Brutalised Humanity

Posted on 27 March 2008

Evangel 18:1 (Spring 2000)

Brutalised Humanity

Evangel 18:1 (Spring 2000)

A recent trip to Poland included the opportunity to visit the Nazi ‘Death Campus’ at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Personally, I found the sheer enormity of the horrors that occurred there such as to make impossible comprehension. The figure of those systematically slaughtered there (including Poles, Gypsies, other undesirables and, at least, 1.1. million Jews) easily became simply numbers and the piles of innumerable shows, cases, other effects and even human hair numbed the senses. Yet the reality was that countless thousands had suffered and died in the courtyards and cells and at the ‘Death Wall’ and gas-chambers and crematoria through which I wandered.

  The guide when asked why she undertook her gruesome job, commented, ‘It is important to remember’. But is there a lesson to learn? Could it be (as we like to assume) that this was an unrepeatable ‘one off’?
 
  I was given part of the answer by a Polish pastor’s wife several days after my visit. She pointed out that ‘the other lot’, the Russians, had been, if anything, worse. It was only the fact that they lacked the systematic organizational skill of the Germans (who recorded everything) that the millions slain by Stalin’s forces are forgotten. The guide at Auschwitz also (gently) pointed out that the Allies were well aware of what was happening there….
The present year has reproduced in ‘civilised’ Europe another holocaust, the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Kosovo. All of which reminds us that there is little about Auschwitz that was ‘one off’; the brutalisation of ordinary human beings so that acts of murderous violence can be given justification through some perverted sense of ‘right’ is endemic to the human race, given the right environment to flourish.

Yet how easy still to except ourselves! A Czech believer commented to me on the same trip that the Jews suffered from the holocaust because it was they (as a race) who had crucified Jesus; such an opinion is, of course, widely held. Yet what it does is to fail to recognize that though a small group of First Century Jews (and, be it noted, the representatives of a western Power!) were personally responsible for Jesus’ death their actions were simply those of men and women who had rejected God and, in the context they found themselves in, took that rejection through to its ‘logical’ conclusion. By nature, are we any different? Given the same context to express our brutalised natures.

Thus, precisely because Auschwitz was not a ‘one off’, there are lessons to learn. We are reminded of the fundamental rottenness which, but for the grace of God, can at any time and in the ‘right’ circumstances, break out in each one of us. The Puritans were right when they spoke of the ‘exceeding sinfulness of sin’! We are reminded that, by nature, we are no better than those who were responsible for the Lord’s death.

And there is hope too! The holocaust has generated a far greater appreciation of God’s presence and experience of human pain. Moreover, it reminds us that if God, in the person of his Son, pledged himself in the way that he did to such a race of sinners there is none beyond the reach of divine grace; a grace that can reach down to the unseen depth of human depravity and redeem it.

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