Yesterday, my wife was at her job in the local public library. Someone returned a multi-volume DVD set about the history of World War II. Called “The World at War”, it’s a seminal work in documentary film-making. The twenty-six episode series looks a bit dated now but it is still one of the best I’ve ever seen. Recorded in the late 1960’s and early 70’s (when many of the participants were still relatively young men), it was first broadcast in 1973-74 on ITV in the United Kingdom. The narrator was none other than Sir Laurence Olivier. They interviewed everyone they could find from top to bottom. From the grunts in the trenches to the scientists who made the first Atomic bombs. As war documentaries go, it’s the gold standard. Germans, Japanese, Americans, and Holocaust survivors talked for hours.
The guy who returned it didn’t like it. Here’s how she recounted the conversation. She shared this because it was a little unnerving.
He said, “It won’t no good”. “It won’t about WW2, it was all about Jews! Every other scene they would come back to the Jews!” It’s as this point he saw the look of horror on her face. “Now, I have empathy for them but that wasn’t all it was about!” If you were in Auschwitz or Buchenwald, that was certainly what it was all about.
Jewish communities all over Europe, in the east and the west, were destroyed. Yes, all encompassing war documentaries do return time and time again to the death of six million Jews in the death camps of Europe. We were taught in homiletics that every sermon we preach is, in one way or another, delivered in the shadow of Auschwitz. How is it possible to preach the goodness of God in the face of such horrific evil? The Holocaust is hard to avoid.
Why do people fear the rise of fascism in America? It is because ordinary people appear so cavalier about the greatest evil in the 20th century. It happened too easily in a place no one ever predicted; where everyone believed they had empathy for one another. We have reason to be concerned. Right now, despite what you’re seeing in Texas, American empathy is in short supply. Would neighbors love neighbors without a Category 4 hurricane? That’s the test of Christian love.
I’ve walked through death camps. I’ve stood in the place where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed. I’ve been to the Holocaust Museums in Jerusalem and Washington. We cannot say these two words enough: never again. We must never forget.
Now, it’s my job to reach out to this man and invite him to church. I’d like to introduce him to the Rabbi I keep coming back to week after week. His name is Jesus and I love him.
Richard Lowell Bryant