Tag Archives: Guest Voice

On the wings of prayer: Frank Kravetz’s Nazi “hell-hole” survival

“That was now my rosary that I used to ask the Lord to help me,” said Frank Kravetz, resident of a Nuremberg prison camp he called simply the Nazi “hell-hole.”

“My bed stopped shaking … and my anxiety lifted.”

Frank was a POW of Stalag 13-D. Life was scary inside, and among the worst moments were the bombing campaigns by U.S. aircraft soaring overhead. The Nazi camp leaders would head underground into bunkers, leaving American POWs in their barracks as inadvertent targets of their own airmen. Frank feared he might ultimately be killed not by hostile Germans but by friendly Americans seeking his liberation.

One frightening evening Frank gripped both sides of his mattress. He felt some loose string. He broke off about 20 inches and began tying 10 little knots. He created a rosary. He worked the threaded beads and prayed. It helped, especially given that “just existing became what was important.”

A resident of a Nazi camp scratching for survival wasn’t what Frank Kravetz had in mind when he signed up to serve his country in World War II. The kid from smoky East Pittsburgh enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He became a tail-gunner.

Frank’s life took a dramatic turn on November 2, 1944 in a bomb-run over Germany. He crammed into the tail of a B-17, wedged inside a flak jacket. The target was Merseberg, a major industrial area. He flew amid an air armada of 500 heavy bombers, each carrying 18 250-pound “general purpose” bombs.

Frank’s plane came under hot pursuit by German fighters. Frank took them on with a twin .50 caliber machine gun. It was a dogfight, and Frank was badly wounded. His B-17 was filled with holes. The crew had to bail, quickly.

Frank was bleeding profusely and could barely move. His buddies tried to get a parachute on him, but it opened inside the plane. They wrapped it around him, taking care not to cross the cords, and tossed him out. To Frank’s great relief, the chute opened, and Frank said he floated like he was on the wings of angels.

The tranquility halted with a rude thump as Frank hit the ground. German soldiers immediately seized him.

Thus began “hell’s journey,” as Frank dubbed it.

Liberation finally came April 29, 1945, by General George Patton’s Third Army. Frank described the jubilant scene: Thousands of emaciated, ecstatic POWs chanted Patton’s name. Some fell to their knees, overcome with emotion. Patton seized a bullhorn: “Gentlemen— you’re now liberated and under Allied control… We’re going to get you out of here.”

It finally hit Frank and his remaining 125 pounds of flesh: “I’m going home.”

Frank eventually arrived in New York City and hitchhiked all the way to Pittsburgh. He unceremoniously arrived at his folks’ front door—no trumpets, no dramatic music, no parade. He hugged his mom and dad and sat down. He found and married his sweetheart, Anne.

How did he survive? I asked that to Frank several times. With me and especially with younger folks he spoke to, he didn’t shy from sharing his secret: “Pray. It helps.”

As Frank prayed, he promised God he would never complain about anything again if he survived. Our blessings are so bountiful that we need to be grateful, especially compared to deprivations others have faced—like a Nazi prison camp. Frank cited 2nd Corinthians 1:8-10, which speaks of dealing with hardship, despair, and relying not on ourselves but God.

That’s what Frank Kravetz did, right up until his death in August 2015, at age 91, joining his beloved wife of 68 years, who died only four months prior.

To Frank, who was too humble to consider himself a hero, we might say: Well done, faithful servant.

DR. PAUL KENGOR is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.

6 ways kids lead parents to God

Our children often push us to our limits, and we may react in uncharitable ways. When that happens, we might be tempted to think of them as obstacles to Christian growth. Wouldn’t it be easier to be saintly if we didn’t have to deal with temper tantrums, sibling spats, and broken curfews?

Yet consider what the Second Vatican Council fathers had to say: “Children contribute in their own way to making their parents holy” (Gaudium et Spes, 48). What a startling notion! We can strive for holiness, not despite the trials of parenthood, but through them. Our children can teach us to be more holy.

Some of the best opportunities to grow spiritually emerge precisely at those places where we encounter the most difficult challenges of family life. Here are six practical ways to cooperate with God’s grace so that can happen.

1. Let your children’s needs and shortcomings drive you to pray. If the parenting road were always smooth, you’d be tempted to forget all about God while you busy yourself with dirty dishes and soccer games. This is one way He gets your attention. Get alone with God first thing every morning and ambush the little bandits with prayer before they get out of bed.

2. Let parenting challenges drive you to learn from Scripture and saints’ lives. Meditate, for example, on St. Paul’s beautiful admonition to families about how to live together (Eph 5:21–6:4). Apply his famous “hymn to love” (1 Cor 13:4–13) to your family life.

