Relying on Faith Through Horrors of WWII
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“It was total chaos. And the village people were running and there were dead bodies, and the planes were overhead dropping bombs and it was a total chaos,” said Anna Johnson.
And frightening for young Anna Keikulis. She was 8 when the Russians came to occupy her small town of Pampali, Latvia in 1940. Now, a year later, Hitler’s armies were closing in, and Anna’s father, Arvids, told his family of seven they had to flee.
“All night we were hearing the front approaching. And the windows were shaking.”
The plan was to catch a train to eastern Latvia and stay with family away from the fighting. The station however, was 20 miles away. So, they first walked to a friend’s farmhouse halfway there before nightfall. Anna remembers her father, who worked for the forest service and pastored a small home church, leading his wife, Celite, Anna, her brother, and 3 youngers sisters into the snow and freezing cold.
Anna said, “And this is how my father explained. If we run to the left, we might get hit by a bomb. If we run to the right, we may get hit by a bomb. So, we only have one choice and that is walk with the Lord in peace and not in panic.”
Once they arrived, they found the farmhouse occupied by the Nazis, who were using it as a communications center – a hundred feet from the battle lines where German and Russian forces had dug in. The soldiers allowed Anna’s family and others seeking safety to stay in the cellar.
“With every explosion, I would open my eyes and look at Daddy’s face, look at Mommy’s face. And there would be peace, like everything’s fine,” said Anna. “So that is how we were able to very intentionally and practically follow our parents and learn. And gain great confidence that God was with us.”
She says another sign that God was with them came three days later, when their food ran out.
“Daddy went into the woods early in the morning to pray, 'Give us this day.' And when he finished praying, there on a tree stump was a loaf of bread,” said Anna. “He brought it in and we thanked the Lord for providing this day our daily bread.”
“The next morning, he went out in the woods, 'Give us this day.' And for the rest – 20 days, the Lord provided.”
Then again Anna and her family would have to run for their lives. The Russians had broken through the German lines forcing everyone in the farmhouse to evacuate. After taking his family far into the woods, Anna’s father went back to help others escape.
She said, “And when he got back there the place was demolished. I mean, we might not even have survived it.”
Grateful for God’s protection, they resumed their 10-mile march to the train station through war torn Latvia.
Cold, hungry and exhausted, they finally arrived at the station and took a train to her grandmother’s home near the Baltic Sea where they lived in relative safety until November of that same year, when they were arrested by the Nazis because they had no identification papers. Eventually, Anna and her family were sent to a labor camp in Czechoslovakia. For five months they suffered starvation, filthy conditions and disease. They’re among Anna’s darkest and most vivid memories, especially those of her younger sister, Ilze.
“Just a toddler. And had lost the ability to stand up and had lost the ability to talk. And she just begs for food. Just shaking back and forth,” said Anna.
As bad as it was, her parents didn’t waver in teaching their children to trust in God.
Anna said, “I’m 10 years old and I’m walking out in the early in the morning, Daddy’s forced labor, going out to work. And I walked with him to the edge of the compound. And I said, 'Papa, why isn’t God answering our prayers?' My little sisters are on my mind. I know they’re not going to survive. And as Daddy’s custom was, whenever we asked a serious question, he put his thumb under my chin and pulled it up so I would look him in the eyes. And he said, 'Child, the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. But, remember, we have a heavenly Father.' That’s all he said. I was so comforted by it that I went right back in that dirty bunk, went up on top, and went sound asleep with an empty tummy.”
On May 8, 1945, the war in Europe ended with the Germans’ unconditional surrender. Over the next few months they scraped up enough money to buy train tickets into American occupied West Germany where they would stay four years in a refugee camp. In 1949 they boarded a ship bound for America. Settling in Philadelphia, Anna’s father became a pastor to a Russian community.
“Because of the way our parents taught us to trust the Lord and love Him with all of our heart, we just thanked Him naturally, you know,” said Anna.
Now going on 90 years old, Anna says she’s had a full life. As a wife of more than 65 years to her husband Harry, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, she shares how God carried her through the worst of times and always will.
“We don’t just survive, we live through it. And we come through it more than conquerors,” said Anna. “Because the love of God has been gushed out on us through the Holy Spirit. And we don’t lose heart. Because of it.”
To read more about Anna and her family's survival through WWII, you can purchase her book, Our Peace Guardian, here: https://www.amazon.com/Peace-Guardian-Ilze-Keikulis-West/dp/1707698333/ref=sr_1_1?crid=53BGO22B0X55&keywords=our+peace+guardian&qid=1663960236&s=books&sprefix=Our+Peace+Guardian%2Cstripbooks%2C71&sr=1-1
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