During World War II, Sabina and Richard Wurmbrand were arrested by the Nazis for their Jewish identity and Christian faith. Then, in 1945, when Russian Communists seized Romania and attempted to take control of the churches, Sabina and Richard began an underground ministry to oppressed believers and boldly witnessed for Christ to former Nazis and Russian soldiers. The following is an excerpt from Sabina’s book, The Pastor’s Wife, in which she recalls their radical obedience to share the love of Christ with even their enemies.
All through World War II, we had worked to help victims of the Nazis — Jews in concentration camps, children orphaned by the massacres, and Romanian Protestants, who were greatly persecuted under Antonescu, the Romanian prime minister who led the pro-German government during the war. We organized the first relief to Hungarian Jews and to another oppressed minority — the gypsies.
But when the war ended, a new minority had been created. The hunter had become the hunted. German troops left behind in the retreat had to fend for themselves, and many died during the Russian occupation of Romania.
We were utterly opposed to the Nazis: They had killed millions; they had devastated whole countries, leaving cities in ruins; our friends and relatives had been thrown into their furnaces. But now they were defeated and offered no danger. Most of the soldiers who remained were like ourselves, simply victims of war. They were starving and terrified. We could not refuse them help.
People said, “You’re taking foolish risks for the sake of murderers.”
“God is always on the side of the persecuted,” Richard answered. It was not only Nazi Party officials who were being hunted like animals; it was also the silly boys who had paraded in Brown Shirts on Sunday afternoons and become soldiers by order. And not everyone was brave enough to prefer death to taking part in Nazi massacres. Anti-semitism had prevailed among Germans and Romanians, but there also existed small groups who had risked their lives to help Jews. Why hate a whole people because of a Hitler and his many followers? Why not rather love this people for the sake of its saints and the few who resisted the tyrant?
The Bible tells us what it really means to be a Jew. The biblical word for “Hebrew” (Ivri) historically meant to stand on the other side. The first Hebrew was Abraham, and he was one in a real sense of the word, standing on the other side. When all men worshiped idols, Abraham worshiped the living God. When others are bent on revenge, on ways of doing more evil than their neighbor, God gives the ability to return good for evil.
LOVING THE NAZI ENEMY
Once, three German officers hid in a tiny outhouse in our yard. It was a dark little garage, half-buried in snow. We fed them and emptied their buckets at night. We hated their former atrocities. We ourselves had been the victims. But now we talked to them, trying to make them feel less like caged beasts.
One evening when I called, their captain said, “I must tell you something that’s on my mind. You know that it is death to shelter a German soldier. Yet you do it — and you are Jews! I must tell you that when the German Army recaptures Bucharest, which it surely will, I’ll never do for you what you have done for us.”
He looked at me strangely. I thought I should try to explain. Sitting down on an upturned box, I said, “I am your host. My family was killed by the Nazis, but even so, as long as you are under my roof I owe you not only protection, but the respect due to a guest. You will suffer. The Bible says, ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed.’ I will protect you as much as I can from the police, but I cannot protect you from the wrath of God.”
“Humbug,” he answered.
He patted me on the shoulder. I drew back. His hand had shed innocent blood. He apologized: “I did not mean it badly. I just wondered why a Jewess should risk her life for a German soldier. I do not like Jews. And I do not fear God.”
“Let us leave it,” I said. “We remember a word of God in the Old Testament: ‘Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’”
He seemed puzzled. “That was thousands of years ago. What is it to you if your forefathers suffered in Egypt?”
I said, “God says, with good reason, to love strangers; for in the last resort we are all strangers to each other … even to ourselves. As He has forgiven us, so we must forgive others.”
“Wait a minute!” said the officer. “Jews have committed crimes against the German people and mankind. Honesty makes me tell you this to your face. But you must look on us as men who have committed crimes against the Jews. And you forgive them all?”
I answered very earnestly, “Even the worst crimes are forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ. I have no authority to forgive. Jesus can do so, if you repent.”
The soft crunch of footsteps on loose snow came from the yard outside. I peered out through a crack. But it was only the deaf old janitor from next door. The captain lit one of the cigarettes Richard had found for them (although he himself hated smoking). He inhaled and passed the butt to his friend. He said, “Gnädige Frau, I won’t say I understand you. But perhaps if no one had this gift of returning good for evil you talk about, then there would never be an end to killing.”
When I stood up to leave, they rose and gave little formal bows. I put their laundry in my shopping bag and went out.
These men eventually crossed the frontier safely into Germany. But many thousands like them were rounded up and died after spending years in Soviet labor camps, together with Russian Christians who might have taught them further.
Every German at that time wanted to get rid of his military uniform. How proudly they had once worn those well-cut tunics, the badges, and the medals. How hard it was now to accept in exchange the poor civilian clothes we offered.
It was at this time that Richard began to bring home Russian soldiers. He was determined to tell them about Christ. Others rightly believed the country should be rid of them.
“Do be careful, Sabina!” said Anutza, a dear friend from our church. “What will you do if the two armies meet in your home?”
We took care not to let that happen.
REACHING THE RUSSIANS
Richard began by entering Red Army barracks posing as a black market dealer in cheap watches. A group would gather around. After a time, he would lead the talk away from bargaining to the Bible.
“You haven’t come for a watch,” an older man would say, “you want to tell us about the saints.”
As Richard spoke, one would put a warning hand on his knee. “Talk watches. The company informer’s coming.”
The Red Army was full of them. They spied on comrades and reported all they said. The young soldiers knew nothing about God. They had never seen a Bible or been inside a church. Now I learned why Richard said it was “heaven on earth” to bring the gospel to Russians.
I found some educated men who knew German or French. I told them the Creed.
“It begins with the words I believe. It isn’t like a Party order that tells you what to think. It says that you must become an ‘I,’ a personality in your own right. You must think for yourselves. An army moves at the speed of the slowest truck. And if men advance in the mass, it will be at the rate of the slowest man. Christ calls you out of the mass. Man’s greatest privilege is the right to say yes or no, even to God.”
It was beautiful to see men awakening to Truth.
Sabina and Richard’s underground ministry to both Christians and their oppressors eventually resulted in their arrest. Richard spent fourteen years in prison, and Sabina endured three years, including many months in a labor camp, nearly freezing to death as she and other prisoners worked on the Danube Canal. Sabina and Richard had an unshakable faith. Though they endured great suffering, neither of them gave up hope, and neither of them would stop risking everything to tell others about Jesus Christ, no matter the cost.
After being ransomed out of Romania, and following their decades-long ministry work advancing the gospel in their home country, in 1967 they co-founded The Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry dedicated to serving persecuted Christians worldwide.
VOM provides free digital resources and offers additional resources to help your family, group, class or church grow deeper in fellowship with our persecuted Christian family members around the world. These resources will help you prepare for International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians on Nov. 7 and may be used throughout the year as you lead others in prayer for the persecuted. Included in these resources is the short feature film Finding Life, which tells part of Sabina’s story.
Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand willingly suffered arrest, imprisonment and torture, first at the hands of the Nazis and then the Communists who invaded their homeland.
Their only “crime” was to boldly share the love and truth of Christ. They chose to give up — to lose — comfort and safety in this world in order to find a life that counted for eternity.
Today, our persecuted Christian family chooses to walk in obedience to Christ and endure harassment, brutality, imprisonment and death to advance the gospel.
We pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who have chosen to walk this path in obedience to Christ.
They, like Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand and others in Scripture and throughout church history, are examples for us.