January 27 marked the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Perhaps nothing in our most recent history is filled with such evil as the systematic destruction of some 1.1 million people in this and other Death Camps. The vileness of raising one people’s importance over another to the extent of putting to death in the most horrific ways those whom are different is such that to even think about it brings one to shudder.
Yet, being seventy years out from the event, and especially as survivors of the horrific camps quickly pass away, we are at a constant threat of forgetting this most heinous act. Roman Kent, who as a survivor, made his way to Auschwitz for the anniversary told the people, “We survivors do not want our past to be our children’s future.” The old adage of those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it, is something that may bear truth. We are always potentially at risk of seeing the same atrocities committed because we forget that they once occurred long ago. The commission of evil against one another isn’t new. It goes back to the very beginning (Genesis 4:8). So, we must remain ever vigilant against these things by making sure we remember them.
I haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to many of the holocaust memorials. Something inside me finds them to be such unpleasant places. And rightly they should be. For they memorialize the effects of evil. Even today, there are those, through their folly, that would articulate that the systematic eradication of a people group isn’t bad but good (Isaiah 5:20). I have been to one holocaust memorial in Moscow, Russia. Sculptors portrayed the death of the people in the Death Camps by showing a group of naked, emaciated people, slowly falling backward into the ground, and becoming tombstones. It is heart-breaking as it includes both adults and children, and shows that all that remains of them, other than the tombstones are subtle reminders of their life. A shoe. A hat. Glasses. A doll. I weep now just to think about it and to consider the atrocities that were committed. It was certainly not subtle. It was a bold, in your face, reminder that men kill other men. It was a reminder that these people, made in the image of God, were robbed not only of life, but of decency, health, joy, and were forced not just to die, but to become death itself. The memorial is both haunting and beautiful and it reminds us of the capability of evil which exists in all men (Jeremiah 17:9).
Yet, pushing seventy years from the event makes it less real for us. Something for history books. One day, there will be no survivors from the camps. And we will begin to forget. And our forgetting will make us wonder at how nations kill their own like in North Korea and China and Sudan. We will wonder at how terrorists planted throughout the world cowardly detonate bombs in large urban areas to do the greatest damage. We will wonder at how even we, in the land of the free, kill innocents acting as they are collateral damage as we serve as world police. We will wonder at the extent of our lack of care, even in our own back yard, for the weak and the marginalized; the alien, the widow, and the orphan.
Yet, we have no excuse to wonder. We have the evidence staring us in the face regarding the depravity of mankind. While some continue to imply that man is basically good, it seems, that from the historical evidence, man is basically depraved, battling wickedness and evil in their hearts and in the hearts of others. The memorials to such depraved acts of evil are still there. And they should remain there. Not only physically, but in our hearts and in our minds and in our consciences. That way, when we see fresh and new acts of evil and violence, like the beheading of journalists, we won’t be surprised. Instead, we’ll remember the acts of violence committed by mankind for generations and start afresh on, instead, striving for goodness and righteousness. A change of heart will be required (Ezekiel 36:26). But perhaps, just perhaps, a reminder like the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, will prompt us all to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly (Micah 6:8).