A few years ago at a survivors’ reunion, Jim shared a moving account of being liberated at the end of the War. We asked that he write it for our survivor newsletter. From that report, we share these excerpts.
"Gentlemen, You Are Free!"
"As the war-weary German forces began their retreat across the Rhine in the spring of 1945, it was evident that the Allied armies were pushing into the western part of Germany, the French forces in the south, the American forces in the center, and the British and Canadian armies in the north. Since our camp was located in the north, it was clear the British forces would be the ones coming in our direction…Air raids were almost continuous both day and night…One could see over a hundred Flying Fortresses and other bombers…heading toward targets deeper in Germany.
"British land forces had now reached the city of Bremen forty kilometers to the west of us, so our hopes were rising that soon they would come our way…The armored columns continued their advance along the Autobahn a few kilometers to the south of us, until they reached the town of Zeven…Here considerable fighting took place…By Thursday, April 25, 1945, the British forces had captured the village of Kirchtimke, three kilometers to the east of our camp, and numerous buildings were seen blazing all night…
"It was now Friday morning and a fine drizzle was falling, but as we looked down the road to the east we saw the first tanks of the British forces moving in our direction. Soon they encountered the S.S. troops who were dug in at their camp. Now a tank battle began with heavy artillery pouring into the German troops trying to defend themselves. A detachment of German artillery had positioned themselves in a small woods to the west of the camp and were now sending shells over our heads toward the British forces coming down the road…
"Some days before this, in anticipation of an attack, we had dug zig-zag trenches in various areas of the camp and had covered them with boards and doors and then covered them with dirt to provide us some shelter from 'flying objects'…Late in the afternoon as the fighting drew nearer, and parts of our camp were being hit, I dived down into one of the trenches to seek cover. No one was in this trench, probably because it was so muddy. Since it was nearly sunset and I knew that Sabbath was soon to begin (Jim is a Seventh Day Adventist), I reached into my pocket and pulled out my New Testament…I opened to John 14: 'Let not your heart be troubled…' and continued until darkness prevented my reading further, but memory brought many, many other verses to mind, and I bowed my head and prayed: 'Lord, Thou hast been with us through all these years, and I pray Thou wilt protect us through the next few hours. If it be Thy will, save all of us from death that we may be able to return home. Be with my loved ones back home and may they have a good Sabbath. Amen.'
"I climbed out of the trench while it seemed a little quieter, but I almost got hit as I peeked around the corner of a barrack…All Friday night the fighting continued…Early Saturday morning the sky had cleared somewhat and the fighting had moved along the road on the north of the camp…Occasional shells from German artillery were dropping near us, but the British gunners were able to silence those guns and push them on to the village of Tarmstedt to the west.
"The men in the camp now crawled out of their 'holes' and began to run up to the corner of the camp nearest the road. From there we were able to see the first British tanks and other armored vehicles turn the corner and start down the road toward our camp gate. On the lead tank was a Union Jack, and on the one side of the flag sat the British Commander; on the other side sat the German Commandant of our camp whom they had picked up down the road!
"The Royal Marines now threw open the gates to welcome the liberating forces: tanks, armored cars, trucks, guns, motorcycles and all kinds of equipment. As they roared through the gates, how we cheered and cheered until we were hoarse. The Commander of the regiment hoisted a Union Jack up on the flag pole which we had erected a short time before. Then he jumped up on the top of a carrier and called out 'GENTLEMEN, YOU ARE FREE!'
"How we cheered and cheered! Then a Scottish army band group struck up the tune 'God Save the King', and, since most of the men were British, how they did sing! How they wept! It was hard to realize that now the war was over and we were free and could go home.
"Army trucks unloaded rations of food of all kinds: bread, cans of beans, jam and even chocolate--did they ever taste good. We were no longer prisoners of war but free, free! Hard to realize, but true!
"The thrill of seeing those troops coming to liberate us caused my mind to picture the great liberation that will one day arrive when Jesus comes…to set free His earthly 'prisoners' and take them to that home where there will be no more war…
"It was several days before we could start our journey home because of the condition of the roads and sporadic fighting in nearby areas…(Jim then described his journey back to Toronto, where he was welcomed by family, especially Carolyn and their daughter, Janet, whom Jim had not seen for more than four years.)
"So ended four years of isolation, separation, uncertainty, and heartache. Words could not fully express our thanks to God that we could then start life over."
Jim Russell passed away on January 10, 2008 at age 94. Feeling weak and tired, Jim was taken to the hospital. Five hours later he had died. One of Jim's sons observed that Jim died in the same manner with which he had lived -- uncomplainingly, quietly, and with little inconvenience to others. Those qualities, along with his deep faith and ready humor, served him well in the Zamzam incident and then in the years of imprisonment which followed.