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A Few Opinions Resulting From a European Tour

I didn’t know how to begin this article, or perhaps I should say “where” to begin it, so I decided to put off writing until another time and read my “Reader’s Digest” instead. I turned to the article, “The Scots Among Us,” and that reminded me of the time I took the train from London, England to Edinburgh, Scotland, and that’s probably as good a place as any to begin this article.

On the train, I was sitting in a compartment with two Scottish ladies, one English lady, and an English gentleman. The English gentleman had taken it upon himself to educate me in respect to the passing landscape. After I had remarked several times about the beauty of the wooded hills, the grassy slopes, and the wide rolling hills, the two Scottish ladies informed me that I wasn’t really seeing anything as yet. According to them, this was dull and unattractive as compared with Scotland. In fact, they strongly advised my napping now so that I would be wide awake when we passed into Scotland where I would see not only beautiful farmland, but picturesque lakes and heather-covered moors.

Later, when I again expressed my admiration for the English countryside, the English lady could keep silent no longer. She said as politely as she could, “Oh, we do have some nice scenery in England, even though the Scots would have you believe otherwise.” In an attempt to remain neutral, I asked how I would know when we passed from England into Scotland. Would I see a Scottish flag planted on the boundary between these two countries? Although I directed my question to the Scottish ladies, it was the English lady who retorted: “I didn’t know the Scots had a flag!” This was too much for the ladies from Scotland. The landscape was forgotten, and political battle ensued. Someday, the Scots maintained, someday when all our troubles with Russia were settled, then Scotland would demand its freedom from England. Then she would fight for the right to make her own laws and she would again be the great independent country she once was!

It was that same morning that the newspapers had carried stories about Irish Nationalists who were rioting and waging a small civil war in North Ireland against England. They, too, wanted their independence so they could join the Irish Free State with which they felt they rightfully belonged. As I read these reports and now as I listened to these women, I saw the hopelessness of the U.N. When our affairs with Russia are settled, then Scotland, then Ireland, and who knows who, will start! What a situation! How can these people dream of Unified Europe and a Unified World as long as pride in their own countries, and the traditions of their countries, are so strong?

Yet, on the other hand, this love of country and the maintaining of the traditions of their country is an admirable trait. Small though they may be, each country through the loyal efforts and interests of its citizens has retained its distinctiveness. Its history and its culture live on.

This is equally true, if not more so, of the people in the Netherlands. Hollanders are extremely proud of their Queen and her family. They love their flag. They love their little land and try to use it to its greatest advantage.

I arrived in Zwolle, Overijsel, on the birthday of Princess Irene. Not only were the red, white, and blue flags waving from many homes and public buildings, but along with the flags, orange banners waved in honor of the Princess of the House of Orange. This was on a Friday, and Friday is market day in Zwolle. In the square in front of the old Roman Church, the people milled about through the narrow, crowded aisles between the lines of stalls which displayed wares of every kind. The market itself is a very interesting place not only from the aspect of those who sell their linen goods, their curtains, their flowers, and their foodstuffs, one trying to outshout and undersell the other, but it is interesting also to watch the buyers. Women and children dressed in the traditional long skirts and aprons of the nearby village of Staphorst walked through the aisles. The Boers appearing in klompen, and the city folk dressing very much as we do, elbowed their way from stall to stall in their effort to pick up bargains. But no matter how varied their appearance was, no mother had forgotten to adorn her little girl’s hair with a huge orange-colored bow in honor of the birthday of the Royal Princess.

You cannot visit any Dutch family for very long without hearing stories about the last war. Although it is already ten years since Germany occupied the Netherlands, these people are still filled with the horrors of those years. They cannot show you the new bridge a few blocks from their home without telling you about the bombing of the old one. They will show you the spot in the field across the street where an American plane was shot down. They will show you the trap door in the floor where a brother or another relative was hidden for months to avoid being picked up by the Germans. They will tell you of their gratitude to America for the help which was given them. The Americans were their friends in time of need. The Germans were their bitter enemies. The war has served to strengthen the feeling of unity among the Dutch because they shared each other’s hardships, sufferings, and sorrows.

Although the war is over and today German tourists, truck drivers, and business men appear daily on the streets of Holland, the bitterness and hatred and distrust bred by those war years has by no means disappeared. Since I was soon to leave the Netherlands for Germany, I began to wonder how the Germans felt about it all, how they felt about Americans, and about the other European countries, and how they felt about themselves and their part in the last war. Would they justify Hitlerism or would they condemn the actions of their wartime leader?

