Encounter Heading: Skeptic's Guide


The Holocaust

Could God Have Allowed This?


There’s an old story told of a missionary who cast a demon out of a Chinese peasant. With a voice which most people would, indeed, take to be that of a demon, the beleaguered man cried out that the missionary would not be able to make him leave if his helpers were still with him. “They’ve all been sent away,” the voice said, “to fight in The Great War.” Though it certainly wasn’t an uncommon term for the first world war, it is interesting that one whom most common people would believe to be a devil should speak of it as such. And if the first world war required the involvement of the demonic world, how much more the second?

One aspect of the second Great War, the holocaust, has been documented for us in such monumental works as Claude Lanzmann’s film
Shoah and Elie Wiesel’s book Night. More popularly, Steven Spielberg’s film Shindler’s List has also left it’s mark on the modern psyche. Such works and others have shown us, some of us as never before, the unspeakable horror of evil. When we see a film like Shoah, we may begin to understand, but we cannot expect words to do justice to the experience. This is truly the unspeakable. All talk of evil being unreal, an illusion we will someday see through, appears facile and foolish. One feels stunned. One feels overwhelmed as if by an immense darkness. As Charlotte Delbo said of many of the Jews as they arrived at Auschwitz, “They expect the worst—they do not expect the unthinkable.”1

Why did it happen? The question becomes particularly pointed if there is a God who could have prevented it. It’s interesting that when Lanzmann asks this question of a group of Polish townspeople, the reply he receives is that it’s because the Jews crucified Jesus. One has to wonder whether Lanzmann is guilty of prejudiced editing since only this anti-Semitic explanation of the holocaust is even mentioned. (Lanzmann has been accused by other reviewers of biased editing for his selection of materials.) Or could it be that this is the only explanation most of the common people have ever heard? In defense of Lanzmann we need to remember that his method of editing the over 350 hours of film footage involved simply omitting any portion which didn’t bring him to tears. And it is certainly understandable how such a scene could bring one to tears. These are the same words that have been used to justify pogroms and Inquisitions for centuries.

Putting this issue in proper perspective,
Weapons of the Spirit producer Pierre Sauvage has pointed out that it has been the more fundamentalist Christians among the peasant populations who have been most uncompromising in protecting and defending the persecuted Jewish people. Their scripture is too clear, not only that we are obligated to protect and defend any persecuted people, but also that as the Jewish people are specially loved of God, so we are to love them. At any rate, that a holocaust would occur because “the Jews crucified Jesus” is certainly not a viewpoint the New Testament writers would have accepted.2

Is it conceivable that there could actually be a God who could have reason for allowing the holocaust? What reason could Christians or Jews offer?

The Great War, The Great Test

The New Testament talks more about what we have earlier called “The Great War.” The book of Revelation records a vision of a woman who gives birth to a child. A dragon pursues and seeks to destroy the child but fails. We are told that the child is Yeshua (Jesus) and the dragon is the devil, the woman thus being Israel. Enraged, the dragon seeks to destroy the woman and her other children, whom we are told are the followers of Yeshua (Revelation 12).

Satan, the first and most powerful of God’s creation to fall into sin, seeks to destroy the Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua as well as all of the Jewish people. From these passages it appears that Satan hates Israel because of God’s special love for her, because he hopes to thwart God’s plan for the world which so much involves the Jewish nation, and because of the spiritual ties between Yeshua and the rest of Israel.

Yeshua and the Hebrew scripture offer more insight into this idea of spiritual warfare. Yeshua taught that the Kingdom of God advances when good is done: when the sick are healed, the oppressed comforted, the demonized delivered, the hungry fed, etc. (Luke 4:21, 40–43). We begin to form the image of God taking over territory from the enemy’s kingdom through warfare. God allows there to stand a real enemy who will conquer and destroy if he is not conquered. We are given an enormous responsibility.

From the Torah we begin to see why God considers this warfare necessary and why some undeserved evils are allowed. We see that there is a universal obligation to protect and aid the hurt, the oppressed, the needy. Here God tells the chosen people that in the promised land there will always be poor and needy ones among them (Deuteronomy 15:11). But why would God allow this in a land promised the blessing of prosperity and plenty? It was allowed in order to test the people to see whether they would give freely and openly to those in need (Deuteronomy 15:7, 8).

God requires that we show by our actions whether we will truly love our neighbor as God commands. God desires that we become like God, to have God’s heart and compassion for all people. Concerning the holocaust then, one particular reason one might say that God allowed this would be that God wanted us to become people who would resist this evil and seek to protect these persecuted peoples. We need to become people who will so act. God cannot make us good, we cannot become good in this way, without our freely choosing to do so. And in this case to do this kind of good can be very costly. Many, like the examples I will mention later, lost their lives for doing so.

Those followers of Yeshua and others who accept the Hebrew scripture and who accept this view would not claim this to be the primary reason God allowed the holocaust, but it was one important factor and it’s one that must not be neglected. Furthermore, it’s a reason that would apply to many other evils we might consider.

Testing Yeshua’s Followers

Following this idea is the notion that a special responsibility revolves about the welfare of the Jewish people. To see this we first need some background information.

From the earliest chapters of the Torah, we see again and again that God’s protection and blessing follow those who do good and seek God (e.g., Genesis 5:22–27; 6:8–9) and that punishment befalls those who do evil (e.g., Genesis 3:16–19; 6:5–7). God placed a hedge of protection about Job, for instance, until there occurred a special reason for its removal (Job 1:9–11). Likewise the children of Israel were promised God’s protection and prosperity so long as they would adhere to God’s covenant and keep God’s laws.

But the Jewish people were not particularly evil at the time of the holocaust. Many of them devoutly kept the law and worshipped God. Why should the hedge of protection promised in the covenant be removed from them? Why should the serpent be allowed opportunity to destroy Israel, the Woman?

