Unknown Consequences of Kindness
The story washed ashore from across the waves of the internet a few months ago, but I am not sure how much interest it sparked. I only found it on a handful of English websites. Yet if the story is true, then it would be one incredible act of kindness that eventually produced one of the greatest horrors in the known history of the world. Pertaining to the article, one headline read, “It may be the most devastating act of mercy in history.” What happened, you ask? Let me try to explain.
In January of 1894, a four-year old boy was playing near the freezing waters of the River Inn in a small town called Passau. The child was playing by the river when he slipped and fell into the frigid waters. Another young child, who the Donauzeitung-Danube newspaper identified as a “determined comrade,” saw the young boy struggling in the icy river and jumped into the River Inn and pulled the lad to safety. The paper never revealed the identity of the boy who almost drowned.
In 1980 a man named Max Tremmel, who was a priest and one of Europe’s most famous organists, talked about how his predecessor, who happened to be Father Johann Kuehberger and the young “determined comrade” in the newspaper article. According to the story that Father Tremmel told before he died, the small boy who Father Kuehberger pulled from the freezing waters was a kid named Adolf Hitler. In 1894, Hitler and Kuehberger were about the same age.
In a German book called Out of Passau – Leaving a City Hitler Called Home, Anna Elisabeth Rosmus penned; “The banks of the River Inn provided an idyllic setting for the children to play. In 1894, while playing tag with a group of other children, the way many children do in Passau to this day, Adolf fell into the river. The current was very strong and the water ice-cold, flowing as it did straight from the mountains. Luckily for young Adolf, the son of the owner of the house where he lived was able to pull him out in time and so saved his life….Everyone knew the story. Some of the other stories told about him were that he never learned to swim and needed glasses.”
Who could imagine that a sudden, life-saving act of kindness would create one of the greatest monsters of all time? Scott Adams once said, “Remember there is no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” Young Hitler being pulled from certain death is one of those acts that had no logical end and produced ripples of unintended and evil consequences. But what if the young Hitler had drowned that cold January day in 1984? Maybe Europe would never be torn by a second war. We will never know, but I doubt it.
However, this brings up another question: Should we pause and weigh the repercussions of every act of kindness that we do for someone else? Should we attempt to guess what will happen, what kind of ripple will be created five, ten, or thirty years later if we help another person? Of course not and we should not try. While we are influenced by our environment and, to an extent, the actions of others, for the most part we still choose what we will do with our lives and how we respond in certain moments. And we should choose to show kindness and mercy no matter the unintended results. The Apostle Peter said of Jesus that He “went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil” and we know that He was eventually crucified.
Sometimes you help people and they betray you. At times you over-extend yourself to lend a hand and they bite you. Sometimes you give someone a shoulder to cry on and they spit in your face after the tears are dried. Occasionally you attempt to encourage a neighbor and they want to crush your spirit. The church that Father Kuehberger ended up representing became one of the targets of Hitler’s hate-filled campaign. Every now and again some acts of kindness create illogical ripples in life, but that is no excuse to stop being kind to others. Besides, it is the few that are truly grateful who give you the courage to continue being kind. So keep reaching into the icy waters to lend a hand and don’t worry about the senseless ripples that may or may not occur later in life.