Christians and the Holocaust (Part 2)

In observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, this is Part Two of a two-part blog addressing Christianity and the Holocaust. (Read Part One.)


ar from being supportive, most Christians were appalled by Hitler's activities, even if some were first fooled by his charisma when he came to power. Yet, life was not easy as theological disagreements became treasonous, and some dissenting pastors found themselves in the very concentration camps they decried. Two prominent figures of the era standing against Hitler's false Christian claims were the Swiss Karl Barth[3] and Bruce Bonhoeffer.[4] There were many other Protestant Christians under Hitler's regime who took a stand against his heresies, not giving into his intimidation[5]. Even Pope Pius XII would oppose Hitler, condemning the murder of the Jews[6].
The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority was established in 1953 under the name Yad Vashem, which means “a monument and a name,” taken from the text of Isaiah 56:5. Yad Vashem was to be a “commemoration of the Holocaust in the Diaspora” and a tribute to the “righteous among the nations.[7]” The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) was established in 1986 to help the elderly and needy non-Jewish rescuers of Jews from the Holocaust. Recipients of funds from the JFR are selected from the list of the “righteous among the nations” populated by Yad Vashem. They help more than 1,400 Gentiles in twenty-eight countries to date.[8] Most of the “righteous” on these lists are Christians.
Among the “righteous” are persons such as a Christian by the name of Corrie ten Boom, who helped many Jews during the Holocaust. (Her story was popularized by her writing and the 1975 film entitled “The Hiding Place.”) She herself would eventually suffer the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, narrowly escaping through what she described as a "clerical error."[9] Her story is of particular interest, for it opens the door to a wider understanding of Christians in this time.

The ten Boom family was immensely involved with the Jewish peoples, both before and during Hitler’s reign of terror, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
Their religious activities had also brought the family a history of personal connections to the Jewish community. Corrie's grandfather had supported efforts to improve Christian-Jewish relations in the nineteenth century. Her brother Willem, a Dutch Reformed minister assigned to convert Jews, studied antisemitism and ran a nursing home for elderly of all faiths. In the late 1930s that nursing home became a refuge for Jews fleeing from Germany.[10]
Not only was William ten Boom’s affiliated Dutch Reform Church opposed to the Nazi onslaught, but also Bulgaria’s largest church, the Independent Orthodox Church. In fact, two heads of this church were recently also added to Yad Vashem’s “righteous” listing, according to their website[11].
There is little doubt that the Holocaust changed the minds of many unrelenting Christians who previously were inclined to hold fast to their personal prejudices. The majority of Christians would join the remnant that had always remained faithful to the Scriptures as the full tragedy of the Holocaust became known to the world.
The major issue that Christians had to face was the unintended ends of their teachings, or lack thereof. Humanism and modernism had already swept through the church, causing it to forget the Bible’s teachings of both the high value of each human life and the depths of depravity to which each soul can stoop. More to the point, the lack of resistance against Darwinism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by most pulpits and the general acceptance of replacement theology had caused the general Christian population to shun and even spur the Jewish community.
However, the Christian remnant were available to help in such a time as the Holocaust, as they always were. Some were the very ones who were involved in Zionistic efforts far before the war, and many would continue to help the Jews who, after surviving the Holocaust, found themselves homeless and desperately yearning for the realization of their hope in eretz Yisrael. (That, however, would be a topic best explored where more space allows.)

It should be noted that yes, the ultimate goal of any Christian is to see a Jewish person come to know the truth of Jesus as Messiah, but we also want to honor those to whom belong "the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises... [and] the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever" (cf. Rom 9:4-5). It is not anti-Semitic to state that the Jews have a need to repent and trust in Jesus (for we look to Jews [Christ and His Apostles] as the foundation of the Christian faith), but we recognize the horrors many Jews have had to face at the hands of those waving a banner with a deformed cross.

Hopefully, they will see that true Christians have now and always had a heart for the descendants of Jacob. That heart includes both the spiritual and physical well-being of the individuals and the nationality of the Jews.



[3] Bax, Douglas S. “The Barmen Theological Declaration: its historical background.” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa. No 47 Je 1984, p 12-20. Available from ATLAReligion, http://exchange2.stu.masters.edu:2068/WebZ/FSFETCH?fetchtype=fullrecord:sessionid=fsapp1-53577-en26fmmx-ip7kmn:entitypagenum=6:0:recno=2:resultset=4:format=FI:next=html/record.html:bad=error/badfetch.html:entitytoprecno=2:entitycurrecno=2:numrecs=1. Accessed on 10 May, 2006.
[4] According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, http://www.ushmm.org/bonhoeffer/.
[5]A book re-exploring the Protestant response is For the Soul of the People, Protestant Protest Against Hitler by Victoria Barnett.
[6] One advocacy book was written interestingly enough by a Jewish Rabbi, entitled, “The Myth of Hitler's Pope” by Rabbi David G. Dalin.
[7] According to their website, http://www.yadvashem.org/
[8] According to their website, http://www.jfr.org/
[9] “Corrie ten Boom.” 9 May, 2006. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrie_Ten_Boom. Accessed 10 May 2006.
[10] Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/index.php?ModuleId=10006914&Type=normal+article. Accessed on 10 May, 2006.
[11] http://www1.yadvashem.org/about_yad/press_room/press_releases/bulgarian_clergymen.html.

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