Learn also from parents in the Bible: Mary and Joseph are our model. Others teach us by their mistakes, such as King David’s struggles with his rebel son (2 Sam 13:1–18:33); Rebekah’s family trickery (Gen 27–33); and Eli’s failures in childrearing (1 Sam 2:12–17, 22-25; 4:12–18).

Study as well the lives of saints who grew spiritually through their role as parents. Read about St. Monica’s struggles with her wayward son, St. Augustine, or the daunting family challenges of St. Rita.

3. Let children’s questions about spiritual and moral issues drive you to learn more about God and His will. In your struggle to respond to their questions, you’ll gain a greater understanding of the great truths of our faith.

4. Let parenting battles drive you to seek fellowship with other Catholic parents for mutual support and advice. Don’t be embarrassed to talk and pray over your parenting problems with others who struggle. Think of other parents as comrades in arms.

5. Let parenting struggles drive you to the sacraments for grace and strength. The grace we receive in the Eucharist fortifies us for the task of parenting as it does for every other duty of life. And parenthood is one of God’s secret strategies for getting us into the confessional.

6. Let your kids teach you some basics about the spiritual life. Jesus said: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). What can you learn from your children’s holy example of simplicity, honesty, trust, zeal, faith? What surprising gems of wisdom may come out of their mouths?

When all is said and done, perhaps the most important way we can let our kids help us grow in holiness is to view the hassles of parenting as scouring pads: they can either scrape us raw or scrub us clean.

If we resent our children’s needs, demands, and shortcomings, they’ll forever be rubbing us the wrong way. But if instead we embrace the frustration and heartache as part of God’s plan to polish us into saints, in time we’ll find ourselves shining in ways we never have before.

PAUL THIGPEN, PH.D, is an award-winning journalist and the bestselling author of 49 books. He and his wife, Leisa, have two children and five grandchildren who are helping them to become holy.

Taking refuge in God’s heart

It is said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I believe it is also true that what can and will kill you can make you stronger. My beautiful sons are living proof of this.

Joe Sikorra

When our older son John turned seven, my wife, Lori, and I shared a parent’s worst nightmare: “Your son has a neurological disease. It is fatal,” the specialist said. Our hearts had been dealt an unimaginable blow from which I could not imagine recovery. It couldn’t be worse. Right?

Six months later we were told our other son, Ben, four years old, suffered from the same disease. Two sons stricken with the same debilitating disease, and a lifetime devoted to dealing with the effects.

“How tragic. How awful,” we heard. Yes. But can you also imagine these very same lives experiencing joy in abundance? Overflowing love and laughter alongside such heartbreak? Is it possible for all of these contrary emotions to exist within one heart?

St. Paul, whose life personified struggle, redemption, and joy, knew the words of Jesus to be true: “Not for man, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Along the difficult journey, Lori and I made numerous and wonderful discoveries about struggle, loss, life, death, friendship, resilience, support, depression, anger, faith, the power of choice, marriage, guilt, humility, pride, acceptance, and barbecuing. (Not all discoveries have to be life-changing.)

I didn’t choose the Batten disease road. Most people don’t choose pain. And Batten’s would bring all kinds of pain. But how we chose to engage in the struggle was made up of a myriad of choices daily. The battle was to find light.

Socrates once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” To do that, I would not only have to examine, but act, trusting that each step would bring me closer to that light.

The struggle was crushing many days and understandably, for many families and marriages, the weight of those circumstances would have been too much to bear.

Our struggle was not against a diagnosis. That was a one-day event that quickly became history. If victory over the past were to occur, it would have to be found in the moment. But how? We would meet the enemy each day in the declining health of our sons. And each day we were given a choice as to how to meet it: either with courage, love and laughter or with despair.

We didn’t always win. Sometimes fear, rejection, and depression ruled the day. The battle was long and victory never assured. Love, hope, faith, and trust would be fashioned in struggle and tears.

Yet faith and hope would provide nothing if they remained just words found in scripture used as slogans. Those were the weapons offered, and if we used them well, the victory would yield peace and joy. Our lives seemingly continued to grow and become increasingly enriched as a result of the struggle that continually brought us to our knees.

We had to take refuge in God. The only other option was to turn away from Him.

As Paul writes, “I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” (Philippians 4:11-12). Happiness isn’t found by keeping struggle at bay. Nor can it be denied. But if we learn to embrace it, we can utilize it to learn and grow and ultimately experience true joy in Christ Jesus.

JOE SIKORRA writes about his family’s struggle with the diagnosis of Batten’s disease for his two sons in his new book, Defying Gravity: How Choosing Joy Lifted My Family from Death to Life (Ignatius). He is also a marriage and family therapist and host of “The Joe Sikorra Show” on Relevant Radio.