Author Archives: Don Meyer

About Don Meyer

Retired non-profit administrator

On Becoming An Influencer

One of my personal obsessions is the need to teach. My family, my professional colleagues – even the readers of my weblog messages – can all attest to the fact that my relationship style is one of teacher to student. I must confess, however, that I’ve often been the student (the failing student) when it comes to understanding women in general and my wife in particular; but we’ll not go there.

Several years ago I established a website. Its primary purpose was to promote me (which is what websites are for) as a consultant in all things related to non-profit management. My consulting career did not go far, which means it did not produce much in the way of personal wealth even though my clients fared well as a result of my advice.

My website consequently wnet into a state of disrepair. And though I keep posting weblog messages, the number of readers is just as dismal. In fact, if you are reading this, then you are alone in your efforts.

I’m not much for social media, but I do come across the term “influencer” from time to time. It strikes me as a euphemism for consultant. And it appears that some of the practitioners of the art of influencing others make out financially in addition to soaking up the adulation that comes from hits, subscribers, viewers and patrons. It troubles me that people far younger than I am have found a way to achieve what I could not. They have my grudging respect for profiting from other peoples’ need to know.

So where does this leave me?

My need to teach is in direct contact with my sense of admiration for those who abide quite comfortably in the viral world. I wish to be like them to a certain extent by dropping the “consultant” image and taking on the “influencer” role. This puts me back into the role of student, but with a teacher’s mindset. And this means I will continue writing these weblog messages in a schizophrenic balancing act of being both teacher and student. You are invited to accompany me on this journey.

I do watch YouTube videos, mostly for entertainment. The few indoctrination videos I’ve  accessed convinces me that this type of platform is my best chance at being an influencer. I merely need to search the internet to find out how.

Therefore, next week’s message will be about what I learned about creating my own YouTube channel as my first step towards fame and (possibly) fortune. This old dog is about to learn a new trick. Arf!

The Sheep Pen Confession: 6

This series on my proposed confession for the 21st Century is based on the historic use of the word confession. It is an admission of faith, not of guilt for a crime.

My confessed tenets are easily remembered by the initials of the Sheep Pen Confession. SPC stands for Service, Presence and Compassion, which were defined in previous messages.

These three essential elements of the confession derive from my interpretation of a story in which the righteous are said to have performed at least one of six actions to benefit others. These include feeding the hungry, providing water to those who thirst, giving hospitality to wanderers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison.

Performing any one of these services provided the doer a metaphoric access to a great king’s sheep pen, the eternal abode of the blessed. But I think there’s more learn from this story as far as our actions are concerned; more in terms of what qualifies as Service, Presence and Compassionate activities.

My own choice for an action which exhibited these three traits involves an unidentified woman, who entered a private dinner and anointed the head of one of those present from a jar of expensive perfume. Her actions brought jeers of contempt from the onlookers, even though they benefited from the aroma of the ointment; which served as a pleasing indicator of her sacrifice.

The recipient was not hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick or in prison; the conditions mentioned above which prompt the actions of the righteous. But he was bereaved, knowing that his death was imminent.

He countered the critical taunts of the others with a simple compliment: “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” He went on to promise the woman that her actions would be proclaimed wherever the good news of his messianic program was preached. The irony of this statement is that the woman’s verbal tormentors would be the ones to tell and retell of her blessed intrusion upon their private gathering.

The woman’s name remains unknown to us. Her compassionate service delivery bore no promise of fame. It did prove to be exemplary, however, though its impact was expressed in a manner even the woman likely did not understand at the time or anticipate.

The one whose hair dripped with the sweet fragrance of the woman’s perfume defined her actions in a manner, which helps us to appreciate that our Service, Presence and Compassion can have an impact beyond the immediate.

He told those in attendance at the dinner, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.” A resurrection followed.

In this same way, what we intend may never fully encompass the significance of what we do. Still the doing is required in order for the transcendent benefit to find fulfillment.

Sheep Pen Confession: 5

My current writing obsession involves something of a time warp. The word confession in my title is not an admission of guilt but a throwback to a time when people used the word to express their belief in something of value. Blinded by the specter of our current political trials, we are more inclined to think of a confession as part of someone’s plea bargain to avoid the full consequence of their stupidity.

My own inspiration for saying “I confess” is the Augsburg Confession of 1530. It was a revolutionary statement of faith aimed at a much needed institutional reform, which promised relief from a dogmatic oppression. I am thereby trying to resurrect the historic act of confessing, this time to a plan of hope relevant in the 21st Century.

