Anita Dittman learned about fear and courage early, during a momentous period in history.
“I was 5-and-a-half when Hitler came,” she says. “My mother said, ‘We’ll have to register.’ I asked her, ‘What about me?’ She told me that I’d have to register as a Jew. ‘Thank God,’ I told her. I wanted to be identified that way, even as a child.”
It was 1933.
Within 18 months, Dittman would become something of an oddity in her Jewish community: a believer in Jesus Christ.
Dittman’s father, a German Jew, abandoned his family in the interest of self-survival. So Dittman and her mother not only were forced to scramble for basic sustenance; they had to survive the malevolent forces sweeping through their country.
It was the young Anita’s new-found faith that sustained her, which she outlines in her book, “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell: A Young Jewish Girl Discovers the Messiah’s Faithfulness in the Midst of the Holocaust.” It is a story she told her friend, Jan Markell, almost four decades ago. Markell, founder of Olive Tree Ministries, put pen to paper as the two women bonded through shared experience. Markell’s family had fled Europe, as well.
“In 1977, I was just starting out in ministry,” recalls Markell. “I was very green. Anita was having surgery and her pastor, while visiting her, asked about her story. When it became clear Anita wanted to share her story with the world, the pastor told her he knew someone who could help. We spent several months writing, and it was an emotional time. I realized that if my Russian relatives had not arrived at Ellis Island … well, I’d always had a burden for the topic.”
Get the details of Anita Dittman’s experience “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell” now!
The result was a classic memoir, detailing Dittman’s harrowing experiences and her burgeoning faith.
When Dittman’s mother realized war clouds were forming, she began looking for a way to leave Germany. By this time, Dittman and her mother were both trusting their newfound faith in Jesus Christ. The day arrived when Dittman’s sister, Hella, received her visa and passport. Destination: London.
So begins “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell,” an extraordinary journey filled with miraculous twists and turns. Dittman would eventually find herself coming to America in 1946. She has been grateful ever since.
“God can scoop up your shattered dreams and make a plan of His own,” she says today from her home in Minnesota. “His plan is vastly different, but more conducive to our growth.”
Dittman’s story resonates with modern audiences, because the parallels between pre-war Europe and modern America are so striking.
“When I was a girl in Germany, when the Nazis came to power, promises were made,” she says. “When I see Obama speak, and see the people inflamed when he raises his voice, I have nightmares about Hitler.”
Dittman sees chilling similarities in the two leaders, Hitler and Obama. She remembers the “messianic” fervor that came with Hitler’s ascension to power in early 1933.
“It’s the same thing, you see, after Obama got the nomination,” she says, noting the irony. “Newspapers in Germany wrote that he was the ‘Second Messiah’!”
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“What happened in Germany is that they had come out of World War I devastated and humiliated. They were looking for a savior and this was what Hitler offered. But there are tradeoffs with a dictator.”
Markell says that several elements which were hallmarks of the Nazi power-grab are being repeated in the United States, including the removal of prayer in schools; changing “Christmas” and “Easter” to “Holidays” and “Spring Break,” socialized medicine and an emphasis on the environment.
“Little by little in Germany, it brought tyranny,” says Markell. “The German people didn’t care about Jesus, because they loved this orator (Hitler). Government became their god — the very definition of a nanny state.”
Dittman’s uncommon perspective connects the dots for her audiences today. She is especially knowledgeable of the interaction between a totalitarian regime and a country’s church leadership.
“The Confessional Churches were not for Hitler,” she remembers. “In the middle of those services, the Nazis would come in, in their uniforms, and sit on the front row, to intimidate the congregation and pastor. People would have to move to other seats.”
She is concerned that, during this dangerous time in America — with varied threats like loss of personal freedoms, an administration that is hostile to traditional values, and the existential danger posed by radical Islam — not enough people are paying attention.
“Twenty years ago, I was swamped with speaking engagements, particularly in public schools. It simmered down a bit, but then 9/11 happened and the doors flew open wide again; in one place, I spoke five times in one day.”
However, apathy took over again.
“The secular schools hardly ever invite me anymore,” says Dittman, who spoke to thousands on April 26 in Minneapolis, at Markell’s “Understanding the Times” conference.
Dittman also says that her visible Christian witness is not welcome, either.
“Three years ago, a gentleman called me and said, ‘I’ve heard so much about you from some young people who have heard you; we’d like to invite you to come back in the fall and speak to us again,'” Dittman says. “I left a message on his machine saying that I’d be honored, and later we talked and set the date. I mentioned that my message is a Christian message and he replied, ‘Well, if you don’t take Christ out, it’s better that you don’t come.’ Well, I can’t take Christ out of my message.”
Dittman is certain she knows the source of this combination of apathy and intolerance.
“Satan is on the loose. The churches have many times said, ‘That’s very interesting; we’ll let you know,’ and then nothing. It’s a trend of the times.”
Markell sees the same trends in her work at Olive Tree Ministries.
“In Nazi Germany, not all the pastors compromised, but most were willing to take the cross down and put up [Hitler’s] picture. The pulpits were watered-down, and your basic Lutheran church was willing to go with the flow.
“Hitler saw too that the church was willing to get involved with mysticism. Today we have the equivalent, with things like contemplative prayer and yoga.”
The book and movie are to be released May 6.