Above are words of an Italian Jewish chemist, writer and Holocaust survivor. These are portrayed at the start of the underground exhibition center of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. You may have seen pictures before of the centre from above ground:
2711 concrete ‘stelae’ of various sizes and heights.
Primo Levi wrote a number of books based on his experiences including ‘If this be a man” based on his time in Auschwitz. It was a book that really impacted me a number of years ago when I read it.
Spending time at the center and other memorials close by was deeply moving:
- The unbelievable barbarism that people can inflict on others.
- The importance of seeking to ensure that never again can prejudice grow into such hateful outworking.
As Primo Levi declared, “it happened, therefore it can happen again”.
Around the world sadly we do see too many examples of people being oppressed by others. There are many situations to pray over and to speak up about also where we have the opportunity.
One of the strengths of the Memorial rooms is that these really bring home the horror of the concentration camps through the stories of individuals and specific families. It was gut-wrenching reading/listening at times and I readily admit I found it overwhelming.
As I reflected and prayed later that day, I also asked myself some questions. Had I been a young person or adult in Germany in the 1930s, would I have turned a blind eye to the camps? Or more than that, would I have actively taken part? Everything within me cries out I hope not!Racism and persecuting people because they are different is terrible.
But I think true humility means that I have to be honest and say as I was not there then, I don’t know how I would have reacted. That is a challenging thought.
I think we can all end up considering that matters like prejudice as being quite abstract when it comes to our own lives. And yet…?
- In our hearts, how do we view other people? Is there any group of people that we essentially feel negative about?
- Are there people whose way of living we may well disagree with but somehow this has crossed over into something toxic inside?
- Is there any group of people whom we have basically stereotyped and consider inferior in one way or another?
‘But I am not a fascist!’ we might say. No but you and I are human!
As the apostle Paul wrote, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) Such sinfulness can include deeply embedded bias and prejudice against others. It can be easy to deceive ourselves, as the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah declared, “the heart is deceitful beyond all things..” (Jeremiah 17:9).
The good news there is in Jesus Christ changes lives. It is a life change to speak into every aspect of who we are. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “so from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).
It is because of God’s grace that we can be made right with God. We all need His grace whoever we are. We need to see that is true of all people – it puts us all on a level field regardless of differences in backgrounds. Surely that should impact the way we treat others? (Why not check out Paul’s writing about a ‘ministry of reconciliation’ in 2 Corinthians 5. How in embracing this might this impact how we live?).
I finish by encouraging us all to allow the Lord to examine our hearts. Consider these words from Hebrews 4:12-13:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
What is in our hearts, really in our hearts?