Balm in Gilead: A Story from the War
Jan 20, 2021 7:30 AM
John L. Withers II
Balm in Gilead: A Story from the War

Seventy-five years after Dachau’s liberation, author John L. Withers II narrates his father’s tale of sheltering two young Polish Jews after World War II in 'Balm in Gilead: A Story from the War'

John L. Withers II’s compelling new book, “Balm in Gilead: A Story from the War,” presents a tale that is as moving as it is timely. At the end of World War II, an all-black U.S. Army truck company, commanded by his father, Lieutenant John L. Withers of Greensboro, North Carolina, concealed two destitute, young Jewish survivors of Dachau within their ranks. Contrary to strict army regulations, the soldiers hid the boys in their bivouacs for over a year, taught them the work of the unit, and forged close friendships with the young men.

On the seventy-fifth anniversary of Dachau’s liberation, the author has not only resurrected a moving tale of past friendship, but a parable of human compassion that holds enduring lessons for today.


About the author
Ambassador John L. Withers II spent much of his childhood abroad with his Foreign Service parents. Their assignments included Laos, Thailand, Burma, Korea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and India. On returning to America, he earned a B.A. from Harvard in 1970; a Masters in East Asian Studies at McGill in 1975; and a Ph.D. in the History of Modern China from Yale in 1983. As part of his doctoral studies, he conducted dissertation research at Nanjing University in China in 1980-81. After himself joining the Foreign Service in 1984, Withers served in the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia (just as communism fell), Latvia, Slovenia, and Albania (as Ambassador), as well as such domestic assignments as Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State and Director of the Operations Center. For his work in support of Albanian democracy, the Albanian city of Vlora named him an honorary citizen as it marked the 100th anniversary of the country’s independence in 2012. Three years later, Albania’s capital, Tirana, awarded him the keys to the city. Now retired, Withers and his wife, Maryruth Coleman, also a senior Foreign Service officer, live in Potomac, Maryland.

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