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Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day

Dear Christian Leaders,

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah in Hebrew, when we remember more than six million European Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and their willing collaborators during World War II simply because they were Jewish.  

At 10:00 AM Israeli time, sirens sound throughout Israel for two minutes in remembrance of those who perished during the Holocaust. When the sirens wail, the entire nation comes to a standstill. All vehicles and pedestrians stop in their tracks and everyone stands in silence for the entire two minutes.

The annihilation of six million men, women and children was the result of a comprehensive plan to identify and exterminate all the Jews of Europe. A number of gruesome methods were used to murder Jews wherever they were found, but the majority of the six million died in an extensive system of concentration and extermination camps.

The most infamous extermination camp was Auschwitz, built by the Nazis in German-occupied Poland near the Polish town of Oswiecim. Auschwitz was designed to implement an efficient system for the mass murder of as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. By 1945, it had become the largest killing center where more than 1.1 million Jews, including more than 200 thousand children, were murdered in gas chambers and cremated in ovens.

The campaign to annihilate the Jews of Europe - also known as the "final solution to the Jewish question" - was designed under the leadership of Adolph Hitler by high-ranking members of the Nazi party who were just as anti-Christian as they were anti-Jewish. However, in spite of that reality, the Holocaust was conceived in a historically Christian nation, and was implemented throughout Christian Europe as Nazi Germany conquered one country after another.  

In light of the fact that great evil was perpetrated in a historically Christian context, there are compelling questions that should challenge us as Christians today. How could such an atrocity take place in countries where the vast majority of the people still identified as Christian? What was the leadership of the Church thinking and doing, and what were individual Christians thinking and doing as they watched their Jewish neighbors persecuted, stripped of their rights, herded into ghettos, and transported to concentration and extermination camps designed to insure that not one of them would survive?

These questions lead us to another, which is: In light of the current world-wide rise in antisemitism and opposition to Israel, what is our responsibility as Christians here and now in relation to the Jewish people and the Jewish State?

Any serious attempt to answer questions concerning how the Holocaust could happen in Christian-majority countries will include at least a survey of the history of Christian antisemitism. Indeed, historic Christian antisemitism and anti-Judaism were major forces behind the active support of the Nazi agenda on the part of Christians and were contributing factors for the vast majority of Christians who did nothing in the face of great evil.

The prevailing lack of opposition to the Holocaust on the part of so many European Christians was identified at the time as the evil it was by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, renowned German theologian and pastor. Bonhoeffer separated from the German Protestant Church, which supported the Nazis' "final solution to the Jewish question," to form the Confessing Church, which unequivocally condemned Hitler's genocidal plan to rid the world of Jews. Before he was executed for his resistance to the Nazi agenda on April 9, 1945, Bonhoeffer wrote:

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil...not to speak is to speak...not to act is to act."

This definitive statement is at least as relevant today as it was in Bonhoeffer's time. Therefore, on this day in which we remember the more than six million Jews who were murdered simply because they were Jewish, let us respond to the clarion call to speak and act in the face of evil made explicit by Bonhoeffer's stark observation. We must not keep silent and we must not forget the evil that happens when Christians do keep silent!

Indeed, in these times in which we live, we must strengthen our commitment as Christians to oppose antisemitism wherever and however it manifests, combat anti-Zionism in the Church, stand in solidarity with the Jewish people, and support Israel's right to exist in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

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