My confession is based on a story told millennia ago about a king, who returns from a long absence and divides his people into two groups, likened to the way a shepherd divides his herd between the sheep and the goats. The king’s intent was to impart a blessing on the people, whose behavior during his absence best reflected the life-sustaining qualities of his own character.

The story illustrated the king’s desired behavior with six different benevolent actions: feeding the hungry, providing water to those who thirst, giving hospitality to wanderers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison. Performing any one of these services for the sake of another meant the doer would be inducted into the king’s metaphoric sheep pen, the abode of the blessed.

My Sheep Pen Confession proffers three virtues I see embedded in this story. They are easily remembered using the Confession’s initials SPC for Service, Presence and Compassion. In my last message I wrote about the nature of Presence. This time the focus is on the virtue of Compassion.

I make a distinction between pity and compassion. Pity is the passive impression that others are more unfortunate in comparison to one’s self. Compassion transcends mere emotion and demands action. It is the link between the other two virtues, Service and Presence. Compassion propels our fragile egos into the gap between life and death in order to give a cup of water “unto the least of these, my brothers.”

One of my favorite letter writers, the cynical James of the New Testament, called out people for their lack of transparency concerning their self-proclaimed beliefs. He did this with a question appropriate to this message.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

What good, indeed! Such a query seems to presage the narcissistic illusion of those who believe singing John Lennon’s Imagine is a sign of moral rectitude. Compassion can never be so supercilious.

To paraphrase another letter writer, compassion is the substance of our heartfelt desire, the evidence of character’s presence in a time of visible scarcity. It cannot endure shameless neglect.

The Sheep Pen Confession: 4

My current writing obsession involves something of a time warp. The word confession in my title is not an admission of guilt but a throwback to a time when people used the word to express their belief in something of value. My inspiration is the Augsburg Confession of 1530. It was a revolutionary statement of faith aimed at a much needed institutional reform, which promised a relief from dogmatic oppression. I am thereby trying to resurrect the historic act of confessing to a plan of hope, this one relevant in the 21st Century.

My confession is based on a story told millennia ago about a king, who returns from a long absence and divides his people into two groups, likened to the way a shepherd divides his herd between the sheep and the goats. The king’s intent was to impart a blessing on the people, whose behavior during his absence best reflected the qualities of his own character.

The story, or parable, illustrated the desired behavior with six different actions: feeding the hungry, providing water to those who thirst, giving hospitality to wanderers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison. Performing any one of these services for the sake of another meant the doer would be inducted into the king’s sheep pen, the abode of the blessed.

My Sheep Pen Confession proffers three virtues embedded in this story, which are easily remembered using the Confession’s initials SPC for Service, Presence and Compassion. In my last message I wrote about the nature of Service. This week the focus is on the virtue of Presence.

Presence may not be on anyone else’s list of virtues, but I contend it has a rightful place among the run of the mill virtues like courage, humility and gratitude. The moral bona fides of Presence can be seen in the wisdom of an ancient Hebrew statement of praise; Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence. Psalm 95:15

This is a sentiment with which we can all identify, if not on the spectral scale of person to deity, then in the tangible realm with persons of like kind. We imbue another’s Presence with this quality of light, possessing the capacity to enlighten any moment and comfort through emotional warmth.

From infancy we bond with another using our own innate facial recognition software. Involuntary joy gives birth to a smile, when we visually embrace the one who lovingly hovers over us like a mother bird sheltering her young. The rhythm of this original romance is eternal. It defines the fundamental desire of all future relationships, the desire for Presence.

Contrast this to the trauma of abandonment. We see it in people as well as in things. The ruin, decay and battered appearance of any structure holds true for people as well. We bear the telltale stains of sorrow and despair as prominently as weathered barn wood in need of a makeover. Isolation wears us down bodily until our countenance, our posture, our shuffling step reflect a derelict soul devoid of hope.

Loneliness is an appalling condition as dire as any physical illness. Fellowship is a remedy easily administered through the gracious light of Presence. Merely being with someone has the ability to generate a sense of well-being in a manner that is more effective than our best attempts at reason and right doctrine.

