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Where was God in the Holocaust?

T

During the 1970s I used to go and talk to people involved in left wing

political groups about our faith. I made friends with some Jewish socialists

who invited us along to a meeting of Young Mapam, a socialist Zionist group.

The speaker was a man called Hyam Maccoby who gave a talk on Jesus as a

Jewish revolutionary leader against the Romans. I pitched into the

discussion afterwards and some members of the group then invited me along to

a meeting where they were going to read their own poems and writings and

other pieces of literature which meant something to them.

 

One of the readings was from a book by Elie Wiesel called Night about his

experiences in Auschwitz. After the reading our friend from the group asked

us, Where was God when the 6 million were killed? Our answer did not

really satisfy me or my Jewish friend and I went away to read Night for

myself and really think through the issues involved.

 

My first reaction after reading Night was, How can I who was born when

these events were already history, who have no trace of Jewish blood in my

veins, presume to write about an experience so terrible, so far removed from

my own experience of life, and so painful to my Jewish friends? The answer

which came to me was clear: If you have no answer to the questions raised

by this book, how can you claim that God has the answer to questions about

the meaning of life being raised by people who think about these issues

today? What message of hope and comfort can you bring to suffering humanity

if you cannot answer the despair of those who endured these horrors?

 

The most eloquent statement of this despair is to be found in Night in

which Birkenau, the reception centre for Auschwitz, is viewed through the

eyes of the author as a child:

 

Flames were leaping from a ditch, gigantic flames. They were burning

something. A lorry drew up at the pit and delivered its load  little

children. Babies! Yes, I saw it  saw it with my own eyes…those little

children in the flames. (Is it surprising that I could not sleep after that?

Sleep had fled from my eyes).

 

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp which has turned my

life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never

shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned

into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those

flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal

silence which deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never

shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my

dreams to dust. Never shall I forget those things even if I am condemned to

live as long as God Himself. Never.

 

So where was God? When such appalling evils take place, is it still possible

to believe in the concept of a just God, of a God who loves and cares about

humanity? Facing this question is more than just an academic exercise. Cruel

dictatorships, concentration camps, torture and utter wickedness still hold

sway in many parts of the earth and the Bible warns that in the last days

evil men will grow worse and worse and that the whole world will ultimately

come under the power of the Antichrist of whom Hitler was a major

forerunner.

 

Who was responsible?

 

The first question which must be asked is Who was responsible for creating

the death camps and the Nazi terror  God or man? In Night Elie Wiesel

describes the child watching the pious Jews as they held services for Jewish

holidays. This causes him to rage against God for allowing the death camps

to exist. (As a point of information I should say that Elie Wiesel is a

practising Orthodox Jew today, so the view expressed represents the reaction

of the child in the camp to the horrors he was witnessing, not the one which

he holds now).

 

Thousands of voices repeated the benediction; thousands of men prostrated

themselves like trees before a tempest.

 

Blessed be the name of the Eternal!

 

Why, but why should I bless Him? In every fibre I rebelled. Because He had

thousands of children burned in His pits? Because He kept the crematoria

working night and day, on Sundays and feast days? Because He in His great

might had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna and so many factories of death?

 

This is a very understandable reaction to the enormous suffering of the

camps. God is supposed to be in control of the universe; one finds oneself

the victim of unbelievable wickedness and cruelty. God appears to be doing

nothing about it; therefore God is responsible for the evil.

 

However God did not create Auschwitz or any factories of death. Men did, men

who were motivated by Nazism, an ideology which expressed in its ideas and

practice a rebellion against God and a hatred for humanity on a hitherto

unknown scale in human history. God did not create Auschwitz; He created man

perfect, to live in peace and harmony with God and his neighbour. However

since the fall of man (Genesis 3) sin has reigned over the human race and

the hostile power of Satan has influenced mankind to rebel against God and

disobey His commandments. Humanity has come a long way from Cain taking Abel

into the field to murder him to concentration camps and the frightful

weapons of destruction of our time. Nevertheless the principle remains the

same and the problem remains the same  the sin in the heart of man. As the

Bible says:

 

The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt.

Jeremiah 17.9

 

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication,

theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy,

slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and they

defile a man. Gospel of Mark 7.21-2

 

All men, both Jews and Gentiles are under the power of sin, as it is

written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one seeks for God. All have

turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.

