Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Guest Post: You Are My Witnesses

A guest post from Jeff.  Grateful for his words and his call to compassion, thoughtfulness and peace.

In 2006, I was given the opportunity to go to Poland as part of a Holocaust remembrance trip for college and seminary students.  As a part of the trip, each group was placed together with a Jewish tour guide as well as a Holocaust survivor.  The survivor’s name was Pinchas, and throughout the week he shared his story with us.  We listened to him talk about the prejudice against Jews, and his experience of being forced into a Warsaw Jewish ghetto that was made smaller and smaller, until finally they packed everyone onto cattle cars and shipped them off to the concentration camps.  We stood in the concentration camp of Majdanek where his entire family was murdered and listened to him talk about his experiences in that place.

That trip shaped my life, and it also made me painfully aware of what is possible when a group of human beings are deemed as “other” because of their race, nationality, religion, physical or mental abilities, and even sexuality.  I say this because Jewish people were not the only ones murdered in the Holocaust, although the majority of those killed were Jewish. Close to six million Jewish people were killed.  But Gypsies, Poles, political dissidents and dissenting clergy, people with physical and mental disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and other groups were exterminated simply because of who they were or what they believed.

Why do I say this now?  I am not one to speak politically.  I believe in the separation of church and state.  However, when I hear or read something from the state that strikes to the core of my experience in Poland, I have to stop, and I have to speak.  It is my Christian duty to speak. 

The conversation has shifted, and now we are talking about turning away all Muslims from the United States.  Perhaps this is just campaign rhetoric. However, people strongly agree with this sentiment.  It has gone from turning away refugees (yikes) to turning away a group of people because of their religion.  This is the platform of one of the frontrunners for the presidency:  Turn all Muslims away because we do not know which ones are good and which ones are bad. 

I recognize that this is a complicated situation because the evil we face comes from a radicalized group that is rooted in Islam, yet is greatly distorting the Islamic faith.  But distorting the faith is not something that ISIS has a monopoly on.  With Jerry Falwell Jr saying:  "I've always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in," it should remind us that a violent branch of Christianity is only a trigger-finger away.

Perhaps we need to step back, America, and take a look at ourselves.  Perhaps we need to step back and take a look at history.  If the language we are using or the values we are espousing reflect in any way the language and values of 1930’s Germany, we may have a problem.  Because once we label a group of people as “other,” we begin slowly to remove their humanity.  And when you remove someone’s humanity, anything is possible.  Just ask Pinchas.   

Pinchas, standing in Majdanek, telling the story of what it was like the last time he stood there.

Playing "We Shall Overcome" at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Crematory ovens at Majdanek

One of many crematory ovens 
Monument/Mausoleum  of ashes at Majdanek

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