Written by Daniel Malakowsky
Cover photo by Micah Dailey
I first heard Hanna Miley share her story at a small conference in Frisco, Colorado, in January of 2009. She was in the process of writing a book that shared her journey to forgive the atrocities committed against her family during the Holocaust, and the murder of her parents by the Nazi’s in 1942. It was a journey that was still very much in process and would culminate in a memorial service on the anniversary of their deaths on May 3, 2010, at the location of their final moments on earth in the forest outside of Chelmno, Poland. Hanna would complete her book and title it, A Garland for Ashes, based off of the passage from Isaiah 61:3, a passage that held a very significant role in my own story.
“Beauty for Ashes”
A message Daniel’s Dad wrote to him inside “Students Against Tyranny” by Inge Scholl, a book about Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Society
My father, who found Christ as a young man, and had a unique story of struggle, hardship, and loss, was compelled to share the healing love of Christ with others who felt like he did…outcast, on the margins, hurting and without hope. He found inspiration in the White Rose Society, especially Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans, who developed anti-Nazi propaganda and ultimately gave their lives in World War II to point other Germans to a reality beyond National Socialism, that of Christ and the kingdom he embodied. Their pamphlets were subsequently dropped by Allied forces in German cities spreading their message of hope. Following their lead, my father formed a work he would call, Beauty for Ashes, developing his own pamphlets he named ‘street sheets’ speaking to the pain of those who felt lost, overlooked, confused, and ultimately longing for belonging, hope, and a future. He named this after the same passage in Isaiah 61:3.
Facing the past to find healing.
I grew up folding those street sheets, helping him distribute them in parts of the city where the church’s presence did not always reach, and even travelled with him to bring them to new cities and communities. When I took hold of Hanna’s story, I realized a similar work was underway, one in which a message of healing and forgiveness was being offered to those who were burdened under the pain of their own brokenness and the losses that they have experienced. Her courage to face her past, the painful wounds it embodied, and to find Christ’s forgiving presence in it, filled my own heart to join her in that now well worn path of healing. I trusted that many others would follow her example, emboldened by her story to face the painful realities of their own stories.
As I began teaching social studies in a local high school, often working with students who had experienced significant trauma in their own lives, I found myself more and more sharing Hanna’s journey with them. It happened so often that I felt the students needed some way of receiving credit for the ways in which they engaged her story. This led to the development of a four lesson curriculum based on her book, that would give these students that opportunity to dive fully into her narrative, and hopefully, more fully into their own to find the same healing and freedom that she did.
46 Sacred Minutes
When Hanna was presented with the opportunity to share her story as a part of a StoryCorp interview, she would need someone to interview her. Due to the way I was able to sit so intentionally and intimately with her own story through this curriculum, she blessed me with the opportunity to hold that role with her. On October 3rd of this year I was graced to share 46 sacred minutes with her, unpacking her own narrative and journey. It was not lost on me the significance of this moment, and the unique ways in which God had intertwined his redeeming love in each of our lives. Her, the Jewish daughter of parent’s who were killed in the Holocaust, led by Christ’s forgiveness to confront, forgive and ultimately heal those deep, historic and personal wounds. Me, the son of a broken man who found God’s love and then inspiration in German’s who stood up against the tide of hate and contempt and subsequently gave their lives for that witness. Both of us brought together by a sacrifice that exchanged death for life and takes the ashes of our own hearts and fills them with garlands of beauty.
I encourage you to listen to this interview from the player below and share it with those who need to be reminded that God is with them, even in their deepest pains and longings, following Hanna’s footsteps and discovering their own healing in Christ.
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lordis on me, because the Lordhas anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. 4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated.