PART I. VENGEANCE
When her eighteen-year-old son Abdollah was stabbed to death in a street fight, his mother, Samereh Alinejad, was devastated. She wanted vengeance. And under Iran’s Sharia Law, that’s exactly what she was entitled to.
Just five years earlier she’d lost another child, an eleven-year-old boy, in a violent automobile accident. Losing a second son, especially to a senseless murder, was simply too much to bear.
A nineteen-year-old man by the name of Bilal Gheisari was arrested. He was tried and found guilty of killing Abdollah. The court sentenced him to death by public hanging...the only punishment that fit the crime. But his sentence was unusual in another sense.
Under Sharia Law, relatives of the deceased are entitled to kick away the chair on which the prisoner who is about to hang is standing. The idea is simple and makes sense in that culture...
Both justice and vengeance is served.
Samereh vowed to avenge her son’s death by being the person to kick that chair away. But ten days before Bilal was due to hang, Samereh told her sister of a worrying dream that came to her in her sleep...
“Abdollah came to me in my dream,” she said. “He was begging me not to take revenge.”
Though the dream haunted her night and day, she could not convince herself to forgive her son’s murderer.
Two days before the execution was to take place, Abdollah came to his mother in yet another dream...
“This time he refused to look at or speak to me,” Samereh said. “I begged him to turn around and tell me why he had asked me to forgive the man who killed him. But he stood with his back to me and would not speak.”
Again, undeterred and unable to find forgiveness within, she was determined to see the killer die.
On the day Bilal Gheisari was blindfolded and bound and led sobbing to the gallows, Samareh was there in the crowd. Bilal was made to stand on a chair as the hangman’s noose was placed round his neck.
Samereh was called forward to kick the chair away and send Bilal to his death. Slowly she climbed the few steps of the platform and stood beside the condemned man.
But instead of kicking the chair and taking her vengeance, something else happened...something most remarkable. To everyone’s amazement, Samereh furiously began slapping the face of her son’s killer.
Taking a step back, she burst into tears…
“The rage that came to grow within my heart had vanished,” she said later. “It was if I could feel the blood in my veins beginning to flow freely again. With my eyes blurred with tears, I called to my husband and asked him to come and remove the noose from the boy’s neck.”
Before she left the gallows platform, the two broken souls offered each other a most unbelievable gesture...they hugged and held each other, both sobbing uncontrollably.
With her one simple act of forgiveness, the court commuted Bilal’s sentence to twelve years in prison.
“Losing a child is like losing a part of your body,” Samereh said. “But now, I feel very calm. I feel that vengeance has left my heart.”
Semereh found peace in forgiving.
PART II. COMING TOGETHER...
It was on a late afternoon in May when twenty-year-old Meagan Napier and her friend Lisa Dickson were coming home from the beach when a jeep driven by twenty-five-year-old Eric Smallridge drove across the highway’s center line and struck Lisa’s Mazda in the front left fender. The impact sent the Mazda careening off the road and plowing straight into a tree. It was so intense as to mangle the small car, making it unrecognizable.
Eric Smallridge survived but both girls died instantly upon hitting that tree. Their bodies had to be painstakingly cut out of the twisted wreckage. Their families were left devastated.
Meagan’s mother Renee was interviewed by a reporter a few days later...
“The wailing and crying that comes from the depth of your soul,” she said, “is unbearable. The pain is so horrible, you know it will never go away.”
Suspecting he’d been drinking, the police drew Smallridge’s blood at the scene. His blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit. He was taken to jail and booked for driving under the influence. He was later tried and found guilty of double vehicular manslaughter with the aggravating circumstance of driving drunk. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Before the trial, Smallridge had shown little remorse for what he’d done. But as the prosecutors presented more and more of their evidence, he began to understand the gravity of his crime.
Sitting down in his jail cell one night, he wrote sincere and heartfelt letters of apology to both Lisa and Meagan’s families. In those letters he took responsibility for what he'd done and expressed his deepest sorrow and regret.
At first, both the families were cynical about the letters. They wondered if it was simply a ploy for him to be able to receive a lighter sentence. But when the verdict was finally handed down, Renee Napier watched him weep and she felt his remorse. Something entered her heart at that moment it changed everything for her...
