With one or more friends, watch a movie or documentary about the Holocaust. Discuss and meditate on the following questions: Where was God in the midst of that awful time in history? How does the occurrence of the Holocaust affect the way in which you think about God and about human beings? What should be your active response to this reality in our world?
I must confess that I did not officially follow this particular “Reflect and Act” option to its specific request. I did not do that, because I have been there. I have walked where Elie Wiesel walked. I have been to Auschwitz/Birkenau.
In May 2006, LTS had the opportunity to participate in a trip called the march of Remembrance and Hope. Originally created for Jewish High School students, this trip had expanded to take college-aged students of any faith to Poland in order to visit the Concentration Camps of the Shoah (preferred term for the Holocaust among many modern Jewish writers). Among the 300+ students that accompanied me on this trip, 4 other students and one professor from LTS also made this trip. Every night we “debriefed” with our bus group, which happened to include 35 women from an all women’s college in upstate New York. Additionally our LTS group made sure to “debrief” separately since we were sort of a “different” group, all studying to be Christian ministers who must face the fact that the early Christian Church sewed the seeds of anti-Semitism in modern Europe.
So in the end, I confess that I did not revisit the subject to watch a movie or simply discuss the Shoah with others. I relied more on the fact that I have walked through the grounds of Auschwitz/Birkenau today, and wondered myself how life could even continue in such a place, even if it simply was plant life. I hae touched the doors of gas chambers only to think about how many thousands of hands had touched that same door, pulling, pushing, scratching and doing whatever they could to open the door. I have walked passed a recess in the ground that I thought was a small natural pond, only to be informed that it was in fact a hold that had been filled in with human ashes and had since covered itself with a distinctly colored, almost neon-green, grass. I have met a survivor who told us about his first night in the concentration camp Majdanek, and listened as he told us about the night he was forced to grow up from an adolescent to a man, because he was the only survivor of his family. I have sung the Kaddish with survivors of the Shoah on the grounds of Birkenau and listened to the echoes of our voices, hoping desperately that our voices somehow made a difference. I have looked at the millions of shoes, the pounds of hair, the innumerable piles of hairbrushes and eyeglasses and wondered how God could possibly let this happen. I have wondered how a man or a woman could separate Jews from the rest of humanity, so much so, that he or she no longer saw them as human beings in any capacity, rather simply inmates to be destroyed. I have learned of the men and women who were given the option, “Kill others or be killed yourself,” who had to join the Nazi party in order to save their own lives and the lives of their own family. I have wondered whether or not I could survive the ghetto, or the concentration camp, or simply stand up for what I believe in, in the face of such danger. Would I have been willing to listen to my inner voice, or simply go along with the rest of society because it was what had been ingrained in my head for my entire life?
Where was God in the midst of that awful time in history?
I’m not sure anyone will ever be able to answer this question. I want to hope and pray that God was with the victims of the Shoah as Elie Wiesel describes in his book Night, that God was there on the gallows. But what does that say about the omnipotent nature of God? Does that mean that God is not omnipotent? If God is omnipotent, yet still allowed that to happen, then what does that say about the love of God? Some people say God was in the “rescuers” of the Shoah, the people who risked their lives for others. This may be true, but why wasn’t God in more people who should have been rescuers? Why didn’t God enlist more people to stand up for what was right in society? My conclusion is not a conclusion of submission, rather a conclusion of absolute honesty and truth. I will never know. I don’t think I will EVER know any answers about the nature of God concerning the Shoah. The more I study the Shoah, the more questions I have, the more questioning I become about God. This is not to say that I do not still have faith in God, because I do. But instead these questions make a distance between me and God. They make a distance between us, as if there were a distance between two long lost friends; two long lost friends who have lost touch with one another, and can say, “I’m not sure who you are anymore.” Only instead, I hope I know who God is no in my life, but I cannot understand who God was back then? What was God that God would allow that to happen? Who was God that God did not provide deliverance for the victims? Has God changed? Is that possible? At the risk of sounding like a process theologian, (which is not problematic, just not who I am) if there is any point in history to which I can indicate a change in the nature of God, it would be the Shoah.
I’m not sure what this change is or was, but no one can be the same. Theology is not the same, history is not the same. Some people refer to the Shoah as the rupture. It is called the rupture because it is the greatest rupture in the time of humanity. It ruptured our understanding of God and humanity, and the relationship between God and humanity and within humanity itself. The rupture separated us from God in a way that is hard to repair. Like Elie Wiesel says, “Time does not heal all wounds.” And this is the exception that I will make for that saying. These wounds can never heal, the never will. As the wounds of Christ remain in our hearts forever as Christians, this wound of humanity will and should, needs to, it MUST remain forever, so that we do not forget. We must never forget.