From Bill Sutter’s Desk Jul/Aug 2009
Making her way to me through the crowd, Helene spoke with emotion: “It’s because of your kind of Christians that people like me even exist. They hid my father and his parents during the Holocaust.”
I met Helene recently at a regional reception of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where The Friends of Israel was acknowledged for its support of the Jewish state.
Helene is a first-generation American, the child of a Holocaust survivor. Her family had lived in great fear in Vienna, Austria, where her grandmother was even forced to wear a sign declaring, “I am a Jewish pig.” Then, in 1938, came Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.” It unleashed horrendous, widespread violence against the Jewish people, their homes, and their businesses.
As the Nazis started rounding up Jews for deportation to concentration camps, Helene’s family threw whatever “valuables” they had in the Danube River rather than let the Germans seize them.
It was then their Christian landlady moved Helene’s father, a child at the time, along with his mother and father into a basement room where she hid them for about a year. This woman, whose name is unknown today, demonstrated her faith with acts of kindness that meant survival for Helene’s father and grandparents. Gestures like lowering milk and bread on a rope into their basement hideaway spelled the difference between life and death.
Lamenting the continuing impact of the Holocaust in the lives of many Jewish people, Helene explained how her grandfather and one of his brothers were the only two survivors of 11 siblings. “There’s a big hole in our family history—one that you cannot fill no matter how hard you try. You see large families around you gathering for happy family times—holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions. I have only one cousin—with us there’s a lack of a real sense of belonging.”
Although Helene’s father is profoundly grateful for his family’s Christian landlady, he personally witnessed how Hitler used the church and its masses of people as part of his plan. Given the history of church-related anti-Semitism, it would surely be difficult for him to view what happened to the Jewish people of Europe as anything other than “Christian.”
Unfortunately, many Bible-believing Christians do not understand the extent to which the organized church has persecuted the Jewish people. Even here in America, Helene has faced the taunting words of a neighbor who told her, “You killed my Lord.” Jewish people have routinely been called Christ-killers and other epithets by people who claim spiritual residence under the umbrella of Christianity.
Helene’s feeling of not belonging is accentuated by stark evidences of growing anti-Semitism in America. She is dismayed by fast-spreading campus anti-Semitism. She notes how Israel is being used as an “icon” to assign blame for the sufferings of the Palestinian people and to justify worldwide anti-Semitism. “There’s not a place on earth from which we haven’t eventually been thrown out,” she said. “We’ve been through this time and time again. The main reason Israel is so important to me is that it represents a place that will take me in should I have to flee. When you challenge the existence of Israel, you challenge the existence of Jews everywhere. That’s the real issue.”
As you reflect on Helene’s story, I hope you understand why The Friends of Israel encourages Bible-believing Christians to demonstrate that they are a different type of Christian from what Jewish people have known historically. Helen understands this difference, but many do not.
How do we demonstrate our Christian faith?We start by believing God’s promises to Abraham and the Jewish people: “For all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever” (Gen. 13:15). Then we support what God is doing to fulfill His promises in founding the modern State of Israel in 1948 and protecting it: “I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel” (Ezek. 11:17).
We continue by fighting anti-Semitism whenever and wherever we find it. Finally, we reflect God’s heart for His Chosen People: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jer. 31:3).