By Jenneth Graser —
Wisdom from the Wounds of History – the Holocaust
A couple of years ago, we as a family were going through a very difficult time and I became drawn to reading about the Holocaust. There was urgency within me to discover all I could about both the atrocity and bravery of such a time. Somehow by witnessing for myself through the books I read, interviews and films I watched, I felt I could somehow be present in spirit those many years ago in some way, and receive wisdom from the voices of the martyrs and survivors. People, individuals with names, unique people, haunted by a ghost of numbers tattooed on the skin.
I read and read and would like to share some of my experiences, thoughts and questions from out of this time with you. A stirring grew in my soul to journey with the Jews, the outcasts, misfits, prisoners, gypsies, prostitutes, children, men and women and the “incurably sick”, all of whom were subjected to unmentionable horrors.
How easy it is to observe what is wrong in others. But when I spent many hours exposing to myself the historic wounds of the Holocaust, it made me see that we must be brave to look at ourselves with honest eyes too. It increased in me a desire to grow in empathy, understanding and forgiveness.
One of the books which deeply impacted me was Sarah Helm’s “If This Is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck – Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women”. A thick book with incredible overarching detail, I was taken aback by the stance of the writer. She seemed to be able to portray this time from a bird’s eye view both compassionately and objectively, from the vantage points of the persecuted and the persecutors, exposing Ravensbruck for it to be seen, and never forgotten.
I came away from this time with many questions. As much as you would imagine my fixation on reading about the Holocaust could have caused me to become depressed and heavy, yet it gave me something I am truly grateful to have received. I didn’t feel the need to understand everything, but observing it helped me to somehow put into perspective the painful situation we were experiencing.
Some questions I pondered from out of this time:
What causes one person to dehumanise another?
What inside of a person rises to protect another person (known or unknown to them) even at the risk of their own life?
What causes someone else to commit acts of brutality and violence and then justify it?
How can a human heart be capable of such evil?
What am I capable of?
I feel that I was able to read and share these experiences with God and felt Him speaking into my spirit throughout this time.
As Corrie ten Boom says (a survivor of Ravensbruck):
“Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.”
And as Dietrick Bonhoeffer says (a German pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, executed 9 April 1945):
“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility…this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
Let us take this mystery to God in the certainty that one day,
“…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:10-11
And that when we cannot in our human capacity understand how the Holocaust could have ever come to be, we can look at the cross and wonder how that could ever come to be as well. That the love Jesus poured out for us there ultimately triumphs over all evil and death. And let us take to heart the truth we live by, that death has lost its sting, while weeping with those who weep and mourning with those who mourn.
How can we share in Christ’s sufferings and help alleviate the suffering of others? Let us take some time in silence today remembering what has gone before. When we see photographs of the piles of shoes that were left behind, let us remember, the faces and names of the people who wore them. Let us not forget. And when we sit with God in the silence, let us allow a greater compassion to rise.
A list of some of the books I have read on the Holocaust:
If This Is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck – Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm
The Words to Remember It: Memoirs of Child Holocaust Survivors by Sydney Child Holocaust Survivors Group
A Thousand Shall Fall: The Electrifying Story of a Soldier and His Family Who Dared to Practice Their Faith in Hitler’s Germany by Susi Hasel Mundy, Maylan Schurch
I Am Fifteen—and I Don’t Want To Die by Christine Arnothy
The Diary of Anne Frank
Holocaust by Angela Gluck Wood
I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia E. Bitton-Jackson
In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke, Jennifer Armstrong
The Hiding Place: The Triumphant True Story of Corrie Ten Boom by Corrie ten Boom, John Sherrill, Elizabeth Sherrill
I recommend watching interviews and testimonies on YouTube of the Holocaust survivors.