Visiting the Holocaust Museum

Over the weekend I was in Washington D.C. with two friends who stayed after The Gathering was over, for an extra day. We toured the main monuments and museums, and late in the afternoon we stopped in to see the Holocaust Museum. We didn't realize that tickets/passes were limited. So we did not get to see the main exhibit. But even the supporting exhibits were quite powerful and moving.

Many years ago I had been to Auschwitz with my good friend Brian Newman. That experience was one of the most significant times of my life. Walking the grounds of the former concentration camp and now monument/museum to one of the great Horrors of the centuries - I had the experience of DESECRATION. The acts of evil perpetrated against the Jews were so vile, so decadent, so despicable, it is like that ground has lingering evil. The silence as we walked through the camp was deafening and fitting.

I've read some books over the years on the Holocaust. As a young Christian,

I read Corrie ten Boon's The Hiding Place. It was powerful. 
So was the Diary of Anne Frank.
And Night by Elie Wiesel. 
As well as the movie - Schindler's List.

One book I had never read was The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal, also a Holocaust Survivor. This book asks you to imagine - you are a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks for your forgiveness.

What would you do?

That question was put to 53 people (some from the first edition) and then many new people as the decades have gone by.

I had not planned to finish the book, but I could not put it down. As powerful as the story was, the "dialogue" of the 53 respondents was powerful. And diverse. It was a front row seat to listen to some of the most thoughtful philosophers, theologians, ethicists, novelists and essayists - some Christian, some Jewish, a few Oriental religions and some atheists - all discussing the questions of forgiveness, forgetfulness, reconciliation, peace, vengeance, grace, justice . . . I was mesmerized.

Here are a few "take-aways" for me.

(1)  It is hard to remember and easy to forget. Memory is hard work, especially about things so horrible and hard. And yet, similar tragedies continue throughout the world. About a year ago I watched several movies about the genocide in Rwanda.  Like the Holocaust, too often we are quiet, uninformed, uncaring . . . and we are complicit in this evil. Being silent when we should speak, passive when we should act, withdrawn when we should be involved - is to participate in the evil. That is Hard to Hear!

(2)  Then, this message was throughout the book: Christians often have a cheap forgiveness just as we have a cheap grace. Many of the Christian writers spoke powerfully and carefully on forgiveness. This book make me think about forgiveness in ways I have not done for a long time. I have more to do.

(3)  I was also struck by the utter "uselessness" of what was said by those from the atheistic positions. It was also lamentable, how little they were able to contribute. I found myself pulled into the Jewish-Christian debate and deeply appreciating the Jewish position which differed greatly from the Christian authors. But there was rigor and substance in their thoughts.

I have a few other books I want to read to do some additional thinking. And I believe I am going to re-visit Schindler's List and watch it again. 

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International
BrianRice@lcileaders.org