A Miraculous Escape from a Concentration Camp
Updated: Oct 21
A swirl of dust that aided in one man's future.
There are those in life who inspire us. I've been in situations where I wanted to give up. My seasons of sickness often felt too overwhelming. While working on the book Wounded Women of the Bible, I came across Heinz's story. His story breathed a breath of strength over me and I realized that my suffering was so minor compared to his. Sometimes we just need a new perspective.
“NEVER GIVE UP.”
Escape to Freedom
Heinz (whose name has been changed) was born in Slovenia, a former territory of Austria, in 1924. Heinz began skiing at a very young age, even skiing to school. He would do his homework on a chalkboard, but as he skied, the homework rubbed off before he reached his school.
Heinz received his elementary and secondary schooling while living in Ptuj, Austria. He also went to trade school to learn sales. During that time, Heinz worked in a store. Near the end of WWII, Heinz feared for his family’s safety and helped them move deeper into Austria to Schladming. Heinz helped run a general store owned by his sister and brother-in-law.
Joseph Tito, a revolutionary who once had the support of the Allies but was a communist loyal to Stalin, took over Ptuj with his army in 1945. He wanted the store Heinz’s family-owned, so took it into his possession. At that point, Heinz was taken into custody and put into a concentration camp. He was twenty-one years old.
Life in the concentration camp was horrendous. Interrogations lasted for hours at a time. The prisoners were beaten and badly mistreated. The guards would go out, get drunk, come back, and beat the prisoners even more. While in the camp Heinz met a fellow prisoner, a lawyer, who took care of him. The lawyer gave Heinz an address to memorize in case he ever escaped. The address was never written down as Heinz would have been killed if the guards found it.
Excerpt from Wounded Women of the Bible:
While working at a retirement center two days a week as a music therapist, I made a glorious friend.“Heinz” shuffled his feet and blew out short breaths of air as he made his way to the chair beside me. He came early to every session. On one particular day, we had an opportunity to visit more than usual. As he spoke, I glanced above his ear where a hearing aid was transplanted into the side of his head. He had lost his hearing from a beating he’d endured in a concentration camp.
“Heinz, do you mind telling the story about your days in the camp?” I asked.
His thick accent carried me back to the scene. He shared about sleeping on the cold floors in the dead of winter with no blanket or anything to keep his feet warm. “They beat us every day,” he said. “And we had no food—we were starving.” I couldn’t imagine the suffering. Heinz was only twenty-one at the time of his captivity, separated from his family who thought he was dead. One day, he saw a dust storm rising in the distance. He stopped, stared, and declared to himself, “If the storm comes over the camp, I am going to escape.” He waited, watched, and hoped. As time passed, the storm drew nearer, until it finally swirled into the camp.
When the thick haze settled over him, Heinz ran across the yard toward the fence. “The guards on the tower shot in my direction, but they could not see me,” he said, his voice intensifying. “I ran fast, and they could not find me. I jumped on the fence and felt the bullets fly by my head, but none of them hit me. Their eyes were blinded and they could not see.” My heartbeat fast and I leaned closer to Heinz. Like a movie, the story unfolded, and I was lost in the emotion. “I ran into the forest,” he said. Heinz soon heard dogs trailing behind him and hid. “I never traveled by day—only at night.”
“How did you survive?” I asked.
“I took the fruit from the trees.”
Fruit? He must have noticed the question mark on my face because he continued, “The trees were full of fruit. I ate all the fruit from the trees in the forest, and that is how I survived until I crossed the Austrian border.”
When Heinz finally arrived at the address he memorized, a man told him to sit down, sip lemonade, and pretend he lived there. Heinz was taken to the barn and given cartons of cigarettes to sell which would give him the money he needed to call home. Sometime in the middle of the night, Heinz was told to get up, along with others hiding out there, and walk toward the river and cross it. When they got to the other side they would be in Austria. Heinz and the others were warned not to celebrate their freedom. The Tito Army was known to drag escapees back to the Yugoslavian side and shoot them. Heinz was reunited with his mother at a quarantine camp and later with the rest of his family.
In this chapter where I share Heinz’s story, I speak about God feeding his children. In desperate measures, like the widow of Zarephath – God feeds us. We may not recognize God’s provision if we are looking at our expectations of how we should be fed and cared for. Heinz was fed from the fruit off the trees. The Widow of Zarephath despaired, knowing she was about to eat the last of her food – but God sent someone to her door who could walk with her through her difficult time – giving her God’s hope and healing. In the process, she, was fed physically, emotionally, and spiritually.