Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. At midmorning a siren will sound and for two minutes everything will stop – cars, buses, people in the streets – while the nation bows its collective head and remembers the victims of Germany’s monstrous crimes.
Our grandchildren came out of kindergarten and school talking of the Holocaust and a man named Hitler. They each had been given a gift, a small candle, each printed with the name of a man, woman or child who had been murdered because they were Jewish. The children are taught the truth.
We had lunch with a Holocaust survivor the other day, Shoshanna, born in Budapest, Hungary. She never knew her Dad. He was forced to join Hitler’s army , sent to Russia, and never seen again.
Her Mom was sent to work in a slave factory, so Shoshanna was looked after by her Grandma. But in that factory her mother somehow became converted to Jesus Christ and began to tell the other women that God was always with her.
After the war her mother managed to get back to Budapest, although she was extremely weak and sick, and somehow the family got to Israel.
Shoshanna loaned us a book about the Holocaust, which I read that night – ‘Fateless’ by Imre Kertesz. It won a Nobel prize and Shoshanna wanted our opinion of it.
It is a novel, classed as fiction, but is clearly autobiographical. It tells the true story of another victim. The main character was 15 when the horror hit his family, also in Budapest, one year before the war in Europe ended.
It opens with him missing a day of school to spend with his father because his father had been summoned by letter to report for ‘labor’. He witnessed his father handing over his timber business to an employee to look after until the war was over, with no guarantee that he would ever get it back.
The young lad was assigned to a job and given a government ID which seemed to grant a degree of security. But one day on a bus to work, the bus was stopped and he and others were escorted by a friendly policeman to a customs office to await an ID check.
Lots of people, including more 15 year old boys, were told to wait in the office and spent a boring day waiting. Eventually they were told they had to walk to a different office, so they cheerfully set off three abreast, accompanied by a few friendly policemen.
They were joined by other columns also walking three abreast, and the boy noticed that armed soldiers had joined the procession.
By the time they reached their destination the smiles and jokes had ceased and they were herded into a stable, packed in like sardines, to spend the night. Somehow the fantasy of good jobs ahead was kept alive, and the boys thought they had a future.
Eventually the crowd, now including men, women and children, young and old, ended in boxcars, each containing a certain amount of food, water and a slop bucket. The water ran out all too soon, as did the food, and the journey took six days. Not everyone survived the journey, but the boys did.
The 15 year olds, who had got to know each other by then, all stuck together in one end of the boxcar. Imre’s story is very matter of fact. He was not looking for sympathy. It was far too late for that.
I will skip on to the arrival of the train at Auschwitz. Believe it or not, the boys still believed they would be given real work, paid real money.
When an inmate came into their boxcar he immediately warned the boys to say they were all 16, which saved them from the ovens. But although the boys knew nothing of the ovens, they took his advice and lied about their ages.
They thought he was a criminal, because he was shaved bald, wore prison clothing and had a number tattoo. Incredibly, they still believed that they were going to be given lucrative work.
By the end of that day, they were all shaved bald, were wearing prison clothing and had a number tattooed on their arms too. By the end of Day One at Auschwitz, all had become clear.
They had been duped. They were prisoners at a death camp.
Their capture had been meticulously planned and executed by people so thoroughly evil and so schooled in deception that they had enslaved and virtually destroyed an entire race of people while keeping most of the world in the dark about what was really happening.
The lad was transferred to Buchenwald, where he was indeed given work, but it was not lucrative. His survival was little short of miraculous. The Americans helped him get most of the way home, and then he was on his own.
He did make it back, and knocked on the door of his family’s apartment, only to find that different people lived there now, and they slammed the door on him.
Like the protagonist, the author, Imre Kertesz, was imprisoned as a boy at Auschwitz and then Buchenwald, and I am not sure why he did not just tell his story instead of telling it in the guise of a novel. Perhaps it was less painful that way.
His main character comes home full of hatred. I kept thinking, maybe he would encounter a Christian and find new life in Christ, but this did not happen.
Conversely, Shoshanna’s mother found a new life of truth, love and fulfilment, despite the inhuman treatment she had suffered.
Imre did not. There was no light at the end of his horrible tunnel, only days to live through, plodding through life, taking whatever came.
I would never have given Imre the Nobel prize for this book. For a start, it is not well written in my opinion. And it has no hope. But it is a valuable account, as it shows so clearly that the Jews themselves did not know or did not admit the existence of the death camps, until it was too late.
Also, I am so proud of America and Britain and the Allies, so thankful for the courage and sacrifice of so many men in stopping the horror, freeing the captives. Were there ever in history such nations, such men? I thank the Lord for every one of them, including my own father and uncles.
And now here I am, in Israel of all places. My five-year-old granddaughter, a sunbeam if there ever was one, came home from kindergarten talking about a man called Hitler and saying she wanted to know more about the Holocaust, in fact she insisted that she must know everything.
The children here have a special thing they do for Holocaust Day. They each pack a parcel, a gift for an Israeli soldier. The parcels contain items like a chocolate bar, toothpaste, soap, maybe some cookies or dried fruit. They are a way of saying ‘thanks for protecting us, you are doing a great job.’
What a country this is. At the little park today some teenagers carrying large Israeli flags were dancing to songs we did not understand. They will soon be in the IDF, the elite Israeli Defence Force, if they measure up. If for some reason they do not quite make the grade, they go into National Service. So everyone is able to contribute to the nation’s future.
There is a unity here. Even though most Jews are confused about God, they know they have to stick together and that they have to survive. They know they are a special nation and they have a special land. They have a sense of destiny which the nations of the West seem to have lost.
Those of us who know Bible prophecy know the future of Israel. One day they will be the number one nation on earth, ruling, with the Lord Jesus, their Messiah, reigning over all the earth from Jerusalem.
But first there is a terrible time coming, even worse than the Holocaust. But that is another story, and this article is already too long.