Holocaust Legacy

Truda Fink, daughter of Kuba and Resia, born in Lvov, Poland, murdered in Lvov at the age of 10

I lived in ignorance of Jews or the terrible events of the Holocaust until well into my 30’s. As a child growing up in Bristol, I never encountered a Jew or learnt about the Jewish faith or the Second World War at school. The only Jew I sort of knew was Jesus, and in my Sunday School pictures, he had long blonde hair, no beard and of course, was almost 2,000 years old.

My parents both served in WW2. My Dad was in the army and stationed in Egypt for 5 years. My Mum was in the Women’s Royal Air Force and stationed in the West Country. The Holocasut never came up in those ‘what did you do in the war?’ conversations we had with our parents back then. After I visited the camps in Poland last March, just before my Mum died, I told her about the trip. She said “we never knew about any of this at the time. There was nothing in the papers, on the radio.”

When I began my first teaching post a Year 9 literature set text was ‘Friedrich’ by Hans Peter Richter. This novel, first written in German, that I taught, was my first introduction to the experiences of Jews in Hitler’s Germany. Friedrich Schneider is a young Jewish boy growing up in an apartment house in Germany, with the narrator as his neighbour and friend. The narrator tells of the persecution of the Jews through Friedrich’s eyes. Friedrich is forced to switch to a Jewish school and is thrown out of swimming pools and cinemas. An angry mob goes to his house and kills his mother. His father is sacked and has an emotional breakdown. Friedrich finds a girlfriend, Helga, whom he likes, but soon he must stop seeing her, or she will be sent to a concentration camp.

Friedrich and his father are forced to do whatever they can to make money to survive. Friedrich helps his father hide a rabbi in their house, but soon Friedrich’s father and the rabbi are arrested. Friedrich, who was not home when the police came, now must live in hiding. Herr Resch, their former Landlord, returns to their house after an air raid and notices Friedrich on the step, apparently unconscious. Herr Resch decides to get rid of him by kicking him, and they realize that Friedrich is dead, killed by shrapnel. Resch then remarks that Friedrich has died a better death than was expected.

This was not an easy read for my 13-14 year olds or me. It was a novel, I had no idea how believable the story was. However, alongside, we also read ‘Ann Frank’s Diary’ and this true account of a young Jewish girl in hiding who died in a concentration camp, began to give me a glimpse of the horrors of the Holocaust. Enough of a glimpse for me to imagine the unimaginable. There I wanted to leave my limited experience.

Years later, in Manchester, Mayor Jane Black, invited me to take part in a civic trip: Journey to Poland, a three-day-tour through the camps. Every nerve in my body said no. I had had opportunities to visit before. But this time I said yes. Saying yes, did not make it any easier. On the trip last March were Jews and non Jews from all over Bury and beyond. Some knew each other but each person’s exerience was unique to them. Some shared these, wrote about them and took pictures. I couldn’t do any of these things.

My way of coping with the horrors of the Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz II-Birkenau extermination camps, was to retreat into myself. The 800 Jewish children from an orphanage in Tarnow, who were marched to a clearing in the nearby Buczyna forest and and silenced, I could not speak of. Just reading aloud the name, so near to mine, given to me: Truda Fink, daughter of Kuba and Resia, born in Lvov, Poland, murdered in Lvov at the age of 10, was more than enough.

I later found Truda’s name in the room-sized memorial book of the dead in the Auschwitz museum. Unspeakable horror. But unless we do speak history will simply go on repeating itself. I know our legacy is to ensure that children do not grow up ignorant or fearful but embracing our common humanity.

It is hard being known in a crowd

Can you spot the face of Christ?

Yesterday a friend said to me that she thought a good way to greet another as they come towards us is as though we are meeting Christ. This begs some questions. Would we recognise Christ today? Would we spot him in a crowd? Would he stand out for us? Or would he be just like everyone else? Would we pass by without even noticing? Probably.

I remember once being with a crowd of people and suddenly seeing an image of Christ (for me) in the abstract design on the back of someone’s tee shirt. This really fascinated me but then bizarrely, for some reason, I kept seeing faces of Christ in all sorts of places. In rocks, adverts, even food. Remember the Christ in toast image?!

