Holocaust Memorial Day

The subject of the Holocaust (Heb: Ha-Shoah) always reminds me of a Psalm written by Asaph:

“GOD, do not remain quiet; do not be silent and, GOD, do not be still! For behold, Your enemies make an uproar, and those who hate You have exalted themselves. They make shrewd plans against Your people, and conspire together against Your treasured ones. They have said, ‘Come, and let’s wipe them out as a nation, so that the name of Israel will no longer be remembered.’” (Ps. 83:1-4)

This tells us that such “shrewd plans” were not confined to the horrors of 80 years ago in Nazi Germany. Hatred of Israel started with the appearance of the people of Israel in history. It has raised its ugly head in every generation, and it continues to our days.

Students of history too easily brand the Nazis as barbarians. In reality they were fans of enlightenment, the arts, and refined European manners. In the same way, the Pharoah who enacted his genocide against the Hebrews, and Haman who designed a genocide against the Jewish exiles, were both ruling over advanced, powerful nations with great cultural traditions.

What drives such hatred among well-educated people? This is difficult to answer, because every wave of Jew-hatred claims a different basis: religious, social, economic, political, or some other friction.

Their common claim is that the Jews are some kind of threat to non-Jews. But again, both Pharoah and Haman attacked the descendants of Israel during times of prosperity, when their victims were already submissive and supportive of their rule. Likewise, Hitler had the support of patriotic German Jews at first, with no reason to fear them.

The reasons why the Jews are supposedly a threat are not even consistent. “They are too religious / too secular / too poor / too wealthy / too liberal / too conservative / too detached / too involved….” When the Jewish people wandered around the world with no country of their own, nations repeatedly expelled them. But now that they do have a country of their own, people are offended and tell them to “go back where you came from.”

Israel’s ancestral land gets the same irrational treatment. It was abandoned and neglected for centuries after the Roman exile – a sparsely populated sliver of sand, rocks and swamp that no one wanted – until Jewish pioneers returned in the early 20th century. Suddenly, Israel’s neighbors desired the same land for themselves… and they’ve been fighting over every square meter since then.

This also is not new; the Philistines did the same in Isaac’s days. They blocked up the wells Abraham had dug, making them unusable… only to claim them as “ours” when Isaac reopened them (Gen. 26:18-21). Their envy inspired them to chase Isaac away because he was so successful (v. 14-16) – and then to chase after him to make an alliance (v. 26-29) for the same reason!

This response is not rational but spiritual. The Philistines were honest about that; they confessed to Isaac, “We have seen plainly that the LORD has been with you.” (v. 28) The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob represent GOD in the world and are accompanied by Him.

Readers of the Scriptures sometimes think that this is no longer true. The LORD has expressed anger against His people, and has punished them for their sins, which must mean He has rejected Israel. Thus, the nations are free to do whatever they want with the Jewish people. Hitler even declared that he was doing GOD’s work, and a significant number of Christian leaders supported him.

However, Hitler’s “work” had no parallel in history. He tried to locate, isolate and exterminate even the most assimilated Jews (including church members who had renounced their Jewishness). He carried that goal beyond his own country and culture, seeking partners in Africa and the Muslim world. He even disregarded practical interests – sacrificing talented doctors, musicians, businessmen, and inventors just to create a Judenrein (Jew-free) regime. And when Hitler saw that he was losing the war, he redoubled his efforts to kill more Jews.

The motive could only have been spiritual. Hitler was waging war on the GOD who called this people into being, and who promised to regather them back to their own land.

No matter how much we describe the Holocaust, our minds cannot grasp the losses suffered by each family that it touched. The pain is made worse by those who deny the magnitude of the destruction, or its unique character. As the years pass and the eyewitnesses leave this world, the Holocaust deniers are becoming bolder. A Dutch group is now perversely claiming that the famous diary of Anne Frank (the German-Jewish girl hidden with her family in Amsterdam while the Nazis rounded up Jews for extermination) is a fictitious story.

