Never Again?

Remembering the Horror

merlin_167914914_42d33442-430d-47f0-a32f-be3d12372295-articleLargeYesterday’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz drew several hundred survivors, most of whom where children at the time, back to the place that marks the almost inexpressible evil that human beings are capable of inflicting on other human beings.  

It also pointed to a disturbing poll revealing that nearly half of all Americans — 41 percent — couldn’t identify Auschwitz. Among millennials, that number rose to an even more unsettling 66 percent.  

It took me back to 1981 when I had the privilege of being engaged with the leadership of the Orlando Holocaust Conference, a major event that drew together educators, religious leaders, politicians and others to hear the stories and wrestle with the implications of the Holocaust. The Conference led to the establishment in 1986 of the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida  in Maitland.

Unknown-1The driving force behind both the Conference and the Center was a survivor named Tess Wise. Tess was nothing short of a “force of nature” in her passion to remember the stories and to fulfill the promise, “Never Again.”  You can hear her speak on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Center here.

The Church and the Holocaust

One of the speakers at the Conference was Dr. Franklin Littell , the Methodist historian and theologian who is remembered as the “father of Holocaust studies” from a Christian perspective. He described how his engagement in the subject began when he, as a young, Methodist missionary, witnessed a Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1939.  I can still hear the pain in his voice when he told the story of a Bishop who told him, “Hitler is God’s man for Germany!”

priest_07.While being both inspired and challenged by the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it is sobering to remember that the Confessing Church was a courageous, minority movement that stood against Hitler’s anti-Semitism while the rest of the institutional church (both Protestant and Catholic) went along with it, even providing the theological foundation for anti-Semitism.

Never Again?

In the days leading to the commemoration, Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, expressed concern about how we apply the lessons of history to our own time.  “More and more we seem to be having trouble connecting our historical knowledge with our moral choices today,” he said. “I can imagine a society that understands history very well but does not draw any conclusion from this knowledge.”

In the same article, Zofia Posmysz, a 96-year-old Polish survivor of Auschwitz, said, “I fear that over time, it will become easier to distort history,” she said in her apartment in Warsaw. “I cannot say it will never happen again, because when you look at some leaders of today, those dangerous ambitions, pride and sense of being better than others are still at play. Who knows where they can lead.”

May God help us to remember the horror and to be strengthened to work for the fulfillment of the promise, “Never Again!”

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Never Again?

  1. Thanks for this post, Jim. As you may know Gerhard Kittle, the renouned biblical scholar and compiler of the massive Theological Wordbook, was a staunch Hitler supporter and religious consultant to the Third Reich—a sobering reminder of how denagogues can co-opt religion and religious leaders to be minions of their evil schemes. We are seeing it in the USA right now in Christian Nationalism’s collusion with imperialism.

    1. Yes. A tragic witness of how easily faithful people can be conned by powerful leaders.

  2. Jim, your message brought back important but painful memories of visiting Dachau with a group of young adults on a mission trip, living on a kibbutz in Israel with members who had tattoos on their arms indicating they had been rescued by U.S. Forces just in time, and reading and teaching Bonhoeffer. You are so right. We now have an increasing number of dictators, many with popular support, who have no qualms about killing their own people to stay in power. All this as the voice of the church becomes more faint. Never again may, indeed be, once more.

    1. Larry: Thanks sharing your experience and your concern…both of which are really important!

  3. sbryantupperroom January 28, 2020 — 3:36 pm

    Thanks Jim. Such an important reminder.

    Stephen Bryant
    The Upper Room
    1908 Grand Avenue
    Nashville, TN 37212
    sbryant@upperroom.org
    1-615-405-9267

    From: Jim Harnish
    Reply-To: Jim Harnish
    Date: Tuesday, January 28, 2020 at 7:42 AM
    To: Stephen Bryant
    Subject: [New post] Never Again?

    jimharnish posted: “Remembering the Horror Yesterday’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz drew several hundred survivors, most of whom where children at the time, back to the place that marks the almost inexpressible evil that human beings “

  4. Thanks, Jim, for reminding us of this tragedy and how the church of that time even gave a subtle support to anti-semitism! May God keep us from repeating this horror in our time.

  5. While visiting Auschwitz in 1979, hearing about all that had happened there, and actually experiencing the places where it happened, I had an extraordinary sense of paranoia as I completed my visit. I couldn’t stop having the desire to look behind myself, wondering if someone was following me. I had never had such a strange feeling before, nor have I had it since. It seemed as though my own safety was somehow threatened by being in a place where so much pain was experienced by so many.

  6. Never again! Thank you, Jim, as always, for the wise words, and remembrance.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  7. Jim. Thanks for your timely reminder of an examples of man’s potential for evil. I fear that “never again” may shield all of us from “We didn’t see it coming”. The words of MLK remain prophetic: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. May Bonhoeffer’s resistance be ever in our minds.

  8. Thanks for sharing, Jim! I write as I’m traveling back to the US from my first trip to Israel.

    While I was there for work, I was stunned by the progress, excitement, and diversity of the people of that amazing country. They have built a nation of immigrants (not unlike our own) that is a melting pot of cultures (not unlike our own) and is a leader in technology, innovation, and creativity (not unlike our own). And they’ve done it in just 70 short years. I got to hear from the founder of tech-transportation juggernaut, Waze, and I got to hear from American-born Israeli thinker, David Gordis. I ran my hands along the security wall in Bethlehem and got a sense (even if only the slightest) of the tensions that have to be navigated to install a lasting peace on that dynamic land.

    I join your in your prayer, Never Again, and I pray for those people, Israelis and Arabs alike, that they can build a bright, multi-cultural, future.

    God bless! JJJ

  9. Lucretia Murphy March 30, 2020 — 11:41 pm

    This is such an important reminder of how The Church can be on both sides of hate – both supporting and fighting it – as we see staunch religious support for the current President’s acts of bigotry and hatred and churches opposed. I think “never again” is a conviction for today!

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