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Where Was God in the Holocaust?

The Learning Center here at Yad Vashem is a darkened room with a circle of about 20 computers and a pair of headphones each in a kind of carrel. Inside the circle of carrels, invisible from the computer desks, is a circle of benches and a large screen that continually shows 17 FAQs about the Holocaust.

Here are some of the questions:

Why were Jews specifically targeted by the Nazis? Why didn’t the Jews try to escape? Where was God in the Holocaust? How have our concepts of good and evil changed since this event? 

The educational team here found scholars and survivors who would answer one or two questions that fit their area of expertise or experience. These were recorded and made available on the computer screens in this room. To date, these responses are not available in any other format.

We had only about 30 minutes here one afternoon. My partner was Bruce, a Jewish teacher in a Catholic school. We decided to listen to “Where was God in the Holocaust?” Here’s the gist:

  1. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor said this: “We have no answers to deep mysteries. The Book of Job says, ‘Shall we receive good things from God and not receive the evil?’ Job was told that there are no answers for flesh and blood to some questions.”
     
  2. Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, bishop of Paris and also a Holocaust survivor who had been a boy at the time, was hidden by a priest and later became a Catholic. “I believe that God was present in the Night of the Holocaust and with those who died, but God was hidden,” he said. “Many who survived retained their faith. Some actually discovered God through it and some lost their faith. I have talked with many survivors. They reached the end of horror and are now full of tolerance. But sadly, some are full of bitterness. Others are full of mercy. But in the end, I have met many more who are merciful than who are bitter wolves.”
     
  3. Dr. Avinoam Rozenak, a scholar, said: “God does not determine the fate of human beings, even if you pray to him. God is in what you are prepared to do when you have only 10 more minutes to live. Jews went to the gas chambers and knew that they would be dead in 10 minutes. Some hugged the children. Some blessed God. Some stepped on others to try to get up to a slightly opened window. God is the one who will consider not your fate but what you choose to do in that last 10 minutes.” 
     
  4. Professor Zvi Bachrach, a historian and survivor, said: “I am angry at the Holy One. I cannot accept divine providence at such a horror. But aside from the Holocaust, there are so many beautiful things in the universe and so many very good people. So, I just can’t deal with the Holocaust or with God.”
     
  5. Professor Eliezer Schweid, a Jewish philosopher, said: “Faith is a deep psychological, social, spiritual and emotional need. Every person trusts something, whether it is God or socialism or Zionism or communism or something else. And these beliefs will be put to the test. We must hold onto your trust as a spiritual resource. If you give up your faith and trust, you cannot live.”
A sculpture at Yad Vashem.
A sculpture at Yad Vashem