I found out where he is yesterday. I have followed his name across England for six weeks now, and am nearly there. The path I'm walking on now is the path to his house, or so the man who gave me a ride here says. The man, Albert Donaldson, is the owner of the grocery store in the closest town. Eli is his friend he says, and he was so happy to hear that I was Eli's wife that he closed his store and drove me here as quickly as possible. He could have driven me to the house, he said, but I asked him if I might walk the rest of the way. I need some time to prepare myself to meet my husband after these four years of being apart.
Eli and I met when he was eighteen and I was seventeen. His college had been shut down due to the war, and he came home in March to be with his parents and younger sister. Everyone knew we would soon be taken, and now was the time to be with our families. His family had come to live next door to my family a year before, and we had become very close as his sister was the same age as mine, and our parents got along really well.
While at college Eli had become a Christian, but as his family was Jewish he was still considered a Jew. Eli became good friends with my father and brothers, and about two months after his arrival I became a Christian after he told me about Jesus and the truth of the New Testament, not just the Old.
In July, while Eli's family was at my family's house for dinner, Eli looked down at me while we were doing the dishes together and told me he cared for me deeply and wanted to court me. He had already received my father's permission, and as I cared for him too, we began our courtship. In early November, while the two of us were out for a walk, our families were taken by the Germans. We haven't seen them since. Three days after that Eli asked me to marry him, and a week following, on November 19th, we were married in a quiet ceremony performed by a kind Christian pastor who did not fear what the Germans would do to him, should they discover he had done this for us. The pastor, John Whitely, took us into his home and hid us in his attic for seven months. During this time nearly all of the other Jews were taken from the city, but for a time Eli and I were safe. We were so happy together in those months. We were completely alone for most of the time, and it was rather like a seven-month honeymoon. I never imagined I could love anyone like I learned to love Eli during that time. However, our luck soon changed.
In June, John and his family had to flee the city unexpectedly after hearing of a family who had been shot for hiding Jews. He had four little girls, a boy, and a wife, and he had to protect them. Eli and I stayed in the attic for two more weeks with John's permission before the Germans raided the house and found us.
We were taken from the Whitely home and placed on the same train, but halfway through the trip the men and women were separated and the men were placed in trucks that took them to a different camp. I didn't have a chance to kiss Eli goodbye, as he was separated from me by the crowds of others trying to bid their loved ones farewell. I remember it very clearly.
The train had become a real hell for all of us as the water ran out, the temperatures rose or fell sporadically, and people died. We couldn't do anything with their bodies except cover them up and live with the smell. For most of that time Eli and I sat together in a corner we had been fortunate enough to claim. We devoured the Bible Eli had hidden in his shirt. We didn't have anything else to do, and the Word was so comforting in the midst of all the confusion. Reading the words of God distracted us from the hunger and thirst, as well as the pain of knowing we would soon be separated from one another. God was faithful, we were reminded, even if we didn't understand all of this.
For three days we read our Bible and prayed together and prayed with the other people. An older couple came to know the Lord, and soon we were reading the Bible out loud to anyone who would hear it. In those three days we went through the entire New Testament, as well as the book of Isaiah. We just couldn't stop reading. If we did the fear would overwhelm us.
On the morning of the fourth day, Eli accidentally dropped the Bible on the floor and lost the place where we were reading in Psalms. He got up and walked across the train to the small window so that he could have light to find the place again. Just then the train stopped and the door was flung open, and the men were ordered off. I leapt up from my place in the corner to try and see him. "Eli!" I screamed.
I caught a glimpse of his sandy hair and he turned to me and caught my eye one last time. "I love you, Miriam!" he yelled. "He is faithful!" And then he was gone. I have not seen him since.
This path is much longer than I had expected. It's nice, though. As much as I long to see Eli, I'm terrified to see him.
I went to hell and back at Auschwitz. I made two wonderful friends with strong, God-fearing women. Their names were Joan and Helen. Joan had smuggled a Bible into the camp, and we read it together whenever we could. It wasn't often. We worked sixteen hours a day and spent two more walking to and from the work camp to Auschwitz. But when we could we read the Bible.
Within two years of arriving in Auschwitz, Joan and Helen had both died. Joan was shot when she col-lapsed on the way to the work camp. Helen starved. I managed to save Joan's Bible and keep it with me. This became my chief source of encouragement as I endured two more years with the knowledge that I was alone. My family was gone. Eli was gone, and there was no way he could have survived, right? My husband was dead, I rationalized, but in the times when that assumption became most painful, God was my strength and my souls' Husband.
My body held up better than that of most of the women. This was probably because I was much younger than some of them. I lived while hundreds died around me. I didn't understand why. I still don't. Why did the mother of seven children sent safely to America die while I, a childless widow and an orphan, lived?
