Originally published in WND
The attendees rose to their feet all at once in a thunderous standing ovation. Five hundred people applauding one elderly woman who was making her way to the stage.
It was Anita Dittman, 87, who as a girl survived 12 years of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi rule by relying on her faith in Jesus Christ.
Dittman recently was given the first-ever “Heroine of the Faith: Crown of Life Award” from the Bott Radio Network at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I felt very humble because God, to Him goes the glory,” Dittman told WND in an interview at NRB. “It was kind of tough for me to just stand there and absorb all these nice things when I think that God should be, really, the one to [receive this award], because without Him, I wouldn’t have been able to go through the 12 and a half years.”
Dittman had been born to a Jewish mother and an atheist father, but a Lutheran pastor led her to Jesus Christ when she was not quite seven years old just as World War II was breaking out. Over the black years that followed, she relied on her faith to help her through circumstances that left many others crushed.
First, she was forced to labor in a canning factory with her mother. Then the Gestapo took her mother away, and young Anita was forced to survive on starvation rations. Soon after, the Gestapo came for Anita and hauled her off to Barthold, a forced labor camp. She and a few of her fellow prisoners escaped, but were later recaptured. Then she escaped again, this time for good.
But her troubles were not over, for she found herself in the middle of a street during the Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany. Yet, miraculously, Anita survived the bombing unharmed. She also survived a stay in a Nazi hospital, where a nurse tried to kill her by neglecting her leg wound.
The leg wound actually saved Anita from being raped. While hiding in a bomb shelter with fellow hospital patients, a crowd of Russian soldiers burst in and started raping female patients. Two of them grabbed Anita and threw her to the floor – but when they saw her mangled leg, they left her alone to look for a more appealing victim.
When Anita finally was discharged from that hospital, she was told she wouldn’t walk normally for a year. Her Nazi doctors had not given her a cane or crutches, and she still had to travel a long way to find out if her mother was alive or dead. She put her fate in God’s hands.
“I stepped out [of the hospital] and I said, ‘Lord, I don’t have a cane. I don’t have a crutch. I don’t know where I’m going. All I want is to find my mother, so lead me, guide me, and hold onto me. Be my crutch,’” Dittman told WND. “And He was! I started to walk normally within a week, but I sure had to lean on Christ. And I lean on Christ yet, but not just for walking, but for my life.”
Dittman chronicled her many trials and tribulation in her book, “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell,” as well as in the documentary film of the same title.
Rich Bott, president and CEO of Bott Radio Network, said the award is based on the Bible verse James 1:12, which reads, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
Bott believes that verse exemplifies Dittman’s ordeal as a girl in Nazi Germany.
“We’re excited to be able to present Anita as a living witness to not only the evil that took place, but also the saving grace of Jesus Christ and how He provided and protected her, so that she could be a witness to our generation of what happened,” Bott said.
The now-87-year-old survivor looks back on her tumultuous early years not with anger or resentment, but with thankfulness to the God who sustained and protected her. While she said she is grateful for the award, she gives all credit to Christ.
“I’m being rewarded for pulling through without hate, but what it really means to me is God – the Lord Jesus,” she said. “Without Him, I wouldn’t be here.”
Bott says Dittman provides a good example of how Christians should confront evil in the modern world.
“Her life experience is instructive for us today as we see the tremendous evil that’s taking place in our time,” Bott said. “I think Christians are not supposed to enjoy a rest on the sidelines when such tremendous evil is taking place, but the Lord has redeemed us in order to be a righteous witness and to fight evil in our time.”
He cited the persecution of Christians in the Middle East as one example of evil in our time.
Bott first became inspired to present Dittman with this award when he traveled to Poland with a large group of Christian leaders last November. While there, he toured Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp.
“That had such a profound impact on my life, to be there where such a tremendous evil took place,” he said. “It just really had an impact on me.”
Then, soon after Bott returned home, he was listening to Jan Markell’s radio show, which his network broadcasts, when he heard Markell interview Dittman. That was the first time he heard Dittman’s story.
“It just really touched my heart, having just been there to Auschwitz and feeling the tremendous evil that took place there, and then realizing that this precious lady was involved in that whole tragedy, and how the Lord protected her and how she maintained her Christian testimony through that until this present day,” he recounted.
Bott said he believes God kept Dittman alive through the Holocaust so she could be a witness to the current generation. He expressed nothing but admiration for her.
“She expresses herself in such a precious, Christlike way,” Bott said. “The love of Christ exudes from her when she speaks. I just think she’s a witness from that generation to our generation and inspires us to serve the Lord and to stand up for righteousness.”
Her coauthor, Jan Markell, believes it’s important that the current generation knows Dittman’s story, because the world is now moving back toward the anti-Semitism that caused the Holocaust.
“When we see the world now, as we speak, getting darker and darker, and we even see the shades of anti-Semitism coming back like I don’t think we ever thought it would, similar to in her generation, coming back now today – that”s why we need these stories of inspiration where God proves that He is there for us as He did in her case,” Markell told WND.
Markell worries that today’s younger generation casts the Holocaust aside as irrelevant.
“I am concerned that particularly younger people – they don’t have an interest in history and they don’t have an interest in this era of history,” Markell said. “I think in their mind, it’s too long ago, and so they’re forgetting something, an era of history… that’s coming back.”
In addition to the rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the belligerence of Israel’s neighbors, Christians in the Middle East are being persecuted, noted Markell. It’s all reminiscent of the 1930s.
“My concern is that this is a generation that is being forgotten about – World War II,”
Markell said. “It’s perceived as ancient history; it’s not, and we need to learn from it so that it doesn’t happen again, because it is happening again, and younger people – people of all ages need to be aware that it’s happening again.”
Of course, some people deny that the Holocaust ever happened in the first place. Dittman encountered one such woman when she spoke at a church in Minnesota.
“That woman had the audacity to say to me, ‘Don’t you get up there and tell all these lies about Hitler. He would have never done anything like this,’” Dittman said. “And all through my speech, she glared at me.”
Dittman and Markell want people to know that the plight of the Jews was very real, and it is very real today. But what’s also real, according to them, is God’s protection.
“History has played out in a horrific manner, and that’s why her story is so important, because it shows that God shines through, no matter how dark the circumstances are,” Markell said. “God is still there.”