70 Years Later, Still No Answers on the Holocaust
I’ve listened to the stories of Holocaust survivors, studied the history, and read many books about what happened 70 years ago. But for me, the learning never stops.
Therefore, I felt the need to visit a few of the concentration camps. I felt strongly that if I was going to write about antisemitism, bigotry and hatred of the Jewish people, I had to look back through history and get as close as I could to understanding what happened during the Holocaust.
So last October, I went to Eastern Europe. I flew to Berlin and took a train up to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, about an hour north of the city. Ravensbruck was the main death camp for women and girls. You may know the name Corrie Ten Boom. She was a Dutch Christian who hid many Jews in her family’s house, but was discovered and sent to Ravensbruck along with her sister. Corrie later watched as her sister was murdered and thrown into the ovens.
At the death camp, I stood where the first German women were trained to be members of the SS. I walked on weather-beaten stones where, years ago, ashes had been thrown. Underneath the stones, the ashes are still there — crying out for redemption.
I looked off into the distance, over the small lake, and saw a church steeple. In fact, I saw churches not too far away from every death camp I visited. The people in those churches knew what was going on. There were probably some who felt compelled to do something, but were afraid, or felt they were powerless. Nevertheless, they were bystanders and we may never know the reasons why. It is heartbreaking to think about it.
I next traveled to Wannsee — a nice suburb outside of Berlin. It is a beautiful villa situated on a lake, and it was in this serene setting that the Final Solution was planned. I stood in the very room where it took only an hour and a half for the Nazis to sign the papers that sealed the fate of millions of Jews. What evil had crept into the souls of these men?
Everywhere I went, it was grey, cold and drizzly. I traveled to the Ravensbruck, Dachau, Terezin, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Lodz, Treblinka, Plazkow and Majdanek death camps. I also found my way to the small village of Jedwabne in Poland, which had a population of 1,200 before the War; half of these people were Jews.
On July 10, 1941, this village was the site of incomprehensible horror. The Poles forced rabbis to carry the Torah, marching and singing, as they brutally beat the Jews and drove them into a barn. They tied up children, stabbed live babies with pitchforks and threw them screaming into the barn. Then the Poles doused it with kerosene, and burned every Jew alive.
I stood at the very spot where the barn had burned. Pieces have been saved and embedded in a small memorial. I was alone there, but I saw a tattered Israeli flag waving in the cold wind, and knew that others had been there also.
I stood in other places where betrayal was common and pogroms had taken place. I’m certain that the drops of rain that kept falling from the sky no matter where I went were the tears of God.
Every town, every village, every concentration camp, labor camp, death camp — each one of them is a story of organized murder. Millions of people were worked to death, tortured and gassed, their bodies stacked high and then thrown into ovens. People whose names are not known, whose lives will not be lived and whose stories will not be told.
I no longer know the definition of evil. What I saw was beyond evil.
I made the trip, but I did not find the answers I was looking for. Instead, I only have more questions. Muffled questions that want to scream out: Why? This did not need to happen. None of this. Why did God let this happen? I know the theological reasons about having free will and choice, etc. But on my trip, I only heard silence — silence that covered the forests where people were terrified, tortured and slaughtered.
Most of all, it was Treblinka — the last death camp I visited — that affected me so deeply. At Treblinka, I was alone as I walked in the fog. I kept thinking that someone was following me. It was eerie. The forest was deep, and I knew that hundreds of thousands had been murdered in the very place where I was standing. Their voices seemed to echo, wanting to tell me what had happened here.
As I walked on, I saw memorials of the dead; many gravestones with no names and no dates — they were empty and jagged and stark. They were reminders of the most extreme version of inhumanity that can be committed.
Even today, people are still finding bones and belongings of Jews. Fragments of lives and fragments of truth. Throughout Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland. It’s all still there. And there are still people alive with the memories of what happened — unspeakable things. And yet these things must be spoken, they must be talked about. They must be remembered — loudly and with urgency, lest we forget.
Now I write my articles in the shadow of the Shoah. Although many people today no longer think about the Holocaust as often as I do, we must help them want to know. We cannot force them to want to know, but we can share the history of the Jewish people, let them listen to the facts and hope that truth finds its way into their hearts and minds, and inspires them to want to learn more.
Those of us who believe in the phrase “Never Again” should learn more and educate others about the dangers of unchecked racism and hatred, lest we find ourselves in another downward spiral that will only lead to more violence.
Carla Brewington earned her doctorate at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. She is a Christian volunteer for the Israel education organization StandWithUs.