Some Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua believe that the answer lies in the means by which the covenant is now carried out. Protection, they say, is no longer automatic upon keeping the law. Israel was told she would be under a curse and dispersed among the nations if she would break her covenant with God (Deuteronomy 28:58, 63b–64). Her repentance will cause God to regather her (30:1–5), but so long as she is not completely regathered to the land of Israel, the curse is in effect and the covenant promises of protection will not be in effect. Yeshua and Paul spoke of a special time of the Gentiles. Yeshua said that during this time Jerusalem would be trampled by the Gentiles (Luke 21:23–24, Romans 11:25).
A hedge of protection remains in place now only as the followers of Yeshua intercede for and give protection to the Jewish people, this view would say. It may be that only when the time of the Gentiles is complete will the Jewish people be free of their dependence upon the protection of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Some Christian views claim official Judaism will at that time or during that following time period accept Yeshua as Messiah—which, of course, all non-messianic positions reject.

But why would God have allowed such a change to involve the followers of Yeshua in this way? Some have claimed that it could be because official Judaism has not historically opened itself to God to consider whether Yeshua was the anticipated Messiah. Jesus claimed that anyone who would choose to do God’s will would know whether what he says is true or not (John 7:17). However God wishes to do it, he said in essence, God will show you. Indeed, the Torah claims that God spoke through Moses commanding the people to evaluate any such claimed prophet and that one will face God’s judgment for failing to do so (Deuteronomy 18). And this means more than merely hearing the arguments of the opponents of the claimed prophet or Messiah; it means hearing the prophet’s claims and arguments and the evidence of his or her proponents. How many traditional Jewish leaders have ever suggested that their people carry out such an investigation of Jesus’ claims, to submit to God’s will and to determine honestly before God whether this man was the Messiah.

At first sight the idea of such a dependence upon the followers of Yeshua will not appear very appealing to official Judaism and certainly many will contest the proposed reason that has been offered as to why God has allowed this change in the Mosaic covenant (if indeed God has done so). But before we too quickly dismiss it, we should note that this view says at least two very unusual things.

It says first that there is a deep, perhaps even unique, spiritual bonding between Christianity and Judaism. Followers of Yeshua, whether Jews or Gentiles, are grafted into the covenant of Israel; not as partakers of the covenant blessings necessarily, but as a necessary means by which protection and blessing comes to Israel. In this view God is looking upon those Jews and Gentiles who claim to be followers of Yeshua to see if they will love Israel, if they will cry out to God for her, if they will keep the hedge of protection about the Jewish people. Their master had taught them even to be willing to give up their lives for those they are to love. God is looking to see how much they will follow their master’s teachings. A spiritual bonding between Christianity and Judaism, whether the followers of Jesus exemplify it or not at any particular time, consists in their responsibility to love and protect the Jewish people.

The second thing this viewpoint says is that responsibility for the holocaust falls very largely upon those who call themselves followers of Yeshua. They are not guilty in the sense of actively participating in the persecutions, for their scripture is very clear that one cannot be a follower of Jesus who would do such a thing (1 John 3:15, Romans 1:29–32). But many are guilty of failing to defend and intercede for the Jewish people. Many did intervene and pray for and protect them, many even gave their lives. But they were far too few compared to all of those who professed to follow Yeshua. Now this fact is no evidence against Christianity. The truth or falsity of a belief does not depend on how many people accept it or how many claim to accept it but do not follow its teachings.

The view that the followers of Yeshua have a special power to provide covenant protection about Israel is not as certain biblically as some other views we will be looking at. What is certain from their scripture is that the followers of Yeshua have a responsibility to intercede for and defend Israel as well as any other oppressed people and that to the degree they fail to intercede, they fail their Lord’s command and allow harm to come to the oppressed. God allows this testing to see if Yeshua’s followers will care for what God cares for. We have also seen that their scripture teaches that Satan seeks to destroy Israel and the followers of Yeshua, that God’s kingdom advances when good is done, and that all people have a responsibility to aid the oppressed.

Failure to Return to Israel

There is another very interesting reason accepted particularly by many traditional Jews as to why God allowed the holocaust. Hebrew prophets foretold that the Jewish people would someday return to their homeland in Israel after being dispersed throughout the entire world (Deuteronomy 30:3–6, Isaiah 11:11–12). Early in the 20th century Zionist prophets began proclaiming to the Diaspora that now was the appointed time. But the people were too rooted in the new lands which they had come to call home. They had forgotten that Moses had warned them that they would never have peace for long anywhere but in the promised land of Israel (Deuteronomy 28:65–67).

So the Zionist prophets began to repeat the words of Moses and to give warning of the consequences of failing to leave. In 1932 Zeb Jobtinski cried out to the people, “Do everything to get out of Europe because the ground is burning under your feet.” Early in 1939 he said, “I sometimes fear that we’ve passed the eleventh hour. The clock may have already struck twelve.”

Later that same year he said, “Zero hour is approaching, the hour of great destruction. For three years I have implored you, appealing to you, warning unceasingly, that the catastrophe is nigh. My hair has turned white and I have grown old these years, for my heart is bleeding that you do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spew it fires of destruction. I see a horrible vision. Time is growing short for you to be sparred.”

Still the people would not listen and at last the unspeakable did occur. In the aftermath the remnant knew that they must return to Israel. No longer could they live under the hand of strangers. At least many of the remnant understood this. Many have yet to comprehend that they will have no peace except in Israel. As Hertzel said, “We Jews have not yet suffered enough to make us believe that our only escape is to go back to Israel.”

But was it really necessary that this much suffering occur? It’s difficult to believe that even if some persecution was necessary, that the degree and quantity of suffering could not have been far less. Perhaps, as we’ve suggested earlier, it would have been much different had far more followers of Yeshua fulfilled their responsibility. Obviously it would have been much different had more non-Christian Gentiles fulfilled their moral responsibility as well in aiding the oppressed. In both cases, an important reason for allowing this suffering is revealed. We are tested as to whether we will do or allow good or evil. For Christians particularly, they are tested as to whether they will follow their master’s teachings and protect the Jewish people.

