As I look at the historical accounts of the liberation of Europe from the Nazi power, I’m reminded of a Scripture verse from the book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me…to preach good tiding to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” (Isaiah 61:1)
To the civilians and prisoners of Europe – long oppressed by fear – the arrival of the Allied troops meant liberty. What were some of the interactions? How did they learn they were free again? Taking a few key words and themes from the Scripture verse, let’s examine the history…
…to preach good tidings to the poor. Preaching is proclaiming. Telling something in a strong voice, telling something important. Some families in German-occupied Europe had hidden radio sets which they used to tune into Allied stations. There, they would have heard the electrifying news of the coming liberation on the radio broadcasts. Those proclamations kept the people’s hopes alive.
When the actual liberation came to a small village, the American troops probably did not stand up and make a glorious speech. Sure, they were friendly to the people, but speech-making was not high on their priorities. While there might not have been a grandiose verbal proclamation of freedom in a little town square, the message was clear. With each turn of the tank’s tracks and each crunch of a GI’s boots, the proclamation was made: we’re free!
…heal the brokenhearted. War scars the body and the mind. We recognize that it scars soldiers physically, mentally, and emotionally, but we often forget its same injuries to civilians.
American military medical units and the Red Cross traveled with the armies. They did not neglect the civilian populations; they reached out to heal the physical injuries and illnesses.
I think it’s safe to say the soldiers did their part in the healing work too. Imagine spending years hiding in terror because the Nazis might kill you because of your ethnicity; you emerging from your shelter one spring day, still afraid of these new soldiers, and one approaches you saying, “you’re free…you don’t need to be afraid.” That’s a healing action. Or think of a young woman, frightened by the attitudes of the occupying German soldiers – then one day they’re gone. The next soldier you see is a “GI Joe” who gifts you a candy bars, compliments your pretty smile in a genuine respectful way, and then heads on down the road. That’s a healing action.
…proclaim liberty to the captives. As the American force moved into Germany, they found prisoner of war camps. The prisoners were promptly liberated, welcomed, fed, gifted with supplies, and started on their journey back to their families.
Not all prisoners of war were treated kindly by the Germans. One particular group of POWs captured during the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944) endured harsh prison conditions before their transfer to and starvation in a work camp. Their ordeal didn’t end there, however; in the spring of 1945, they were forced on a horrible death march. They’d prayed for deliverance and dreamed of a day when Patton’s tanks would come. One morning during the death march, the POWs refused to get up and then…
“A Sherman tank rolled in front of the barn… ‘I saw the white star on the side of the tank, and then some men started to shout and scream that they are Americans. It was after some time, just sitting there and hearing the commotion, that I realized that I was liberated.’ ” (“Given Up For Dead” by Flint Whitlock, 2005, page 191-192)
…opening of the prison to those who are bound. Many of the Nazi death camps were located east of Berlin and were therefore liberated by the Soviets. However, there were several death camps and work camps which the Americans discovered.
In an effort to keep this blog friendly for readers of all ages, I’m not going to share graphic details regarding what the American troops found. But I will tell you this: they opened the prison gates, they cut through the barbed wire, they brought medical aid and comfort to thousands of men, women, and children who had suffered years of indescribable cruelty because of their religion or nationality.
While the American soldiers broke down the physically barriers of the prison camps, the generals made certain the truth was also “set free.” General Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, took some of his subordinate generals and the press to walk through the horrifying scenes of prison camp at Buchenwald. He was determined that the world would know the atrocities committed by the Nazis. The prison doors were open, and the truth would also be told.
Before you start thinking of the liberation of Europe through completely rose-colored spectacles, let me destroy that idea. Allied army headquarters received quite a few complaints about soldiers’ bad behavior.
However, I think it’s safe to say that many of the GI’s had compassion for the European people they were freeing from oppression.
Whether they realized it at the time or not, the Allied soldiers were exemplifying strong character and God-honoring actions as they brought hope, healed injuries, rescued prisoners of war, and flung open the gates to death camps.
P.S. What part of Europe’s liberation seems most dramatic to you? Share your thoughts in a comment.