from the book "Today and for Life"
There is so much more to human existence than meets the eye. At first, like newborn puppies, we do not have our eyes open at all, and then as we reach maturity we become more keenly aware, not only of the physical world around us, but of spiritual forces and counter-forces, the war between the sons of darkness and the sons of light.
by Rev. Bernice Gerard, National Chairperson, CFICEJ
And so I close this book with one of the clearest examples of this warfare. Though it came late to my attention, the Holocaust, which involved the deliberate annihilation of six million Jews, shocks and grieves me to the very depths of my soul. There is much in our modern world to burden the conscience of humanity, but the Holocaust stands beyond the most evil imaginations of men, a demon-inspired event that casts a pall over modern man's every pretension to the good and noble. Even now, before the world has fully understood the enormity of Hitler's attempt to annihilate the Jews, "Holocaust denial," as typified by the Keegstra affair, has become an ugly phenomenon of our times, another evil to be resisted by every person capable of thought and love. Especially should Christians resist falling in line with the antisemitism of our own day. To stand against the defamation of Israel and its people today is as good an opportunity as one can find to do what Albert Camus thought suited us best. Said he,
"The world expects of Christians that they will raise their voices so loudly and clearly and so formulate their protest that not even the simplest man can have the slightest doubt about what they are saying. Further, the world expects of Christians that they will eschew all fuzzy abstractions and plant themselves squarely in front of the bloody face of history. We stand in
need of folk who have determined to speak directly and unmistakably and come what may, to stand by what they have said."
The late John Howard Griffin, author of Black Like Me, addressing a pro-life audience at the 1977 Festival for Life in Ottawa, pointed out that the tragedy is that people often do not become sufficiently concerned in time. When he was a senior medical student in Paris during the War he joined the Resistance Movement. In addition to being called out at two or three in the morning to attend to wounded troops, he was part of a team that smuggled German and Austrian Jews across France to England.
One night I had the task of going to the rooms in cheap little boarding houses where we had hidden the Jewish families that we had moved there for safety, and explaining that ... we didn't know how to forge papers, and were not going to succeed in moving them any further.... They said, "We know it is finished for us. We know the Nazis when they find us will ship us back to Germany into the concentration camps." And then, invariably, they would ask, "Can you take our children?
Griffin subsequently spent many years living in the inner city ghettos in the Sixties and investigating atrocities against the black people in the Deep South of the U.S.A. He had never intended to spend his life fighting racism; he intended to go back to the U.S.A. and become an academic, spending the rest of his life doing scholarly research. But once he began to perceive these patterns of injustice, he found he could never turn his back on them. He described it as walking on a string toward a goal you thought you had, a vocation that you thought you had, but always finding people lying wounded in the gutters and never being able to pass such people.
And suddenly, sitting in those rooms that night, I began to realize what it was all about. I was sitting in rooms, cheap little rooms where unspeakable human tragedy was taking place. The tragedy of parents who loved their children and who were giving their children to a relative stranger so at least their children could escape the camps, the gas chambers and the crematoria. And it seemed to me, that formed me in my vocation. I spent the rest of my life sitting in rooms like that....
Two things were made clear to me that night, first my immense shame that we had treated racism as an intellectual preoccupation, and even had heard arguments for and against it. The second, even more astonishing, which has always been confirmed in my subsequent life, was the realization that I could go outside of those rooms, I could go down the streets, and I could find the majority of people - decent intelligent human beings - knowing nothing of the tragedy that was going on in those rooms. There were even men quibbling, rationalizing, justifying the very racism that led to the
tragedies inside those rooms."