Many women were also taken as prostitutes for the Germans. I am not beautiful in face or form in any but Eli's eyes, but I was threatened one time with this possibility. A German officer grabbed me while I was walking back to Auschwitz from the work camp, and he took me behind one of the buildings. I fought for all I was worth. My rationale was that, even if Eli was dead—he had to be—and I didn't want to live without him, I would not give my body to any man but my husband. I was able to deliver a good, solid punch to the man's face, which stunned him long enough for me to escape his grasp and run for all I was worth. I blended in with the other women for three weeks until the man found me again and took me before the camp. I was used as an example of what would happen to any woman who did not do as a German officer instructed her. They whipped me with thirty lashes and left me to die until one of the German doctors took pity on me and took me to the hospital until I was recovered. Only through a miracle wrought by God was I able to keep my Bible during that time. Such is the grace of my Physician.
The war ended six months ago, and I came to England two months after. I was very sick and stayed in the hospital in London for 2 ½ months more, and have been trying to find Eli since then.
I try and calm my racing heart by recalling how Eli looks. He has thick, blonde hair that sticks up in all directions when he wakes up in the mornings. His eyes are dark brown. I always used to love staring into his eyes. He's a little bit taller than average, and rather stocky. He has strong shoulders and gentle hands. I loved his hands. When we would wake up in the mornings together we would just hold hands and talk forever. There wasn't anything pressing to get out of bed for. We had to be quiet, of course, but what wonderful talks we had! We bore our souls to each other over those first months of our marriage. No two people could have been closer than we, knowing each other's deepest secrets and every little quirk, like how he always had to put the sugar and cream into his coffee cup before pouring the coffee in. He had to make sure there was the right amount of each, and it was easier to measure if the coffee wasn't already in the cup. I loved that about him.
I stop in my tracks as a house comes into view. It's still about a hundred yards away, but I'm almost there! I finger my hair. It's so short now after the Germans shaved it off and I wasn't healthy enough for it to grow very fast. It only reaches my shoulders, but it's curly now. Eli always wished that one of us had curly hair so our kids would, when we had them. Oh Father, I pray as my steps slow and my stomach begins to churn, I'm so nervous! I've missed him so much over these years, but what if he's changed? What if he can't get past what they made me into? I know You see me as pure, but will he?
One of the verses I have treasured in my heart over these years comes to my mind. John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
"It will all be OK," I whisper to myself. Then I begin walking quicker, and then running. My small bag has nearly nothing in it, so it's no hindrance.
Tears fill my eyes as I come to a stop in front of the house. It's very small, but it's just like we always imagined it if we had a house together. The large front yard is bordered by a stone wall, and there's a gate parallel to the front door. The house sits right on the border of the forest, and all around there's tall, swirling grass. I can even hear a stream somewhere close by in the forest! My attention is drawn to what looks like a small barn or shed to the right of the house. I can hear his voice. He's singing.
I begin to walk towards the shed, tears spilling down my cheeks. I'm so afraid, and so happy, and I haven't even seen him yet! He's singing one of our favorite songs. Back in the Whitely attic we would have a church service together every morning, not just on Sundays, because we knew that soon our faith would be the only thing we would have. We'd be separated from each other, so we worked together to cultivate our faith in Jesus, the only One who would never be separated from us. We would sing songs in a whisper, tears rolling down our cheeks as we basked in adoration of our Savior. He became so precious to us! He made us precious to each other.
Eli is singing *"O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing". We always said that this is one of the songs we want to sing in Heaven along with the thousands upon thousands of other Christians who will be there.
"Jesus, the name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease. 'Tis music in the sinner's ears; 'tis life and health and peace. He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free. His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood availed for me." His voice isn't as nice to listen to as it used to be, but it sounds just as strong.
I come to the door of the shed. It's open, and his back is turned to me as he finishes singing. He's building something, and his shoulders are hunched as he stands over his worktable and carves something in-to a block of wood. His hair is shorter now, but it's the same lovely, sandy color. It still looks thick.
He continues humming the tune sporadically as he blows wood shavings away from his work. I swallow back my tears.
"Eli," I whisper.
His humming stops, and his movements still. He just stands there for a minute and I'm about to say his name again because I'm not sure he heard me. But then he turns around, very slowly.
We study each other's faces. We memorized those faces once, but we've both changed. He looks older, as he should of course. He's clean-shaven and has a scar across his left cheek, but his eyes are full of joy. He was always so full of joy in the Lord. That's what made me want to read the Bible in the first place. I wanted to know how this young man was so happy all the time. And even now, after everything I'm sure he's suffered, his eyes are joyful.
I will never get tired of looking at his face again. I stand there, looking at him as he looks at me, for what seems like an eternity. As content as I am to look at him, though, I want him to say something.
"Miriam," he whispers at last.
I have ached to hear him say my name again. When we were in the attic I would ask him to say my name over and over and over again because I loved how he said it. Mir-yam. It was the same way every-one else pronounced it, but it was different coming from my husband. In Auschwitz I would spend hours trying to remember how he said my name, but a remembrance could never compare to the actuality of a thing.
I smile at him. "Say it again."
He steps towards me, just one step, his eyes showing me he remembers those times together when I had him say my name. "Miriam."
I come towards him now too, and he comes farther.
"Miriam, Miriam, Miriam, Miriam…" his voice trails off as his arms come gently around me.
I bury my face in his shirt and let my tears flow as he strokes my hair and holds me tightly. I remember these arms.
"Shh," Eli whispers as I sob against him. "You're home now."
Home…with my heart.
* "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" by Charles Wesley