Lori Peckham |
In 1940 when German Nazis invaded Holland, John Henry Weidner—a Dutch citizen in his late 20s—happened to be in Paris. Unable to reach England with the purpose of joining the Allied armies, he remained in France. However, it didn’t take him long to find an occupation wholly as dangerous as battle—rescuing Jews and other refugees from Nazi brutality.
Having attended Salève Adventist University in Collonges, France, just across the Swiss border from Geneva, Weidner knew the ins and outs of the surrounding countryside and border crossing into Switzerland. Using that knowledge, he developed an intricate network of 300 compatriots who formed an escape line. Known as the “Dutch-Paris Line,” this underground route ran from Holland through Belgium and France and over the Alps to neutral Switzerland or Spain.
Weidner was arrested and brutally interrogated several times during these activities, refusing to reveal any information and always managing harrowing escapes. At one point he was at the top of the Gestapo’s most-wanted list. Yet he was not deterred from continually risking his life for the safety of others. In total, Weidner and his family and friends saved more than 1,000 Jews, Allied aviators, and political refugees.
His father being a devout Seventh-day Adventist minister, Weidner was raised to love God and others. He once explained, “Even when we were quite young, my parents always encouraged us, my sisters and me, to read the Bible and to believe that love was the aim of our lives.”
While Weidner was living in Switzerland as a boy, the law mandated that all children attend school every day of the week, including Sabbath. Weidner’s father went to the authorities to explain the family’s religious convictions. He was rebuffed and told that if his children didn’t attend school, he would have to go to jail one day a week. Weidner recalled what happened: “For seven years, I see my father going every week in jail because of his religious convictions. As a little boy, that impressed me, the idea that if you believe in something that is right, you have to be able to accept the consequences of it. That also helped me [make] a decision during the war: I wanted to help.”
After the war Weidner received numerous awards and recognitions—from England, Holland, France, Israel, the United States, and Belgium. Yet he downplayed the attention, stating: “During our lives, each of us faces a choice: to think only about yourself, to get as much as you can for yourself, or to think about others, to serve, to be helpful to those who are in need. I believe that it is very important to develop your brains, your knowledge, but it is more important to develop your heart, to have a heart open to the suffering of others. . . . That is the aim of God for me: to think about others, to be unselfish.”
1 John 2:6 states: “The one who says he belongs to Christ should live the same kind of life Christ lived” (NLV). John Weidner certainly acted Christ-like in his willingness to “lay down his life” for others (see 1 John 3:16).
In 1955 Weidner immigrated to the United States, where he and his wife operated a chain of health food stores known in the Los Angeles suburbs as Weidner Natural Foods. Throughout his life, this godly man emphasized not only healthful living but helpful living. And like all those who live this way, he will someday hear His Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! . . . Come and share your master’s happiness!” (NIV).