Seventy-five years ago, on January 27, 1945, the Soviet Army arrived at Auschwitz, liberating around 7000 people, most of them very sick, dying. The Nazis had fled, having intensified their murdering of Jews in the days preceding and forcing nearly 60,000 people to march west, killing 15,000 people along the way. One and a third million people had been deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, with at least 1.1 million people murdered there during those years. “Remember the nocturnal procession of children, of more children, and more children, so frightened, so quiet, so beautiful,” Elie Wiesel once said, a Nobel laureate who, as a teenager, was himself marched out of Auschwitz. “If we could simply look at one, our heart would break. But it did not break the hearts of the murderers.”
There is a photo I remember seeing, I think, at the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, of a woman, I assumed a Jewish woman, a mother. She is in a line, heading to a Nazi death chamber. She is standing there with a child, perhaps her own child. She has placed her hand over the child’s eyes, as if to protect the child, at least, from seeing the horror. It broke my heart, maybe especially because, as a Christian, I know something of the Church’s sorry history in perpetuating the antisemitism that was exploited by the Nazis and that led to the murder of 6 million Jews.
Of course, none of us can change the past. However, we can learn from it and change ourselves, never forgetting the darkness that lurks in the human heart, standing up forcefully against the antisemitism and hate that seems to be on the rise again in our times, working for the creation of the beloved community where all are treated with compassion.
–Pastor Don Steele