Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter and the Holocaust

During this time of year, my Greek relatives used to say, Christos anesti. Christ is risen! But nowadays many people, especially middle class liberals, would rather not think about the cross. Why put such a horrible symbol at the center of one's religious faith? Wouldn't it be better to "accent the positive," and to focus on "that of God" in everyone? If only we could convince enough people to be reasonable and loving, we could achieve world peace!

But early Quakers, like early Christians, knew better. They knew that remembering the cross is a spiritual requirement. "No Cross, No Crown," wrote Penn. Before you can experience "that of God" in others, you have to face what George Fox called the "ocean of darkness."

This truth came home to me twenty years ago, in 1993, when I took a youth group to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance that had just opened up in downtown L.A.

This museum is a multimedia extravaganza filled with computerized gizmos intended to "make you think." For instance, in the hall of bigotry, you can walk down a dark corridor and hear voices whispering insults like "male chauvinist pig," "dago," and finally, "Jew boy." Exhibits like these are supposed to shock you into realizing what it feels like to be the victim, as well as the perpetrator, of prejudice. 
The museum also reminds us that the 20th century has been the era not just of scientific progress, but of that peculiarly modern form of mass murder known as genocide. Beginning with the mass slaughter of Armenians by Turks, our century has seen one bloodbath after another: the holocaust of Jews, the mass exterminations by Pot Pol Communists, and most recently, "ethnic cleansing" in Serbia and Bosnia and Darfur.
The vast numbers slaughtered during these acts of genocide can be mind-numbing, so the museum tries to "personalize" the victims. Before entering a reconstructed Nazi death camp, each visitor is given a "passport" with the name and life history of a single person who was killed. You can also go to computer terminals and hear videotaped testimonials of survivors.
Efficient though the Nazis were in misusing technology, they failed to obliterate the Jews or Jewish culture. The victims of the Holocaust live on in the memory banks of these computers, and in our heart.
Isn't this the message of Easter? The powers that tried to exterminate Jesus and his followers failed utterly. They could not kill the Truth. The Truth rose again and lives in all of us who cherish Jesus' memory.

This act of remembering can be painful as well as redemptive. It is disquieting to recall the complicity of so-called Christians who went along with the Nazi regime. I was especially moved by reading Sword of Constantine, James Carrol's well-researched and compelling book about the history of anti-semitism among Christians. This is a book that all Christians should read and take to heart.

Some of my Jewish friends find it difficult to accept the way of nonviolence in light of what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust. A few even champion guns since they believe that if the Jews had been armed, they might have defended themselves against Hitler and the Nazis. Others dispute that claim since Jews comprised only 2% of the population of Germany; and when Jews did attempt to fight back with arms, as in the Warsaw ghetto, they weren't able to overcome the massive power of the Nazi war machine.
It is worth remembering that the lives of many Jews were saved during WW II through nonviolence, and probably many more could have been saved if nonviolent techniques had been used more widely.  It is well known that  the Danes rescued 8,000 Jews from the Nazi's by smuggling them to Sweden in fishing boats.
Quakers also saved the lives of many Jews using nonviolent means. A delegation of Quakers went to Germany in 1938 after Krystallnacht to try to help the Jews. Their mission failed to avert the holocaust, but Quakers did manage to help 1,135 Jews to emigrate from Germany  between 1935-1941, thereby saving many lives. 
Quakers were also involved in the "kinder transport" that helped save the lives of thousands of Jewish children:
Many Quaker representatives went with the parties from Germany to Holland, or met the parties at Liverpool Street Station in London ensured that there was someone there to receive and care for each child.[13] 
It must be admitted that German Quakers were not as bold in opposing Nazism as they could or should have been. Few risked their own lives. But their efforts under very difficult circumstances did save many Jewish lives.

It is also worth noting that 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved through nonviolence. Not a single Bulgarian Jew was deported to the death camps, due to the heroism of many Bulgarians of every walk of life, up to and including the King and the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This amazing story is recounted in Beyond Hitler's grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria's Jews by Michael Bar-Zohar.
We need to remember and honor those who heeded the cries of the victims and were true followers of Christ. They are called by the Jews "the Righteous of all Nations."
At the Museum of Tolerance I learned of a Greek Orthodox archbishop who was asked by the Nazis to list all the Jews on his island.
"Why should I?" he replied. "The Jews have lived here peacefully with us for centuries. We consider them Greeks."
When the Nazis insisted, the Archbishop took a piece of paper and wrote down a single name.
His own.
Reading this story made me feel glad I was baptized Greek orthodox!

As long as there are Christians like him, we can truly say, Christos anesti. Christ is risen! May Christ rise in us, and we in Christ, and may we always remember the cross (and the holocaust) and heed the cries of oppression's victims. And may we stand in solidarity with those facing genocide and affirm, with our Jewish friends: Never again!

1 comment:

  1. The history of the family of man(humanity)should make Christians happy(not because it's "Ishtar")that they have an adoption in Christ(cf. Pauline Scripture); yet secularized Easter encourages human family(home)celebration, not Adoptive family(church or meetinghouse)worship. Go figure.