It Happened on the Brooklyn Subway
by Paul Deutschman, Readers Digest May 1949
On January 10, 1948 just over two years after the conclusion of World War II, Marcel Sternberger got on a train in the Brooklyn subway he had never been on before. He normally took a different line, but he had changed his schedule in order to visit a sick friend that morning and was now boarding a noon train to get to work. The train was full. But just as he stepped in, one man jumped up and ran off, realizing he was about to miss his station. Sternberger quickly took the seat and sat down. Next to him was a man reading a Hungarian newspaper. Sternberger had been born in Hungary and though he would not normally strike up conversation with strangers in the subway, he felt compelled to say something. He looked over the man's shoulder and said in Hungarian, "I hope you don't mind if I glance at your paper." The man was surprised to be addressed in his native language, and during the half-hour ride to town, they became acquainted.
Sternberger's companion voluntarily shared his tragic story. His name was Paskin, and he had been a law student when the war started. He was eventually put into a labor battalion and sent to the Ukraine. Later he was captured by the Russians and put to work burying the German dead. After the war he covered hundreds of miles on foot, returned to his home in Debrecen, Hungary, and discovered his entire family gone. Strangers were living in the apartment once occupied by his father, mother, brothers, and sisters. When he reached the apartment he and his wife had shared, it also was occupied by strangers. Finally, he located old friends in Debrecen who had survived the war. They sadly informed him his entire family was dead. The Nazis had taken them and his wife to Auschwitz, where they were all presumably killed in the gas chambers.
Stunned by the news, the man fled Hungary which had become a funeral land for him He headed west toward Paris and emigrated to the United States in October 1947. As Sternberger listened the story seemed somehow familiar, suddenly he remembered why. He had recently met a young woman at the home of friends who had also been from Debrecen. She had been taken to Auschwitz but was then transferred to work in a German munitions factory. All her relatives had been killed in the gas chambers, after she had been liberated by the Americans, she was brought to New York in the first boatload of Displaced Persons in 1946. Sternberger had been so moved by her story he had written down her address and phone number, hoping to invite her to meet his family in order to help with her terrible loneliness and grief.
Sternberger thought it impossible that there could be a connection between these two people, but when he reached his station, he stayed on the train with his new friend. He asked as casually as possible, "Is your first name Bela?" The man went pale as he said! "Yes! How did you know?"
Sternberger fumbled for his address book as he asked, “Was you wife’s name Marya?"
Looking as though he might faint, Paskin said, "Yes! Yes!”
Sternberger suggested they get off at the next station without explaining why. He took Paskin to a nearby phone booth. While Paskin stood there like a man in a trance, Sternberger dialed the number, and after a long delay, he had Marya Paskin on the line. Sternberger reminded her of their recent chance meeting, and she remembered him. Without explaining why, Sternberger asked Marya where she had lived in Debrecen before the war, and she told him the address. Sternberger turned to Bela and said, “Did you and your wife live on such-and-such a street?”
'Yes!" Bela exclaimed, as he turned white as a sheet and trembled.
Sternberger urged him to stay calm but then explained that something miraculous was about to happen to him. Then he handed Bela the phone, saying, "Here, take this telephone and talk to your wife!”
When Paskin realized he was really speaking with his Marya he broke into uncontrollable crying. Sternberger sent him by taxi to the address to be reunited with his wife.
The article continues by describing the emotional reunion between the Paskins, each of whom thought the other was dead. Marya Paskin hardly remembers their reunion because of the sudden release of emotions.
I remember only that when I left the phone, I walked to the mirror like in a dream to see maybe if my hair had turned gray. The next thing I know a taxi stops in front of the house and it is my husband who comes toward me. Details I cannot remember, only this I know – that I was happy for the first time in many years. Even now it is difficult to believe that it happened. We have both suffered so much; I have almost lost the capability to be not afraid. Each time my husband goes from the house I say to myself, "Will anything happen to take him from me again?"
There are, of course, many possible explanations of what happened as a result of that subway ride one afternoon in 1948. Some would argue the Paskins were the beneficiaries of lucky coincidences. By contrast, this is how the 1949 Reader's Digest ends the article.
Skeptical persons would no doubt attribute the events of that memorable afternoon to mere chance. But was it chance that made Sternberger suddenly decide to visit his sick friend, and hence take a subway line that he had never been on before? Was it chance that caused the man sitting by the door of the car to rush out just as Sternberger came in? Was it chance that caused Bela Paskin to be sitting beside Sternberger, reading a Hungarian newspaper? Was it chance—or did God ride the Brooklyn subway that afternoon?
While this is a tear jerking, heart warming story; it is so much more. There is no indication that Bela or Marya are Christians, but this is a very clear example of God’s sovereignty, providence, and grace working in people’s lives if for no other purpose than to bring glory to Himself. There is no greater purpose for God to display His attributes than to bring Himself glory. Let that sink in for a moment. God is worthy to bring Himself glory and to put His attributes on display in any and every circumstance in which He chooses to do so. The fact that people benefit from this just brings further glory to Him.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:10-11)
Through this reconciliation we can look forward to a future glory!
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:18-30)
Dwelling on and pondering the riches of His mercy,