Tag Archives: Auschwitz
Come with me to a place of horror and almost tangible evil. It’s early in the morning of the last day of 2016, and it’s cold with thick frost lying on the ground.
It’s chilling; not just physically, but spiritually. This is Auschwitz, and I’m visiting the notorious concentration camp.
When I was a Parish Minister, the congregations I served didn’t mark Holocaust Day (27 January – the day on which Auschwitz was finally liberated).
Why not? I don’t know. Perhaps because we are somewhat inured to the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jewish, Roma, Polish and other innocents. Perhaps it’s because it seems so far away in time.
But I would defy anyone who has felt the chill of Auschwitz or any of the other places of horror associated with the Nazi persecution, who has seen what’s left of the gas chambers, or the piles of shoes or the collection of battered suitcases on show in Auschwitz, not to be moved.
It is a salutary reminder of the inhumanity of wicked men that we should note and note well.
As it happens, I will be leading worship (as Pulpit Supply) on the Sunday before Holocaust Day in January and will certainly now meditate with the congregation on the hellishness of what was perpetrated back then, and pray that it is never repeated (although, tragically, there have been too many incidences of ethnic cleansing since).
I would hope that other ministers and worship leaders would do so also………
“Night” is a book by Elie Wiesel about his experience in the German concentration camps. “One day,” writes Wiesel, “as we returned from work, we saw three gallows… The SS [guards] seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual. To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows… ‘Where is merciful God, where is He?’ someone behind me was asking. At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over… Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive… The child, too light, was still breathing… And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death… Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer; ‘Where is He? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…’”
Where is God when a child is shot in Newtown or hung in Auschwitz or killed in an American drone air strike or for that matter dies of cancer? I don’t know. There is no answer.
Talk of God giving humans free will and thus allowing us to face the consequences of our choices solves nothing. If the creator could intervene personally when it came to the magic tricks in the Bible like making the sun stand still for a day in a battle, he could have done something about that child gasping out his young life. He didn’t. Theology that tries to paper this horrible fact over with explanations about why there is evil is nothing but nervous blather.
But I take comfort in the fact that sometimes a person of immense courage follows Christ to a cross. Such acts point to a God that had the empathy to share our fate. Sometimes one person’s example gives me hope that following Christ might be the path that leads us out of the hell we’ve made, even if I’ll never know why we’re here in the first place, let alone why God didn’t just make things simpler, better, faster rather than taking the slow path of gradual ethical evolution.
Most of us know the story of a remarkable man whose name was Maximilian Kolbe
He was a Polish Roman Catholic priest, who was imprisoned for his faith in Auschwitz
There he would share his meagre rations of food with those who were hungry; and would encourage the other prisoners to forgive their persecutors and overcome evil with good.
One day a man in Kolbe’s block escaped from the camp and so all of the men from that block were brought out into the hot sun and made to stand there all day – with no food or drink.
At the end of the day, the man who had escaped was still missing.
So the Nazi commandant told the assembled prisoners that ten men would be arbitrarily selected to die in the starvation cell – in place of the one that had escaped.
One of the men selected was a Polish sergeant, Franciszek Gajowniczek, imprisoned in Auschwitz. for aiding the Jewish resistance in Poland.
He begged to be spared because he was worried that his family would not be able to survive without him.
As he was pleading with the commandant, Maximilian Kolbe silently stepped forward and said that he would like to take the man’s place to allow the sergeant to be able to care for his wife and children.
And amazingly this exchange was allowed: The sergeant returned to his place in the ranks and Kolbe took his place in the starvation bunker.
During the next two weeks the prisoners were not given any food or water Every day the guards came and removed dead bodies from the bunker. However instead of being greeted with the usual sounds of screaming and cursing, all they heard was Kolbe and the others singing hymns and praying.
One after the other died, until only four were left including Maximilian. The authorities felt that death by starvation was taking too long for the remaining four and the cell was needed for new victims.
Each prisoner in turn was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid (phenol) in the vein of his left arm. Maximilian, with a prayer on his lips gave his arm to his executioner. Maximilian Kolbe was 47 years old when he was executed on August 14, 1941
What happened to the Polish Sergeant Franciszek Gajowniczek?
Well, he was released from Auschwitz after spending almost five and a half years in the camp.
When Pope Paul VI beatified Maximilian Kolbe in 1971, Gajowniczek was a guest of the Pope.
In 1972, over 150,000 people made a pilgrimage to Auschwitz to honour the anniversary of Maximilian’s beatification. One of the first to speak was Gajowniczek who declared “I want to express my thanks, for the gift of life.”
He was again a guest of the Pope when Maximilian Kolbe was canonized on October 10, 1982.
He never forgot Father Kolbe and spent the five decades from his time at Auschwitz until his own death in March 1995 at the age of 95 honouring the man who died on his behalf.
Just before he died he said that “as long as he . . . has breath in his lungs, he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe.”
The ability to remember is a wonderful gift that God has given to us.
The Bible is a book of Memories too.
There we can recall God’s goodness to his people starting with the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Old Testament.
There we remember – in the New Testament – the story of God sending his own Son Jesus into the world to bring mankind back into a right relationship with God – culminating with the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf on the Cross
But the Bible is more than just a book of memories. In it we are reminded how God wants us to live
Jesus gave us two great rules to govern life in our society: the first was this: to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” The second was to “Love your neighbour as yourself”
We remember the past with thanksgiving; we live in the present in joy; we look to the future in hope
Scripture reference: John 15 verses 9-17