On This Day

On This Day

Pentecost 67


On this day in history in 1944, a fifteen-year-old girl stopped hiding in a hidden section of her father’s spice and jam warehouse in Amsterdam.  Born in Germany in 1929, the family has moved to Holland eleven years earlier to escape religious persecution of the Jewish people led by Adolf Hitler.  The young girl had attended a Montessori school with her Dutch friends until Hitler moved his intolerant ideals to Holland.  The family had lived for two years in their hiding place, along with another Jewish family and a Jewish dentist, a single man. 


Those hiding in this Dutch warehouse were able to do so with the help of a Christian employee of the spice and jam company.  For over two years, the employee practiced the humanity of their faith so that the Jewish families hiding out might be able to live and live their faith, though different.  The Allies landing on the beaches of Normandy France gave all involved in Amsterdam hope but two months later, On August 4th, German soldier discovered them.  The two Christian employees and all of the Jews were arrested and shipped to Auschwitz death camp in Poland.  As the Russians liberated Poland that fall, this fifteen-year-old girl was moved with her sister to a concentration camp in Germany.  Both contracted typhus and died in March, 1945.  Less than two months later British soldiers liberated the Bergen-Belsen camp where the young girls had died.  Of the ten arrested on this date in Amsterdam, only Otto Frank, the girl’s father, survived.  On this date in 1944, Anne Frank was taken prisoner, her only crime being the fact that she was alive and of the Jewish faith.


Fifty-two years earlier a man and his wife were found dead, having been the victims of an ax attack.  One of their daughters was later tried for the crime and found not guilty.  In the court of public opinion, however, she was deemed guilty.  “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks.  When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty -one.”   The Borden crime scene was full of evidence.  Finger-printing was quite common in Europe but the Fall River, Massachusetts authorities never used it on the axe handle found at the scene.  Given the choice of accusing Lizzie or the housekeeper, the only two people known to be in the residence at the time, they accused the younger of the two daughters.  Deliberations of the jury took only ninety-minutes to acquit her but the veil of guilt continued to envelope Lizzie until her death thirty-five years later and even now.


Lizzie Borden was already considered a “spinster” when these deaths occurred, as was her sister, Emma.  The rhyme quoted above is also inaccurate.  Lizzie Borden’s mother had died years earlier and her father had remarried.   The step-mother Abby was not well-liked by the two daughters of the family.  Andrew Borden, who received not forty-one but ten or eleven hits with a hatchet, not an axe, was also not well-liked in his hometown.  A millionaire, he often argued about spending his wealth and was considered a miserly, frugal and unpleasant man.  No one seemed surprised he met his death in such a manner and few grieved over the loss of these two people.  The two sisters, Emma and Lizzie later grew apart although they died within days of each other in 1927.


Two women each had significant life events on this day in history, August 4th.  I am certain there are many more who consider today life-changing although their names are not recorded in history.  On this day in 2012, Oscar Pistorius becomes the first amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in the 400 meters, representing South Africa.  On this day in 1936, Jesse Owens continues to excel at the Olympic Games, angering the head of the host country for the games, Adolf Hitler of Germany.


We like to think we are in control of our fate but in truth, we can only control so much.  We do make a contribution to the world, however, in our daily living.  Anne Frank wrote in a diary to help pass the days living in a wall-off portion of her father’s warehouse where the windows were covered and no one was allowed to flush the toilet in the day time so as to avoid detection.  Because her diary was overlooked by the Nazi soldiers that took her prisoner, later found by one of her father’s employees who then kept it, confident in her faith that one day she would again see the family, we have insight into the life of the families who remained hidden for two years.


Lizzie Borden did not keep a diary of that fateful day but neither did she live in the shadows, hiding out after her acquittal.  She remained in her hometown and lived a life quite common with those of her social-economic status.  For many, the stinginess of Andrew Borden and his untimely, gruesome death proved a lesson in mistreating one’s family and putting too high a value on the accumulation of wealth.  The family lived like those with much less income, without indoor plumbing or the conveniences considered common for the time.  The tight reins with which he lived his life and ran his own home led to his death, many believed, and some used his demise as proof that money does not always, if ever, buy happiness.


Perhaps it is from the two track stars that we can take the most lessons.  Today Oscar Pistorius is sitting in a jail cell, having been found guilty in the death of his fiancé.   Pistorius claims it was a case of mistaken identity; her family says it was negligence born out of his own controlling ways.  Pistorius shot into a bathroom where his fiancé was hiding.  The reasons for her hiding are disputed and Pistorius has testified under oath he thought she was an intruder.  Whether the true story, on this day in 2012 he ran the race of a lifetime and proved to the world that being an amputee would not sideline him.


Jesse Owens was one of ten children and born on September 12th in Oakville, Alabama in 1913.  This less than auspicious start of life bore no evidence of the victories he would garner as a track and field star.  In 1922 the family moved to Cleveland Ohio and Jesse discovered a passion for running.  His efforts at competition in 1935 have been called “the greatest forty-five minutes in sports’ history”.  In four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics were proof that Hitler’s claim of Aryan race supremacy was incorrect.


Jesse Owens returned to the United States a hero but also a man of color.  He rpudly waved during his ticker tape parade in New York City but then later could not enter through the front doors of the hotel hosting a reception in his honor because of his race.  While guests were escorted through the majestic front doors and up the public elevators to the reception hall, Jesse had to enter through the deliver entrance and ride the freight elevator.  He might have proven to the world that racial bias was unfounded but he returned to a country whose laws protected such discrimination.


