Mach schnell! I hear in my nightmare…
and as I turn to leave,
I notice that the earth still moves
where they buried my heart.
-Lois E. Olena from her poem “Behind the Monastery”
quoted from The New Anti-Semitism
Daniel Hennessy’s new book Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust is generously sprinkled with such “Holocaust poetry.” This one particularly spoke to me as I imagined the love of the Rabbi and his sons buried and still moving within Olena’s heart as their dead bodies were roughly interned in a shallow grave.
Hennessy’s book is written to speak to all of our hearts, especially the Christian heart. His book begins by juxtaposing the betrayal and murder of Jesus with Christian indifference to and even tacit approval of the death of millions of Jews at Nazi hands.
In the Gospel account, we hear the good news of redemption that Jesus rose according to the Scriptures. In the book of Acts, we see Peter — who at the moment of his betrayal was no doubt one of the most miserable human beings on earth — eventually lifted up out of the grip of despair, rising to become an apostle and dynamic leader, a fisher of men used powerfully by God at the very onset of the Messianic movement.
As for the indifferent Christian European world that stood outside the circle of doom, eyes to the ground, during the Holocaust era, it is as if Jesus alive and seated at the right hand of the Father, is looking straight into our eyes today, grieved by the ongoing Silence and indifference associated with the twentieth-century betrayal of his people. Unlike Peter, we as Christians have not yet been restored to fullest spiritual character.
-Hennessy, pp 16-17
That’s a most scathing indictment of today’s Christian church and Hennessy doesn’t let up on the comparison between the ancient betrayal of Jesus and the modern betrayal of his people Israel by Gentile Christianity. According to Hennessy, Peter stood outside the “circle of light” (pg 17) of the fire he warmed himself by as he wept bitterly, and so do we in the church who are beginning to forget the Holocaust and our part in it. As the last aging Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust fade and die, so does our own remembrance and even our own conscience.
Perhaps the circle is light, the light in our hearts, is what is diminishing in our world and when it finally grows dark and cold, what horrors will spring forth from the blackest night?
There’s hope, but only if we choose to remember and act righteously in the cause of justice.
This year, Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Memorial Day was on Sunday, April 7th, so you may be wondering why I’m reviewing this book now. On a practical level, it was because I didn’t receive this book until last week. On a more important level, perhaps the most important level, it is because we do not dare to reserve our remembrance to a single day. When we limit our memory and our caring to just one twenty-four hour period, once it’s over, we can safely tuck away our guilt and our desire to see justice done back in its dusty, cardboard box, and shove it back on the top shelf of some forgotten closet or on a rack in our garage until next year, just like our Christmas ornaments.
But if we choose to read, to experience, to remember Shoah each and every day, then each and every day, we can allow the fire of righteous indignation to burn within us, we can ignite the flames of justice, and burn on the pyre of our own responsibility, lest we ever let ourselves and especially our children, forget.
Dan does an excellent job in this short book (less than 100 pages) of reminding Christianity that it was not just the Nazis who were guilty of atrocities. They were only the outgrowth of anti-Jewish history. It was our own nearly two-thousand years of church supersessionism that formed the massive foundation upon which rested Hitler, his camps, his ovens, and his bloody legacy.
And if there are Christians who do not feel responsible for the past and perhaps the future persecution, torture, and execution of Jewish people and of Israel, lest we forget, we have a High Priest in the Heavenly Court, a King sitting at the right hand of the Father, who watches and waits and who will judge and the Earth. He will also judge us for what have done and what we failed to do.
And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Jesus watches still. He looks into our eyes. And at his gaze, we also should remember the Lord, and remember his people, and remember Israel, and we should weep for the dead and their children and grandchildren. We in the church can either say “Never again” and cradle the children, the descendents of those who were once herded into cattle cars and driven into ovens, or we can use our own hands to do the herding and the pushing of these Jewish children into some future Shoah.
That is, until Messiah returns to judge us for who we are and what good or horrible things we have done.
I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, every day I eagerly anticipate that he will come.
-The twelfth of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith
Moshiach is coming. Let him move in your heart.