We cry out that it must never happen again. But are we so certain that it will not? Many thought that it could never happen in the kind of “civilized” and advanced society Germany exemplified. With the right people in the right places of power it can very easily happen again. Whether it begins with active persecution from the top or as ignored injustices at lower political levels, the outcome is the same.

A lieutenant in one of the Nazi prisons in occupied Holland developed a secret friendship with a prisoner he had interrogated. He confided to this elderly lady, “It is possible that I appear to you a powerful person. I wear a uniform. I have a certain authority over those under me. But I am in prison, dear lady, . . . a prison stronger than this one.”

Many well meaning people in this country who would not consider discriminating against another person may find themselves, like this lieutenant, trapped in this prison of evil. Most people are not willing to pay the price of resistance necessary to stop the persecutions once they begin. These are the people who will unwittingly make up the machinery of organized persecution. We must not delude ourselves into thinking it cannot happen again. It can happen far too easily.

Several social and psychological experiments in this country bear out the conclusion that we are, indeed, ripe for it. In one experiment a high school teacher began a mass movement, based on nothing more than group identification by eye color, and watched it grow to militant proportions. Simulated prison experiments have demonstrated how oppression can develop even when those playing the guards knew that their behavior was being observed and admitted that “it’s just a game.” The famous Milgram experiments at Yale have shown that American students will even take another person’s life (while listening to the screaming) as long as an authority figure orders it. (They would hear the screaming in the next room intensify as they turned up what they were told was a voltage gauge pumping current into the victim—until there was silence.)

The situation seems to be worsening. Just to wear a Star of David will solicit assault in some eastern European areas. A member of one anti-Semitic organization in Russia,
Pamyat, said each member is required to murder a Jew. Accounts like this could go on and on.6

Job’s Test

We have yet to consider one final explanation offered as to why God allowed the holocaust. Of all of the major explanations we have considered, only this one is absolutely certain in Hebrew and Christian scripture. If all others are found wanting in this regard, this one cannot be. And if any of the others remain, this one too must remain. Though it also applies to deserved suffering, this is the basic explanation for undeserved pain.

This view would claim that God’s reason for allowing the holocaust is stated in the first chapters of the book of Job. God tested Job to see if he would stay true to God even when his hedge of protection was removed. A God who deserves our commitment—and that is the only kind of God we’re concerned about—could not be accused of evil for allowing such pain. It could only be otherwise if God would not at some time compensate for any undeserved pain and if God does not have good reason for allowing this evil. Will we give God our commitment when we are drawn emotionally to reject God? It is this question God asks. It is this that God must discover. We become something we could not otherwise become without making this choice. We become good or evil by our choices. This is God’s reason for allowing undeserved pain. As God has good reason for allowing pain, so we have no rational justification to turn against God.

Followers of Yeshua believe that he gave up his life and endured immense suffering because this was the only way the ancient types (symbols) and prophecies could be fulfilled and humanity could be brought back to relationship with God. But their scripture also states that he was able to endure because of the glory that awaited him (Hebrews 12:2). Likewise Paul says that the suffering Christians endure is not worth even comparing to the glory that awaits them (Romans 8:18). This illustrates an important point. That any undeserved pain we endure will be compensated (if that is an adequate term) is not only necessary for God to be truly good, it also provides a motivating power to endure.

Job’s children were killed, his possessions stolen or destroyed, his closest friends and loved ones turned against him, his life filled with constant and excruciating pain. Will he retaliate and turn against the God who yet deserves his commitment? Israel must face the same test. Her children slaughtered, her possessions plundered, betrayed by her trusted friends; will Israel turn against her God or will she cry out with Job, “Though He slay me yet will I trust Him”?

God asks, “Will I be your only refuge? Will I be your only inheritance? Or are there other things you cling to more than me?” If we question why we should cling to God, the only answer must be because, very simply, God deserves it.

A holocaust survivor answers, “But I loved my children, I loved my family. You didn’t let me hold to them. Why did you take them from me? Why must I cling to you alone?”

God answers, “I do not ask you not to cling to them, I don’t ask you not to love them. I only ask that if I take them from you for now, you do not cling to them more than me. The day will come when you will be with them again. But I must know if you will accept my decision. If I gave you life don’t I have the right to take it back? Or will you so begrudge me my decision that you turn against me?”

A small man steps forward to make his accusation. How long he had waited for this moment. Glaring up at the One who allowed this, his words come out slowly and deliberately, dripping with hatred and bitterness. “It was not merely a life you took from me,” he snarls. “My wife and daughter I watched raped before my eyes. My baby held by his ankles and swung against the trunk of a tree like a woodman’s ax. My infant son drenched in oil and set aflame. Oh, the horror on his face as he cried to me to protect him. But you wouldn’t protect him. And this you ask me to forgive? This you say was your decision? For this you deserve my worship and love? No, for this you deserve only my eternal hatred!”

“It was not my desire that this happen.” God answers. “But yes, it was my decision to allow it. It was important that the power to prevent it be placed in other hands than mine. But there is no undeserved pain that is not compensated. Even a horror like this I am able to redeem.”

“You cannot redeem this!” the hater screams.

“Come and see,” God answers. “Repent of your hatred and turn back to me. Then you will see the good I can create from even this evil.”

“Never! This is something you can never redeem. You deserve only my hatred!”

“No, you do not know that I cannot redeem your pain, you have merely decided to believe this. Your hatred is grounded solely on your decision never to forgive me. But it was necessary that you make your decision, that you face your test.”

Our dialogue could go on but nothing substantially new would be added. There is a reason for the testing. What we do with God, particularly in the face of suffering and the emotional enticement to reject God, is the most important decision we could ever consider. And our testing is the most important reason God could have for allowing suffering.

This is not to diminish the reality or horror of evil, to claim that evil is an illusion, or to claim that God did not desire that there be far less than there is. Other possible explanations we have considered show that God desired that those who seek to be God’s people could have caused there to be far less pain had they fulfilled their responsibility. But many evils, the book of Job tells us, did have to occur.


