On January 27, 1945, seventy-four years ago today, Soviet troops entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland and liberated those who had not yet been murdered by the Nazis. More than 1.1 million Jews, and a total of 1.3 million people, were put to death in this camp at the order of Adolph Hitler. But there were other death camps as well and during World War II more than six million Jews were killed in Hitler’s wild scheme to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the planet. In fact, more than two-thirds of the total Jewish population was murdered in these camps. But Hitler failed to accomplish his mission of total extermination of the Jewish people and, even missing his goal, thought it would take centuries for them to recover. How wrong he was!
However, it is unfortunate that the horrific actions of the Nazis are fading into history even though the mantra of “Remember the six million” has been a staple in our lives for decades. Within the last year, a Fox News op-ed reported on a poll that revealed 11% of adults and 22% of millennials have never even heard of the Holocaust. Additionally, according to the statistics, the survey found that 31% of all Americans and 41% of millennials believe that fewer than two million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
Another difficult to believe finding showed that almost half of adults and millennials could not name a single concentration camp and 80% of Americans have never visited a Holocaust museum. Similarly, more than two thirds of the American population has never known a Holocaust survivor.
It’s a shame that the Alamo, or Pearl Harbor, or a host of other tragedies are more familiar to us than the murder of six million of the Jewish people in concentration camps. And while we hope for tolerance and inclusion of all people groups, there is still a marked bias against members of the Jewish faith.
To any biblically literate Christian, it is clear that the Jewish people are the chosen people of God. There is tremendous evidence that supports the fact that God chose His people and set them apart from the other nations. The history of the people and the nation are recorded in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, written by Moses after the exodus from Egypt. From the recounting of the creation of the world, to the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, through the patriarchs, tribes, armies and prophets, we have a comprehensive history that confirms, time and time again, that God had his hand on the people of Israel – the Jewish nation.
In the New Testament several of the disciples, including James and Peter, had their particular mission to the Jewish people. On the other hand, Paul was called to preach and convert the Gentiles. Regardless of how you want to view this difference, God made it clear to Paul that all these people, Jews and Gentiles, were welcome in the kingdom of God. Clearly, the mission of all the disciples was to preach the Good News of Jesus, a New Testament concept, that is vastly different from the traditional Jewish belief system.
It is also true that the Jews, Muslims and Christians were all descended from Abraham. So Abraham was truly blessed by God and is still referred to as the father of many nations. He had an unusually close, personal relationship with God and was told that his descendants would be too numerous to count. These seemed impossible as Abraham didn’t have children until he was quite old, but God’s promise came to pass.
Our verse for this evening is from Genesis 22:17, when Moses tell us God’s promise to Abraham, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” Some scholars believe that the stars in the sky represent the Gentiles who came to believe in Jesus and the sands on the seashore represent the Jewish people. In any event, the stars and grains of sand are too numerous to count – a fulfillment of God’s promise.
My encouragement tonight is that God wants all of us to get along and to remember the tragedies that have been perpetrated on His people – whether Gentile or Jew. While there have been injustices around the world, today is a day to remember the Jewish people, specifically, as they remember their fallen family members and friends at the hands of the Nazis. My prayer is that we will dedicate ourselves to remembering the atrocities that were carried out during the Nazi years and that we can still learn lessons in civility and love for one another by vowing to never let anything like that ever happen again. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…