Presence is a virtue which scoffs at the ridiculous notion found in a text message that claims the sender is reaching out to us. And while we may fall back on the trite promise that we will keep in touch with someone, Presence is not susceptible to being mailed in. Nothing can replace the power of eye contact, not even a face time app. For ultimately what matters is that true Presence allows for the invasion of personal space through the touch of a human hand. It renders us vulnerable, the true test of our willingness to sacrifice self for the sake of one who needs our help.

The Sheep Pen Confession: 3

This is part three in something of a mission statement.  I use that term cautiously because I am on something of a mission, but I have opted for the claim of actually making a confession. The example I am following is the Augsburg Confession, proclaimed before a mixed assembly of  leaders in 1530.

This confession consisted of twenty-one theses regarding worship and seven antitheses regarding the abuses of the church. One thing to bear in mind about this seminal work is that it did promulgate doctrinal issues though it was anything but an esoteric document. It essentially liberated ordinary people from oppressive conditions imposed by a state-sanctioned orthodoxy. A confession of any other era should deliver that same kind of benefit regardless of national, ethnic or cultural creeds.

My confession is based on a story described in my previous message. At its heart was a brief list of actions, which I contend fostered a perspective of three life-giving virtues. These are best remembered by using the Sheep Pen Confession’s initials to stand for Service, Presence and Compassion. Today’s message is about Service.

Most of my career was spent in the service industry. This means the companies which employed me did not manufacture a physical product. Physical activity was common as in the time I worked for a friend, who had a cleaning service. More often, though, I was involved in number crunching – financial statements, tax returns and projections. My rise to administrative fame involved the management of a few cultural entities, where education and entertainment were combined to fulfill the mission as a service to the general public.

Service in these cases did not deny the right to generate revenue. In fact that was the point. My livelihood came from providing services for which people were willing to pay. When I write about Service as a component of the Sheep Pen Confession, however, it is the sacrificial kind, compensation not required.

The six examples of Service given in the story, which forms the basis of this confession, involves feeding the hungry, providing water to those who thirst, giving hospitality to wanderers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison. Such efforts require grace without an invoice.

The beauty of the types of Services listed here is that anyone can do them. It’s not rocket science as the saying goes. The overhead is minimal as is the travel. Foreign fields need not figure into these actions. The magnitude of their result, however close in proximity to us, is beyond measure. And we might find that the resulting gratitude similarly has no limit in terms of depth, breadth or height.

The compensation is internal, but bliss is not guaranteed. Servants are easily abused as they follow the dynamics of Service as defined us by the one who told the story of dividing the sheep from the goats. His definition of Service defines our perspective of self, for he said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Sheep Pen Confession: 2

I am on a mission to create a mission, so to speak. It is a mission tinged with sorrow stemming from the way we communicate in a fractured world; where shamming and bullying are the norms. It leaves me with the feeling that our cultural and political leaders subsist as a media sideshow. So I wish to respond, but not in kind if possible.

My resolution is to seek a historic platform known as a confession. I wrote about the example of the Augsburg Confession in last week’s message. My own more modest attempt is captured in the title of this series, the Sheep Pen Confession, a statement of faith relevant to the times by being counterintuitive. It possesses a 60s LUV vibe with a little more substance hopefully.

The basis of my confession is a story about a leader who returns after a long absence. He seeks to reward his people upon his return and does so in keeping with their own behavior or lack thereof.

The story says the leader divided his people into two groups the way a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats. The criterion for admission into the sheep pen, the favored location, is determined according to six possible actions undertaken not only during the leader’s absence but implicitly on his behalf.

The six actions are: feeding the hungry, providing a drink to those who thirst, giving hospitality to strangers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison.

The story does not commend: preaching sermons, praying lengthy prayers, building a mega-church, passing restrictive laws, shunning those who are different in any way, and submitting to a political agenda regardless of merit.

The story establishes three virtues, which form the substance of my confession. They are easy to remember by using the Sheep Pen Confession’s initials SPC to represent Service, Presence and Compassion. These three virtues are inherent in the actions which make one a sheep.

They also offer me the inspiration to write three more messages espousing the beneficial nature of each virtue. And I will confess in a different way. I believe the six actions mentioned above are exemplary but not exhaustive. Given time I may find more in my arsenal of virtues sorely needed to quell the chaos and the discontent.

The Sheep Pen Confession: 1

The type of confession under consideration here has nothing to do with admitting to a crime, although that form of release can be good for the soul. Another equally efficacious confession is a typically less volatile statement of what one believes or personally confesses to be true. When we espouse a worldview, we are confessing our beliefs to others. It does not require a deity to make it sincere, but it does help.