 God’s Pain

Though it may be necessary in God’s eyes to allow evil that a greater good occur, still God feels the pain we suffer. Even when we bring pain upon ourselves as God’s just retribution for our actions, God endures all that we bear. The Hebrew scripture claims God spoke through the prophets. Consider these words of God in Hosea 10:

When Israel was young, how I loved him and called him from Egypt to be my son. But the more I called to them, the more they deserted Me. . . .

But it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I who took them up in My arms; yet they did not know that I healed them. With human cords I would lead them, with bands of love. I was to them as one lifting the yoke from their jaws, and, bending down, I fed them.

They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king; for they refuse to return to Me. So the sword shall whirl in their cities, destroy the bars of their gates, and devour them in their fortresses. My people are bent on wondering from Me, . . . How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I let you go, Israel? How can I give you up like Admah or make you like Zeboiim? My heart overturns within Me; all my compassions kindle. I will not let the heat of My anger burn.

This same sense of God’s deep anguish over our suffering was paralleled in Yeshua’s experience when he wept over Jerusalem as he foresaw its coming destruction (Luke 19:41–4; 13:34–5).

More than this, those who follow Yeshua claim that in order to deliver us from the pain and judgment we deserve, God endured that suffering for us. Though this is hinted at in the Hebrew scripture, more than any other sacred writing or religious system, it is the New Testament that claims that by this self-sacrifice God does feel our pain.

Did Missionaries Cause the Holocaust?

What root attitudes and beliefs led to this infamy and what would have prevented it? We can here look at only a couple of the most significant claims.

Lanzmann interviewed Raul Hilberg, a historian at the University of Vermont. In recounting the roots and background of the holocaust, Hilberg makes a subtle but significant error. He says, “The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect to the Jews: ‘You may not live among us as Jews.’ The secular rulers who followed them from the late Middle Ages then decided: ‘You may not live among us,’ and the Nazis finally decreed: ‘You may not live.’ ” Hilberg says he sees a “logical progression” from conversion to expulsion and finally to extermination, the “final solution.”

To tell someone, “You may not live among us as Jews” is not simple conversion, however, it’s forced conversion. And Hilberg’s failure to distinguish the two can foster only prejudice and reactionism. For all missionary efforts become viewed as exercises in coercion, no matter how far removed they may in fact be from that. At the very least, by a kind of guilt by association, missionary efforts are considered to be just a step away—and perhaps a logical step away—from forced conversion.

No logical progression to the final solution can begin with missionary efforts, at least not with any missionary effort which is built upon essential New Testament principles. But remove love, remove concern for the value and rights of the individual and, yes, you may find the ancestral roots of the holocaust in such a distorted kind of missionary activity.

Evangelism now becomes simply a desire to persuade. Now the desire to persuade is not in itself harmful either. Only by allowing the presence of as many competing belief systems as possible can a society sufficiently advance in knowledge. This is true whether the belief systems are religious or secular. Open confrontation and evaluation of beliefs allows only the best supported systems to stand.

But when the desire to persuade becomes so strong that the right to decide and to evaluate for oneself is violated, then we have the beginnings of forced conversion and we have something far removed from biblical Christianity. Christian missionaries will inevitably cause harm once they deviate from the essentials of their scripture.

Coercive opposition to missionary activity is the flip side, not of missionary activity, but of forced conversion. Both are equally harmful. One forces a population to a new belief while the other forces a population to maintain old beliefs. Both deny the rights of individuals to decide and to evaluate the evidence for themselves. Both are adept at the skills of book burning.
8 If forced conversion had been the seed of the holocaust, can any anti-missionary activity which limits one’s right to freely evaluate claims and evidence result in any lesser evil?

The Test of History

Can we really know whether such missionary activity—missionary activity deeply immersed in the values taught by Yeshua and his immediate followers—is harmful or beneficial? Some have claimed that only those who follow Yeshua in his very radical call of self-denial and self-sacrifice will be the true friends of Israel when real persecution comes. These questions can only be finally answered by looking at history. Researcher Richard Terrell points out that historically, anti-Semitism tended to decrease as the Bible came into acceptance and as it was accepted as literally true. Anti-Semitism increased as its authority diminished—as occurred with the development of German higher criticism.
9 More specifically, we need to look at those who did act, the rescuers, and consider why they acted. Researchers Samuel and Pearl Oliner have done this in some detail.10 The best we can do at this point might be to look at one specific family.

Isaac de Costa was a Portuguese Jew who became a prominent lawyer in Holland in the 19th century. When he became a follower of Yeshua he began calling upon the churches to pray for the Jewish people. Deeply moved by his words, Willem ten Boom started a prayer group for this purpose in his home. His son, Casper, told of how “love for the Jews was spoon-fed to me from my youngest years.”
11 Casper’s daughter in turn relates that “as a result, deep respect and love for the Jews became a part of our home life.”12

Casper sold and repaired watches and had business dealings with several Jewish wholesalers. His daughter, Corrie, while only a child, would take the train with him on his business trips. Speaking of his visits with these Jewish businessmen, she says that

these were the visits we both liked best. After the briefest discussion of business, Father would draw a small Bible from his traveling case; the wholesaler, whose beard would be even longer and fuller than Father’s, would snatch a book or scroll out of a drawer, clap a prayer cap onto his head; and the two would be off, arguing, comparing, interrupting, contradicting, reveling in each other’s company.

And then, just when I had decided that this time I had really been forgotten, the wholesaler would look up, catch sight of me as though for the first time, and strike his forehead with the heel of his hand.

“A guest! A guest in my gate and I have offered her no refreshment!” And springing up he would rummage under shelves and into cupboards and before long I would be holding on my lap a plate of the most delicious treats in the world.

This was not an intrusion into another person’s privacy as some would caricature it. This is the kind of interchange of which the deepest friendships are made. To so sterilize relationships so that topics such as these should never be spoken is to strip friendships of any depth, openness, or honesty.

