Reformed church there.  But now, in this little Reformed church, I was to be confirmed.   Unfortunately this did not work out well.  While I did learn the basic Christian teachings about Christ dying for our sins to save us from them and from eternal damnation in hell, somehow I did not get along too well with Pastor Hacker.  I engaged in constant theological arguments with him, priding myself on my smartness.  I do not remember the details of our debates, and I thank God I don’t, for what would it profit?

But I date my rejection of God and the Bible and Christianity back to that confirmation course, and especially to one episode.  This was after one class session, when Pastor Hacker and I took a streetcar toward our homes.  We were standing on the platform in the rear of one of the streetcar coaches. I was still continuing an argument begun in class, and I asked him,  “Does the Bible teach that Hitler will go to heaven—unrepentant?  He looked around in fear at the many other people standing around us and said, “Some believe that the Bible teaches that everyone will go to heaven, repentant or not.”  “If the Bible teaches that,” I answered hotly,  “I want no more to do with it or with its God!”  I remember getting off the streetcar in red hot anger long before my stop and walking home bound and determined to reject that unjust God.  I never read the Bible for myself to check out what it really said.   Pastor Hacker refused to confirm me, and contacted my father who finally talked me into continuing confirmation classes without arguing with the pastor, and to be confirmed.  I complied, but inwardly rejected all the teaching I had been given.

 By 1960 and living in America,  during the “Cold War” I became alarmed about the threat from world communism.  I also read the writings of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.  He asserted that God does not exist, that therefore there are no moral absolutes, and that life has no meaning except to “authenticate oneself” by exercising total freedom.  I was then an atheist like Sartre.  I now realized that if there is no God, Sartre is right: there are no moral absolutes.  Everyone can do as he pleases, and therefore life is an absurd struggle of all against all, in which the strongest win.  And then Hitler simply “authenticated himself” by killing six million Jews, including most of my mother’s family!
                But I couldn’t accept this.  I wanted a world with moral absolutes and real meaning, a world in which Hitler was wrong.  I became very depressed.  If the world was as Sartre saw it—and as I saw it, too, since I did not believe in God—then why go on living?  For some two months I considered killing my husband and children and committing suicide.  I was planning to do it by carbon monoxide poisoning from opening all gas heaters and stoves in our home during the night without lighting them. 
                But I did love my family.  And I did want to go on living if any sense and hope in life could be found.  Then my husband said, “Have you considered God?”  And I remembered my father’s telling Mother and me during the Nazi years: “You must have trust in God,” and the simple faith of a dear little crippled lady I had known in Germany.  She once pointed to a picture of Jesus Christ and told me, “He does it” (HE gave her constant cheerfulness and perseverance in very difficult circumstances).  
                But how could I come to Jesus Christ?  My father and my childhood church had taught me that Christ was the Son of God, died on the cross to pay for my sins, and rose to life again after three days in the grave.  But to me he was not God but just a man.  How could he die for my sins 2,000 years ago?  Besides, why should he need to pay for my sins?  I was a pretty nice person!  Since I did not believe in God, I had not prayed for over twenty years.  But I was desperate.  So on Thursday, July 7, 1960 I said in my heart, “God, if you are there and know what I am thinking right now—and if you truly are God, you must be able to do that—show me you exist, and also show me that Jesus Christ died for my sins.”
                On Sunday, July 10, 1960, I was a substitute Sunday school teacher for a high school and college age class at our liberal church, where the Bible was not taught.  I didn’t want to use their Sunday school lesson book, because it was written by a Harvard professor who was a known Communist.  I found some old tattered Bibles sitting on a windowsill.  When I handed them out, the students began to smirk.  They thought I had walked in from Mars!  The only passage in the Bible that I knew where to find was the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.  The class hour was a total flop. 
                After this defeat I went to our car and drove out of the parking lot to get home.  Just then the thought came to me, “Ellen Myers, if Jesus lived today, and the communists took him and shot him; or if you were there when the mob in Jerusalem shouted, ‘Crucify him,’ you might not yell with the crowd to kill him, because you are too ‘nice.’  But you would not help him, either, because to you Jesus is just another man for whom you would not risk your life, for you are a coward.”  And instantly I remembered a starving Jew sweeping the street in Stuttgart, Germany in 1944, and that I did not help him because I had been afraid of the people around me.  Then it hit me:  Therefore Jesus would die for your sin—the sin of not doing what you knew to be right.
                This was the first time in my life I saw that “sin” isn’t just doing wrong, but also not doing what is right!  I instantly knew I was a sinner because sins of omission are sins just as much as sins of commission.  I knew I had received the answer to my “thought”—really prayer!—of three days before.  I knew that God lived, and that He had heard me.  I knew Jesus was God, crucified but victorious over death.  Life had absolute meaning with absolute “right” and “wrong” which nothing could ever change.  Instantly my fear of the future and all thought of suicide fell away, never to return.  I was suddenly filled with great joy. 
                This joy and presence of the living Lord Who hears and answers prayer has remained in me ever since through good times and severe trials.  As the Bible says in Psalm 84:  “Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are thy ways, who passing through the valley of tears make it a place of springs; and the pools are filled with water.”                                                                                                                                          

Ellen Myers story  is a summary of a longer account,  From My Self  to My Savior, published by The Providence Project, Whitewater, Ks.67154.                                ellenmyers1925@hotmail.com