Seventy-five years ago today the prisoners in the concentration camps at Auschwitz were liberated. Since that moment we’ve had to face, and live with, the horrifying reality of what humans can do to one another when in the grip of fear and hatred, poisoned thinking and nationalistic fervor.
A few years ago when I toured Temple Emmanuel in Greensboro, North Carolina, I was shocked to learn that the worldwide Jewish population today (14 million) has yet to reach the level of 16.6 million of 1939. There are so many lingering tragedies from those awful years, from the failure to honor the promise of “never again” to the rise in hate crimes in America in the past few years. Perhaps the greatest tragedy, though, is the long-term impact of the final solution: it was not final, but it was truly devastating. Our world is impoverished for the loss of those millions of people, each one beloved of God. Our world is impoverished for how that loss has shaped the world since, even as its aftermath has challenged us to rise up against racism and hatred wherever it surfaces.
Seventy-five years is not much time at all. We must remain attentive to what happens when truth goes underground, when nationalism becomes seductive, and when hatred and violence become the new normal. We must recommit ourselves to speak the truth even at great cost, to confront evil when we see it, to confess our complicity and arrogance in an unjust world, and to hope for a world without violence.
I am blessed to be surrounded by Jewish friends, colleagues, and neighbors who have, in their graciousness, welcomed me into their lives and invited me to share in the work of community building. In these humble steps lay the tools of rebuilding, and though it has been generations since the tragedy of the Holocaust the work of rebuilding continues. And so it shall continue when we mark 100, 125 and 150 years, and my children and grandchildren, and the faithful people of my church, continue this work.
May this painful memory call us to confession and reconciliation, but also kindle a hope that we can truly live in a world without hatred violence.