Griffin's most famous book, Black Like Me, told of his unique experience in the segregated American South of the Fifties. A white man, he had taken a potion to cause his skin to turn colour so that he would be taken for a black. His book did much to raise my own consciousness of the enormous suffering racial prejudice produces. Similarly, after nine and a half hours of Shoah, the oral history of the Holocaust, I was again irrevocably moved to a higher level of understanding and commitment to resist such evil, in whatever guise it appears. Simone de Beauvoir, commenting on Shoah (annihilation), says, "After the war we read masses of accounts of the ghettoes and the extermination camps, and we were devastated. But when, today, we see Claude Lanzmann's extraordinary film, we realize we have understood nothing. In spite of everything we knew, the ghastly experience remained remote from us. Now, for the first time, we live it in our minds, heart and flesh. It becomes our experience.
At the premiere benefit showing in Vancouver a few hundred Jews and a sprinkling of Christians encountered, on screen, a full range of witnesses, persons now living who give first-hand accounts of their experiences with the Holocaust: the SS officers who served in the death camps; the Polish villagers who tilled their fields within yards of the crematoria; the Germans who resettled occupied Poland, moving into the houses of Jewish people who had been sent to their death; the state employees who sold Jews half-fare excursion tickets to the camps one-way; Western scholars of the Holocaust.
These living witnesses of today are joined by actual survivors of the death camps, most of whom speak under great duress as Lanzmann gently but firmly urges them, saying "You have to tell it. You have to! Go on! Go on!" Their eyewitness account must be recorded in the annals of history, to honour the dead and to save the living from venturing into such madness ever again.
Most vivid in my memory of Shoah is the account of the Polish barber, Abraham Bomba, describing the way in which he and other Jewish barbers were forced to cut the hair of women completely naked and about to be gassed. Bomba breaks down as he begins to tell of a friend of his - "He was a good barber in my home town - when his wife and his sister came into the gas chamber... I can't. It's too horrible. Please." Lanzmann urges him on. "Please, we must go on." Bomba continues, "The women tried to talk to him and the husband of his sister. They could not tell them this was the last time they would see them, because behind him were the German Nazis' SS men, and they knew if they said a word, not only the wife and the woman, who were dead already, but also they would share the same thing with them. In a way, they tried to do the best for them, with a second longer, a minute longer, just to hug them, and kiss them, because they knew they would never see them again.
Filip Mueller, a Czech Jew, and survivor of five liquidations of the Auschwitz "special detail" (those who did slave labour inside the death chambers, and were themselves slated for death) was only twenty years old when he found himself at gunpoint inside the crematorium, ordered to undress the bodies of the dead, and load them into the ovens. Mueller has a particularly good face. I kept thinking as I heard him speak, "Dear God, he seems such a good human being. How could they do it to him, and how did he survive, his humanity so perfectly intact?"
At Auschwitz, he had his own moments of complete despair, one particularly dramatic when he saw a large group of his own countrymen being herded brutally into the gas chamber. The following are his own words, "As soon as they left the vans, the beatings began. When they entered the 'undressing room,' I was standing near the rear door, and from there I witnessed the frightful scene. The people were bloodied. They knew where they were .... They were in despair. Children clung to each other. Their mothers, their parents, the old people all cried, overcome with misery....
"Yes, the violence climaxed when they tried to force the people to undress. A few obeyed, only a handful. Most of them refused to follow the order. Suddenly, like a chorus, they all began to sing. The whole undressing room rang with the Czech national anthem, and the Haiikvah. That moved me terribly, that ... was happening to my countrymen, and I realized that my life had become meaningless. Why go on living? For what? So I went into the gas chamber with them, resolved to die with them. Suddenly, some who recognized me ... They looked at me and said, right there in the gas chamber ... 'So you want to die! But that is senseless. Your death won't give us back our lives. That's no way. You must get out of here alive, you must bear witness to our suffering, and to the injustice done to us."
The witness of Shoah and other similar documentaries, of which there are many in Israel, is needed in our time because it is a powerful answer to "Holocaust denial," and teaches lessons from the past to save our future. Regrettably, audiences in Vancouver were a mere sprinkling of the total population. Even survivors and children of survivors find it impossible to listen to the story (so some say). But I feel that standing up for the survivors who bear witness, against every evil revival of the spirit of the Holocaust is good, for our own souls' sake and for the future of our civilization.