A Jewish watchseller owned a shop on the same street as Casper ten Boom. Mr. Kann consistently undersold and outsold the ten Boom shop. Once while walking with his grandson, Peter, the child pointed out Mr. Kann’s shop and asked his grandfather if Mr. Kann were his competitor. “No,” the old man replied, “he is my colleague. And do not forget,” he continued, “he belongs to God’s chosen people.”

During the Nazi occupation of Holland the ten Boom shop became something of a center for resistance work. A Jewish mother with her baby were sent there to find hiding. Corrie thought she had the perfect home when a local pastor brought a watch in for repair. His secluded house was set back in a large wooded park. At last she asked him,

“Would you be willing to take a Jewish mother and her baby into your home? They will almost certainly be arrested otherwise.”

Color drained from the man’s face. He took a step back from me. “Miss ten Boom! I do hope you’re not involved with any of this illegal concealment and undercover business. It’s just not safe! Think of your father! And your sister—she’s never been strong! . . .”

I pulled the coverlet from the baby’s face.

There was a long silence. The man bent forward, his hand in spite of himself reaching for the tiny fist curled round the blanket. For a moment I saw compassion and fear struggle in his face. Then he straightened. “No. Definitely not. We could lose our lives for that Jewish child!”

Unseen by either of us, Father had appeared in the doorway. “Give the child to me Corrie,” he said.

Father held the baby close, his white beard brushing its cheek, looking into the little face with eyes as blue and innocent as the baby’s own. At last he looked up at the pastor. “You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.”

The pastor turned sharply on his heels and walked out of the room.

It wasn’t long until Father ten Boom was granted this honor. Captured by the Gestapo, the entire household waited to be interrogated.

Suddenly the chief interrogators’s eye fell on Father. “That old man!” he cried. “Did he have to be arrested? You, old man!”

Willem led Father up to the desk. The Gestapo chief leaned forward. “I’d like to send you home, old fellow!” he said. “I’ll take your word that you won’t cause any more trouble.”

I could not see Father’s face, only the erect carriage of his shoulders and the halo of white hair above them. But I heard his voice.

“If I go home today,” he said evenly and clearly, “tomorrow I will open my door again to any man in need who knocks.”

The amiability drained from the other man’s face. “Get back in line!” he shouted. “
Schnell! This court will tolerate no more delays!”16

Casper died within ten days. Two of his daughters were sent to Ravenbruk; one of them would die there. Others of his children and grandchildren would die in other concentration camps or as a result of their internment.


In 1844 Willem ten Boom opened his home to people who would pray for and identify with the Jewish people. One hundred years later their prayers were answered when Willem’s son and grandchildren came to fully identify with the Jewish people through imprisonment, persecution, and death.


Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?

A life like that of Casper ten Boom is the inevitable result of seeking to live consistently and uncompromisingly according to New Testament teachings. Yeshua made it clear that the greatest commandment—next to that of loving God—is to love our neighbor as our very selves. And he also made it clear that everyone, and especially the most despised and rejected, is our neighbor (Luke 10:25–37). Furthermore, we find in these writings a special honor and love accorded to the Jewish people. Even those who were "enemies” of all that Yeshua and his followers taught were spoken of as specially “beloved for the sake of the Fathers” (Romans 11:28).

The problem is not with Christian scripture but rather with our ignoring or twisting its clear teaching. Like the pastor who refused to shelter the Jewish mother and her baby, his desire to protect his own life cost them theirs. Yet Yeshua said that only those who are willing to lose their lives would gain life (Matthew 16:25). It’s incredible that one whose life profession was dedicated to proclaiming and admonishing others to follow Yeshua’s teaching could so completely ignore the message once it became uncomfortable.

Even more sobering than this, Yeshua said that what we do to the very least, the person of absolutely lowest esteem, the leper, the untouchable; what we’ve done to that person, we’ve done to him. And God’s judgment upon us will depend upon what we’ve done to that person. Indeed, one’s loss and separation from God in the age to come (the life after death) is determined at least in part by what we do “to the least of these” (Matthew 25:31–46). And what were these sins that Yeshua considered of such enormous magnitude? Failure to comfort or aid the sick, the imprisoned, the oppressed; failure to feed the hungry or clothe the naked.

It was pointed out earlier that one could not be a Christian who would actively participate in the persecutions of the holocaust. We see now that neither could one be a follower of Yeshua who, when given the opportunity, had never sought to protect and aid the oppressed of the holocaust.

I asked why all followers of Yeshua had not lived and do not live such lives of self-sacrifice as did the ten Booms. Some professed to be Christians who even killed the Jewish people. For the latter the obvious answer is that they were frauds. They weren’t followers of Yeshua at all, they couldn’t have been. Or if they were at one time truly followers of Jesus, they had by their actions denied their faith.

Why would so many who would seem to have such a great commitment to their faith participate in such evils as the pogroms or the Crusades? This might be explained by the fact that the stronger one’s commitment to a system of thought, the more likely one would use force to defend it and attack its believed enemies. But notice that this fact applies to any system to which one has a strong commitment, be it religious or secular. What historical persecutions by claimed “Christians” can match the slaughters instigated by fanatics of secular ideologies like Stalin, the Khmer Rouge, and so many others?

Those who would follow Yeshua must face one undeniable roadblock on their way to any similar course of action: The one they profess to follow had taught them that they cannot use force to defend him or his teachings. Only the weapons of the Spirit are allowed them.

Certainly the church had with time become so corrupted that it did commit the same kind of horrendous evil, the same kind of inquisitions and witch hunts. Yet such acts would have occurred far earlier had it lacked the high ethical basis of Yeshua’s teachings. His teachings certainly were eventually abrogated, but not easily. How much easier is it for ideologies and political systems to instigate their own witch hunts and pograms when they lack any good and strong ethical bases. And it is even worse when they have a very bad ethical basis.

