By Rev SEIK PITOI
JANUARY 27, 2018, was the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On that day each year, Jews around the world observe this special day to commemorate a horrific chapter, not only in the history of the Jewish people, but also in the history of the world.
The Nazi regime that ruled Germany during the mid-20th century engaged in a systematic and brutal campaign to destroy the Jewish people. They were motivated by a fanatical hatred of Jews whom they saw as “undesirable” elements that had to be eliminated. Growing on seeds sown through centuries of anti-Semitism, they murdered six million Jews, about one third of the world’s Jewish population at the time, with one and a half million being little children.
Rabbi Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, explains that the full name of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Hebrew is “Yom HaShoah VeHagevurah,” meaning “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.” He points out that there were many non-Jewish people who went to great lengths to save Jews. These heroes are remembered today as “Righteous Gentiles.” In Holland, Corrie ten Boom sheltered those fleeing Nazi oppression. In France, Pastor André Trocmé helped to make an entire town, Le Chambon, a safe haven for persecuted Jews. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish Christian, rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazi death machine. And there were, of course, many more who are less well-known, but are no less deserving of the gratitude of the Jewish people.
Sadly, there seems today to be a trend to forget the lessons of the Holocaust, or even to rewrite history and deny it ever occurred. The radical Islamic regime of Iran, which has dedicated itself to Israel’s destruction, held a “Holocaust denial” conference recently that attracted not only Islamist fanatics, but Western academics and other public figures as well. This is another expression of the spirit of anti-Semitism, one that seeks to destroy Israel and the Jewish people.
No amount of denial can make the past go away. An elderly Ukrainian Jewish gentleman, Josef Katz, explains how, as a child, they were herded upon the wagons and taken to Auschwitz. The Nazi guards shot the weak prisoners and “made us take the bodies and stack them inside the carriage like a bench. Then they made us sit on them. Three more days we lived through that, imagining the day when we could escape”. Meanwhile, Magna Brown, a teenaged girl during her imprisonment at Auschwitz, said of smelling burning bodies of her fellow Jews: “The stench from the chimneys of burning flesh will live with me as long as I live”!
So, why should we remember such a terrible event in history? One reason why the Jews vow to “never forget,”is so that they may prevent such horrible events from ever occurring again.The many cases of genocide and ethnic cleansing that are seen in the world today are opportunities for the free nations, including PNG, to speak up. However, the systematic mass murder of six million Jews cannot compare to anything in past or present history. Its lessons must be learnt. For it was from the ashes of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau, Belzek, and other Nazi death camps, that the nation of Israel was birthed.
Anti-Semitism is not something new. It is not only recently that the desire to see the Jews annihilated came into being. Pharaoh tried it in Egypt and lost his firstborn son, then his entire army. Haman tried it by building gallows to hang Mordechai the Jew, and to exterminate the Jewish people. He ended up swinging on his own gallows! Then, in the time of Jesus, all Jewish baby boys were killed to terminate the Jewish race and stop Jesus being born. Jesus won and is our Lord and Saviour today. The Jews won every time, not because they were smart, but because the God of Israel is the true and living God (e.g., Jer 10: 10)!
So how can we in PNG understand the Holocaust better? One way is to visit Israel and walk through the YadVashem, the Holocaust museum. One will truly understand the barbarity of depraved men’s minds when seeing the videos and photographs and listening to the presentations. Another great experience is to pay a visit to the various homes for Holocaust survivors. One such home is in Haifa which is run by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ). In a visit some years ago, PNG pilgrims were moved to tears when they heard real life stories from the elderly folk, all of whom were children at the time. These were those who escaped being part of the 1.5 million children who were murdered.
The Holocaust must never happen again. No people group, including the Jews, must ever suffer in that way again. As Jewish author and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Indeed, may we never be silent!
- Seik Pitoi is a United Church Pastor