Faith and the Holocaust
Harry W. Mazal OBE answers:
Thank you for your recent query.
I am one of the volunteers in the Holocaust History Project who responds to questions from our readers. It is possible that you will receive answers from other members of our organization.
"Jews" is spelled with a capitol "J."
Your question would be better answered by a theologian than by a group of historians. Most of the members of the Holocaust History Project, in any case, are not Jewish.
As one who is, but is not even remotely religious, all I can do is quote the words of a Holocaust survivor, Nobel Prize winner, and very devout Jew, Elie Wiesel:
From words spoken to the National Civil Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony, Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C. April 1979:
(Quoting from his book)
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
From words spoken at the Remembrance Day observance, Capitol Rotunda, Washington, D.C. April 30, 1984:
The Talmud tells us that when God gave the Law to the people of Israel he lifted Mount Sinai over the heads of the Jewish people and said, 'If you accept the Law, you shall live. If not you shall die.' And so we accepted the Law.
Finally, a quotation from the book that may have some answers for you:
Holocaust: Religious & Philosophical Implications
Essay entitled "The 614th Commandment" by Emil L. Fackenheim
[...] ...we are first commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. We are commanded, second, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish. We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with Him or with belief in Him lest Judaism perish. We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted. To abandon any of these imperatives, in response to Hitler's victory at Auschwitz, would be to hand him yet other posthumous victories.
In brief, it would appear that Jews have clung to their faith in spite of the Inquisition, the Blood Libels, the destruction of their Temple, the Crusades, the pogroms, the ghettos, and the Holocaust because Jews are, in spite of the many calamities that have befallen them, and unlike many other faiths, strongly, bound to their religion and to their God
Harry W. Mazal OBE
Daniel Mittleman answers:
Thank you for writing. I am one of the people who answers questions for The Holocaust History Project. You ask a very interesting question. Others here may also wish to answer you; let me tell you about the sources I know of.
A previous questioner asked how Jews could keep their faith after experiencing the Holocaust. Harry Mazal's answer to that question is at http://www.holocaust-history.org/questions/faith.shtml Mr. Mazal references two books in his answer.
Here are several other books that might be of use to you. May I suggest you take a look at these in a library to determine how well they address your question.
Leonard Dinnerstein, America and Survivors of the Holocaust, Columbia University Press (1982)
Abraham Sacher, The Redemption of the Unwanted, Harper and Row (1987)
Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, HarperCollins, New York (1992)
John K. Roth and Michael Berenbaum (Eds.) Holocaust: Religious & Philosophical Implications, New York (1989)
Raul Hilberg, The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian, Ivan R Dee, Inc. (1996)
May I suggest to you that for many (most?) survivors the answer to your question will be quite complex and somewhat ambiguous. If one is a survivor when many of his/her family have perished, one is both thankful for surviving and in extreme grief over one's losses. Further, it is not at all uncommon for one to feel a strong sense of guilt for surviving while others have not. I can imagine -- though I am not speaking on any authority -- that the spiritual outcomes for the Holocaust survivors have been ambiguous, complex, very personal, and have evolved over the passage of time. As you research an answer to your question, do not expect to find a direct straightforward explanation.
why lose faith? Please dont take offense to this: JUST THINK maybe the jews should have believed in Jesus Christ. maybe the holocaust would have never occured if they could think for one second that God had a son.
Mike Stein Responds:Hello, I am one of the people who answers questions sent to email@example.com.
You appear to be unaware that the Nazis did not care what the Jews believed. To the Nazis, Jews were a race, not a religion; your parents and not your church was what decided the issue. Jews who converted to Christianity were marked for the concentration camps no less than observant and atheistic Jews. See for example:
back to the list of questions
Last modified: December 7, 2003