Sunday, August 25, 2019

Minutes that Matter: Tuesdays in July, 2019

This is the transcript for the fifth of my talks for RTHK Radio 4's Minutes that Matter programme on Tuesdays in July.

Talk Five: Never Again

Jesus’ family were devout Jews.  Jesus and his first followers were all observant Jews.  The person credited in the Church with leading the Church in reaching out to non-Jews was the most observant Jew of all.  The writings the Church used as the basis for understanding their Lord, faith, and mission were all Jewish.  Our Bibles, as Christians, are predominantly made up of the Hebrew Scriptures, and even that part of it that we don’t share with the Jewish people was written by Jews.

We can understand there having been arguments between Christians and Jews as there always are in any family.  You would think, however, that, with such a background, it would have been impossible and inconceivable the Church could turn on people, simply because they were Jews.  Nevertheless, the unthinkable happened.

The story of the parting of the ways between Jew and Christian is a complicated one and more nuanced than it is often presented as being.  At the beginning, some Jews didn’t like Christians any more than some Christians liked Jews.  But this sort of mutual dislike is hardly a new phenomenon.  The systematic persecution of a people, however, solely because of their religion and ethnicity, and the attribution to them of crimes more imagined than real, is something else altogether.

This hatred of the Jewish people, and hatred is not too strong a word, was to be exploited in the twentieth century by the Nazis and was to reach its awful climax in the Holocaust.  This was an unprecedented event in which, tragically, many Christians at the time were complicit.

Six million lives were lost in the Holocaust.  As if that were not bad enough, also lost was a culture that was rich and which had much to offer a world that, in the mid-20th century, was entering a new age.  The music I have played during these talks was composed by Gideon Klein, a Czech Jewish composer.  He was sent to the Terezin concentration camp where he continued to compose until he was sent, first to Auschwitz, and then to the Fürstengrube labour camp where he died in 1945.

Many do not believe that anything like the Holocaust could ever happen again.  That, however, is not good enough.  It must never happen again.  And yet, despite all we know, antisemitism is still with us.  It is in the headlines every day.  It may be taking on new forms and disguises, but it is the same evil.  This time Christians must stand with the Jewish people against the antisemites and not with the antisemites against the Jews.

On my recent visit to Yad Vashem, I had the privilege of spending time with Jewish friends there studying more about the Holocaust and its causes.  While there, I wrote to Christian friends about what I was learning.  One of my Christian friends wrote an email back asking me if I had thought of being circumcised.  He meant that if this was how I felt, why didn’t I become a Jew.

I am a committed and convinced Christian.  I am a follower of Jesus whose message I believe is good news both for Jews and for all who will hear and respond in faith to it.  I am, however, deeply ashamed of the indifference of many in the Church to the suffering of the Jewish people, both past and present, suffering that we Christians must bear some of the responsibility for causing.

Gideon Klein, Madrigal 1 pour soprano, Alto, Ténor and basse]

Christians too are children of Abraham.  Isaac and Jacob are our ancestors.  The Lord we worship and follow is of the tribe of Judah, the son of David; a Jewish child of a Jewish mother.  We call him by a Jewish title, Christ, the Messiah.  The privilege of belonging to the people of God is ours.  Nevertheless, as St Paul wrote, the gifts and calling of God to his ancient people, the Jews, are irrevocable.

May God grant then to those of us who are Christians not to be proud or arrogant, but grateful to God for his mercy.  And may all of us, as we remember the Holocaust, commit to making sure that it really will be ‘never again’.

Thought for the Week - August 4

I had the privilege of giving the 'Thought for the Week' on RTHK Radio 3 today. This is a transcript of the talk with a link to the broadcast in the Radio 3 archive.

Anne Frank

Many of you will know the story of Anne Frank.  Anne; her parents, Otto and Edith; and her sister, Margot; together with four others went into hiding in a secret annexe of a building in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War 2.

On her 13th birthday, just before the family went into hiding, Anne was given a diary.  During her time in the annexe, she wrote about her life there describing her thoughts and feelings.  Those in the annexe kept in touch with what was going on in the outside world through those who were helping them and by listening to the radio.  One day on the radio, Anne heard the Dutch Minister of Education, who had escaped to England, appealing to people to keep hold of any diaries or documents they had for use after the war.  Anne was inspired to go over her diary and rewrite it into one running story of her life in captivity, hoping it would be read when the war was over.

Before Anne had completed her rewriting, however, on this day, August 4 in 1944, Anne and her family were discovered in a police raid on the building.  Anne was taken to prison and then transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration camp.  Otto was sent to the camp for men.  Anne, Margot, and her mother to the labour camp for women.  In 1944, Anne and Margot were deported to the Bergen-Belsen camp where they died.

Anne’s writings were discovered and looked after by those helping the Franks.  Her father, who alone survived, published an edited version of her diary after the war.  It was an immediate success.  Later a fuller version was also published.  The Diary has made Anne famous, and the house where they went into hiding is now a major tourist attraction.  A quote from Anne’s diary is well-known: ‘I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.’  This positive outlook in the face of adversity appeals to us and Anne’s story has been made into a universal story of youthful optimism and the triumph of the human spirit.  This, however, will not do.

We like to think of Anne in the annexe full of life and hope.  But hers is not a story of any girl, it is a story of a Jewish girl who suffered like millions of other Jews for no other reason than that they were Jews.  Anne’s final words in her diary were: ‘if only there were no other people in the world.’  But there were.  And many of them were anything but ‘good at heart’.  We pass over the awfulness of Anne’s death in our desire to read of her life, but as we read in her diary of her life, we need also to remember how it ended.  This is a description from an eye-witness at the Concentration camp:

‘I saw Anne and her sister Margot again in the barracks … It was winter and you didn’t have any clothes.  So all of the ingredients for illness were present.  They were in bad shape.  Day by day they got weaker … You could see that they were very sick.  The Frank girls were so emaciated.  They looked terrible.  They had little squabbles, caused by their illness, because it was clear that they had typhus … They had those hollowed-out faces, skin over bone.  They were terribly cold.  They had the least desirable places in the barracks, below, near the door, which was constantly opened and closed.  You heard them constantly screaming, “Close the door, close the door,” and the voices became weaker every day.  You could really see both of them dying …’

Anne and Margot may have died in the camp of typhus, but it was antisemitism that killed them.  As we see antisemitism on the rise again in our world, we need to read these words, heart-breaking though they are, and make a simple promise:

Never again.