Christians and the Holocaust
by Rev Malcolm Hedding
“How shall I console you? To what shall I liken you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I compare with you, that I may comfort you? For your ruin is spread as wide as the sea; who can heal you.”
This verse lamenting the destruction of Israel repeatedly asks the question as to what should we do and how can we comfort Zion? Of all people, Christians need to answer these questions. While the Holocaust was perpetrated by the Nazis, whose core leaders departed from Christianity to follow pagan Norse gods, the underpinnings of this immense tragedy were indeed Christian. This opened the door and provided the climate for the Nazis to launch their diabolical program of Jewish extermination on an industrial scale that was quite simply mind boggling. That six million innocent Jewish people were murdered in the most brutal fashion is truly beyond belief and we must never forget that this happened just seventy-five years ago.
There were five pillars, if you will, upon which Christendom in Europe built its hatred of the Jewish people:
In the second and third centuries, when as yet there was no New Testament canon of Scripture, Church leaders began to make statements concerning the Jewish people that were derogatory and demeaning. Sadly, almost all the highly respected Church Fathers did this. The common people could not test these statements with Scripture as these were also not yet widely available. This continued for centuries and in time became acceptable Christian behavior.
Together with the problem of consistently demeaning the Jews, the early Gentile churches began to expunge everything Jewish from their festivals, liturgical practices and theology. The Hebraic foundation, or Jewish root system, of the Christian faith was therefore removed and in some cases replaced with pagan identities. So, for instance, Passover became Easter, or the Feast of Ishtar, and the Feast of Tabernacles simply became a fall harvest festival, etc.
By the Middle Ages, the so-called doctrine of ‘contempt’ had been formulated which essentially stated the Jewish people were excluded from the love of God and were only kept alive by God as objects of His wrath and judgment. Jews were therefore beyond redemption and now the Church was the real and new Israel of God. This ungodly theological position was only repealed in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Christian universities and seminaries were infiltrated by liberal academics who began to cast doubt on the inspiration and authority of scripture. This, while everywhere prevalent, was particularly true of Germany. With no document of absolute truth, a vacuum was produced into which ultimately stepped the evil of Nazism, which blamed the Jews for the defeat of Germany in the First World War and other societal ills. This opened the door finally to:
Adolf Hitler and his murdering thugs could now openly speak evil of the Jews at one mass rally after the next. All of the above came together to produce a deadly vial of murder and extermination, to which a blind eye was turned from the plight of the Jews and fear gripped anyone who would rise up to challenge the Nazi narrative. Those who dared to do so paid with their lives and so the Holocaust began! Too few brave Christians like Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to the aid of the Jews.
These are the five foundation stones that made possible the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry from 1933 to 1945. The following true story well illustrates this historic truth.
In 1987, I was serving on the pastoral team of the Jerusalem Christian Assembly, an expatriate church that met in the main auditorium of the YMCA on King David Street in Jerusalem. Just a few days before Christmas, I was meeting with my fellow pastors Jim Cantelon and Wayne Hilsden over breakfast. Suddenly, the restaurant floor manager, a Jewish man called Yossi, came over and asked if he could join us. We duly welcomed him and asked him to take a seat. He then proceeded to tell us that he wished, with our permission, to attend our Christmas Eve service. We, of course, were quite surprised but he quickly assured us that he was not a Christian and did not intend to become one. Our interest was aroused and we therefore asked him why? He then proceeded to tell us an amazing story.
Yossi grew up in Hungary and was a young teenager when his country was invaded and occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. On Christmas Eve, he was rounded up with other young Jewish girls and boys and herded into a Gestapo courtyard where at one end was a machine gun. They were all told to undress, and then they were placed against a wall as a German soldier made his weapon ready to shoot them dead. Suddenly, a higher-ranking Gestapo officer entered the courtyard and told them to halt and stated that they could not do this on Christmas Eve. He further demanded that they be released into his custody and that after Christmas Day, he would return them to be killed. After much haggling and debate, the other officers conceded and surrendered the teenagers to his custody.
This Gestapo officer promptly loaded all the youngsters, including Yossi, into a truck and drove them to freedom. He was nothing but an imposter, as he was in truth a Christian by the name of Raoul Wallenberg, the now-famous Swedish diplomat stationed in Budapest. Yossi nearly died because of Christmas Day, but the truth is he was saved because of Christmas Day. He therefore had made a vow that on every Christmas Day thereafter, he would attend a church gathering. Hence, his meeting with us and his request to attend our Christmas Day service. I personally welcomed him at the door when he arrived and took his place amongst the congregation. I have never forgotten him.
This, my friends, answers the question posed by the prophet Jeremiah in his book of Lamentations. Who indeed will comfort the daughter of Zion? You, dear Christian brothers and sisters, will – just like Wallenberg did – even though you know that our long history of Christian antisemitism provided the platform for the Jews to be murdered on Christmas Day. There is such a thing as collective guilt, just as modern-day Americans are having to grapple with their history of slavery. On the walls of Yad Vashem the following words are inscribed: “Remembrance is the pathway to redemption but forgetfulness is the road to exile.”
Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and still serves on the Board of Trustees.