HORROR-- Alan Reynolds
A recent item in our newspaper noted the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Attending were former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Nobel Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel, who as a boy was interned in the horror of Auschwitz.
Despite movies and books which seek to portray situations of horror for our entertainment, we have not
completely domesticated the word. The bombings at the Boston Marathon, the continued bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Somalia and other parts of Africa, the collapsing of a garment factory building in
Bangladesh -- the horrors seems to be endless. Of all the horrors of the last hundred years, one stands out,
perhaps because we feel a part of it, bearing some responsible for it: that is the Holocaust, the attempted
elimination of the Jewish people during World War II by the Nazi regime. You may not like reading the following (as they say on TV, you may find the contents disturbing), but it is important that we remember. It is important that we wrestle with the questions it raises, and to read the comments of Francois Mauriac from a Christian point of view.
And yes, I admit that this, the suffering of the innocent, the righteous, is the problem I find most difficult theologically. In fact I doubt that it can be resolved theologically. The closest I come to any satisfaction I find in the Cross. God is with us, even when God seems gone, to have left us bereft; when God seems to have forsaken us. I have found it to be true. “God was in Christ” (II Corinthians 5:9), and is with us today in the horrors we face in our own lives.
In his book, Night, Eli Wiesel tells of being a child in the internment camp at Auschwitz, a story of horror upon horror, where the SS guards would toss babies in the air and shoot at them, using them for target
One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly, three black crows. Roll call. SS all around, machine guns trained. Three victims in chains, one of them a young boy, a child with a refined and beautiful face, the face of a sad angel. The SS seemed more preoccupied, more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, biting his lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him.
The three victims mounted together onto the chairs. The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses.
“Long live liberty!” cried the two adults.
But the child was silent.
“Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked.
At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs [were] tipped over.
Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon the sun was setting.
"Bare your heads!" yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping.
Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving, being so light, the child was still alive….
For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying the slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking,
“Where is God now?”
And I head a voice within me answer him:
“Where is he? Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows….”
(Night, by Eli Wiesel, Avon Books, 1972, pp. 74-76.)In the forward to the book, Francois Mauriac tells of being interviewed by Wiesel some years later. Wiesel was now a young man, a journalist.
The young Israeli who came to interview me for a Tel Aviv paper immediately won my sympathy, and our conversation very quickly took a personal turn. It led me to recall memories of the Occupation. I confided to my young editor that nothing I had seen during those somber years had left so deep a mark upon me as those trainloads of Jewish children standing at Austerlitz [train] station [in Paris, during the Occupation]. At that time we knew nothing of Nazi methods of extermination. And who could have imagined them! Yet the way these lambs had been torn from their mothers in itself exceeded anything we had so far thought possible. I believe that on that day, I touched for the first time upon the mystery of iniquity.
This then was what I had to tell the young journalist. And when I said with a sigh, “How often I have thought about those children!” he replied, “I was one of them.” He had seen his mother, a beloved little sister, and all his family disappear into an oven fed with living creatures. “Never shall I forget that night,” he wrote. "Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever, those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.”
And Mauriac writes,
And I who believe that God is love, what answer could I give my young questioner. What did I say to him? Did I speak of that other Israeli, his brother, who may have resembled him – the Crucified, whose Cross had conquered the world? Did I affirm that the stumbling block to his faith was the cornerstone of mine, and the conformity between the Cross and the suffering of men was in my eyes the key to that impenetrable mystery whereon the faith of his childhood had perished? … All is grace. If the Eternal is the Eternal, the last word for each one of us belongs to Him. This is what I should have told this Jewish child. But I could only embrace him, weeping.