Here is my trademark story that I reveled in telling to all my classes.
I do believe that the vast majority of my students remember this story to this day. I hope that they also remember the important lesson derived from the story!
In Germany in the late 1930’s and the early 1940’s there was a tragic strategy implemented by many Jewish families. Parents who for one reason or another couldn’t escape the cold grip of the Nazis made the terribly painful decision to save their beloved children by sending them away to safety . They did this by loading them onto boats and saying tearful good-byes. These boats became known as Kinder Transports.
The children were allowed to bring with them only one suitcase. They stuffed their suitcases with some clothes, money and momentos with which to recall good times at home with their families. These included German language letters and post cards. Obviously, these letters could not include any Jewish references or Jewish expressions. The Kinder Transports were bound for England and allied nations.
Upon arrival, these youths bereft of their families began new lives in a foreign land. The first order of business was to secure living quarters. They pooled their money together and rented apartments. To preserve their money, many youths lived in the same apartments.
Indeed, they had many expenses, like food and clothing. So these young ones went out and secured whatever menial jobs they could. Some became street sweepers, street lamp lighters and others cleaned houses.
As well, they had to acclimate to a brand new culture and language.
It’s amazing how resourceful young people can be! Quite quickly they settled in and made new lives for themselves. Keep in mind the emotional toll they had to bear, for by now WWII had broken out.
They don’t make them like they used to!
By & by trouble began to brew. Although the kids spoke English in the street, they reverted to their natural tongue in the privacy of their apartments. Or so they thought.
Curious neighbors suspiciously gossiped among each other. Exacerbated by the war against Germany, they were fearful that the young ones were spies in their land planted by the Germans!
They based this accusation upon three abnormalities.
Number one, what were these German kids doing in England at a time of war?
Number two, why were these large amounts of kids living on their own, without parents or other adults to watch over them?
Number three, everybody knows that youngsters make the best spies since they are so unsuspecting.
So a group of irate neighbors approached the police and they forcefully presented their accusation.
The police, over vigilant of German spies during war times, convened an emergency meeting to determine what should be the plan of action.
The obvious complication was what to do with mere children?
One opinion was to simply throw them into prison. Another opinion was to ship them away to a far away land.
Why not empty the jails of all the criminals, who were a drain on the English economy, and ship them away together with the undesirable youths?
The third opinion was the clincher. The consensus was to add an additional step to the third option. It was finalized to send the motley group to the furthest land possible and that was Australia.
So tough policemen broke in the doors of the frightened, innocent young people. They forcefully gathered up those poor souls and brought them downtown.
The authorities secured an old ship, called the Dunera. The Dunera was barely sea worthy. But of what concern was that, after all if the rickety ship should sink at sea, no harm done.
So off they sailed, innocent Jewish refugees together with hardened criminals who belonged in prison.
The young people brought along suitcases that contained their precious memories of home and better times. Most notably were the German language letters and postcards.
As soon as the ship left port, the criminals turned on the helpless children and stole their suitcases.
The money and valuables the criminals stole, and the remaining clothes and German language letters and post cards they put back in the suitcases and cruelly threw them overboard.
At this point, the dejected kids though it couldn’t possibly get any worse.
First they were separated from their parents, who they realized they were likely never to see again. Then they were forced to build their lives anew all alone on foreign soil. Then their homes were rudely broken into. Then they were arrested on false charges. Then they were forced aboard a non seaworthy ship again all alone, save for many mean hearted thugs. Then they were viciously attacked by the thugs and their final remaining memories were tossed overboard. Of course they worried about drowning at any minute.
No, they were sure their sorry situations couldn’t possibly get any worse.
Just then their lives got much worse!
Suddenly a German submarine surfaced! The major problem was that according to seafarer regulations, the Dunera was flying a British flag.
The kids were beyond terrified, they cried like they never cried before.
The submarine fired a torpedo at the ship. As the terrified children looked on, the torpedo went wide left.
