[Wurmbrand relates this story from his life during World War Two to comfort a fellow prisoner in the Communist gulag they shared; who has betrayed another prisoner out of fear and at the time could not forgive himself]
When Rumania entered the war on Germany’s side, a pogrom began in which many thousands of Jews were killed or deported. At Iasi alone 11,000 were massacred in a day. My wife, who shares my Protestant faith, is also of Jewish origin. We lived in Bucharest, from which the Jews were not deported, but her parents, one of her brothers, three sisters and other relatives who lived in Bocovine were taken to Transmistria, a wild border Province which the Rumanians had captured from Russia. Jews who were not murdered at the end of this journey were left to starve, and there Sabina’s family died.
I had to break this news. She recovered herself and said, “I will not weep. You are entitled to a happy wife, and Mihai to a happy mother, and our Church to a servant with courage.” If she shed tears in private I do not know, but from that day I never saw Sabina weep again.
Some time later our landlord, a good Christian, told me sadly of a man who was staying in the house while on leave from the front. “I knew him before the war,” he said, “but he’s changed completely. He has become a brute who likes to boast of how he volunteered to exterminate Jews in Transmistria and killed hundreds with his own hands.”
I was deeply distressed and I decided to pass the night in prayer. To avoid disturbing Sabina, who was unwell and who would have wished to join in my vigil in spite of that, I went upstairs after supper to the landlords flat to pray with him. Lounging in an armchair was a giant of a man whom the landlord introduced as Borila, the killer of Jews from Transmistria. When he rose he was even taller than I, and there seemed to be about him an aura of horror that was like a smell of blood. Soon he was telling us of his adventures in war and of the Jews he had slaughtered.
“It is a frightening story,” I said, “but I do not fear for the Jews-God will compensate them for what they have suffered. I ask myself with anguish what will happen to their murderers when they stand before God’s judgement.”
An ugly scene was prevented by the landlord who said we were both guests in his house, and turned the talk into more neutral channels. The murderer proved to be not only a murderer. Nobody is only one thing. He was a pleasant talker, and eventually it came out that he had a great love of music.
He mentioned that while serving in the Ukraine he had been captivated by the songs there. “I wish I could hear them again,” he said.
I knew some of these old songs. I thought to myself, looking at Borila, “the fish has entered my net!”
“If you’d like to hear some of them,” I told him, “come to my flat-I’m no pianist, but I can play a few Ukrainian melodies.”
The landlord, his wife and daughter accompanied us. My wife was in bed. She was used to my playing softly at night and did not wake up. I played the folk-songs, which are live with feeling, and I could see that Borila was deeply moved. I remembered how when King Saul was afflicted by an evil spirit, the boy David had played the harp before him.
I stopped and turned to Borila. “I’ve something very important to say to you,” I told him.
“Please speak,” he said.
“If you look through that curtain you can see someone is asleep in the next room. It’s my wife, Sabina. Her parents, her sisters, and her twelve-year old brother have been killed with the rest of the family. You told me that you had killed hundreds of Jews near Golta, and that is where they were taken.” Looking into his eyes, I added, “You yourself don’t know who you have shot, so we can assume that you are the murderer of her family.”
He jumped up, his eyes blazing, looking as if he were about to strangle me.
I held up my hand and said, “Now -let’s try an experiment. I shall wake my wife and tell her who you are, and what you have done. I can tell you what will happen. My wife will not speak one word of reproach! She’ll embrace you as if you were her brother. She’ll bring you supper, the best things she has in the house.”
“Now if Sabina who is a sinner like all, can forgive and love like this, imagine how Jesus, who is perfect Love, can forgive and love you! Only return to Him-and everything you have done will be forgiven!”
Borila was not heartless: within, he was consumed by guilt and misery at what he had done, and he had shaken his brutal talk at us as a crab its claws. One tap at his weak spot, and his defenses crumbled. The music had already moved his heart, and now came-instead of the attack he expected-words of forgiveness. His reaction was amazing. He jumped up and tore at his collar with both hands, so that his shirt was rent apart. “Oh God, what shall I do, what shall I do?” He cried. He put his head in his hands. and sobbed noisily as he rocked himself back and forth. “I’m a murderer, I’m cloaked in blood, what shall I do?” Tears ran down hi cheeks.
I cried “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command the devil of hatred to go out of your soul!”
Borila fell on his knees trembling, and we began to pray aloud. He knew no prayers; he simply asked again and again for forgiveness and said that he hoped and knew it would be granted. We were on our knees together for some time; then we stood up and embraced each other, and I said, “I promised to make an experiment. I shall keep my word.”
I went into the other room and found my wife still sleeping calmly. She was very weak and exhausted at that time. I woke her gently and said, “There is a man here whom you must meet. We believe he has murdered your family, but he has repented, and now he is our brother.”
She came out in her dressing gown and put out her arms to embrace him: then both began to weep and to kiss each other again and again. I have never seen a bride and bridegroom kiss with such love and passion and purity as this murderer and the survivor among his victims. Then, as I foretold, Sabina went to the kitchen to bring him food.
While she was away the thought came to me that Borila’s crime had been so terrible that some further lesson was needed. I went to the next room and returned with my son, Mihai, who was then two, asleep in my arms. It was only a few hours since Borila had boasted to us how he had killed Jewish children in their parents arms, and now he was horrified; the sight was an unbearable reproach. He expected me to accuse him. But I said, “Do you see how quietly he sleeps? You are also like a newborn child who can rest in the Father’s arms. The blood that Jesus shed can cleanse you.”
Borila’s happiness was very moving: he stayed with us that night and when he awoke the next day, he said, “It’s a long time since I slept like that.”
St. Augustine says, “Anima humana naturaliter Christiana est“–the human soul is naturally Christian. Crime is against one’s own nature, the result of social pressure or many other causes, and what a relief it is to cast it off as he had done!
In the morning Borila wanted to meet our Jewish friends and I took him to many Hebrew Christian homes. Everywhere he told his story, and he was received as the returning prodigal son. Then, with a New Testament which I gave him, he went to join his Regiment in another town.
Borila later came to say that his unit has been ordered to the front. “What shall I do? He asked. “I’ll have to start killing again.”
I said,, “No, you’ve killed more than a soldier needs to already. I don’t mean that a Christian shouldn’t defend his country if it is attacked. But you, personally, shouldn’t kill anymore-better allow others to kill you. The bible doesn’t forbid that!”…
[later] Greigore explained how he had served with Borila in Transmistria, where they had massacred the Jews. “When we went to Russia again, he was a changed man,” he said. “We couldn’t understand it. He put aside his weapons and instead of taking lives, he saved them. He volunteered to rescue the wounded under fire, and in the end he saved his officer.”