To one who tried to defend him from capture Jesus said that the one who draws the sword will die by it (Matthew 26:51–52). To the Roman governor who condemned him to death he said his servants could not fight because his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). He rebuked followers who wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who rejected him (Luke 9:52–55). One tradition says that he told these disciples they do not know what spirit they are of and that he came not to destroy but to save (vv. 55–56 KJV). This is the one who taught us to do unto others as we would have done to ourselves (Matthew 7:12) and to love and pray for our enemies and oppressors (5:44–47). Oppression cannot possibly follow from such teachings as these which were so foundational to his thought.

Too many, even too many followers of Yeshua, are unaware of how radical his way is. Too many have simply ignored his words. He told us that we need to take up our cross and follow him. The cross was a means of torturous execution, not a piece of jewelry. It meant that we should not expect anything less than pain and death. He told us that if we deny him before people, he will deny us before God. And he told us that what we’ve done to the least, we’ve done to him. So the pastor who denied this Jewish baby had denied Jesus, the one he claimed to hold as Lord and master. He wasn’t willing to face death as Yeshua had commanded him.

Followers of Yeshua who will honestly hear his words feel a strongly motivating power in his death. They hold that because he gave so much to bring us back to God, indeed, because God gave so much in sending the Messiah for this purpose, the only appropriate response is one of grateful submission, commitment, and obedience to God and Messiah. Seeing how much God loved us, how much God gave for us, we fall in awed adoration and obedience.

The New Testament writings even go further than this: Looking at those who are the most dejected, the most unwanted, the most undesirable; we understand that God willingly became a man and endured the most excruciatingly painful death out of love for this one. So much God loved this one that we would think so little of. (Even a very minimal Christian view omitting Jesus’ deity would maintain that all that Jesus endured, all that he gave up, God also endured and sacrificed because God loved us so much.) How can we dare to look down upon this one God so values? We come to feel what God feels for this person. God’s sacrifice for us motivates us to self-sacrifice. It’s difficult to imagine any other religious system having quite the same motivating power.

As we have seen in endnote 2, we certainly must admit that the New Testament writers have stated that the Jews, that is all Jewish people, are responsible for Jesus’ death. But it also states that all Gentiles are equally responsible. That is, all of us are responsible for bringing about the state of separation from God by which God chose to incarnate and die to bring us back to God (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, Romans 5:8). It was as much the decision of Gentile rulers as Jewish rulers which brought about his death (e.g., Acts 4:25–27). Yet this choice came from God alone; it was Jesus, not any particular group or race, or even all of humanity, who chose that this must take place (John 10:17–18). Passages which speak of certain Jewish leaders condemning Jesus to death or even asking for his blood to be upon themselves (Matthew 27:24–25) cannot honestly be seen as any more anti-Semitic than accounts in the Hebrew scripture of Jewish kings, priests, false prophets, and common people seeking the deaths of God’s prophets (e.g., Jeremiah 26, 36).

(The reader may be interested in a related issue, our discussion concerning
whether the existence of evil Christians counts against Christianity.)

Could a Secularist be a Rescuer?

In the Oliner study one rescuer said that he aided the persecuted simply because his Lord required this. His commitment made the difference. Of course some rescuers were not followers of Jesus. They acted solely out of commitment to what they knew was right. They happened to place their commitment in human worth to the extent of even, in many cases, denying their own lives.

As much as we may honor and esteem secular altruists, we still have to question whether they might not have just as easily chosen commitment to Fascism as to altruism. If they had no grounds for their belief in the worth of persons, can the choice be based on anything other than their chance social and psychological makeup or development?

Of course grounding one’s moral motivation on religious beliefs could just push the problem back a step. Someone might hold to such religious beliefs because of strong social ties, encouragement by family and friends, etc., without good reason for those beliefs. And failure to find adequate reason for those religious beliefs could result in the rejection of those beliefs and with that the rejection of one’s moral standards. We do need good reason for our beliefs. Truth is more important than social consequences. We need to believe what the evidence leads us to no matter how it might benefit or harm the world.

But the question we now need to face is, assuming our religious beliefs are rationally justified and not in question, what are the consequences in one’s moral life? And likewise, what would be the result of rejecting one’s religious beliefs?

The person who acknowledges the human worth of others may not have good reason for that belief. One may simply feel very intuitively a sense of worth in persons, a feeling of pity for the hurting, etc. This person may never have enquired into the issues of God’s existence, mortality, etc.; yet there is still an awareness of the reality of right and wrong and a deep driving motivation to do the right. I suspect that such a person is in some ways at the first steps of discovering that God is really there. (At least I think this is what happens to us when we remain honest with ourselves and do not close our minds to unwanted conclusions.)

But the altruistic personality who rejects such religious conclusions will eventually have to question her or his moral assumptions. If he or she will continue to cling to such a way of life, it will only be because of psychological reasons: because of, say, the enjoyment of heroism and self-sacrifice or because of identification with the people and standards of a particular moral community. For the honest minded person, belief in the worth of persons must be more than just an assumption; we need good reason for such beliefs (as do those who have good reason for their belief in God).

So what type of person would be found among the rescuers of the holocaust? The Oliner study points out that the most distinguishing characteristic of the rescuers is that they lived in “embedded relationships.” “Shaped by the teaching and example of ‘normocentric’ communities,” Richard Neuhaus comments, “rescuers readily understood the moral thing to do, and they did it. The most important embedded relationship was the family, and such families were typically marked by a deep religious commitment to caring about others.”

Yet even if we were deeply a part of such a normocentric community, if we lack that religious element, we might find persecution too easily erode our commitment. If we believe that this is our only life, we will not readily be willing to give it up for someone else. More careful thought might cause us to even question the worth of those we were concerned to help. If we conclude that our ethical motivations are really nothing more than feelings (subjective emotions like our feelings toward, say, a certain type of music or our taste in food), then they might turn out to be very difficult to cling to. (For more on this topic the reader might look at our
discussion with Antony Flew on moral nihilism.)