Also on this day, swimmer Michael Phelps received his eighteenth gold medal.  AS he stood on the medal platform, announcers worldwide described the scene in which Phelps received what was being called “his last medal”.  Tomorrow Michael Phelps will carry the USA flag in the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics and compete once again, hoping for yet another medal…or two.


Hopefully today will bring you joy as you run the great race of life.  Hopefully nothing will victimize you nor will you experience discrimination or errors in judgement.  We each write the history of our lives.  We cannot control everything but, with any luck, we can control ourselves and our responses.  We can make extraordinary by living our faith, showing respect to all, and being at peace with each other.

Separation of Sport and State

According to the official website of the Olympics and their historical records, the first ancient Olympic Games can be traced back to 776 BC. They were dedicated to the Olympian gods and were staged on the ancient plains of Olympia. They continued for nearly 12 centuries, until Emperor Theodosius decreed in 393 A.D. that all such “pagan cults” be banned.  Of course, like many things, there is another story about the beginnings of the Olympic Games. 

The oldest myth is known as Idaios Daktylos Herakles. This story has Zeus, the father of humanity, fighting and defeating Cronus in a struggle for the throne of the gods. The well-known demigod Herakles is said to have staged games in Olympia in honour of Zeus, because the latter had helped him conquer Elis when he went to war against Augeas.

Historiansa claim the Olympic Games were closely linked to the religious festivals of the cult of Zeus, but were not an integral part of a rite. Indeed, they had a secular character and aimed to show the physical qualities and evolution of the performances accomplished by young people, as well as encouraging good relations between the cities of Greece. According to specialists, the Olympic Games owed their purity and importance to religion.

The Olympic victor received his first awards immediately after the competition. Following the announcement of the winner’s name by the herald, a Hellanodikis (Greek judge) would place a palm branch in his hands, while the spectators cheered and threw flowers to him. Red ribbons were tied on his head and hands as a mark of victory.  The official award ceremony would take place on the last day of the Games, at the elevated vestibule of the temple of Zeus. In a loud voice, the herald would announce the name of the Olympic winner, his father’s name, and his homeland. Then, the Hellanodikis placed the sacred olive tree wreath, or kotinos, on the winner’s head.

Modern Olympics are said to be held as a sign of unity among the nations of the world with politics not invited.  Sadly, that has not been the case.  The murders of Olympic athletes in 1972 in Munich by political extremists, the boycott by the USA athletes of the 1984 Russian Olympics are just two such examples.  In 2012 a Truce Walk was displayed and signed by visiting dignitaries.  In 2013 the third edition of the International Forum on Sport for Peace and Development was held in New York City. Also in 2013, the United Nations General Assembly established an International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.  The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia opened as the General Secretary of the United Nations carried the Olympic Flame (or torch) on its final leg.

Most news casts, however, on this the eve of the close of these 2014 Olympics are divided in coverage.  Half references the heats held for the day, medals won, teams dejected.  The other half, though, are discussing the rebellion taking place with Russia’s closest neighbor, Ukraine.  The president of this once-former USSR satellite vast country is in hiding and his police force has seemingly abdicated their allegiance to him.  In this race and fight, the underdog populous has apparently become the victor.  The contest between dominance and dictatorship has fallen to the dream of democracy and human rights.  Those news casts following the American athletes returning home are also talking about animal rights.  Like many large cities, Sochi had a stray animal population and decided such was not in keeping with the image Russia’s president was hoping the world to have regarding Russia.  The strays were pushed aside and starving, something which appeared to the Americans as heartless.  Many have adopted some of Sochi’s strays and are bringing them home.

Of course, we have stray animals in the USA and every city with a shelter would be happy if all those athletes came home and also adopted an American stray.  Russians are fighting back at the Americans in dismay over the treatment and lack of democracy in Ukraine saying Americans are also downtrodden in the USA.  Each country has its strays – two and four-footed.  No country is perfect.  However – and you knew there was a however coming, we do have a Constitution in this country that is expected to be represented and followed.  Sadly, our animal treatment laws cannot cover everything and no ten Americans will agree on the same interpretation of all of our Constitution.  Blatant and hidden cruelty, though, is illegal in the USA and that cannot always be said to be the case in Russia or Ukraine if one has a position of power.

Hopefully, those viewing these athletes will be moved to follow their example and adopt locally.  Not everyone can become an Olympic athlete.  Hopefully, those children who have watched their favorite sport eagerly or who happen to switch on curling by mistake will be buoyed to try and practice and try again.  After all, Olympic athletes come in all sizes and shapes and ethnicities.  Even a Caribbean island nation can become the darlings of the bobsled and you tube audiences!

It has been hard to become excited about these Olympics when I read that villagers have been displaced, animals are starved, and neighbors are being threatened for wanting basic human rights.  Still, these Olympic Games represent what every Olympic Game has – the best and the worst of the world’s nations. The fact that they have taken place offers hope.  The fact that new records were set tells us we are becoming more healthy and stronger as humans.  The combination of physical skill, artistic ability, and audience appreciation is proof that we are not simply barbaric. 

Every four years a nation does its best to look its best, just as the athletes do.  Every four years, actually two if you combine the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics, the nations of the world converge in one place and march in as one mankind.  Waving their nation’s flag and their hands, they proclaim both at the opening and closing that mankind has won the most difficult race of all.  We are all winners.