A short article addressing a somewhat philosophical question.
| I realize that, to many, such a notion may seem far too emphatic, but many have suggested that such is indeed the case. Now, if you pause to think about such a thing from a particular perspective, that may be exactly what happened in the lives of people more numerous than you could imagine.
As the Nazi war machine swept across Europe tens of thousands had the misfortune of finding themselves captive within the barbed wire of concentration camps. As the horrors of their existence became a daily reality, many sought refuge in their particular faith, as day in and day out they prayed for aid or respite that might relieve some small part of their continual suffering, a suffering inscribed by the millions of scratches left on the walls and ceilings of the gas chambers. But, if any among them believed that their faith would be rewarded they soon concluded that God was silent to their petitions. For many of these who cried out to a far away heaven, faith suffered a slow and agonizing death. For, as they began to reason, how could this merciful and benevolent God watch the incomparable and continual suffering of men, women, and children while simply doing nothing? How could their God allow such horrors like the world had never seen go on unabated? At wars end, many of the survivors arrived at the turbulent conclusion that such faith as they had placed in God had been in vain. It did appear that the Nazis had accomplished far more than the destruction of millions; the Nazis had destroyed faith.
Of course, as is always the case, there are two sides to each of life's events. This is no less true of ours. For it has been most certainly shown that many players on the stage of this tragedy held securely to their faith. To these, it was the one sure and unassailable thing the Nazis could not defeat. Ravaged and tried though it may have been, it held true to course throughout the storm. In the beginning days of death camp Treblinka there were often clashes between those who determined to hold to their faith and those who had cast if off like a useless garment. In one outstanding case, a young man, in hearing the older men pray, shouted; "Shut up! Stop going through these ridiculous motions. Whom are you glorifying? What God? What mercy? Is it for taking our fathers and mothers, for killing our children that you are blessing his name?" Another older man countered, "Our sages have taught us to love the Lord , blessed be His name, in the mercies that He grants us as in the punishments that He sends." But, in spite of such diametrically opposed views, many survivors of the camps attribute many seemingly miraculous occurrences to the fact that God had not deserted them. Whether they were miracles or not we cannot say. But there is, indeed, one thing that can be said. There were many survivors of Nazi bestiality that did defy explanation.
And so we are confronted with an inescapable dichotomy of faith and the loss of faith. Strange, is it not, how some walked away from God and their faith in Him, while others ran to God and faith, and the bond was made even stronger. Many would ask the question as to where God was when the cattle cars with their human cargo kept to their precise schedule. Where was God when the Nazi's efficient killing machine made it possible for Treblinka to coin the phrase, "from door to door in forty-five minutes" referring to the time it took from the opening of the cattle cars to the slamming of the doors to the gas chambers. Was God not moved when towns people who hated the Jews equally were allowed under the Nazis watchful employ to beat them to death, men ,women, and children, until the blood ran down the streets and ally ways like mountain streams.? And when four thousand french Jewish children were transported to Auschwitz and immediately gassed upon arrival, where was the mercy of God for His people? Many who could not reconcile with such divine inaction walked away from God, never to return. And while many wrestled with this fundamental question of, "where was God?, others answered by their testimony that God was always there, and that His divine will was never usurped by the Nazi's lust for blood. Viktor Frankl, Psychiatrist and camp survivor, writes: "Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances (as experienced in the camps) decide what shall become of him - mentally and spiritually. He May retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Frankl relates that Dostoevski said once, "There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings." Frankl says that those words came to his mind after he became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their sufferings was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom - which cannot be taken away - that makes life meaningful and purposeful." Within the baron and hellish wastelands of the camp system there were those who never gave up, and more than that, fought back rather than quietly walk into night. They determined that God's will was His own, and the faith they placed in that will would be eternally rewarded.
It is impossible for those of us two generations past to understand the experiences of those living in a hell on earth. Is it any wonder that, for so many, their wounds would never heal. When some unforeseen tragedy seizes upon one dear to us we are often found asking "why?". Should it seem strange that those who witnessed one of the greatest atrocities in history would have that same question festering within their hearts and minds? Some emerged from the horrors of their experience as feeble and broken. Later in life some would take their own lives, unable to wrest themselves from those demons that tormented their memories. On the other hand, Eva mozes, one of Dr. Josef Mengele's twins, suffered through his genetic experiments. When asked why she seemed to be such a strong person. "I had to be strong", she said. "If I had not been strong I would not have survived." Eva went on to form a network of the surviving Mengele twins. In her book, "CHILDREN OF THE FLAMES" Lucette Lagnado credits Eva with providing her such crucial information as would make her story possible. Stories like Eva's are more numerous than could ever be recounted in this brief space.
So, did the Nazis kill faith? Many survivors of the camps would live out the rest of their lives believing that they did. A young Elie Wiesel, at one point in his experience, believed such to be the case. While being made to witness the hanging of two men and a boy, Wiesel herd a man ask, "For God's sake, where is God?" With that, Wiesel herd a voice from within himself answer, "Where He is? This is where - hanging here from this gallows..." Others, who never stopped believing would scoff at such a foolish notion. The Nazis, they proclaimed, were defeated and erased from the stage of history, while God continues to inspire and reign in the lives of billions. Either the Nazis succeeded in destroying faith, or, at least, they altered it for the whole world. For so many who were afraid to throw themselves on the electrified wire, they threw their faith instead. They lived, and faith died. For so many of those it would never be resurrected. Others, who survived, knew that the camps were the entrance to the great abyss. One could not live there without God.