The face of Christ in toast!

We can read that before Jesus was baptised he came out of the crowd. It would have been a large crowd gathered by the River Jordan as John the Baptiser was a crowd-puller. He was dressed as for a stage, with a part to play, in sackcloth and with a leather belt, just like all great prophets should look. Or at least, that’s what a crowd in Israel 2,000 years ago thought.

But out of that crowd came someone who John said was so great that he was not even worthy enough to tie his shoe laces. Christ was unknown in that crowd. Yes, they may have known someone called Jesus, that carpenter’s son from Nazareth. But they did not know that among them, rubbing shoulders with them, was Emmanuel – the word for ‘God With Us’. That here among them was the Christ, the Messiah.

My friend is quite right. Christ, the Messiah is with us, in the crowd. Once we start seeing the face of Christ in those we meet in the crowd, like my faces of Christ experience, we just won’t stop.

Now wouldn’t that change the world!

Did the Wise Men have 20/20 vision?

Welcome to the new year and new decade: 2020. 20/20 vision is a term used to express normal clarity or sharpness of vision measured at a distance of 20 feet. If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance. Having 20/20 vision does not necessarily mean you have perfect vision. 20/20 vision only indicates the sharpness or clarity of vision at a distance.

Matthew’s Gospel tells us the story of the Wise Men or Magi (from the word Magician. This group of men (we don’t actually know how many, just that they brought three very precious gifts to give to a very precious person – a new king). The story tells us that the men lived a long way to the East from Bethlehem. They may have come from Persia (now Iran). In their own country they were revered for their knowledge of the night sky. They made charts to show all the known stars, galaxies, constellations. They studied everything that had been written about the night sky of the Northern hemisphere.

When this very learned group of men saw a new star rising the first thing they did was to consult their books and charts. But they could not find the star. It was definitely new. What they did find was a reference to a new star being a sign that a new king had been born. This was very exciting. So much so that they collected precious gifts and set out to follow the star as it travelled, to see where it led so they could worship this new king: pay him homage.

The Church of England has traditionally been described as a three-legged stool.

The Church of England has traditionally been described as a three-legged stool. Why? The thing is with a three-legged stool is that if one leg is not quite right, say a bit shorter than the others, then it would just topple over. There have always been three key supports for the Christian faith: the bible or scripture, tradition, that is, how we have come to be as we are, and reason, that is, how we know what we know and what more can we know based upon our study of scripture and the traditions that have formed us. It has always been important to keep these three legs in balance. But there is a fourth leg.

But it is growing a fourth leg.

The fourth leg is experience. Learning from our protestant friends we are coming to understand that we need the fourth leg of experience to understand the scriptures and our tradition to be able to reason or understand. We need to experience in order to know. Education has understood this way of learning for years: experiential learning. In religious terms we need to experience the Holy Spirit at work in our lives for the rest to fall into place.

Back to the wise men and 20/20 vision.

The Wise Men are a great example of a four-legged stool. They used their sacred texts and their traditional understanding of what a new star could mean to reason that, if this was the case, they needed to go and check it out. They had 20/20 vision! They had the clarity of vision to see that they needed to go and find this new king wherever he was. This meant a dangerous journey. It meant taking risks. It meant going among people who were different to them. Most of all, it meant riding out for themselves. They needed to live the experience.

and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

Were the Wise Men changed by their experience? Reason tells me they were. Wouldn’t you be? But there is something else as well that suggests they were transformed, made new by seeing the Christ child. This was the Son of God or Emmanuel – God with us, after all! King Herod, the despot ruler, was seriously threatened by the thought of this potential usurper of his throne. So he asked the Wise Men to return to him once they had found the new king. You would expect them to do that. After all, out of respect they had called on Herod first. But they didn’t. Instead they went home by a different route to keep the Christ child safe.

Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Here it is. A message from God in a dream. We can read in scripture that the people of God often receive messages from God in dreams. Joseph also received the same message. You have to be open, trusting and receptive to God to receive those kinds of messages. Yes, the Wise Men certainly had 20/20 vision. They studied, reflected, reasoned but essentially, they experienced the living God, in the world, and starting in 2020 we must do that too.