Worse than Death

I slowly walked through the Holocaust Museum, taking time to read each placard, look at each picture and watch each video. I was familiar with the historical period.  I grew up hearing my father talk about his time as a soldier in Europe during WWII…and reading books such as The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.  I’d seen the pictures of emaciated men from concentration camps.

Although I was very interested in the museum, I didn’t really expect to learn anything new.

Then, about halfway through, I saw the pictures of the mass graves in Poland filled with naked corpses of women and children. That did me in!

I was horrified…and a bit surprised at myself…and a bit ashamed that I was more horrified by this picture than by others. I had read about the mass graves with women and children…it wasn’t anything I hadn’t known.  And I had seen pictures of the emaciated prisoners…as well as pictures of the gas chambers and ovens.  And, yes, that was horrible.  But something about seeing the naked bodies of perfectly healthy women and children piled in a mass grave made it more real…more personal.  For the first time, I could picture my own wife and children in the picture…and I was horrified.

Even more horrifying was the realization that most of them were there through the treachery of their neighbors…neighbors who passively chose not to get involved…and neighbors who actively turned them in…for the crime of being Jewish.

This was a repeated message throughout the museum.  The Holocaust was largely made possible through the involvement (and noninvolvement) of citizens. The Nazis relied on people turning in their neighbors.  They relied on fear, preservation instincts, and familial protection to be stronger than love or duty toward people of a different nationality and religion.

Without treachery by neighbors (both active and passive), nowhere near as many Jews would have been rounded up and murdered before the end of the war.

I pondered these truths on the flight home. Then I sat down with my family and told them about it.

I told them I believed this sort of genocide would probably happen again at some time in the future…maybe in our country…maybe in their lifetime. I told them, If it does, whatever you do, stand up for the oppressed! Do not let anyone rule you out of fear.  Do what is right, no matter what.  It is better to die for doing the right thing than to survive by becoming complicit in murder.  It is better to watch your family be killed for doing the right thing than to see them survive by turning against their neighbor.

I told them, I love you and I would do anything for you. But I want you to understand, I love you too much to want you to survive through an innocent neighbor’s betrayal.  And I ask you, please do not let anyone use me to cause you to betray a neighbor.  Better that you see me die or that you die, yourself, than to betray an innocent neighbor.  I know where I’m going when I leave this world, and I know where you’re going.  When we see each other on the other side, let it be with clean hands, a pure heart, and a clear conscience, knowing we stood up for the oppressed.

That was about twenty years ago. My children are all grown now.  I’m proud and thankful they have each matured into adults who care deeply for other people…who stand up for the marginalized and oppressed…who are not afraid to take a strong stand on unpopular positions.

Reflecting on this experience, I realized this is one of the differences between my perspective and that of many of my friends.

I understand the dangers of the world and how important it is to stand against wickedness and evil. I understand the need for border security and vetting of refugees.  I’m all for providing necessary tools and personnel to the military and police departments.  We should take appropriate and reasonable precautions against the many forms of terrorism.

However, I also live with a constant realization of how very little control we really have. Ramping up security may help, but it can never guarantee prevention of terrorist attacks.  Tightening vetting procedures may reduce risk, but it can never eliminate risk.

This fallen world we now live in is, by nature, a risky place filled with much danger, sorrow and wickedness. We cannot completely shut that out thru military might nor thru closing immigration.

And I live with a constant awareness of the much greater danger…the danger of becoming the very thing we fear.

What if our fear causes us to betray our neighbor? Click To Tweet

What if we become participants in abusing and neglecting the marginalized and oppressed out of fear of terrorism?

What if our fear of tyranny causes us to become tyrants? Click To Tweet

We cannot always prevent evil men from doing evil things.  May God protect us from the danger of aiding them in their wickedness…from allowing ourselves to be ruled by fear…

That would be a thing much worse than death.

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

6 thoughts on “Worse than Death

  1. Joe! What a beautiful soul you have! I had one of the most challenging conversations of my life yesterday with an Afghani student. We are so afraid here in the U.S., but few of us have ever endured the horrors that these people face each and every day.

    Students in my introductory management class are charged with “doing the most good in the world that 27 people can do in a single semester.” They are deciding what project to take on. One group suggested an amazing project to help Syrian refugees. Another student in the class said something like, “I don’t really think we should choose a project that is so political. People have different opinions about whether we should bring refugees to the U.S. or not.” The student representative of the Syrian refugee project coalition spoke up: “Political? This isn’t just political. We’re not talking about whether to bring them to the U.S. nor not. These are PEOPLE fleeing war-torn and bombed out cities. They have nothing but the clothes on their backs. They are terrified and hungry. Some are wounded or sick. Many are children; others are elderly. They need food, clothing, shelter. This is about humanity, not politics.” I was so proud of her.

    • So true! And that is the point we seem to so easily miss while defending our various political views. These are real people with real needs…who have already endured more mistreatment than anyone should have to.

      That sounds like an amazing class, Jamie!

      Thank you for challenging your students…and for challenging us…to spend our available time doing good.
      joe recently posted…Worse than DeathMy Profile

  2. This so reminds me of when thousands of Jews of Poland were forced into the no-man’s land between Poland and Russia. They were told to leave, and were run off with dogs and guns, out into fields with NOTHING, no food, extra clothing, shelter, nothing. It was a brave group of people who came to lend what aid they could. They were not “for” them or “against” them, just “helping” them. This was beautifully worded and a good reminder of what is REALLY important in life. I WANT to protect my country, my family, my way of life, but I also WANT to show mercy to the oppressed. How to best accomplish that is the question.

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