In a few days on the 28th of Nisan, Jewish people around the world will be remembering the Holocaust as they observe Yom HaShoah(The Day of the Catastrophe). This day of remembrance was inaugurated by Israel’s Prime Minister David Ben Gourion in 1953. At 10:00 AM local time in Israel, sirens will sound and everything will come to a halt, including motorists stepping out of their vehicles for two minutes of silence.
For several reasons, the 21st century is a very challenging time to maintain the memory of the Holocaust. For one thing, any survivor of the Shoah who is still alive today would have to be at least 70 years old if they were born inside the camps–albeit very unlikely– and made it out alive. For the most part, the dwindling number of survivors comprises men and women in their mid to late 80s. First hand living witnesses are few and far in between, and they facilitate the nasty work of Holocaust deniers and revisionists. It is estimated than between 350,000 and 500,000 Holocaust survivors are still alive worldwide. Due to their age, that number will greatly reduce within 5 years to almost nothing within a decade. Now more than ever we need to do all that we can to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.
In my opinion, doing so must include recognizing those who against all odds have helped the Jewish people and to an extent continue to make a difference. Such a group of people who need to be recognized is the organization known as “The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary”. This ecumenical organization was started in 1947 on a Lutheran foundation, by Basilea Schlink and Erika Madaus who later became nuns. While as a conservative Jewish believer I am somewhat uncomfortable with ecumenism, there is a place and a time to discuss theology and I do not believe that it is in this article.
Today, the organization has spread globally from its German inception. One location that is unique and well worth mentioning is Beit Avraham (Abraham’s House) in Israel, where the current staff of a few sisters is ministering to Holocaust survivors. Led by anguish and to an extent, the post-war German collective guilt syndrome, the two founders felt that they had to do something to reach out to the surviving Jewish community. Beit Avraham was opened in 1961. The sisters felt the need to repent to God about the way that too many Christians acted against the Jews. But asking God for forgiveness was not their only desire, they also wanted to make a difference in the life of those who came out of the camps.
Survivors like Elie Wiesel have been quoted saying that in many ways the ones who came out of the camps were worse off than the ones who perished within. In many cases, this is true because the psychological damage has remained well beyond any physical damage that was inflicted. The sisters seemed to understand that as they continuously ministered to Holocaust survivors passing through their guesthouse in Jerusalem.
I have heard it said many times that the best thing that you can give a survivor of the Shoah is a hug, not an explanation. While not guilty of any wrong doing themselves, the sisters realized that the most they could do was to hold hands and love unconditionally. One was recently quoted saying: “We can never heal the wounds. They are too deep. But we can help to soothe them”.
Today, Beit Avraham is at a crossroads. While the memory of the Shoah should persist, the last survivors are passing away. This leaves the Sisterhood with a facility that is increasingly left vacant. They have decided that it will soon be closed or possibly re-purposed.
I have much respect for such a group that in their own way chose to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the Catastrophe. I am also overcome with great sadness when I realize that within a decade or less, almost all survivors will be gone. There is a push by liberals, revisionists and deniers to re-write history belittling or in some cases erasing the Holocaust altogether. That is as ludicrous as stating that there were no Native Americans on US soil when the pioneers landed, or that Napoleon Bonaparte never existed.
Fortunately, there are also many organizations working very hard at growing and maintaining a database of pictures, films and testimonies of survivors and victims. I believe that it is also the duty of individuals to carry on the memory of the Shoah. We must do it truthfully and tactfully to avoid what some have called “Holocaust fatigue” especially with the younger generation. But we must do it nonetheless. Only Messiah Yeshua can truly heal, and while we will never be able to heal the wounds, we can certainly soothe the pain and pray that Messiah would touch the last survivors with His love (Isaiah 63:9).
In memory of my maternal grandfather Maurice Weinzveig
who perished in Auschwitz