Yad VaShem: Heartbeats Extinguished (The Holocaust)

Posted from my trip to Israel.  I also encourage you to read Brad Chandler’s blog on this topic (http://bkchandler.wordpress.com/2009/10/04/more-than-a-number-from-israel-journals-9-15-09/).

I’ve been requested, by more than a few people, to discuss my feelings after visiting Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem. In the simplest terms, it was draining. I assume it was a very difficult experience for everyone attending; for me it was beyond heart wrenching. I walked through much quicker than most, reading what I could, watching what I could, and thinking all I could. I could not read everything; it was too much. Too much tragedy, too much desperation. I did my best not to feel while I was walking through. Tears get in the way of reading, and there were certainly no tissues anywhere in the building. There were movies playing, many plaques to read, many items that belonged to Jews that had perished. There were handwritten letters, many from children, that had been tossed out of the trains as they chugged their way through Europe to the concentration camps. They didn’t know where they were going; they couldn’t understand why. Even now, I can’t comprehend it. I understand human nature, but what comfort is that? Is it a comfort to know that without God, I am capable of committing such a sin, or perhaps even a greater one? Is it any comfort to understand when it cannot change reality? Is it any comfort at all to think of the millions lost forever?

At the end of the museum is a round room called the Hall of Names. It is at least twenty feet tall and from floor to ceiling, on all sides, are lined binders filled with names of those who perished. I sat on the floor in that room for over an hour. I wept, prayed, and wept again for my people. Over a thousand people with my family name were murdered during those years, either in concentration camps, ghettos, or death marches. Their names are recorded in those endless black binders. Even in death, they are trapped in alphabetical order, with a number. There’s an entire section of black binders that only have numbers on them. They contain pages for the murdered that don’t have names. They only have the number, and nothing else. No identity, no future, not even the dignity of a name. I wonder how many were schoolchildren, extinguished before they even had a chance to bloom, a chance to dream, a chance to live. I wonder how many were parents, agonizing over the rejection their children faced, praying for more than one loaf of bread so that they could eat, and somehow strengthening each other in the dirty nighttime. I wonder how many were elders, watching the world with sadness, desperately afraid that their families were going to perish, and confused at how their own countries were treating them. I wonder, and it breaks my heart.

The most difficult part of the whole museum, for me, was a huge case near the exit filled with shoes. Hundreds and hundreds of shoes, of all different sizes, were just piled on top of each other. They sit there, waiting for owners to use them, waiting to be worn, waiting for people that died sixty years ago. There is no greater example of the devastation than those lonely shoes, so forlorn, and so very, very empty.

How can we be forgiven for such a thing? Can a prayer sent up by a broken girl have any effect on a tragedy so large it is unfathomable? Tears don’t seem to do them justice, so I have stopped crying for the moment. But my heart aches. It aches for every life cut short, for every dream shattered, and for every bitter survivor. It aches for those who did the killing, and for those who did nothing to stop it. It aches, and it will never stop aching.

The sheer enormity of the tragedy lessens the chance that there will be reconciliation. We must pray for it though. The incredible love of Christ is not only for the oppressed. It is also for the oppressor. If it is not for both, then I myself cannot be redeemed. Pray, I beg you; pray for restoration – a restoration that starts in the heart and spirit, for that is the only kind with effect.

I plead now for forgiveness, for peace, for healing. I plead now for reconciliation and redemption. I plead now for the emptiness left, the holes filled with hatred, and the weary searching for rest. I plead now for today and tomorrow. I plead now for hope.

But who, who pleaded for them?