I have a message for you.It comes from a small village, Tolmin, nestled in the Julian Alps in Slovenia.I visited there with my Dutch friend, Tjakko, when I recently traveled through Europe.
Slovenia is part of the former Yugoslavia. There are magnificent tree-covered, snow-capped mountains that in other days hid in their gorges the fighting and dying men of the Allied Forces. It was there, I was profoundly moved by one elderly gentleman who added history to my journey in a way nothing else could have.
I met Janez.We stepped into his small, simple kitchen and were invited to sit at his humble, wooden table, weathered by the placing and removing of the dishes of many meals. His whitened hair and soft but lined face spoke of years having gone by for him. His dark brown eyes sparkled with the depth and wisdom of a soul who has known more than it should have known. We were invited, in his native language and the sweep of his weathered hand, to sit at his kitchen table. As is the custom, a bottle of recently made liquor was placed on the table. I saw leaves in the bottom of the bottle and wondered, as a small glass was being prepared for me, if I would be able to drink it. The glass was set before me as I was being introduced as "my friend from America."
The room filled with the shadows of another time in history as the old man reverently whispered, "Ahhh, America." He ran his strong, broad hand through his whitened hair that went in directions that didn't matter. As I sipped the drink and felt it burn my throat, I knew these impressions were being burned into my consciousness.
He began to speak to my friend in Slovenian, occasionally slipping into a sentence of English. He told my Dutch friend that when he was 18 years old, he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and almost paid with his life. He walked in a street among scattered pieces of paper encouraging resistance! Resistance to a stench that was erasing people from the face of the world. At that moment, Nazi's swept in and forever changed his life. He was imprisoned at Dachau...a simple, yet infamous name that now evokes unpardonable images in our minds for an innocent people.
After several months of internment and only three hours separating him from eternity before his scheduled execution, the Americans liberated Dachau. One soul was liberated. One soul was made free. One soul, magnified by thousands, in his heartfelt words, thanked one American who had nothing to do with his liberation but humbly received his gift of his gratitude on behalf of thousands upon thousands who served in our military for this one Slovenian man and myself.
"America...I love America...America saved me." My eyes met his for a brief moment and in that second I held in the palm of my hand all the gratitude from one man to one nation...for his life. His gratitude was more than I deserved to know.