- Created: October 1, 1978
- Written by Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (FRG)
To reflect on the guilt and the disaster of the Third Reich is an ongoing task for the church and the people of our land. The 40th anniversary of the horrible pogrom against the Jews of November 9 and 10, 1938 provides a new occasion to do so.
At that time, some 30,000 Jewish fellow citizens were arrested, and most of them carried off to concentration camps. The number of synagogues set on fire is given as 267, the number of businesses and dwellings sacked as 7,500.
In retrospect, these events of forty years ago can be seen as one stage in a development that led to the "Final Solution" planned by the National Socialist authorities. Hitler and his minions were obsessed with the absurd notion of a special mission of the German/Aryan race. This mission included the extermination of all Jews. Nationalistic, racist, and antisemitic impulses were mixed together, with horrible consequences. On January 30, 1939, Hitler served notice that in the event of an outbreak of war, the Jewish race would be annihilated in Europe. In the final reckoning, almost six million Jews of the German Reich and of the countries in Europe that were occupied during the war were murdered.
Our people as a whole did not recognize the epochal scale of these crimes, or did so too late. Only in a few cases was there public protest, and even clandestine help was the exception. Most people looked on without acting, partly in a depressed silence, partly in a shocking indifference, and sometimes with open approval. The Protestant church also, for the most part, remained silent. It is for this reason that it declared in the Stuttgart Declaration of October 1945, "We accuse ourselves for not witnessing more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously, and for not loving more ardently."
Only God can forgive our guilt. Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. Only in this do we find grace to make a new beginning. Neither an easy forgetfulness nor a superficial apology, but only a renewed faith can make a new life possible. But faith has consequences.
Do we remember that Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, came from the Jewish people? This must exclude all enmity towards Jews.
Do we remember that Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, came as Savior of all people? This forbids prejudice and antipathy toward any strangers.
Do we remember that Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, sees the origin of guilt and atonement even when we still feel guiltless and secure? This calls for vigilance against the often subtle beginnings of intolerance and mistrust, of contempt and mutual demonization.
In this context, let us listen on November 9, which is close to the Day of Confession and Prayer, to the voice of Chief Rabbi Dr. Nathan P. Levenson: "We hope from our Christian brothers and sisters – not for our sake, for we have become few in number, but for their sake and the sake of the world – that they will do everything to prevent humans from incurring yet further guilt against God and against their fellow humans. We plead with them not to let the bitter experience of suffering be covered up by a cloak of forgetfulness, but rather, through the solidarity of love, to remain alert to it, and to provide for young people a responsible historical awareness, so that we may all look forward together to a better future."