The idea that anyone today would use the words “I confess” to anything other than a crime is not likely. Therefore I must resort to history to make my theses known and this is best done by drawing on the example of such an austere statement as the Augsburg Confession. It is a concise testimony drafted by a group of theological heavyweights, including Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, to clearly establish the basis of their reformation doctrine.

The Holy Roman Emperor convened a diet, or deliberative assembly, in 1530 to consider the veracity of the proposed confession. The Confession’s proponents were fearful of making an appearance at this assembly since their views ran contrary to the accepted doctrine of the Catholic Church. They managed to leverage a condition for their appearance, requiring the public presentation of a German version of their statement as well as submitting the formal Latin version to the assembly in order to comply with custom when discussing such issues.

We have a diet today, of sorts, convened by the emperors of virtual platforms. Anonymous contributions can be made, allowing all participants, who choose, to avoid the threat of arrest that Luther and Melanchthon faced by appearing publicly and affixing their signatures to their version of a blog. What hasn’t been lost to time is the pressure applied by both political and faith based opponents, who can excoriate an idea as easily as the Grand Inquisitor settled matters at the stake. Today we know them as trolls and they are more likely to wear bathrooms, if anything, as a form of stay at home clerical garb.

The Augsburg Confession historically consisted of 28 articles; 21 were positive statements (theses) about a reformed doctrine and 7 were negative statements (antitheses) addressing the abuses of the established church. It was a call for change, which was not well received by either the Holy Roman Emperor or the Vatican. We continue to live in the subsequent divide, which has only widened and become more diverse with the addition of other factions; political, religious and otherwise.

It’s time, I think, to launch my own Reformation, this one without the sanctity of any institutions. My list of theses is scant by comparison in terms of depth and breadth. Still, I hold it to be sacred and seek to divulge its contents over the next few messages. I call it the Sheep Pen Confession, a name derived from a story once told by a self-appointed Jewish rabbi. His speculative premise involves a futuristic return of a fabled king, who divides the world’s inhabitants into two groups, sheep and goats.

You don’t need to know the story to have an initial feeling that one group is deemed better than the other. And you can likely guess that the good guys are the sheep since goats typically have a bad rap for being aggressive head-butters. They lack the cute and cuddly virtues of sheep and will forever bear the shameful title of being escape goats, the bearer of sins for the good of humanity. It is best to be a sheep.

Sidetracked

Well, what can I say – or more appropriately what can I write – to explain another absence. The reason is simple. I got sidetracked by a new project – appropriately enough for this title – involving trains. My writing passion these past few months has been with screenplays. My earlier messages document my progress retelling the story of Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, who were imprisoned by the Nazis for sheltering Jews during the German occupation of Holland during World War II.

Running parallel with my writing is the attempt to learn more about the technical aspects of screenplay composition, such as formatting, as well as understanding the demands of the feature film industry. My pursuit to learn the latter proved something of a deterrent in completing my work about the Dutch sisters.

The industry, it seems, likes action over talk, showing instead of telling. There also seems to be some desire for true stories. Of this I am a bit skeptical when you consider the common fantasy fare at movie theaters and on streaming services. However, without any intention on my part this combination of action and true life adventure spurred a thought about a historic event of Biblical proportions although not based on the Bible. To explain this requires a personal bit of my own history.

Once upon a time I was the executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Museum. During my brief tour of duty in the Twin Cities an artist acquaintance of mine offered to donate a series of paintings he did to illustrate a story about an event known as the Great Hinckley Fire. The offer was made to me because Hinckley is in Minnesota and the story involves a train.

I said yes to the offer because I wanted to curry favor with the artist. I had no clue where Hinckley was located, no idea about the magnitude of the fire and virtually no knowledge about the railroad involved in the story. So mine was not a gesture of gratitude for illustrations of pertinent history, just a suck up for the prestige of having an instant and free collection of Ted Rose originals.

Ted’s gift also came with an autographed copy of the book written by Josephine Nobisso entitled John Blair and the Great Hinckley Fire. When I left the museum’s employ the paintings stayed with them. I took the book, which I still retain in my paltry private collection as a personal gift from an acquaintance.

In the midst of writing about the ten Booms I thought it acceptable to set aside some time to outline the events mentioned in the book. The focus of Nobisso’s creation is John Blair, the African-American porter on board the train, and his heroic efforts to comfort and save the passengers and Hinckley refugees seeking salvation from an immense conflagration. The outline was easy but it sparked some questions for the purpose of establishing a greater context to a limited aspect of a story presented in a children’s book replete with Ted’s illustrations.