“I don’t know how to explain this,” she said, “but at the sentencing his sadness, regret and grief entered my heart. I felt his pain for the first time. Up to that point I was only able to feel my own. I saw him as a young man in agony. Seeing him that way was healing for me. I had the opportunity to speak in court that day...face to face with the man who’d killed my beautiful daughter. I do not know from where they came, but the words I spoke were ones of forgiveness.”
But not only did Renee forgive Eric Smallridge, the two began writing back and forth to each other when he was in prison. A friendship began to emerge. Six years into his sentence, Renee actually campaigned to have it cut in half. It was denied, but she did not stop.
Finally, in his twelfth year of incarceration, Renee was successful in her efforts. Eric Smallridge was released from prison because of a promise and a commitment he’d made on behalf of Meagan and Lisa.
Eric Smallridge and Renee Napier, together go to schools and colleges to talk about the dangers and consequences of drunk driving. And in the process, they’ve also incredibly become dear friends.
PART III. LOVE and ADMIRATION...
She was a mere ten years old when the idyllic childhood Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister Miriam enjoyed in Romania came to a horrific end. They, along with their parents and an uncle, were shipped to the infamous Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.
Once there, they were quickly and unceremoniously separated from their family...never to see them again. Because they were twins, they were of great interest to a doctor who had become known The Angel of Death...Dr. Josef Mengele. The two sweet children were forced to undergo the most horrific medical experiments.
Despite being close to death many times, incredibly both Eva and Miriam survived the war. They were rescued when the Allies liberated the camp in January 1945.
Eva returned to live with an aunt in Romania before moving to the USA many years later. She was never able to forget what had happened to her. In 1984 she received word of her sister’s passing. In Miriam’s memory, she founded an organization she’d been contemplating for two decades. It was called CANDLES...
Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.
In 1995, while visiting Auschwitz for the 50th anniversary of its liberation, Eva caused great controversy. Publicly, in front of hundreds of other survivors, she announced she was forgiving the Nazis who had tortured her and killed six million other Jews. She named Josef Mengele as one she was forgiving.
“When I forgave Mengele,” she told a reporter in an interview afterwards, “and then all the Nazis, and then anyone who had ever hurt me or hurt anyone I loved, I felt a tremendous burden lift from my shoulders.
I realized that although the camps were liberated in 1945, I was still very much a prisoner. I would not be free until I could forgive.”
And if that is not awe-inspiring enough, Eva Mozes Kor did something even more incredible...
“In 2014,” she said, “I received an e-mail from a man by the name of Rainer Hoess. He told me he was forty-nine years old and had lived most all his life not knowing his grandfather, Rudolf Hoess, was one of history’s worst mass killers.”
Rudolf Hoess was a very high-ranking Nazi...the man who was in charge of Auschwitz. He had been sentenced and hung for his crimes twenty years before Rainer was born.
“I disowned my family,” he wrote in the e-mail. “I have read much about you and have longed to meet you in person. I want nothing more than to give you a hug and tell you how sorry I am. If only I knew where my dead grandfather’s grave was, I would go there and gladly spit upon it!”
Eva did not know what to make of the e-mail, believing it to be a cruel hoax at first. But a second email arrived asking a most incredible favor...
“Eva Mozes Kor,” it began. “I have never known the love of grandparents. If you would consider being my adoptive grandmother, I would be forever honored.”
Something told Eva the young man was sincere and contrite in his request. She agreed to meet him and incredibly, they became instant friends. And yes, she agreed to ‘adopt’ him.
“I admire and love him very much,” Eva told the press. “In an attempt to somehow make amends for the sins of his grandfather, he has had a star of David tattooed on his chest in solidarity with the Jewish people who lost their lives. None of this would have been possible without forgiveness.”
Eva, though gone from us now, remained an integral part of the CANDLES organization until her death in 2019. She and her “grandson” gave lectures across America and Europe, teaching school-age children about the Holocaust and the horrors that can take place when evil like Adolf Hitler and the Nazis are allowed to exist.
Ranier continues to educate the children on the dangers of anti-Semitism while reminding them how Eva preached the power of love and forgiveness until her dying day.
If you are part of a religion that does not grasp the need for and the power of human forgiveness, and how it is the Godliest thing you can EVER do in this life, then you really need to evaluate what it is you believe and who’s values you are practicing.
To forgive is divine!