But sooner or later, all those who abuse GOD’s people will experience catastrophes: “Israel was holy to the LORD, the first of His harvest. ‘All who ate of it became guilty; evil came upon them,’ declares the LORD.’” (Jer. 2:3)

It’s vital to note that most foreign translations of this verse are wrong. The Hebrew does not use the past tense, “was holy” – “became guilty” – “evil came.” It is present tense: “Israel IS holy to the LORD;” – and future tense: “All who eat of it WILL BECOME guilty; evil SHALL COME upon them.”

To this day, the Creator views attacks on Israel as a personal offense: “For the LORD of Armies says this: “After glory He has sent me against the nations that plunder you [Zion], for the one who touches you, touches the apple of His eye.’” (Zech. 2:8 – v. 12 in Hebrew)

Notice that vengeance can come for lesser offenses than attempted genocide; plundering Zion’s possessions is enough to trigger the LORD’s opposition.

In contrast to all these haters are the lovers of Zion, especially the believers in the Creator from the nations. Because they love the GOD of Israel, they love the people He has chosen. They recognize the guilt that their nation shares either directly (cooperating with the Nazis) or indirectly (refusing to take in Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis).

On Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, we stand together, Jews and non-Jews, to remember those who were murdered by gas, starvation, disease, firing squads and torture; as well as those trapped in the concentration camps who somehow survived. We also remember those who escaped the deadly dragnet (often miraculously) and hid in plain sight, or who joined the underground resistance.

Last but not least, we remember the brave people who risked their lives to save Jews, sometimes losing their own lives in the process. Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, has a section dedicated to these righteous Gentiles – nearly 30,000 individuals from 51 countries. Interestingly, the Yad Vashem site confesses that the question of why these people decided to help Jewish strangers, despite the danger to themselves and their families, has no “rational explanation.” Indeed, the only explanation is a spiritual one.

There is debate among Israel’s supporters about whether the revived modern state of Israel is because of the Holocaust, or in spite of it. Here’s why I (and many others) believe it’s the latter.

The survivors of the Nazi camps were actively barred by the British from entering Mandate Palestine. Those who were smuggled past the blockades were malnourished “skeletons” who had to keep fighting for survival, dealing with armed Arab attacks while the British confiscated Jewish weapons. There was also malaria, poverty, and a shortage of basic necessities. Yet this collection of “dry bones” somehow “came together, bone to its bone,” and grew flesh, tendons and skin (Ezek. 37:7) to become a nation. Against all odds, they “came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” (v. 10)

The IDF is not free of shortcomings. But is it coincidence that Israel’s small army is ranked by US News & World Report as the fourth strongest in the world today – surpassed only by Russia, the USA and China? In its 75-year history, Israel has won seven wars, and survived numberless terror attacks and rocket attacks. Many countries are eager to buy Israel’s military technology.

“At the proper time it shall be said to Jacob and to Israel what GOD has done! Behold, a people rises like a lioness, and like a lion it raises itself.” (Num. 23:23-24)

Yes, GOD has built Israel’s army, and He fights alongside them. When enemies again threaten our existence, He “will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the one who is feeble among them on that day will be like David.” (Zech. 12:8) Although still too young to serve in the army, David came against Goliath “in the name of the LORD of Armies, the GOD of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1 Sam. 17:45)

We can debate whether the process of the “dry bones” being filled with the LORD’s Spirit (Ezek. 37:14) is finished yet, but it’s clear that we’ve passed one stage (v. 12-13): “Behold, I am going to open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.”

Consider how precisely this promise was fulfilled. The prophet Ezekiel couldn’t have imagined the Nazi death camps, but they were quite literally graves for millions, and potential graves for many whose “bones were dried up” and whose “hope had perished” (v. 11). No other kind of “grave” could be opened and depopulated without a physical resurrection.

I am personally the second generation after the Holocaust, as are many other Israelis. We remember and mourn the murdered, even as we comfort and care for the few survivors still with us. But another task on this day is to remember what our GOD has done for us, and declare it to the world:

“He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His graciousness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our GOD!” (Ps. 98:2-3)

Blessings from the Most High be upon you, from the land of Zion and Jerusalem,

Mordechai ben Yakov


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