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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Remembering the Holocaust

Jerusalem museum provides necessary reminder of World War II atrocities

By John W. Kennedy in Jerusalem
July 11, 2010

Of all the hatred spewed by ethnic and racial cleansing in the past century, perhaps none was as ferocious and prolonged as Adolf Hitler’s obsession with exterminating European Jews during his reign as German dictator from 1933 to 1945.

Six million Jews died in the Holocaust. An astounding number of Jewish communities — 5,000 — vanished during what the Jews call the Shoah.

The world’s largest memorial to honor the murdered, Yad Vashem, is located in Jerusalem. This Holocaust History Museum, authorized by the Israeli government in 1953, has been located on a 45-acre site called the Mount of Remembrance since 2005. More than a million people visit the symbolic and architectural triumph each year.

The Nazis left a large trail of photos and personal effects, such as suitcases and shoes, of those put to death. Hitler mistakenly believed the world would remember the extermination of the Jews with fondness and that he would be hailed for his service to humanity.

The exhibit hall features videos of German Jewish life in the 1930s shot by a U.S. documentary filmmaker. The images show how well these Jewish citizens fit in society. The power of photographs and film footage shows they lived normal lives before laws began to restrict their movement, employment and religious practices. The presentation helps to put a face on anonymous victims, many of whom died on unknown dates in concentration camps.

While touring the displays, the message that keeps coming to the forefront is that Hitler didn’t do this alone. He had help from more than just Waffen-SS and the Gestapo. He had the cooperation of the masses, including many people who called themselves Christians. Early on, Hitler gained the confidence of many religious leaders. Displays show German clergy shaking hands with the führer. Some even give the Nazi salute in photographs.

Yad Vashem contains more and better-preserved artifacts than Auschwitz-Birkenau, the adjoining Nazi death camps in southwestern Poland where more than 1.4 million Jews died during World War II. Evidence shows Hitler understood in 1944 that the war tide had turned against him. But rather than pour all his efforts into supplying German troops, Hitler gave priority to liquidating Jews.

Prisoners brought to Auschwitz headed straight to the gas chamber without even registering. They went to their death in cavernous rooms, ostensibly to shower. Instead of water, the spigots in the ceiling released poisonous gas. The Nazis opted for gassing because it saved time over other forms of execution. They burned bodies in an adjacent crematorium.

Incredibly, despite such overwhelming physical evidence, there are those today who deny that the Holocaust happened. The accounts at Yad Vashem are gruesome, but essential to remember: Children bayoneted and their skulls thrown against brick walls. Women forced to disrobe, then shot in the head. 

Collaborators — those who gave tacit approval to Hitler in his attempt to eradicate any trace of Jewish existence — extended beyond Germany. Globally, many religious and political leaders failed to speak out against Nazi atrocities, even when the annihilation of Jews became apparent midway through World War II.

The Hall of Names, the final exhibit in a cone-shaped rotunda, features portraits of 600 representative Holocaust victims, young and old, rich and poor, male and female, religious and cultural.

One of the most moving areas at Yad Vashem is the memorial to children located in an underground cavern. Candles flicker in a somber walkway as some of the names of the 1.5 million children who perished are recited.

Faith in humanity is somewhat restored by the fact that not everyone went along with the “Final Solution.” Some German clergy who resisted paid the ultimate penalty for refusing to go along with Hitler’s genocidal schemes. The Holocaust museum has documented 22,732 non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews.

Yad Vashem features video interviews with Holocaust survivors. Some achieved the ultimate revenge: Marrying and having Jewish babies.

On the same day I visited the Holocaust memorial I went shopping on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehudah Street. Inside a store I heard a commotion on the street as around 100 college-aged demonstrators noisily marched by waving banners written in Hebrew. I asked the storeowner, only in his 20s himself, about the protesters. Agitated, he explained they represented the Communist party, and he wished they wouldn’t march by his business.

“They forget what it is to be Jewish,” he exclaimed. “Ah, but that is the price of democracy.”

And that’s a timely message in today’s world. People sometimes are tempted to marginalize those unlike them — because of their religion, social status, political persuasion, skin color or country of origin. Yad Vashem holds a lesson: Jesus died for all people. Everyone has worth in God’s eyes, even those with whom we disagree.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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