This is the problem we face if we try to find among secularists an altruistic personality, someone who will resist when facing persecution oneself. But secularism isn’t the only belief system to have such problems. Other religions have similar difficulties, some worse than others. We might look at just a couple of problems with some Eastern beliefs.

Eastern Religions

One popular writer claimed that once we are freed from striving, our divine Self will bring us quite naturally to help others.
19 It would be interesting to hear him attempt to verify this claim. Quite the contrary, all that we know of human nature shows us that once we are free of striving we are not concerned to help anyone. Indeed, it is not at all uncommon to hear Eastern and New Age advocates claim that we must get beyond not only concern about good and evil but even believing that they exist. Both are illusions of duality. This is often a practical problem in the East as well. Traditionally, those thought to be most spiritually advanced are those who renounce the world, follow ascetic practices, and do nothing to help anyone else. To believe that ultimate reality is beyond good and evil opens us to the belief that nothing can be called good or evil. So it is not unusual to find Hitler, who had been much involved in Eastern and other forms of occultism, so often praised by spiritual leaders in the East.20 In spite of the unimaginable evil he had done, “Sri Hitler” is called a “mahatma, almost like an avatar.”21 If good and evil are illusions, there is no real reason to do good or oppose evil.

Another belief which commonly accompanies Eastern monism is the belief in karma, the belief that for any good or evil we do, we shall receive reward or punishment either now or in a future incarnation. For many of its advocates this implies that we should do nothing to stop the oppression of the (apparently) innocent. Among the common people, to give aid to the distressed and the suffering is usually considered to be useless since they will only have to suffer again later the same pains if they are relieved now. Such is the law of karma. The holocaust victims received exactly as they deserved because of what they had done in previous lives.

In Islamic countries the truly righteous are often perceived as those who are most fatalistic, those who resign themselves to whatever happens, since God, in their view, so absolutely determines all events. Islamic fatalism may produce the same non-involvement as the doctrine of karma, but it doesn’t have quite the same sting. At least the Muslim doesn’t claim that because of their past lives the victims deserved it anyway.


Why did the holocaust occur? Because there were not enough people who were willing to resist at any cost. There were not enough people who had learned the worth of a human life. There were not enough followers of Yeshua who took his word as absolutely demanding and obligatory to their lives. There were not enough people who would intercede and call upon God for Israel.


Had there been enough resistance, had enough people passed the test, the suffering would have been far less. Jewish followers of the Torah as well as Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua maintain that God considered some form of the test to be necessary nevertheless. The Jobian testing of the Jewish people’s choice to cling to God in the face of suffering, God’s call to return to Israel, the testing of the nations, the testing of Yeshua’s followers—all of these possible explanations show us that no solid accusation against God can stand. God was not guilty of this horror but people no different than you and I were.

Dennis Jensen, 1989, revised December 2015. Artwork adapted from the following: (1) from YIVO in Nathan Ansubel, The Book of Jewish Knowledge (N.Y.:Crown Publishers, 1964), 318. (3) Corrie ten Boom, Father ten Boom (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming Revell, 1978), 68. (4) C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Chicago: Lord and King Assoc., 1976), 143.

1. Quoted in L. L. Langer,
The Age of Atrocity: Death in Modern Literature (Boston: Beacon, 1978), 202.

Were the Jews responsible for Jesus’ death? If a special curse had befallen the Jewish people, wouldn’t the Jewish writers of the New Testament have mentioned it? (The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 and the concomitant dispersion and suffering of the people is possibly tied to the official national rejection of Yeshua [Luke 19:41–44; 13:34–35], but no curse is mentioned other than this outcome.) With perhaps one exception these writers were all Jewish. Wouldn’t they have said something about their own sad lot? The fact that they were followers of Yeshua should make no difference. If the holocaust was caused by God’s curse upon all Jewish people except those who followed Jesus, then why weren’t those followers spared in the holocaust? They were the first to be liquidated!

More than he hated ordinary Jewish people, Hitler hated those who claimed they could be Jewish and follow Jesus. Christianity, even if only an empty title taken on by the general Gentile population, was too ingrained in the culture to be overtly and widely attacked and removed at this time. That would have to wait. At this early stage only in certain pockets of German society, such as when one gradually reached the higher positions of power in the Nazi hierarchy, did pressures increase to renounce one’s faith. (See for example,
National Review 32 [8 August 1980]: 956.) But from the very beginning, any notion of the Jewishness of Christianity had to be totally eradicated.

There is a second problem with this view. Pilate washed his hands, presenting himself and perhaps even believing himself to be innocent of Yeshua’s blood. In turn Jesus’ opponents called for his blood to be on them and their posterity (Matthew 27:24–25). These statements are far too glaring to have been so completely passed over without comment by the New Testament writers, unless they knew full well that no such curse was passed onto Judaism other than on those who asked for it. If this were a curse upon all Jewish people, how could Jesus’ followers be exceptions?

These writers spoke much of the condition of the Jewish people who follow Yeshua as well as of those who reject him. Wouldn’t someone have mentioned this infamous curse if they believed it were in effect?

The third disproof of this view for any who accept the Hebrew and Christian scripture is the statement in Exodus 20:5 and 34:7 that one’s sin will bring punishment to one’s children to no more than the third or fourth generations. Furthermore, there may be indication by a later prophet that even this principle is no longer in effect (Jeremiah 31:29–30, Ezekiel 18.20). So it would be impossible for the sins of a handful of people to bring about judgment to a generation over nineteen centuries later. No, the Jewish New Testament writer, Paul, makes it clear that God has not rejected his people Israel (Romans 11:1). Each person will bear the result of his or her own sin alone.

As a side note, the statements in Exodus 20 and 34 are not saying that the children of the wicked of guilty of their parents’ sins. The Mosaic law makes this clear by commanding that the courts not punish children for their parents’ sins (Deuteronomy 24:16). The principle in Exodus 20 and 34 is simply that just as one’s sins bring suffering to others (say if one were to kill, enslave, or steal from another person), so the victims of one’s sins are also one’s children and oneself.

