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)