Review: A Thousand Shall Fall, by Susi Hasel Mundy. Review & Herald Publishing Association, 2001, Hagerstown, MD, 172 pp. $13.00 plus $2 postage from Giving & Sharing, 3316 Alberta Drive, Gillette, WY 82718. B248.
On a recent Saturday, I devoured and relished a most inspirational book. This book is not about how to work up faith in God. It is a book about faith in action, a Sabbath-keeping family who dared to keep their faith in the chaos of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Each page demonstrates the miraculous acts of the Almighty on behalf of His faithful people.
Forty-year-old Franz Hasel, a Seventh-day Adventist leader, was drafted into the German army. At the recruitment center, Hasel announced that he was a Sabbath-keeping Christian, and a conscientious objector. He was assigned to the Pioneer company with the task of building bridges for Hitler’s armies to advance. Reporting for duty, he stated, “I am a Seventh-day Adventist. I worship God on Saturday as the Bible teaches us to do. I would like to be excused from reporting for duty on my Sabbath day. Also, I do not eat pork or anything else that comes from pigs. I respectfully request permission to receive a substitute whenever pork products are served.” The Nazi Lieutenant turned beet red, “You must be mad, private! This is the German army! This battalion’s going to war, and you want Saturday off?” Under his breath he spat out, “It’s just my luck to be saddled with a religious nut!” As preposterous as it sounds, Franz Hasel, with God’s help, kept the Sabbath for almost the entire war, and “coincidences” helped him avoid pork as well. At one time, he disobeyed orders and refused to work on the Sabbath. His officer promised a court martial after the war was over. Read the book, and you will see what our God can do!
Back at the home front, Franz’s wife Helene Hasel and their three children had harrowing episodes. She kept her children from taking Saturday examinations, and stoutly resisted immense pressure to join the Nazi Party. Joining would mean extra ration cards, vacations, and many privileges. Not joining would result in difficulty obtaining food, harassment, and possibly arrest. The trials the family faced were incredible. Seventh-day Adventist Church officials advised caving in to the Nazis, but Helene Hasel stoutly refused to do so. They had to move to the country to escape arrest. Difficulties ensued there as well.
Knowing he was an expert marksman and could be tempted to kill someone in self defense, Franz threw away his handgun, and crafted a wooden one in its place and placed it in his holster. If this had been discovered by his superiors, he would have been executed. As his Pioneer Corps advanced East, it was amazing how sometimes torrential rains came on Friday, forcing the unit to rest on the Sabbath lest they get bogged down in Polish mud. By accident, he discovered a group of Jews being executed by the SS. He tried to help save lives, but was rebuffed. Part of his job was to go into the next town and obtain food for the unit. He would warn all Jews to run for their lives before the German army got there. Discovery of his heroic deeds would mean instant execution.
As the war wound down to an ignominious German defeat, Franz’s unit retreated from the Caucasus back to Germany, in a mad dash to surrender to the Americans rather than the Russians. This was the one and only time during the war that Franz lost track of time, and probably missed Sabbath. His unit barely slid through the Russian lines and gratefully surrendered to the Americans. Whew!
The climax of the story occurred when Hasel was about to be released from the American prisoner of war camp. The American colonel interrogated Hasel, “I see in your service record a notation that you are to be court-martialed after the war.” “Yes, sir,” said Franz. “What did you do to earn this?” “I refused an order for religious reasons. I am a Seventh-day Adventist, and I keep the Sabbath holy as the Bible asks us to do. Once, on my day of rest, there was an attack, and I refused to do duty because it was the Sabbath.” “You can’t be serious. All through the war you kept the Sabbath in the Nazi army, and you survived?” “Yes, sir. God protected me, even in the German army.” “That’s amazing,” said the colonel. “I’m a Jew myself, by the way. But even in the American army I don’t keep the Sabbath because it’s too difficult.” “Colonel,” Franz said boldly, “I recommend that you keep the Sabbath.”
Before leaving for the war, Franz had read in family worship, “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day . . . a thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee . . . For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways,” Psalm 91:5-11. All but seven of his 1,200-man unit died in the war. Man does not keep the Sabbath — the Sabbath keeps him.
I am a natural “chicken.” The brave Hasel family gives me a glint of hope that with the Almighty’s help, I can go through whatever trials come my way.
Susi Hasel was born in 1943 to Franz and Helene Hasel. She recounts the story of her parents from taped recollections and the other members of her family. She is married and currently is the Registrar of Pacific Union College, Angwin, California. You may reach Susi Hasel Mundy at email@example.com.
— by Richard C. Nickels