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The Word on the Week

Holocaust Survivors

They are getting fewer and soon there will be none left. This year was the 70th anniversary of the Nazi Holocaust. Those who came on air to tell a little of their experiences spoke of the difficulty they had in articulating them.

For most it took them 50 years before they could speak of the atrocities they had witnessed so deep and profound was the horror they lived through.

When the survivors were liberated they were airlifted from Berlin to Tel Aviv. They were coming to their restored homeland. They came on ‘eagles’ wings’, identifying with Moses’ writing of the deliverance from Egypt when God’s people journeyed to the ‘promised land’. “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” Exodus Chapter 19 verse 4. They even produced a postage stamp showing them flying on the back of an eagle to mark the event!

But their arrival did not meet with universal approval. There was prosperity in their new land. The kibbutz system of land reclamation was operating and it should have been a time of sharing the good things of the land. Instead many of the survivors were called cowards who had surrendered too easily and had not put up sufficient resistance to the Nazis’! It was particularly poignant this week to hear their memories of rejection by their own kith and kin ranking alongside the trauma of the years in concentration camps.

Pictures of Auschwitz demonstrate the fanaticism of racial hatred and the astonishing oblivion of the neighbours to the atrocities going on both in the camps and ghettoes. A number of survivors remarked how hard the waiting was as they held onto the belief that the world would come to rescue them – but the world never came!

We say never again but since then we have had genocide in Ruanda and, nearer home, the Serbian slaughter. The Serbs fought not only to conquer territory but to “clear” it of all traces of their Muslim or Croat enemies; or, as the notorious Serb phrase has it, to “ethnically cleanse” what they believed to be “their” land. And this was in the early ‘90ies and we watched it happen!

After Cain killed his brother Abel at the beginning of Genesis, God called him to account.

He reacted like we do today when we see an atrocity and looked the other way – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” in other words he’s not my concern. It is always someone else’s problem even, when as in Cain’s case, he was directly responsible.

When Jesus walked the earth the same attitude prevailed. “Who is my neighbour?” (St Luke Chapter 10 verse 29) was how the lawyer tried to evade the responsibility only to find it is the whole of humanity.

There are the two main categories. Those who do the evil and those who, as my father often quoted “there are none so blind as those who will not see”. Most of us identify with the latter.

A further category exists, much smaller and largely unknown – except by God! They resist evil, proclaim truth and are usually martyred. The writer to the Hebrews listed the anonymous ones, ‘Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword…(Chapter 11 verses 36/40) – sounds contemporary! As St Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all people most to be pitied”.

Thank God for the resurrection!