The submarine approached even closer to its target. The submarine fired another deadly torpedo. At that very instant a tremendous wave rose beneath the ship. Incredibly, the wave lifted up the ship and the torpedo shot right under the ship.
Finally the submarine would make no mistake. It neared the ship dead on target, and readied to deliver the final catastrophic blow at the defenseless ship.
The children on board were sure that their luck had run out. They found out at a very young age what it’s like to face immanent death head on.
So there they waited for the explosion that would end their lives.
They waited a full five minutes, which to them seemed like a lifetime. But nothing happened! No torpedo was fired their way!
Ten minutes had passed, and the waters were eerily quiet.
A full twenty minutes passed, with the children practically going out of their minds. And no sound from the submarine.
When an incredible forty minutes passed and all was quiet, the submarine inexplicably submerged and floated away from the area!
The passengers on the ship were stunned, and not a sound could be heard. Then, after a number of minutes wild rejoicing broke out!
They were given another lease on life!
Surprisingly, the ship continued the voyage safely, and they arrived all the way to Australia.
Once again the young ones had to rebuild their lives.
As time rolled on, with the kids successfully acclimating into Australian culture, their feelings of happiness and gratitude gradually wore off.
In place of these emotions were feelings of anger. Uppermost in their minds were their lost remnants of their childhoods in their native Germany. After all they’ve been through, why did they have to lose their suitcases at sea? What a terrible blow, they thought!
Eventually the war concluded, and the kids, now young adults, were free to go where they pleased. Some traveled to Israel, some traveled to North America, while some remained in Australia.
Now listen up for the inspirational climax of the story.
Fast forward forty years.
A woman in New York City, who had been on the ship, was reading a German language magazine. She “happened” to stumble upon an article that featured an interview with a decorated captain of a German submarine during the war years.
This article grabbed the attention of the woman.
The interviewer asked the former captain,”what was the most memorable event that occurred in your illustrious career?”
The captain responded that there were many, but one really stands out.
There was the occasion when his submarine was patrolling the waters of the Pacific Ocean, hoping to locate and destroy British ships.
At this point the woman’s interest was piqued.
The captain continued that there was the time that we located a strange British ship. It was a defenseless passenger ship, easy for the kill.
Very unusual for me, the first torpedo veered left.
The woman reading the article was now sure that this was the submarine that was facing them on that fateful day! Would she now get the answer to the question that was plaguing her for forty years? Why oh why did the submarine take off for no reason?
The captain continued, “I then ordered the sub to approach even closer, and I fired a second torpedo. This one was head on. Suddenly, the most remarkable thing in my career appeared. A huge wave came out of nowhere and lifted up the ship just in time for the torpedo to shoot beneath the ship. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it.”
The woman reading the article attention was riveted.
The captain continued to explain that he was now determined to blow the ship out of the water. He advanced as close as possible. He knew he wouldn’t miss now.
Just before he fired the third decisive torpedo, a soldier screamed out, ” Stop everything!There are mines floating in the water!”
This trumped everything! The ship must not have been defenseless after all.
The captain immediately sent out a special unit trained in diffusing bombs.
The unit, upon inspecting the mines, discovered that they were not mines at all! They were suitcases!
They immediately brought the suitcases onto the submarine for investigation.
The captain opened the suitcases without delay!
Inside,the captain got the surprise of his life!
What he found were German language letters and postcards!
They concluded that the suitcases were thrown off the ship to show that they were actually German nationals undercover as British citizens!
The astounded woman put down the magazine and started to cry. The realization dawned on her that it was their stolen suitcases containing their last memories of home, which actually saved their lives!
When we consider this remarkable story,we realize that the people who were on the Dunera 40 years earlier,likely still bemoaned their unfortunate state.
We also realized that it took 40 years for them to discover what they had thought was bad was actually good!
We in our lives face bad things. We some times ask, “why did this happen to me?”.
The harsh reality is that we may never find out why it is actually good.
However, we may sometimes get the answer if we are patient. It might even take 40 years!