Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
click to buy
Reading We Were Not Alone was like entering a written world with one kind of heart and leaving it with another. The book is a true account of how one German family survived the horror of World War II Berlin. The circumstances documented are humbling, the purity of their faith ennobling, and the entire story almost deafening in its pounding emotion. Ten years worth of miracles witnessed by the Hilbert family sealed their hearts to God as they put their very lives in His hands. Readers will anxiously follow their journey – a journey of the most pure and powerful faith. Written by Patricia Reece Roper and based on the true story of her mother, Karola Hilbert Reece, We Were Not Alone has been said to be more astonishing than most fictional accounts of the era.
The book is deeply moving, even disturbing, when contrasted with the commodious suburban life many of us enjoy. Some in our world live a buried existence among the debris of war, terrorism and other inhumane actions. During such severe times, it would be easy to cry abandonment of deity, but Roper and Reece shout a different message to the world – there is a God! And because there is a God, one never needs to feel alone.
At times, Karola Hilbert admits she felt “lonely.” Her story begins in Leipzig, Germany, April 1938. Adolph Hitler is rising to power and Karola’s father is without a job because he refuses to offer allegiance to the Nazi platform. “I have chosen who I will serve and his name is not Adolph Hitler, but Jesus Christ.” Karola ponders on her Father’s words as they leave Leipzig and travel into the epicenter of the world’s greatest war. Karola is only eight years old at the time, but by the end of the book will be a young woman of eighteen. She reflects, “I was lonely…I missed Leipzig and the happy days of my childhood. I was tired of war, Nazis, hunger, pain, air raids, angry people, and seeing my Mother so worried that she couldn’t eat. It had been a long time since I had been truly happy. I wondered if I ever would be again. I couldn’t remember when I last wished the war would end.”
Early in the story, Karola’s father is transferred to another city and removed from his family. Her despair is assuaged as she kneels in family prayer one last time before her Father’s departure. “Father’s clear, strong voice expressed to our Heavenly Father the anxieties we shared. No sniffles or sobs escaped our lips; we were brave and sure until Father’s voice broke and his prayer stopped short. A long silence followed like the calm before a storm. He tried to speak again, and I couldn’t hold it in any longer. My cry collided with wails, sobs and moans from my mother and sisters. Still kneeling, we put our arms around each other as Father literally cried to the Lord for our welfare and protection. The prayer finished, and our cries continued; but strangely, a warm feeling was slowly spreading from my heart to my whole being. It was as if a quiet hand had closed itself over mine, giving my whole body a peace I could not understand.”
In time Karola begins to identify this feeling. It becomes familiar to her, a witness of God’s protection and attentive care. Later in the story, after spending days in a basement shelter, the Hilberts return to their apartment, expecting little of it to be intact. Their apartment, however, is untouched and still standing like a brave soldier after battle, surrounded by his fellow dead. Karola’s mother exclaims, “Meine gute! My girls, would you believe it! Our Heavenly Father is watching over us constantly.” Karola adds reverently, “It’s as if we are living in the hollow of His hand.”
The book teaches this powerful truth, that the way to feel cradled in the palm of God is through prayer. Prayer becomes the Hilberts’ constant weapon, a tool to combat any circumstance. They pray for deliverance, for food, for safety, for friends, for wisdom, for comfort, for strength, and to offer gratitude. Their prayers are not just words, but true talking with God.
As the war rages on, Karola’s Mother, Maria, becomes unusually worried and afraid – almost lacking in her faith. Her daughters confront her. “You seem to have lost your faith in the Lord if that is possible,” they say. She admits she is very much afraid. The girls tenderly encourage their Mother to pray and fast for the Lord to help her overcome her fear. The next Sunday, while traveling home from Church, an air raid begins. They join hands to run for shelter until Mother stops them short. They look breathlessly at her as she says, “The bombs will not fall in our part of the city tonight…they will fall over there, and there, and there.” She points to three distinct areas. Then without saying a word, the family solemnly walks home. That evening the girls go to the roof to survey the damage. Just where their Mother had pointed, are three big fires burning where the bombs had fallen.
Karola remembers her Mother’s words, “‘From now on I will not be afraid.’ She looked each one of us in the eyes. Her stare seemed to bore a hole right to the center of my soul. I felt as if nothing could hide from her examining eyes…I knew with a burning sureness that she had received an answer to her prayers. What she was about to say had come from the Lord. The Lord took the veil off my eyes for just a split second.’ Her voice became stronger as she continued, I saw the angels of destruction taking their places. They guided the bombs to their destinations. Now I know, if we live or have to die, it will be in the Lord.'”
From that point on, they turn their lives over to the Lord. Maria encourages her girls to find jobs when safety permits. A routine helps give their shambled lives some consistency. Some days are spent almost entirely in a basement shelter due to air raids. They listen to the cries of women being defiled by Russian soldiers, praying aloud for their virtue to be spared, the cruelty to end. Other days, only one thought possesses them – where will they get food? During post war occupation, food becomes their greatest wealth. Yet the Hilberts always share their wealth with others. When they are literally starving to death, the Lord miraculously sends enough food to sustain their lives.
Throughout the book, “Frau Hilbert” laments, “Oh that I had wings and could fly to Zion.” In the end, the Hilbert family learns they have indeed flown to Zion – a place for the pure in heart. They created a spiritual Zion as they enlarged their family, shared all they had with others and risked their lives for one another.
We Were Not Alone is beyond inspiring. It is a marvelous book that cannot be closed without wanting to truly commune with God. The most gripping moments of the account have been purposely left out of this review so readers may enjoy the anticipation of the story for themselves. Roper and Reece have created a work that will pass on the Hilbert story for years to come.
Theirs is a powerful witness that God exists, even in a world of darkness and terror – He has given them the words to share their sacred story.