By Rob Pifer
Joshua Kauffman and Daniel Gillespie are two names that at first glance seem so ordinary that it would be easy to overlook the fact that they both share a profound story of liberation and gratitude. Their paths first crossed on April 29, 1945, when the 42nd “Rainbow Division” of the U.S. Army marched into the infamous Dachau concentration camp and smashed in the prison doors.
American veteran Daniel Gillespie was profoundly shocked when he arrived with the liberating forces that day. He found Kaufman and his fellow prisoners hiding in the latrines, unsure if those approaching were rescuers sent to save or a Nazi death squad sent to kill. Kaufman was the first person Gillespie saw, and it was Gillespie that helped Kaufman take his first steps as a free man. It would be 70 years before the two men were reunited again. Kaufman eventually made a new life in America, where he got married and had three daughters. Little did each of the men know that they would end up living within an hour’s drive from each other.
In 2014, a German documentary crew arranged their reunion in California. Kaufman had received the gift of new life after being condemned to a horrible death. So when he finally got the chance to thank his rescuer, he was exuberant with gratitude. Kaufman first saluted Gillespie, then he kissed his hand, then he fell to his knees and kissed Gillespie’s feet, saying, “I love you so much.” Kaufman explained his behavior saying, “I have everything I wanted in life though him. That is the reason for my thankfulness. I came out of hell into the light. For that, and to him, I am eternally grateful.”
You can watch the reunion between Kaufman and Gillespie by CLICKING HERE.
Kaufman’s reaction seems almost inappropriate, awkward even, but one must understand the depth of what Kaufman was expressing, which was true and genuine gratitude towards the person who saved his life. Kaufman had already resolved himself to the fact that he was going to die in the concentration camp. His reality was one of hopelessness and despair, but all of that changed through the action of Gillespie, his savior. When given the opportunity to thank the man who saved him, he jumped at the chance and dropped to his knees. Like the lone leper out of ten, he was driven by gratitude.
Kauffman’s example of gratitude is something all of us can learn from, but maybe it doesn’t hit close enough to home to have an impact. Imagine another scenario, but one that involves someone who, unlike Kaufman, is rightly condemned to die. This scenario also involves a rescuer, but unlike Gillespie, this rescuer’s mission was specifically meant to save the person rightly condemned. The person who is condemned is all of us. It’s you and me. It’s the entire human race. The rescuer? The rescuer is Jesus.
Sometimes the Christian, the one who has been given all things through Christ, can lose touch with this truth. Our basis for contentment can drift towards focusing how much we’re obtaining the things we want instead of remembering the undeserved salvation we’ve been given. Those in Christ have been given everything when we deserved nothing. I pray this is your focus this Thanksgiving week.