Two Movies, A Memorial, and Me
Nov 11, 2008 by Nancy Buschart | 0 Comments
To set the stage, this week marks the seventieth anniversary of Kristallnacht. This past weekend, I saw two movies about the Holocaust -- "The Boy In Striped Pajamas" and "God On Trial." The first is about two eight-year-old boys. One, Bruno, is the son of the commandant of a death camp; the other, Schmeul, is a Jew and a prisoner within the camp. Their growing friendship takes place with the electrified, barbed fence between them.
The cruelties of Hitler's efforts to exterminate the Jews were processed through the eyes of Bruno. Like the little boy who ousted the emperor with no clothes, Bruno struggled to make sense of the incongruities between what he heard in his home and the life and suffering of his young friend.
"God On Trial" is set in Auschwitz within a barracks where Jewish men await their turn to die. These men -- a lawyer, a glove maker, a doctor, a rabbi, and dozens of ordinary men with ordinary families and businesses -- are thinking theologically about where they are, what has happened to them and to the Jewish people, about the evil of Hitler, and the apparent absence of God. They turn to the Torah to try to make sense of their present circumstances and the history of God's relationship with their ancestors. They place God on trial with witnesses for the defense and the prosecution. The question posed: Has God broken his covenant with his chosen people?
In Germany last April, my attention was arrested and my imagination engaged by a small Holocaust memorial in Wittenberg. Placed in the ground next to the church where Luther preached, is a bronze slab with a cross cut into it. From beneath the cross, a festering ooze emerges. This oozing symbolizes the sin and the guilt of the atrocities inflicted upon the Jewish people. It cannot be suppressed; atonement for sin is required.
These three -- the movies and the memorial -- come together today and give me much to consider.
Human beings are capable of unspeakable sin against one another.
When I read the Gospels, I like to imagine that I would not be one of the number calling for Jesus' crucifixion. That, by God's grace, I would accompany Mary to the tomb carrying burial spices for my Lord's body, or that I would have been with Mary Magdalene when she courageously, and for the love of Christ, anointed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume. But I know that I am like all the others and capable of great sin.
Making sense of evil, such as the Holocaust, is impossible. Even so, like the men in "God On Trial," we must think critically and theologically about what is happening in our own lives and in our world.
Our cognitive beliefs about God and about human beings need to be compared with our functional beliefs. Although we may believe ourselves to be loving toward all human beings and not at all racist, we have to consider whether our behavior evidences these beliefs.
Is God's grace and mercy toward me, a sinner, reflected in my actions and attitudes toward my spouse and children?
"And a little child will lead them." Like eight-year-old Bruno, the most profound truths may be revealed by the least of these.
Jesus said that the Kingdom belongs to those who come with child-like faith and with eyes to see and ears to hear. May I not be so distracted by noise, and by re-defining right and wrong, that I miss Jesus' claim on my life and my service in the Kingdom.
The effects of sin cannot be suppressed.
No matter how hard we may try, it is always revealed. Like the image of the Wittenberg memorial, the effects of sin upon the soul festers and oozes out in a critical spirit, fear, bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. Guilt must be confessed; atonement for my sin must be claimed.
Interestingly, both movies conclude in the gas chamber. One movie depicts people afraid and in chaos; in the other, fear-filled people in unison recite the psalms. My life is peaceful, ordered, free. I work, care for my family, and freely participate in the life and ministries of my church. It is hard to imagine the suffering and terror of the gas chamber. But, on this anniversary of Kristallnacht, I can't help but ask myself: If I were driven to the gas chamber, would the God of the psalms be such a part of my soul that I could recite them to find comfort and confidence in that moment of terror?
This is the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Today is also Veteran's Day in the U.S. And, this week, we remember the Persecuted Church around the world. All of this makes me pensive and sober and grateful.
Asking The Three Questions
Who is God?
Sometimes silent; always present; wholly good and just.
Who am I?
A sinner, saved by grace; though deserving death, receiving mercy.
How am I living?
I desire that the evidence of my functional beliefs is congruent with my cognitive beliefs. Do I walk the talk?
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
©2008 Vine, Vision & Voice
Nancy R. Buschart
 A massive, coordinated attack on Jews throughout the German Reich on the night of November 10, 1938, has come to be known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. The mob violence broke out as the regular German police stood by and crowds of spectators watched. Nazi storm troopers along with members of the SS and the Hitler Youth beat and murdered Jews, broke into and wrecked Jewish homes, and brutalized Jewish women and children. All over Germany, Austria, and other Nazi-controlled areas, Jewish shops and department stores had their windows smashed and contents destroyed. Synagogues were also especially targeted for vandalism, including the desecration of sacred Torah scrolls. SS leader Reinhard Heydrich reported on the 12th that 7,500 businesses had been destroyed, 267 synagogues burned and 91 Jews killed. About 25,000 Jewish men were rounded up and later sent to concentration camps where they were often brutalized by SS guards and in some cases randomly chosen to be beaten to death. The Night of Broken Glass starkly signaled a movement towards the Final Solution, a systematic program of genocide designed to annihilate every Jew in Europe. By John Stendahl, Senior Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Newtons, Newton Center, Massachusetts