Life

The Time a Complete Stranger Saved My Life

"A random guy stopped some drunken neo-Nazis from pushing me onto the subway tracks."
November 16, 2020, 2:46pm
man drowning
Photo: Rawpixel.com

This article was originally published on VICE Germany.

We’re finally approaching the end of 2020, but the pandemic rages on and we haven’t managed to save the climate, dismantle the patriarchy, overhaul structural racism or even convince the powers-that-be that a four-day work week should be compulsory for the rest of time.

As an antidote to all that bad stuff, here’s a collection of stories that ended well: when total strangers intervened in a situation and saved someone's life.

Nina, 22, student from Mannheim

When I was 18, I was on holiday in Italy with my mother and younger brother. I’d had an argument with my brother and went swimming in the sea by myself. The waves were pretty high, and suddenly I was further out than I’d realised.

When my family spotted me, my brother jumped straight into the water to get me. At first, I didn't want his help because I was still annoyed about the argument. I thought I could get myself out again, and started swimming towards the shore. But then I noticed I was using all my strength and not getting anywhere. That's when I got scared.

The waves seemed to be getting higher. My brother was right next to me, holding me, but one of us always went under the surface. If he tried to pull me up, he wouldn't stay afloat himself. In the meantime, lifeguards tried to get to us in a little boat, but the current was too strong. I can still remember my mother’s desperate face on the beach.

Then, a man jumped into the water with three other guys. They swam towards us and the man grabbed me. At that point, I was completely exhausted, but my brother was OK now that the man was looking after me. The man pulled me ashore and we landed on a beach, hundreds of yards from where I’d originally entered the water.

Paul, 26, student from Vienna

I’d only had my driver's license for a month, when I was invited to a birthday party in a nearby village. My plan was to drive there and leave my car behind at the end of the night. I’d had three or four beers and was already slightly drunk when a joint went around. Unfortunately, I didn't know it wasn't normal weed, but spice.

After a few puffs, I was gone. I was having sweats and tremors – and then everything went black. I still can't remember the ten hours that followed. Apparently I was a nightmare at the party, breaking stuff and being aggressive. Friends told me they had to hold me upright.

At around 4AM, I had the brilliant idea of getting into my car. I made it 300 metres – I don't know how. It was minus 10 degrees and the windows were icy. I crashed into a traffic island on a roundabout.

I either hit my head on the steering wheel or just slipped into sleep, but I definitely passed out. People were walking over to the roundabout, taking photos of my car, when a taxi driver jumped out of his car and rushed over to me. He dragged me out and had to overpower me to get my car key from me. When I’d calmed down, he moved my car and drove me to the hospital.

I woke up in hospital the next morning without any memory of the incident. The medical staff told me I'd had a psychotic episode. They gave me an antipsychotic and let me go.

Sara, 23, student from Hanover

I was on my year abroad in Tel Aviv, standing at a bus stop with headphones on. Right behind the stop was a house with a dark, heavy curtain instead of a door. A lot of men were going in and out while I waited for the bus. I think it might have been a brothel.

An old, hunched man came up to me and asked in Hebrew if I could check if his bus was delayed. He was speaking very softly, so I walked closer to him, checking my mobile phone to answer his question. Suddenly, two young men grabbed me from behind and pulled me towards the house behind the bus stop.

The road was very, busy so I'm sure people noticed, but no one helped. I was so shocked that I didn’t even scream, although I tried to use my weight against the men. Then, a taxi driver started honking loudly. He yelled at the men through his passenger window to let go of me or he’d call the police. The two men ran away, and the taxi driver parked his car and came over to me. I was still in complete shock. He asked me if I was OK and drove me to work, for free.

I never found the taxi driver afterwards to thank him. He may have saved my life, and I’m forever grateful to him, even if I only really came to terms with it later on. 

Anna, 36, Vienna

I’d met up with a friend at the cinema to see Friends with Benefits. The ads were still running when I suddenly realised I was having a severe epileptic seizure, also known as a "grand mal".

All I remember is sitting in the aisle, throwing up. My friend later told me that two young men had carried me out of the cinema and placed me on my side. They recognised what was happening immediately, even in the dark cinema, and immediately knew what to do. I never found out who they were.

Colin, 28, salesperson from Allgäu

When I was a teenager, I was on vacation in Kenya and was stung by a box jellyfish [one of the most deadly animals in the world] while diving. I've never felt pain like it, or thrown up so much.

Straight after the sting, I started feeling dizzy. I somehow made it to the shore, but didn’t come to until I was lying on the beach, where a passerby saw me and came to my aid. He said his name was Johnny Cash, but I don't know if that was his real name, and I'll never find out. In any case, he got me an appointment with a so-called “witch doctor”, who took me to a real hospital in the nearest town.

Christiana, 31, influencer from Vienna

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I was waiting for a train and listening to quite loud music, so at first I didn't notice when two neo-Nazis snuck up on me from behind.

Just as the train arrived, I instinctively turned around and noticed the two very drunk men, who were yelling racist comments. I got the impression they were trying to push me onto the tracks.

Suddenly, a complete stranger got between me and the men, asked them what they were doing and scared them off. Other people watched the situation but did nothing. I suspect they were scared.

The man and I both got on the subway, but he got into another carriage. To this day I have no idea who he was, or even his name. I never even said thank you – I was in too much shock. 

Lisa, 30, student from Montreal

I was going to Frankfurt to meet a friend and was running a little late. I rushed to the station and down the escalator, then saw that my subway was already there, so sprinted to catch it. It was one of those old carriages where you have to pull down on the handles to open the doors – the doors don’t open automatically if something gets stuck between them.

The door closed just as I went to step in, so my foot got stuck and the force threw me to the ground. I was lying on the platform floor and the door was jammed. The train was about to leave and I was completely panicked – I was terrified. 

A few people on the train saw and made a big scene, pulling at the door. Meanwhile, two people on the platform pulled me out of the door. It was a woman in her mid-fifties and a man I can barely remember. 

The woman helped me up and offered to get help. I was trembling all over and in such shock that I turned her offer down. I don't even know if I said thank you at all. Shortly afterwards, I was alone again. I ended up walking to my destination.