Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust was one of the most terrible atrocities ever committed in human history. It also the most documented atrocity. The Nazis were great record-keepers, and their organization contributed greatly to their everlasting guilt. I will not post pictures from concentration camps today, but I will talk a bit about Holocaust remembrance. The picture above is from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is a collection of photos from a Jewish town in which every single inhabitant was murdered. These pictures are all that is left.
These shoes are from victims of Auschwitz. This is not my picture, but I have seen these shoes in person. There is a terrible sadness and silence in this room. Each pair of shoes testifies to a man, woman, boy, or girl that was murdered for their heritage. The inscription on the wall reads:
We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers,
From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam,
And because we are only made of fabric and leather
And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.
– Moses Schulstein (1911-1961), Yiddish Poet
I studied the Holocaust in a course entitled “Christianity and the Holocaust” under David Gushee at Union University. In that class we examined the roles of various people in the Holocaust. People during this time fell into one of four roles: Victim, Perpetrator Bystander, or Rescuer.
Victims – The victims were 6 million Jews, 2 million Sinti and Roma (Gypsies), and thousands of other “undesirables” (as the Nazis termed political rivals, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.). Concerning the victims, we read Elie Wiesel‘s Night.
Perpetrators – The Nazis were the guilty party, but many people in countries taken over by Nazi Germany joined the Nazis in their “Final Solution.” Christopher Browning wrote an excellent book entitled Ordinary Men about the process of common soldiers becoming mass-murderers. Ordinary Men is one of the most emotionally difficult books I have ever read in my life, so I recommend it cautiously.
Bystanders – Bystanders were everywhere the Holocaust was. For every person murdered in the Holocaust, there were neighbors that said and did nothing. Martin Niemoeller summarized the collective guilt of bystanders:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Rescuers – The rescuers are the one bright spot in this history. People like Corrie Ten Boom and Oskar Schindler are well-known. There were many rescuers, but still far too few. Concerning rescuers, we read two books, which I recommend. First, we read Corrie Ten Boom‘s The Hiding Place.
Corrie Ten Boom is a hero to me. She and her family were responsible for the rescue of many Jews from the Holocaust. As a result, her family fell victim to the Nazi regime as well and was sent to a concentration camp. Many in her family died, but her faith in Christ remained strong.
In the class, we also read Dr. Gushee’s book Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust. It tells the story of many who stood up for the sanctity of human life.
Every human life is valuable. Today is a day to remember the millions that lost their lives. Let us also remember those that risked their lives to save others. Let us all commit to be rescuers. The world is full of bystanders, and perpetrators will remain until Christ returns. Let us stand in the gap and rescue the oppressed.
Until later friends…