Over the weekend our group from Yad Vashem took a tiyul, an excursion up to the western Galilee. We stayed overnight on Kibbutz Lochamei Ha Ghetaot, a kibbutz that was begun by fighters and survivors from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April of 1943 during the Shoah. On the kibbutz is the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum which is dedicated to education and remembrance about the uprising. Next to Yad Vashem it is an important center for Holocaust studies and unlike Yad Yashem was begun by young Zionists and survivors of the uprising.
One of the exhibits was devoted to the righteous gentiles. These are non-Jews who risked their own lives to save and hide Jews from being transported to work or concentration camps and even worse, their death. As you walk in to the display there are panels of individual black and white photos of people. Their backs are turned toward you. One out of about an hundred photos was facing frontward. This photo was sepia and it had the name of the person. He or she was a righteous gentile. It is sad but not surprising to see so many people who turned their backs, turned a blind eye, flat out refused or ignored to help their brother or sister. Many of the bystanders where Christians, people of faith.
There are many passages in the Bible where we are asked to speak up and live out our faith. The righteous gentiles did just that. The prophet Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.” Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that “Blessed are the peacemakers… the ones who hunger and thirst for justice.” If we believe in a God who loves all people and a God who longs for peace and justice then we are God’s agents of peace and justice in this world. There is no alternative. It is our obligation to remember, and our mandate to continue to work towards a life that is free from hatred, violence, and prejudice.
People who helped to save Jews….they were led by their faith or some moral imperative to respond to hatred and anti-semitism in real and tangible ways. There are people who have become known righteous gentiles…Oskar Schindler, Meip Gies, Rev.Andre Trochme, many others. There are many more people who hid Jews, fed them, and helped them to safety and freedom who did not become famous. They are ordinary people like you who, by their actions, become extraordinary examples of God’s love in this world by living their faith in every day life.