Context requires research and research is demanding. I am now in possession of six more books and my own feature film script about the fire. I succumbed – not to the flames – but to the compelling accounts of people caught up in a conflagration of such magnitude, the fire created its own weather system. Now I can’t wait to see how it plays out on the big screen.

The Problem with Sequels

My current writing project is a screenplay about Betsie and Corrie ten Boom. Their notoriety stems from their efforts to help Jews in Holland avoid persecution during World War II. The German Gestapo arrested the sisters on the last day of February 1944. Thus began a succession of imprisonments until Corrie regained her freedom at the end of the year. Betsie’s release was through the crematorium at Ravensbruck, the notorious Nazi prison camp for women.

My goal in putting their plight into a feature length script is to visually portray the strength of human conviction, when faced with even the vilest opposition. To do their story justice, my approach – as documented in a previous message – involves combining Corrie’s written accounts with the fact-based history of Ravensbruck written by Sara Helm in her 2016 book, Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women.

Multiple Sources, Single Event

Last week I wrote about the conflicts that can arise when a historian relies on oral histories. This is what I discovered with Sara Helm’s book. Her many sources, each a survivor of the prison camp ordeal, gave varying accounts of the same events. This was shown most dramatically with the conflicting stories about a children’s Christmas party held in 1944. This conflict was sufficient enough motivation for me to delete from my script an otherwise visually compelling moment of big screen worthiness.

Working with one source, in my case Corrie ten Boom, would seem to offer the hope of avoiding the difficulty of deciding who to believe, when you consult multiple sources. A similar problem arises, though, when your single source is the author of more than one book about the same experience. This is the case with Corrie’s books, proving there can be problems with sequels just as there can be problems with gathering oral histories.

One Source, Multiple Presentations

Corrie wrote a handful of books about her prison experience. The first appeared in 1947, a mere two years after her release from Ravensbruck. Entitled  A Prisoner and Yet…  Corrie as the sole author, penned a series of vignettes, loosely tied together by location; her home in Haarlem, the three prisons in which she and Betsie struggled to survive, and finally home again following her release. The timeliness of the publication lends credence to the viability of her memories, but the work was not widely known. This changed in 1971 with the publication of a sequel of sorts, a retelling of Corrie’s affirming home life, underground activities and incarceration in the prison camp nightmare.

The Hiding Place covered much of the same ground as Corrie’s first book. This time, however, she made good use of co-authors, Elizabeth and John Sherrill’s talents. The narrative is more fluid and engaging, providing greater insight into Corrie’s family life and how it shaped her commitment to helping Jews avoid capture by the Gestapo. This second publication proved to be the more successful and was made into a feature film in 1975.

Three more books, pertinent to Corrie’s prison camp experiences, followed: Tramp for the Lord in 1974, Prison Letters in 1975, and In My Father’s House in 1976. This quick succession of books speaks to Corrie’s celebrity following the success of The Hiding Place. I, like many others, wanted to know more about this amazing woman and the faith she proclaimed to a worldwide audience.

The problem is the varying accounts don’t always matchup. This is a problem when trying to decide what is in and what is out of a script purporting to be an authentic portrayal of two women caught up in a Nazi firestorm. For example….

The Mystery of Lieutenant Rahm

Lieutenant Rahm handled the interrogation for both Corrie and Betsie during their first imprisonment. His exposure to these two faithful women brought him face to face with his own complicity in the Nazi reign of terror. Corrie and Betsie shared their faith in God with him. Corrie even acknowledges that Betsie’s sessions with Rahm always closed in prayer. However, Corrie left Rahm’s spiritual fate unknown when she wrote A Prisoner and Yet… and The Hiding Place. Here’s the problem: in her 1975 book, Prison Letters, she closes with a brief chapter entitled Afterword. This chapter focuses solely on a German caseworker she identifies as Hans Rahms. Note the slight name change and the loss of rank.

She writes that during their final interrogative session, Rahm(s) presented Corrie with a list of names of people in her underground network, who conspired with her to conceal Jews from Holland’s Nazi occupiers. Corrie admits she was terrified at seeing the list and could not explain away its significance. Rahm(s) shocked her by tossing the papers into the stove, which heated his interrogation hut. It is a very dramatic moment and is currently included in my screenplay, even though this scene was omitted in her previous writings.

