A Reflection On Yom Hashoah: Holocaust Memorial Day

In Israel everything will suddenly come to a halt twice for two minutes at sundown (Jewish holidays begin at sundown) tonight and at 11 a.m. tomorrow Israeli time. In like manner we will stop tonight and remember over 6 million men, women, and children who were killed because they were different. We also remember those who, at great risk, worked to save others.

The foundation of Jewish Heart Ministries is Jesus Christ, so many times the name of Jesus Christ has been used for a reason to persecute, torture, rape, and kill others. As Christians we believe that Jesus died in the place of all men, was buried, and rose again. We believe that He is the source of hope. Jewish Heart Ministry seeks to assist the church in understanding the history and culture of the Jewish people. Not as imitators, but as those who seek to know a people of rich diversity and complexity. Whose survival is truly miraculous. The stories that you will hear tonight are Messages of Hope.

Yom Hashoah literally the day of the destruction known as Holocaust Remembrance Day is not a day of hopelessness, but instead it is a day of hope.  It is commemorated to coincide with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which began April 19, and continued until May 16, 1943. This was when the Jewish people began a nearly one month resistance of the Nazi’s efforts to transfer the remaining residence from the Warsaw Ghetto to labor or concentration camps. The Warsaw Ghetto which was founded in October 12, 1940 to segregate the Jewish population of 400,000 to a 1.3 square mile area with seven people per room from the rest of Warsaw population.  The ghetto was surrounded by 10 foot high walls topped with barbed wire.  Because the Nazi’s controlled the food allocated, starvation and disease was common, over 83,000 Jews died between 1940-42 (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Warsaw”).

By January, 1943 the population of the ghetto was down to 70,000 through starvation, disease, and removal to camps.  In January, 1943 Nazi’s begin the final liquidation. Being met with resistance from armed resistance fighters within the ghetto the Nazi’s withdrew.  On April 19, 1943 the Nazi’s again entered the ghetto and were met with an eerie silence. The remaining residence had went into hiding in preparation for armed resistance led by two resistance groups known as the Jewish Combat Organization and Betar: a total of 750 soldiers poorly armed with small numbers of pistols and explosives (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising”). Initially these two groups had been at enmity with one another, but had decided to join together in opposing the final push of the Nazis to liquidate the ghetto.  On the first day of fighting, resistance fighter were able to repel the Nazi attack killing twelve. Very quickly Nazi’s were able to defeat the armed resistance, but still faced pockets of resistance for nearly a month until the ghetto was liquidated and the remaining inhabitants were transferred to killing centers or concentration camps.  Nearly all Warsaw Jews were killed (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising”).  

When the new state of Israel legislature was discussing a holiday to remember those who died in the holocaust, they choose to remember the Messages of Hope of those who resisted; by establishing the 27 of the Jewish month of Nissan usually falling on April or May as the day.  The date was enacted by the Israeli legislature on August 19, 1953 (My Jewish Learning, “Yom Hashoah: Holocaust Memorial Day”). Although established by the Israeli government this day is also celebrated by the Jewish communities in the United States.  In Israel everything pauses twice for two minutes at sundown (Jewish holidays begin at sundown) and at 11 a.m. the next day.  We sought to celebrate on this date because the Messages of Hope you will hear today on in agreement with the spirit of resistance.  

Rich Dewein, a talented vocalist will be singing three Hebrew songs: Oseh Shalom,  Hatikva the Israeli National Anthem, and Hineh Mah Tov.  Oseh Shalom was sung many times as Jewish people were being transported to their death during the Holocaust.  Hatikva (our hope ) comes from a poem which articulates Jewish desire for the land that God had given them. Hineh Mah Tov is a prayer that our relationships with others reflects the truth that we all share the Image of God.  The songs are translated in your program.  

Oseh Shalom

He who makes peace in His high places

May He bring peace upon us

And upon all Israel

And say you Amen

May He bring peace, may He bring peace

Peace upon us and on all of Israel

May He bring peace, may He bring peace

Peace upon us, and on all of Israel

Hatikva

As long as within our heart

The Jewish soul sings,

As long as forward to the east

To Zion looks, the eye –

Our hope is not yet lost,

It is two thousand years old.

To be a free person in our land

The land of Zion and Jerusalem

Hineh Ma Tov (Psalm 133)

How good and pleasant it is

For brothers to dwell together

How good and pleasant it is

For brothers to dwell together

Chorus

How good it is

For brothers to dwell together

Redeemer Church Pastor Jaysson Gurwell will reflect on a visit to Auschwitz.  How this visit impacted his life and ministry. My wife Bonita will share from the life of a resistance fighter and 90 year old Pastor Gerritt Buining and finally Keith & Jacob Gardner will share Messages of Hope about their family. Thank you for sharing in our Messages of Hope.  The following is a prayer from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, chief Rabbi of England. I have changed the wording, and highlighted where the changes has been made.

Today, on Yom HaShoah, we remember the victims of the greatest crime of man against man – the young, the old, the innocent, the million and a half children, starved, shot, given lethal injections, gassed, burned and turned to ash, because they were deemed guilty of the crime of being different.

We remember what happens when hate springs forth from the human heart; what happens when victims cry for help and there is no one listening; what happens when humanity fails to recognise that those who are not in our image are none the less in God’s image.

We remember and pay tribute to the survivors, who bore witness to what happened, and to the victims, so that robbed of their lives, they would not be robbed also of their deaths.

We remember and give thanks for the righteous of the nations who saved lives, often at risk of their own, teaching us how in the darkest night we can light a candle of hope.

Today, on Yom HaShoah, we call on You, Almighty God, to help us hear Your voice that says in every generation:

Do not murder.

Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour.

Do not oppress the stranger.

We know that whilst we do not have the ability to change the past, we can change the future.

We know that whilst we cannot bring the dead back to life, we can ensure their memories live on and that their deaths were not in vain.

And so, on this Yom HaShoah, we commit ourselves to one simple act: Yizkor, Remember. Amen (The Office of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “A Prayer for Yom Hashoah”)

As a Christian “remembering” is simply not enough. We must commitment ourselves anew to resistance.  Not only against the evil foes without, but the sin that flows from our heart. If we have placed our faith in his finished work for us on the cross than I must continue to resist by faith.  As the New Testament says, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Therefore, Christianity is and should be a resistance movement. That is the lesson we can take home from this time of remembrance.