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The Transformation of a Heart



by Al Drucker





I was excited with anticipation, but also a little groggy from jet-lag and the daze of suddenly landing in strange, noisy, crowded India. At the ashram there was a huge throng overflowing the Poornachandra Auditorium. Our group had permission to be inside, so a phalanx of volunteers got behind us and pushed; we landed in the auditorium amidst shouts of "Sai Ram!" ringing out around us, as we stepped over people in a sudden jostle.

I was in momentary confusion, and then seeing the massed flags on the stage and the banners on the walls above, I went into shock. It was as if I had suddenly been transported back to an earlier phase of my existence. Here, on the stage was Swami's table, on which was inscribed two swastikas, an ancient sacred symbol representing the OM; but for me this was the terror-filled symbol of Nazi Germany, where I grew up as a young boy and from which we had escaped under great difficulties just before the War. On the stage was a floral arch depicting a gate on which was written 'Work is Worship'; on the gates of the concentration camps the Nazis had put a similar slogan, which roughly translated means 'Work Cleanses the Soul'. The pageantry, the excitement of the crowd, the common greeting of 'Jai', which means the same thing as 'Heil', the adoration of the charismatic leader... all these sudden impressions created a most powerful feeling of deja vu.

Then I saw the SS carved in the base of Swami's chair, representing Sathya Sai; but for me it brought up a memory of an incident 35 years earlier in Germany. It was just before the war, when I was nine years old. The situation for Jews had gotten so bad, that I was sent off to be with relatives living in Poland. I travelled alone by train across Germany. After a stop in Berlin, my well-to-do relations put me into a first-class compartment, not knowing that Jews were not permitted to travel by that class. At the next station, there was a clatter of heels in the corridor outside and the door of my compartment flew open, a brown-uniformed soldier shouted "Achtung!", meaning "Attention!", and a tall man, a dark eminence looking like death itself, strode into the compartment, straightened out his arm in the Nazi greeting and snapped out, "Heil Hitler!".

He was dressed in a black uniform, with shiny knee-length black boots, a black belt across his chest, a black pistol holster on one side, a black dagger on the other side, a skull and cross-bones on his peaked cap, a swastika band on his arm, a monocle perched in one eye, and white gloves covering his hands, in which he was holding a black riding crop.

Immediately I realized that a high officer of the dreaded SS, the action arm of the Gestapo, the secret police, had entered my life. For a moment I was petrified, then I snapped to attention, took my bag and got ready to leave the compartment at once, when he said "Sit down!" I sat. He gave a quick look at his adjutant who was still in the door. The man clicked his heels in salute and closed the door.

The officer took off his hat, put away the monocle, took off the belt with its pistol and dagger, took off his gloves, put away the riding crop, loosened his collar and made himself comfortable. He turned to me and said quite softly, "You're Jewish, I know. Well, boy, have you ever heard of Moses?" I said "Yes sir". Then for the next hour he proceeded to tell me a number of Bible stories. My fear disappeared; I was fascinated and then I was charmed. He had a warm, soft voice and kind-looking eyes. He knew his Bible and he told the stories straight and sympathetically. Finally, he leaned very close to me and said, "Listen my boy, I like you. Let me give you some advice. This country has gone mad. Tell your parents to leave here as fast as you can. Going to Poland will not help you. You must go the other way. Don't stop until you are out of Europe, and don't worry about leaving your possessions. Just save your lives. This time there will be no Moses to lead you; you will have to do it yourself." I was totally astonished to hear these words coming from such a high Nazi official.

In fact, we had applied for emigration to America but the visas had been held up because of some technicality and my father had taken no further steps to reapply. I was thinking of this, when the train whistle blew, the shout of "Achtung!" was heard from outside the corridor. We were pulling into a station. The officer got up and put on all his paraphenalia. The door flew open with the same clicking of heels with which it had been closed. He turned to me, raised his hand in a stiff "Heil Hitler!", and then paused for just a moment in the door and gave me a knowing wink. The last thing I remember seeing as he left the compartment, were the two lightning strokes on each lapel of his uniform, signifying SS. Now sitting in the Poornachandra that SS flashed back into my mind. When I got to Poland I had written to my parents and reported what the SS officer had said to me so forcefully. My father reapplied and the day I returned home, a packet in the post brought the life-saving visas. We left on one of the last trains out of Germany.

Swami's discourse was over and he started singing in that sweet, melodious voice of his that totally captivates the heart. I was catapulted back into the present; I remembered what I was doing there and why I had come on this journey. Here on stage was the ultimate of goodness... love personified... the Divinity come with all its power and wisdom and glory into a human form... whose advent was an event of incalcuable importance, something we have prayed for and waited for through countless lives. And long before we ever know of him, he works both within us and in the events around us. As in this story of the SS, it is only after coming to him that we begin to recognize his presence in all the critical situations that have occurred in our lives, one following the other like a succession of way-markers leading to him.


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