History Book: A Reformation hero and a winter flood


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, December 19th. Thanks for making WORLD Radio part of your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book.

Today, a deadly winter flood in the Pacific Northwest. Plus, the 75th anniversary of the largest American battle of World War II.

EICHER: But first, an unsung hero of the Reformation who knew Martin Luther better than anyone. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: In 1504, a young girl named Katherina enters a Benedictine cloister in central Germany. She later becomes a nun. But as a young woman, she begins to question the monastic life. Audio here from the documentary: Katie Luther: The Morning Star of Wittenberg.

STJERNA: We don’t know exactly what Katerina heard or learned, but she must have been aware of Martin Luthers’ criticism of the monastic life. And the revelation that justification comes from faith alone. You don’t have to live in a monastery to do that. You can live a holy life outside—you can get married, have children…

Katherina van Bora eventually contacts Martin Luther in 1523. She and a handful of other nuns want his help escaping their convent. When they arrive in Whittenburg, their families refuse to take them back—fearing the church. So Luther helps them find husbands. Eventually, only Katherina remains. After a few failed matches, she sets her heart on Martin Luther himself. He concedes and they are married in 1525. Kirsi Stjerna is a Lutheran historian. 

STJERNA: They have a big celebration. A parade through the town. Students are there. Protestors and jeerers…

Some friends worry that their union will undermine the Reformation, as the Catholic Church claims that the reformers merely want to avoid celibacy. But Luther says he’s doing it to spite the devil and the pope and to model God’s intended order. 

What begins as a marriage of convenience, grows into a deep and loving relationship. Luther calls Katherina his morning star. She manages the home, runs their family brewery, and bears six children. Luther welcomes her into his work, and she freely speaks her mind—both in support and occasionally even challenge. 

When Luther dies in 1546, Katherina loses all support. The outbreak of war also means she must leave her home and lands. The next few years are physically challenging, but she remains hopeful. In 1552, Katharina falls from her wagon and never recovers. She dies of pneumonia on December 20th, 1552, at age 53. 

STJERNA: She symbolizes the sacredness of everyday life. And she sees holiness in that, seeing that as a form of ministry. That was new. That was pure gospel for women. 

Next, December 16th, 1944.

NEWSREEL AUDIO: At 5:30am, flames erupted along an 85-mile front…

The open salvos of the Battle of the Bulge.

NEWSREEL AUDIO: This operation, Hitler believed, would destroy more than 30 American and British divisions. He believed it would be the beginning of the end of the Allies.

The Germans hope to cut-off the Allied port of Antwerp in Belgium. The surprise attack turns out to be the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front.

Despite a harsh winter storm, the lack of warm clothes, and dwindling supplies,  the Allies hold on. The battle lasts five weeks. U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

FDR: Our men have fought with indescribable and unforgettable gallantry under the most difficult conditions. The high-tide of this German attack was reached two days after Christmas…

The “Bulge” was one of the bloodiest single battles the U.S. fought during the war. As for the Germans, they lost so many experienced men—and so much equipment—that it proved impossible to launch another attack on Allied forces after. That makes “The Battle of the Bulge” the last significant engagement of the war with Germany.

And finally, December 18th, 1964:

NEWSREEL AUDIO: The worst floods to hit the Pacific Northwest in man’s memory. It swept across five states…a sweeping panorama of destruction…

A few weeks earlier, the area experienced a deep freeze and heavy snowfall in the mountains. When the temperatures returned to normal, the snow and ice began to melt—overwhelming streams and rivers by mid-December.  

Then, a weather system known as the “pineapple express,” brings heavy rainfall off the pacific ocean. Storms dump as much as 15 inches of rain within 24 hours. As the ground is still mostly frozen, the water has nowhere to go, causing extreme runoff and destructive erosion.

NEWSREEL AUDIO: Again, there were tales of heroic rescues. Of volunteers risking their lives to save strangers…

Waves of wet weather extended the so called “Christmas flood” through the end of January. The rushing water levels entire towns, leaving thousands homeless. It results in 47 deaths. Flood damage covers about 200,000 square miles—a region roughly the size of the country of Spain. Damage tops more than $540 million. 

NEWSREEL AUDIO: An indomitable spirit is the secret ingredient that will help the Pacific Northwest rebuild from the ruins of disaster…

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book. I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/Portland Corps, Wikipedia) 1964 Christmas flood


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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