The Sudden Appearance of Tiny

Another departure from Corrie’s representations of life in prison involved her release from Ravensbruck. Her accounts in her first two books indicate that she knew she was being released, when the chief guard of her block told her to step aside during morning roll call. The version she wrote about in Tramp for the Lord, however, varied from these two accounts by the introduction of a young woman named Tiny.

Corrie writes that the head guard instructed her to stand at position number one in the roll call line up. Tiny stood next to her. This was a cold December day. The wind sent chills through Corrie to the extent she shivered noticeably. Tiny massaged Corrie’s back in an attempt to stimulate Corrie’s circulation. It was then that Corrie muttered a dire question in a barely audible voice, asking why she was singled out to stand in position number one. Tiny, a two-year veteran of Ravensbruck, answered “death sentence”.

More drama, more inclusion in my screenplay, even though this account is another omission from Corrie’s previous writings. The problem with sequels is that they can be just as contradictory as oral histories. My resolve as screenplay historian is to be as dramatic as possible without altering the facts of Corrie and Betsie’s witness to God’s love in the presence of their enemies.

The Problem with Oral History

Our memories are not infallible. People who experience the same event often give varying accounts about what happened based on factors, which affect our perception. These can be external such as the location we occupy or the activity in which we are engaged at the time. They can also be internal, meaning our mental and emotional states. The result can be a challenging array of observations for any group, unified by a single occurrence.

One consequence of our vulnerable ability to remember things is the absence of the absolute certainty we would like to possess, when we are writing about historical events. History is fundamental to my current writing project, a screenplay about the experiences of Betsie and Corrie ten Boom. Sisters, they were imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II for helping Jews in Holland escape persecution.  

In telling their story I encountered a different kind of conflict; one of omission. Corrie’s almost polite representation of what they endured while imprisoned was not what I found in other accounts. To provide context, I looked for and found a comprehensive narrative about life in Ravensbruck, the Nazi prison for women. This was the last of three prisons in which Betsie and Corrie labored. It was by far the worst, the forced labor designed to get the last available ounce of service out of women destined for execution.

My source on Ravensbruck is the 2016 book by Sara Helm, Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women. At the core of Helm’s work is an extensive accumulation of oral histories by the women who survived the ordeal. Some of those survivors were children at the time of their imprisonment, but most were young adults, a few of whom possessed documentation to support their stories.

It is not unusual for historians gathering oral histories to encounter conflicts between the respective narratives. Most often the variances are minor. Sometimes, however, the differences are incredibly contradictory, leaving the poor historian with a difficult choice to make: Which version do you go with? Or do you report both without drawing a definitive conclusion?

Helm disclosed just such a problem regarding an event so spectacular that one can only wonder how people could disagree about the outcome. The conflicting reports concern a children’s Christmas party held a few months before the Russian army liberated the camp. All her sources agree that there was a Christmas party held in December 1944. The nature of the program and the food served is also uniformly supported. The debate arises in the telling of how the party ended.

Those sources, who were children and attended or were aware of the Christmas party, told her that the building in which the party was held was completely destroyed by an explosion. The obvious implication is that all the children at the party were killed in a heinous crime indicative of the situation the prisoners experienced every day. The camp commandant was under instructions to exterminate the camp population at the rate of 2,000 people a month regardless of age.

What these same sources could not clearly recall is how they managed to escape. Those sources, who were adults at the time and helped organize the party, say such an explosion never happened. The curious thing is that each version has multiple proponents, but they flatly contradict one another.  

The magnitude of the supposed crime is so incredible it makes you wonder how anyone could make it up if it did not occur. On the other hand, how could anyone who survived the camp not remember such an insidious event, even though the daily carnage was more lethal but committed on a far less spectacular basis; shooting, gassing, exposure to the elements and starvation? Someone is mistaken, but who?

My opinion is that age is another influential factor in shaping our memories. Those who were children at the time conflated different events into a single catastrophe. The adult witnesses, in my opinion, are the more reliable. The contradictions remain, however.

This event is not in my screenplay. The lack of unanimity is the primary reason for excluding something that would otherwise provide a spectacle on a colossal scale tailor made for a large screen presentation. Life at Ravensbruck was horrific enough to provide the desired context for retelling Corrie ten Boom’s account without trying to sensationalize it any further than what is easily verifiable. 

The problem with oral history is that our memories are not infallible.