Their feet are swift to shed blood, in their paths are ruin and misery, and

the way of peace they know not. Romans 3.9-12, 15-17

 

20th Century history testifies absolutely to this analysis of the human

condition. It is significant that such an extreme manifestation of the evil

in the human heart took place in a century which began with many people

putting their trust in the innate goodness of man, the perfectibility of

human nature and the coming of a Golden Age of peace, prosperity and

tolerance through advances in science, education and politics. What is more

it took place in a country whose contribution to European culture was

enormous and which had produced many of the leading 19th Century humanist

and atheist thinkers who rejected Christian values and placed their trust in

our ability to save ourselves through our own efforts. If anything the Nazi

holocaust should make us lose faith in this kind of optimistic humanism

rather than the God of the Bible. This is the implication of the forward to

Night in which French writer, Francois Mauriac writes about trainloads of

Jewish children he saw being taken away from Paris during the Nazi occupation:

 

The dream which western man conceived in the 18th Century, whose dawn he

thought he saw in 1789 (the French Revolution), and which until August 2nd

1914 (the outbreak of the first world war), had grown stronger with the

progress of enlightenment and the discoveries of science  this dream

finally vanished from me before those trainloads of little children.

 

The Nazis and God

 

Those who blame God for the Nazi Holocaust should note that the roots of the

Nazi ideology lay in a definite rejection indeed a bitter hatred of not just

Judaism, but the God of the Bible and authentic Christianity. In this

connection it is interesting to note the following thoughts written by

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who first proclaimed that God

is dead.

 

That the strong races of Northern Europe have not repudiated the Christian

God certainly reflects no credit on their talent for religion.

 

(Speaking of the Christian concept of God) The God of the great majority,

the democrat among gods (NB Nietzsche loathed democracy), has nonetheless

not become a proud pagan god; he has remained the god of the nook, the god

of all dark corners and places, of all the unhealthy quarters throughout the world.

 

What is good?  All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power,

power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. What is

happiness? The feeling that power increases, that resistance is overcome.

Not contentment, but more power; not peace at all, but war; not virtue, but

proficiency. The weak and ill-constituted shall perish; the first principle

of our philanthropy. And one shall help them to do so. What is more harmful

than any vice? Active sympathy for the weak and ill-constituted-Christianity.

 

Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands in the antithesis

to the tonic emotions which enhance the energy of the feeling of life: it

has a depressive effect. Pity on the whole thwarts the law of evolution,

which is the law of selection. It preserves what is ripe for destruction: it

defends lifes disinherited and condemned. From The Antichrist Penguin

Version page 2, 7, 17, 19.

 

This philosophy of 19th century German atheism clearly has a spiritual link

to Nazi ideology. One wonders what Nietzsche would have thought of the

strong, powerful, pitiless ones, the SS, selecting the fittest specimens

as they ran past them naked  the strong to be worked to death in

concentration camps, the weak and ill-constituted to be taken away to the

gas chambers. What does the modern world need, hard, pitiless anti-Christian

men and women, or those who will follow the one Nietzsche despises so much?

He said:

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed

are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful for

they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be

called the sons of God. Matthew 5.

 

There was no doubt what kind of people Hitler wanted. He said Antiquity was

better than modern times because it did not know Christianity and syphilis.

His main reasons for rejecting Christianity were as follows:

 

the sound of church bells and crawl to the cross of a foreign God.

their faith in life.

enemy. Mercy is an un-German concept.

inferior, the ill, the crippled, the criminal and the weak were protected.

Information from Louis L. Snyder’s Hitler and Nazism.

 

The Nazis may have marched into battle with Gott mit uns (God with us) as

their motto, but their god was a pagan antichrist god, and they followed a

false messiah, Adolf Hitler, and bowed down before idols of power, physical

force and the dream of world domination by the Teutonic Master Race. Is it

surprising that the fruit of this demonic ideology was the nightmare of

destruction and slaughter which followed in their wake?

 

They may also have professed some sort of Christianity, but their aim was to

replace authentic Christianity with a programme for a new German Christianity:

 

Throw out the Old Testament  it is a Jewish book. Also throw out parts of

the New Testament. Christ must be regarded not as Jewish, but as a kind of

Nordic martyr put to death by the Jews, a kind of warrior who by his death

saved the world from Jewish domination. (From Louis Snyder Hitler and Nazism)

One wonders how much some churches had to change to adopt this kind of

Christianity.

 

So where was God?

 

A Jewish novel, The Last of the Just by Andre Schwartz-Bart traces Jewish

suffering through many generations and concludes in the time of the

Holocaust. There is a very moving scene when a crowd of worshipping Jews

leaves a synagogue and is confronted by Nazi troops in the courtyard:

 

Ernie had a staggering intuition  that God was hovering above the

synagogue courtyard, vigilant and ready to intervene. Ernie felt that God

was there, so close that with a little boldness he might have touched him.

Stop! Don’t touch my people! he murmured as if the divine voice had found

expression in his own frail throat.

