It defies logic. It is almost incomprehensible. How can we imagine the depths of the Holocaust? Six million people murdered simply because they were identified as Jews. Among those were 1.5 million Jewish children who were killed because they represented the future of our people. We can never forget that additional victims included an estimated five million Gentiles who were murdered for various reasons, some of them for their stand for their Jewish neighbors.
These were not war casualties (some 30 million total) but people targeted for death because of their race or belief. That the Christian community should also be concerned about Yom Hashoah is best illustrated by the insightful quote of German Pastor Martin Niemoller (himself a prisoner of Dachau): “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out – because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Thankfully, the diabolical plot was thwarted before modern humanity self-destructed. In fact, out of the darkness of Nazi Europe rose the light of the modern state of Israel. The Jewish community worldwide is finding renewed growth and strength. Yet, Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) leaves many people with some lingering and disturbing questions.
Many still wonder what the Holocaust tells us about God. It seems the better question is what the Holocaust tells us about the human heart. As for God himself, I believe He tells us through the prophets what He has been doing at times of this kind of suffering for Israel: “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them; and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old” [Isaiah 63:10].
While we grieve (as God does) as we remember the 1/3 of our people who perished, we should also recall that if it wasn’t for the intervention of the Holy One, the remaining 2/3 would not have survived! While the skeptic is tempted to blame God for things like the Holocaust, the person of faith actually becomes stronger. We can see with spiritual eyes the victory of God’s kingdom over the falleness of mankind in this present age.
What makes the Holocaust even more difficult to understand for many of our people is how such atrocities could occur in a so-called Christian Europe? For this, there is no superficial answer. Clearly, many of these people, while claiming to be Christians were not following his clear teachings. Yeshua even warned of people who would claim to be his but whom he didn’t even know! In his words, “a good tree cannot produce bad fruit” [cf. Matthew 7:18-23].
Many people are heartened by the fact that both the Catholic and Lutheran churches have recently sought forgiveness for any anti-Semitism – theological or otherwise. The sad history between the church and synagogue is a deep wound that has caused a massive chasm between the Jewish people and our own Messiah, Yeshua.
What is the most important lesson to be learned from the tragedy of the Holocaust? If mankind is not to fall into such wickedness again, we must live the words of Yeshua as he was asked which was the greatest of the commandment: “The foremost is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, The Lord is One; And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. [Mark 12:29-31].
Barney Kasdan is the Rabbi of Kehilat Ariel Messianic Synagogue in San Diego. The congregation will be having a special Yom Hashoah Service on Saturday, April 25 at 10:30 a.m., at 3219 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. The public is invited.