In Germany, as in the Netherlands, I heard much about the war. I was taken to places where buildings still lay in ruins from bombings and fires. As we rode through the city of Heilbronn, I was told that in one night’s bombings, twenty-five thousand people were killed. The Germans considered it extremely inhuman since the city had no industries and the attack was completely unexpected. The bombing was done by Americans! My accusing question was: “But you started it all, didn’t you?” The German answer is that no one country starts a war. Wars are economic. There are hundreds of underlying causes for wars. Hitler was looking out for Germany. And Germany needed room in order to prosper and to hold its superior position in Europe.

German Nationalism has become somewhat obscured through the occupation by American and French troops. Everywhere one sees army barracks. But German national pride has by no means been crushed. They are a very industrious and very efficient and capable people, and I am sure they are looking forward to the time when Germany will again be a superior nation, a great world power. But, as the Scots and the Dutch and all the other peoples of Europe, the Germans fear the Russians. They look to America for future assistance against the common enemy. “When America falls, we fall!” is the way one Liberated minister in the Netherlands put it.

From many aspects I found Italy to be the most interesting country to visit as a tourist. How the Italian people feel about their country is difficult for me to say, since I met no Italians who could speak English. I traveled with a “Globus” tour through Italy. All the tourists on our bus spoke English. Our guide spoke Italian as well as English and had the advantage of being able to speak with both the natives and the tourists.

Because of Italy’s peculiar position during the war, first as an ally to Germany and later, after the downfall of Mussolini, declaring war on Germany, all Italy was turned into a battlefield. The scars of those battles can be seen everywhere. But the attention of the tourist is not called to the war ruins, but rather to the ruins of the old Roman Forum where the Caesars fell, and to the Colosseum which dates back to Vespasian and Titus, and to the many other ruins found in the city of Rome, dating back to the years of Christ and the apostles. We also visited the ancient City of Pompeii which was destroyed in the year 79 A.D. when Mount Vesuvius erupted and the city was covered with ashes and cinders. We walked up and down the narrow lanes of this excavated city just as the Pompeiians did two thousand years ago.

Italy is the “museum of the ages.” Everywhere the tourist encounters some wreck of the past; a ruined arch, a broken pillar, a mutilated statue. By these stones he is reminded of the rise and fall of empires and of some of the greatest events in the history of the world and of the church.

It was in Rome that the Apostle Paul gathered the Jews together and proclaimed the gospel. It was to the Christians at Rome that Paul wrote: “There is, therefore, no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul’s church, with its hundred fifty columns and its beautiful bronze door, is supposed to be erected where this great Apostle was buried after he was killed by Nero.

Although the Bible does not mention that the Apostle Peter was ever in Rome, it is this Apostle who has received the central place of importance in the Vatican City. This largest of churches, St. Peter’s in the Square, is dominated by the immense dome of Michelangelo. According to the Roman Church, the high altar under the dome rises over the tomb of St. Peter. Seated on a throne inside the church is the celebrated bronze statue of St. Peter. It is recommended to tourists that before they start the tour of the basilica, they kiss the toe of this statue which is worn smooth by the kisses of the many visitors that passed there.

Much of the art and culture of Italy dates back to the Renaissance and is therefore a mixture of Christianity and pagan conceptions of religion. This becomes very apparent as one visits the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican where Bible characters and mythical characters appear side by side.

It was here in Rome that the early church suffered much at the hands of wicked Roman emperors. We visited the catacombs on the old Appian Way just outside of Rome and saw where the early Christians hid and worshipped and where many died and were buried.

As we traveled south from Rome to Sorrento along the beautiful shores of the Mediterranean Sea, my mind went back to the Apostle Paul. I had been in Rome where Paul had been more than eighteen hundred years ago, where he had preached Christ and suffered gladly for His sake. And later, when I was in my hotel room, high up on a cliff with a large porch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, I stood for a long time looking out at that sea, trying to make myself understand that this was really the Mediterranean I was looking at. Undoubtedly Paul passed through those very waters on his way to Rome. Perhaps he gazed up at that same cliff jutting out into the sea.

But that was merely the beginning of the Christian Church. By means of preachers and reformers, the church has continued down to the present time and will continue forever. The history of each land is really the history of the church. Until the church is gathered, the history of the world will continue.

“Ye are the salt of the earth…” How wonderful to be the salt!