 

In the novel there is a momentary deliverance on that occasion, however the

terrible cycle of death and destruction brought about by the Nazis continued

with the massacre of six million Jews and the deaths of millions of Gentiles

on the battle fronts and in the concentration camps. Was God silent and

indifferent while all this was going on?

 

God was neither silent nor indifferent, but He was watching and weeping over

the wickedness of humanity and the suffering of the people, especially the

Jewish people. However because he has given us free will, the consequences

of the wrong choice made by the German people was played out in the events

which followed. The final defeat of the Nazis showed Gods ultimate judgment

on that wicked political system.

 

While God was not silent or indifferent unfortunately much of the church

was. There were brave souls, like the Ten Boom family in Holland, who

sacrificed themselves to rescue Jews from the Nazis. But for the most part

the church failed to speak out and not surprisingly many Jewish people saw

Christians as the enemy. In The Last of the Just the lead characters,

Ernie and Golda, get married the night before they are to be taken away to a

concentration camp. Their conversation turns to Jesus:

 

'Oh Ernie, Golda said, you know them. Tell me why do the Christians hate

us the way they do? They seem so nice when I can look at them without my star.

 

Ernie put his arm round her shoulder solemnly. It’s very mysterious, he

murmured in Yiddish. They don’t exactly know why themselves. I’ve been in

their churches and I’ve read their gospel. Do you know who the Christ was? A

simple Jew like your father. A kind of Hasid.

 

Golda smiled gently. You’re kidding me.

 

No, no believe me, and Ill bet they’d have got along fine, the two of

them, because he was really a good Jew, you know sort of like the Baal Shem

Tov, a merciful man and gentle. The Christians say they love him, but I

think they hate him without knowing it. So they take the cross by one end

and make a sword out of it and strike us with it! You understand Golda, he

cried out suddenly strangely excited, they take the cross and they turn it

around, they turn it around, my God…

 

Jesus was much more than a simple Jew but the fact that he was a Jew is

one which is totally obvious from the New Testament. Those who call

themselves Christians and yet hate the Jews need to repent of anti-Semitism,

and determine to stand by Jewish people when they suffer persecution,

recognising that the root of anti-Semitism is human hostility to God. Rabbi

David Panitz has pointed out in this connection that the need for atonement

through admission of the facts of history is an established Hebraic and

Christian doctrine. Until you admit you have been wrong, you cannot begin a

reconstruction of your life. The professing Christian church has an

enormous burden of guilt in relation to the Jewish people. Although the

roots of Nazi philosophy were anti-Christian, the seeds of anti-Semitism

reaped by the Nazis were sown by the churches in their denunciations of the Jews.

 

However the tendency in the Jewish community is to use the Holocaust and the

failures of Christendom as a defence against investigating the possibility

that Jesus could be the Messiah. While acknowledging the failures of the

church in relation to the Jewish people, the real Jesus is entirely

different from the cruel caricature who takes the cross to beat the Jewish

people with. In the rest of this book I would like to share the relevance of

Jesus to the Jewish people and some answers to objections to his claim to be Messiah.

 

It is vital that we give serious thought to this question. Although Hitler’s

regime was defeated and in recent years we have seen the fall of another

totalitarian system in Europe, Communism, the world situation is not

encouraging for those who hope that freedom and democracy will ultimately

triumph. Indeed there are many signs that the end time scenario prophesied

in the Bible is almost upon us. At that time we are warned of a time of

world dictatorship and great tribulation, so severe that if God did not cut

short those days no human being would survive. In the midst of our troubled

times the Lord will not forsake His people even though many may be called to

suffer persecution, even martyrdom, for the faith, as many have done under

Soviet and Chinese communist regimes and continue to do so in many parts of

the world, especially where Islamic fundamentalism rules.

 

God is not offering those who believe in Jesus an escape from persecution.

In fact Jesus Himself said, If they persecuted me they will persecute you.

(John 15.20). He is however offering an escape from the despair and that

feeling of being abandoned by God and without hope in the world, expressed

in the quotation from Night at the beginning of this chapter. His promise

to all believers is, I will never leave or forsake you. (Hebrews 13.5) He

assures all who trust Him that they will receive eternal life in the new

heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3.13) He is

reaching out to His people to comfort them in their suffering, to pour out

His love upon them and to heal the wounds of the past. The dominant phrase

in my first quotation from Night is Never shall I forget. Yet Jesus can

heal even such terrible memories and create out of such darkness His new day

of eternal peace and love. Today God is saying to His people;

 

Come my people, enter your chambers and shut the doors behind you; hide

yourselves for a little while until the wrath is past. Isaiah 26.20-21

 

And the way into these chambers of Gods protection and mercy? It is through

the One who said, I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.

Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah of Israel.

T