My first in-depth experience with the Holocaust documentary and memorial known~vn as Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, when I was leading a Holy Land tour, left me horrified. As the crowd of visitors moved slowly and silently from chamber to chamber, gazing upon unlimited suffering and death, I was aware that many among us were themselves survivors. Some had lost every single one of their loved ones. We all cried together, though all were bravely fighting back their tears. Awareness of the passing of time vanished completely.
Later, as I joined our group in the sunshine, who were by now eating ice cream at the refreshment stand, I felt suddenly guilty at the very thought of indulging in such treats so soon after viewing the tragedy of slain millions. In particular, the sadness of the little boy with the large brown eyes, dressed in a greatcoat, hands raised over his head in the face of the Nazi officer's gun, lingered on in my thoughts.
Then came an altogether different thought, "(There is) a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." (Eccles. 3:4) Surely this is also a time for rejoicing. After all, the forces of evil did not triumph; Israel lives. We were in Jerusalem, the city of David! God keeps His promises.
Ever since that first visit, as we have led groups of Christian pilgrims through the land of Israel, and inevitably to Yad Vashem, I have seen the task of raising people's awareness of human history's darkest hour as an important part of our pilgrimage. At the same time, we can point out to people the promise of our glorious future in God's redemptive plan.
The truth is that God's promises to Abraham have been kept; indeed they are being kept even now. The Lord had said to Abraham, "Leave your country, your people, and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
(Genesis 12:1-3 NIV) Significantly, in the original call, Abraham hears not only that a great nation (Israel) will be made of him but that in him "shall all the families of the earth be blessed." This is a promise for Gentile believers in particular, and more broadly for humanity in general.
Moses, looking across to the Promised Land, envisioned also the possibility of Israel's disobedience to the commandments and unfaithfulness to the Lord, and prophesied the dire consequences of rebellion: "You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other." (Deut. 28: 63, 64 NIV)
Possibly, there is nothing more basic than these promises to Israel. We see today the demonstrations of God's faithfulness in the meticulous detail of present day fulfilment: "When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you." (Deut. 30:1, 3 NIV) Moses makes clear that the people scattered to all nations will return to "the land that belonged to your fathers." (Deut. 30: 5 NIV)
The Jewish people have been dispersed as the Lord had said through His prophets they would be. "I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries... "(Ezekiel 36:19 NIV) And they are being restored to the promised land as He said, "For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries, and bring you back into your own land." "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36: 24-26)
Jeremiah predicts the day when the Lord restores His people to their ancient heritage: "See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labour; a great throng will return. They will come with weeping, they will pray as I bring them back..." (Jer. 31: 8-9 NIV) "He who scattered Israel will gather them, and will watch over his flock like a shepherd." (v 10) "They will sorrow no more. Then the maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow." (v 12, 13 NIV)
Every visitor to the land of Israel can see with his own eyes that God is keeping His promises. For He said to Israel, "On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, This land that was laid waste has become like the Garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited." (Ezekiel 36: 33-35 NIV)
It all ties in together; God's faithfulness to them means God's faithfulness to us. Isaiah writes of Messiah who is to sit on the throne of David - our Messiah. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and with righteous ness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah. 9: 6, 7 NIV)
There is no hope like that inspired by the knowledge of God's faithfulness, and the promise of Messiah's return. "He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more." (Isaiah 2: 4 NIV)
The darkness is defeated. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (I John I: (NIV)
We believers will know more certainly when we see Messiah at His coming; meanwhile, it is appropriate, as the Holy Spirit inspires us, to use the same confident language as the Apostle Paul, and others of Bible times:
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8: 38, 39 NIV)
from the book "Today and for Life"
by Rev. Bernice Gerard
National Chairperson, CFICEJ
available through CFICEJ
"TODAY AND FOR LIFE is a remarkable account of a very unusual upbringing and should be read by all who call themselves Christians." Malcolm Muggeridge