In 2019, I joined a two-week program to Poland and Israel with the Australian chapter of The March Of The Living (MOTL) – an organisation whose mission is to educate and challenge participants with two of the most significant events in Jewish history: the Shoah (The Holocaust) and the birth of the State of Israel. The March – a three kilometre walk from Auschwitz 1 to Birkenau – is a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust, their memories and their legacies. The March is designed to contrast with the death marches, which began towards the end of World War II and continued virtually up until the Third Reich’s last days.
The MOTL program has been suspended for three years as a result of Covid, but will resume in 2023. For Christians such as myself, Holocaust remembrance poses unique challenges. First, the Holocaust sprang from a predominantly Christian part of the world. Many who declared Jesus as "Lord and Saviour" were personally involved in the atrocities. How can something as implacably evil as the Holocaust be reconciled with Christ's injunctions on love, justice, and peace – most particularly toward the marginalised and the oppressed.
Worse still, the seeds of the Holocaust lie in anti-Semitism, a strand of which has long been perpetuated in the Christian Church. For instance, in his baleful book, On the Jews and Their Lies, Martin Luther encourages Christians to set the Jews' synagogues and schools on fire, raise and destroy their houses, and take their prayer books and Talmudic writings. These hateful edicts were often quoted and circulated in Nazi Germany as a rationale for the Holocaust.
For centuries, the Church forgot its Jewish roots. It passed over the fact that God had expressly ordained that Jesus be born into a Jewish family, that he be circumcised as a Jew, that he observe Shabbat, and that he attend the synagogue to commemorate Passover. Moreover, all of Jesus' twelves disciples were Jewish, as was Saul when he saw the Lord on the road to Damascus. Our faith was nurtured in Israel, our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Church must study her Jewish roots, looking to the rock from which she was hewn: "Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave you birth" (Isaiah 51:1-2).
If there remains any skerrick of doubt as to what Jesus himself thought of the Jewish tradition in which he was born, you need look no further than what he said to the Samaritan woman at the well: "You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know because salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). Notwithstanding all this, for hundreds of years, the Church saw fit to impose restrictions, extortions, expulsions and persecutions on Jews. So-called “pogroms” often occurred on Christian Holy-days, and such atrocities culminated in the Holocaust. “Never again” is an exhortation to the world, but more precisely, it is an exhortation to the “non-Jewish world” – especially the Christian world.
If you are thinking of joining the March Of The Living cohort in 2023 – do it, don’t hesitate. The trip will depress you and elevate you. Close your eyes and open your heart. It’ll make you sigh and make you cry. Make you angry and make you wise. It’ll make you shake your head and bow your head. But above all, it’ll bring you face to face with what it is to be human: part devil, part angel. More than ever, I appreciate Saint Augustine's admonition: "It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels."
This is an edited excerpt of an article that will be published in full in Gesher 2022