Who then should the follower of Yeshua believe was guilty of his death? Consider first of all that though Jewish leaders initiated the appeal to have Yeshua crucified, it was a Gentile governor alone who had the authority to have the request carried out and it was by Gentile hands alone that Yeshua was apprehended and his life ended.

Within this context the New Testament definitely does not confer exclusive guilt upon the Jewish people for taking Yeshua’s life. Through the acts of the Jewish and Gentile leaders who represent all humankind, it rather indicates that both Jews and Gentiles are guilty of his death (Acts 4:25–27; 1 John 2:2). Yet on the other hand, Yeshua said that no one could take his life without his freely giving it (John 10:17–18). Seeing himself as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, he judged that only by this act could he bring us reconciliation with God. Now if we had not alienated ourselves from God by our sin he would never have had to make this sacrifice (Revelation 5:9; 1 Peter 2:24). So all of us are responsible for his death; and yet, no one forced him, he gave up his life by his own free choice.

3. This chapter appears to says that the poor will always be present in Israel (Deuteronomy 15:11) while at the same time claiming that there will be no poor in the land (v. 4). This apparent contradiction can be resolved once we understand that the covenant through Moses was conditional. If the people did as God commanded them then the promised prosperity would come. As they would give to the poor, as God commanded, the poor would prosper. But others would eventually replace them, giving the prosperous further opportunity to obey God’s command of giving to the poor. By a continuing process there would always be poverty and yet poverty would constantly be eliminated from the land. So absence of poverty would be conditional upon continual obedience. Even with complete obedience each generation would have opportunities to be tested as to whether they would obey this part of the covenant.

4. Cited in “A Word from Jerusalem,” in the January-February 1987
Newsletter of the International Christian Embassy, P.O. Box 1192, Jerusalem, Israel 91010.

5. Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill,
The Hiding Place (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1971), 162.

6. See Sid Roth’s
Time Is Running Out (Brunswick, Ga.: Messianic Vision Publishers).

7. Only if God had chosen to call a particular people, as God chose ancient Israel, should there be no competing religions allowed. Usually the sole issue for Israel was one of choice, not knowledge. The question was whether they would follow the God of justice and goodness, the God worthy of their love, or whether they would follow unworthy gods or unworthy systems. Normally that choice could be made without even learning the content of other religions. If God desired a people who would serve no other gods and a people who would not be mixed with any others who serve any unworthy gods, it was quite right for God to command this of his people and anyone who would not follow this way would clearly be worthy of death. Of course, my claim presupposes that one would need good reason to believe this command was given by a God who deserves one’s full commitment and obedience. Even if one knew that seeking after other gods or belief systems were wrong, there would have been nothing to stop that person from leaving Israel to do so without being found out. Nevertheless, to serve a lesser god and to forsake the One who deserves to be worshiped does deserve death.

It does not follow from this that the Christian message should not be heard by the Jew who takes these commands of the Torah seriously. Because Yeshua presented evidence that he was the promised Jewish Messiah, he should be heard and considered just as we would hear and test any claimed prophet of Israel. But each individual must evaluate his claims for oneself. No authority has the right to speak for the whole nation on this point. Just as some kings, priests, and prophets of ancient Israel, those of highest political and spiritual authority, had at various times rejected the God of Israel, so it should not be considered inconceivable that the greatest rabbis or even a council of the highest rabbis might reject God’s will today.

Some rabbinical tradition places the authority of majority rabbinical decision over even the signs that were to attest to a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15–22) or even over the voice of God from heaven. (See Michael Brown, “Tradition or Truth,” in
They Thought for Themselves, Sid Roth, ed., [Brunswick, Ga: MV Press, 1996], 140–2.) The obvious problem is that there is no good reason to accept such rabbinical tradition.

8. This is not to say that there is not a legitimate place for even book burning if the act is given a different meaning. When early Ephesian followers of Yeshua burned their books of magical arts (Acts 19:19) they were not advocating a censorship of ideas as Hitler did. They were saying that they had found themselves to be in bondage to oppressive spiritual forces through these works. They were not saying that others should not determine for themselves whether such arts are as destructive as they claimed; rather, they were merely expressing their opposition to and freedom from this system. It’s the same as if an ex-Nazi were to burn his once loved copy of
Mein Kampf.

9. Richard Terrell,
Resurrecting the Third Reich (Lafayette, La.: Hunting House, 1994), 80–82.

The root beliefs that led to the holocaust and its resistance. Samuel and Pearl Oliner, in The Altruistic Personality (N.Y.: Free Press, 1988), look at the mindset of the rescuers. Terrell’s Resurrecting the Third Reich looks at more of the historical background of this era.

11. Corrie ten Boom,
Father ten Boom (Fleming Revel, 1978), 33.

Father ten Boom, 33.

The Hiding Place, 25.

Father ten Boom, 146.

The Hiding Place, 99.

The Hiding Place, 138.

17. The New Testament teaches that except under special conditions God forgives all those who call upon him in repentance and contrition, so I’m not saying that this pastor was without hope. Committing the unpardonable sin may be one such condition. It is often believed to be either continual refusal to repent or avoid sin or sins of certain gravity. So I’m also not saying that he had not passed the point of reprobation. Certainly his act cannot be excused by appeal to the command to obey your government (Romans 13:1). One may obey one’s leaders only if God’s commands are not thereby broken (see Acts 4:19).

18. Richard Neuhaus,
National Review (10 June 1988), 42.

19. Ram Dass and Paul Gorman,
How Can I Help? Stories and Reflections on Service (Alfred A. Knoff, 1985).

20. Dave Hunt,
Peace, Prosperity, and the Coming Holocaust (Eugene, Or.: Harvest House, 1983), chapter 11.

21. Johannes Aagaard, “Hindu Scholars, Germany and the Third Reich,”
Update, Sept. 1982. Cited in Hunt, 150–51.