Why We Should All Remember January 27th {with tears}

Many dates stick in people’s memories—February 14th, July 4th, December 25th—but I doubt January 27th is one that stands out in yours.  For most, this date is insignificant. So much so that one website diminishes the importance of the day down to “Chocolate Cake Day”1. The day comes and goes each year with little or no acknowledgement.

But for some, this day is honored and remembered every year.

Seventy-one years ago today, on January 27, 1945, the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz were liberated by Soviet Soldiers. This was one of the largest sets of camps freed and one of the final steps in the fall of Nazi Germany.

Today, January 27th is remembered as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Being in Israel, the country restored to the Jewish people just three years after their liberation, makes this date more surreal than ever.

In my first class here, I learned about Israeli history, Jewish beliefs, and the horrific words and actions of “Christians” throughout history towards Jewish people.

It’s impossible for me to imagine the eradication of six million people. My mind cannot fathom the evil that took place in the years 1939-1945. How could someone mercilessly order the murder of millions? How could people join a tyrannical leader and follow his commands of execution? But just as disturbing, how could millions of professing Christians sit back and do nothing while all of this took place?

Many don’t realize this, but the acts of Nazi Germany were done in the name of Christianity. Under the twenty-five points of Hitler’s Nazi party, article twenty-four claims that the anti-Semitic plans would usher in a “positive Christianity”2. Many European Christians read this and affirmed the Christian notion while missing the reality that everything Nazi Germany stood for was completely against Christianity.

But sadly, anti-Semitism did not originate in World War II. The roots of anti-Semitism run deep in the history of the Christian church. My heart was burdened as I learned more about this and read some of the horrendous quotes uttered by some of our church fathers. Martin Luther’s words, “What shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews?3” still send chills down my spine as I read them.

But what about us today?

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{Photo courtesy of Song Kim}

(A group of girls celebrating a Bat Mitzvah at the Western Wall.)

While there isn’t an onslaught of Jews going on in the world today, there are many anti-Semitic beliefs and practices becoming more and more universal. The constant conflict between Israel and Palestine regarding the rights to land and political/spiritual liberty is often highlighted in the news4. A less talked about, but serious problem is the Muslim extremists “Stab a Jew Campaign” which has taken the lives of many Jews in recent years5. Another terrorist action has been the schematic act of Muslim extremists to drive their cars into large crowds of Jewish people killing many6. And of course, with ISIS surrounding the nation of Israel on nearly every side seeking to destroy the Jewish people, there is constant worry and fear over what each day might bring for the Jews7.

Just like many Christians during the Holocaust would say, “We aren’t the one’s doing it so it’s not our fault,” so we also often think that our lack of force against Israel clears our hands from any guilt. We might not be the ones holding the knives or orchestrating the attacks, but there are still many anti-Semitic roots in us.

Our silence has spoken. When we fail to show support for the ethnic race of Israel, not as a nation but as a people, we are aiding the anti-Jewish worldview that has been carried through much of Christian history.

Our Christian past is stained with fault and blood; let us not forget to mourn and repent of what has happened. Regardless of your theological stance on God’s future plan for Israel, we should all seek to restore broken relationships with the Jewish people and repent for any wrong we have done.

When I visited Eilat, Israel last week, I discovered a World War II monument in a park. It’s small, ordinary, and almost unnoticed in the city. I walked past it several times without noticing it before a friend pointed it out to me.

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The sign shows the date of the start and finish of WWII. Under the monument is a description that I could not read due to the Hebrew. Although I do not know the story behind the monument, I assume this barricade was used in WWII to keep ships off the beaches and provide obstacles which made enemies easier targets.

As I stood and took this photo, a heaviness of all I’ve seen and done settled in. At a point less than a century ago, the people I am now living amongst were being systematically eradicated from the face of the earth. But now I live among many of the remnant.

As I reflected on this remarkable reality, my mind went back to an encounter I had a few years ago.

On July 12, 2013, I went, as I had many times before, to Grand Suites retirement home in Des, Moines, Iowa to spend the afternoon with residents along with my youth group. Like usual, we came to sing songs, share a devotional, play games, and talk with the residents.

But this time was different.

I met a man named Fred Lorber. He did not live at the residence but came to visit his wife every day who did. We sat and he told me stories. He was born in Austria in 1923 into a Jewish family and moved to America in his teenage years. He joined the U.S. military and served in World War II.

He recalled for me how he met his wife. He was at a U.S. military dance where girls were invited. He told me how they weren’t allowed to take the girls out, but with a twinkle in his eye, he grinned and told me that he bent the rule. The two fell in love, were married, and the rest is history.

As our time was ending and our conversation wrapped up, Fred offered to stay in touch. He gave me his email address and I planned to contact him.

I loved my talk with Fred. Fred was a great story teller. But there was a key part of Fred’s story that he didn’t tell me.

Fred was a Holocaust survivor. 

I emailed Fred a few days later but didn’t receive a response. After this I looked up his name and with shock read articles and watched interviews as he recounted stories of his father’s arrest and his narrow escape to the United States from the Nazis.

Six months later our youth group was having a special Christmas event at the retirement home. I hadn’t seen Fred in the months since our first encounter at the home but I hoped to reconnect with him that December. I emailed Fred again hoping for a response. This time he responded.

This was the message I received:

My memory is not working very well these days and since I have turned 90 it has gone to pot. However it was nice to receive your E mail and I do think I remember meeting you. I hope the world is treating you well and I hope we shall meet again one of these days. 
Fred Lorber

I never saw or heard from Fred again and a year later I found out he died at age 91.

As I stood at the monument in Eilat and reflected on this encounter I had two and a half years ago, my heart filled with gratitude that I had the chance to meet such an amazing man even so briefly. I so wish I could go back now with greater knowledge of his life and greater appreciation for Jewish people. I would thank him for taking the time to talk with me. I would thank him for serving our country after enduring unimaginable trauma from the Holocaust. I would apologize to him for anything done to him or his people in the name of the God of the Christian faith. I would pray with him and explain to him the God of love I know.

I realize these two stories I’m sharing are experiences not many can relate with. Most people have never been to Israel to see Holocaust memorials or have met Holocaust survivors to hear such stories. But one thing we can all do is remember.

In the 1800s, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Christian minister to Jewish people was asked what he desired from Christians in regards to Israel. He answered saying:

More tears is the urgent need on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel today. More tears must flow from the Church’s eyes before tears of repentance, and then tears of joy, will flow from Israel’s eyes. God grant us more tears! We must weep and lament because of the sins of our “Christian” forefathers against the Jewish people. But we must also weep for the Jewish people themselves; they are like sheep without a shepherd8.

With tears in our eyes, January 27th should be remembered by all—in joy of the liberation that came for those in the camps and in sorrow for the six million who lost their lives in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

This January 27th, let us remember the failure of mankind in the years of the Holocaust. Let us recall the travesties that occurred 70 years ago. Let us repent with humility of any anti-Semitic tendencies or attitudes we have and confess them to the God who chose the Jewish people to be His holy people. And let us seek our part to restore any relationships we can with Jewish people in our communities.

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3 thoughts on “Why We Should All Remember January 27th {with tears}

  1. Pingback: 71 years ago today… | natsab

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