Growing up, my grandfather told my siblings and me many stories about the Holocaust. My mother’s father was a Holocaust survivor, and his experience of what evil and hatred can do was something he was passionate about sharing.
My grandfather would tell us how, when his family was fleeing Nazi Germany, their car ran out of gas while the Nazis were no more than a mile or two behind them. The family had no choice but to escape by foot. My grandfather’s mother went one way while his father went another, hoping to increase the chances that at least part of the family would survive. This story and other Holocaust stories were a regular part of my childhood.
Miraculously, my grandfather’s immediate family survived. His extended family, however, was virtually wiped out. All but one cousin were murdered at the hands of the Nazis. As a child, it was hard to fathom the number six million – six million Jews gassed, burned, and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. However, when I looked into my grandfather’s eyes as he recalled his horrible experiences, the horror felt very real. I got a glimpse of the greatest tragedy our people ever experienced.
Yet, I had the comfort of knowing that I lived in very different times. Far away from Germany, I grew up in America decades after the Holocaust. I was blessed to live in a country that welcomed the Jewish people and afforded complete religious freedom to all. Jews were accepted and respected, a far cry from the Eastern Europe of my grandfather’s childhood. His stories reminded us to remember what hatred can do and inspired gratitude for our lives of freedom and abundance. “Never again” was both a reminder and a statement of victory.
My father-in-law is also a Holocaust survivor. He visits our home every week on the Sabbath. We sing, laugh, and share memories. My 10-year-old son in particular always wants to hear stories about the Holocaust and the dramatic story of my father-in-law’s escape from the Nazis. My father-in-law obliges, grateful to have a captive audience. Nearly every Sabbath meal ends with a story and a song in Yiddish – the language spoken at the time by most European Jews – about hope and redemption.
However, there is a huge difference between my experience as a child hearing stories about the Holocaust and that of my children. I lived in a world where anti-Semitism seemed to be a thing of the past. After the atrocities of the Holocaust were revealed, we were sure that the world had finally learned how dangerous and cruel hatred could be. Humanity had moved past anti-Semitism and on to a more enlightened, informed, and compassionate existence.
My children, on the other hand, are witnessing the exact opposite. The world seems to be regressing. Old stereotypes, myths, and lies are being revived at an alarming rate. Anti-Semitic attacks grow exponentially every year. Once again, Jews are beat up, verbally assaulted, and even murdered in broad daylight.
Just a few days ago, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue near San Diego where members were celebrating the last day of Passover. One woman was killed, and several more people were seriously injured. This was the second deadly anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue in the U.S. in six months. It is deeply troubling and frightening.
Here at The Fellowship, we have watched the drastic rise in anti-Semitism with both shock and a sense of urgency. We increased our efforts to protect Jews from attacks. Through The Fellowship, Christian friends of Israel and the Jewish people have secured dozens of at-risk Jewish institutions from Thailand, to France, to South America, and elsewhere around the world.
However, as the fatal attack over the weekend demonstrated, it is not enough. We must do more; we will do more.
Ignorance about the Holocaust is also shocking. Recent statistics show that nearly one-third of Americans do not believe that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Among millennials, 66% have never heard of Auschwitz. The world is forgetting the greatest massacre ever committed against humankind – and the lessons that came with it.
As a society, we are headed down a very dangerous and dark road, and we had better change direction fast.
This year, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), which we observe beginning at sundown on May 1, has taken on a different meaning. While “never again” was once a call of triumph against evil, today it is an urgent call to action. We cannot let history repeat itself. We must not travel down that road again. If we do not take action, inevitably hate will pick up speed and, like a rolling snowball, gain too much power to be stopped from destroying everything in its path.
Yom HaShoah is different this year. It is no longer enough just to pay our respects to those murdered and those that survived – as important as that is. It is not enough just to pay lip service to “never again.” It is no longer a time to bask in the victory of good over evil. It is time for action. It is time for change. It is time to choose a different ending to this age-old story. We – Christians and Jews standing firmly together – can make all the difference.
With blessings from the Holy Land,