May 8, 2011

Anne Frank: The Hiding Place

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live as the Frank family did in hiding? Now you can step into the world of Anne Frank here, a wonderful, award-winning website designed by the Anne Frank House. Their main website allows visitors to meet the members of the Frank family and discover new facts about the Anne Frank story.

This site is fully interactive: it's like walking through a completely recreated hiding place during World War II. Don't waste any time! Check out the fascinating story that begins... right behind the bookcase.

Entrance to the Frank's Hiding Place. Click the picture to go directly to the site

April 27, 2011

Why did the Holocaust have to happen?

The question that has been asked for decades, undoubtedly even for centuries: why does God allow suffering, hardship, and things that seem to be horrific to come into our lives?

Why is there cancer? Why death? Why the Holocaust? What is the purpose for these things: does God in His love and mercy have to allow such painful, difficult things to occur?

Unfortunately, many people never find the answer to this question. Even as we read the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, a similar attitude of acerbic bitterness quite often seeps out of their writings. "After all," they say, "How could God allow six million of His 'Chosen People' to be senselessly murdered?"

I'm only twenty one, and I certainly don't have all of the answers. I didn't live through the Holocaust; I don't have cancer; I have so much to be thankful for. However, if we are going to answer this question, we must look to a standard, something that will provide a basis from which we can build our understanding. And what better to use than the Bible: God's Holy Word?

Job being counseled by his friends
God's Word does weigh in on this universal question about human suffering and trouble. Consider the life of Job. God allowed Satan to destroy Job's children, home, servants, and livestock (Job 1:13-2:8). Suddenly, poor Job is sitting in a pile of ashes, covered in painful boils, left with only his wife, and less his beloved children and a substantial livelihood! How could all of this happen? Doesn't it seem so unjust and unfair?

We might expect God to give Job a pretty good reason for all of this. Maybe we would assume that God will eventually speak to Job and give a good reason for why all these things happened. The answer we are kind of waiting for doesn't actually come for a while. Not until Job 38 does God give Job insight into the reasoning.

You will have to read Job 38 through 42 to get a full picture of God's response (and really the whole book), but I'll try to summarize. God asks Job a lot of questions: "where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" and "Did you give peacocks their beautiful feathers?" In other words, God's says that we cannot always understand what and why He does what He chooses to do! God used the terrible things that happened to Job for His (God's) glory and Job's benefit: look at Job 42. This in a nutshell is what we observe from Job's example.

He is not obligated to answer or please us: He is God! I asked someone about this. There response was, "If this [the fact that God owes us neither an explanation nor reasons for why He allows things] bothers us, we have both too low an opinion of Him and too high an opinion of ourselves."Reality is that this world is not about us. Many factors play into the causes of suffering, but the bottom line is that all of Creation exists to bring glory to God. God is always righteous in all of His actions. We are to trust Him and acknowledge this as fact about Him even when the circumstances seem to indicate otherwise. 

In closing, consider the words of the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon. In Ecclesiastes, another Bible book, Solomon says, 

"I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever:
nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it:
and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him."
Ecclesiastes 3:14

We'll have to finish up on this topic at a later date. Be thinking about it, feel free to comment, and check in later for some conclusions / applications!

April 25, 2011

What does a history teacher say? An interview with Mr. Mike Zwolanek

Another interview already? Believe it or not, we've struck a gold mine today! It is my privilege to post another interview, this time with a faculty member at the college I attend. Mr. Mike Zwolanek has been an assistant professor in the Humanities Department and Department of Business since 1995. I recently had an opportunity to interview him about the Holocaust.

The following questions and answers are from our interview.

As a history teacher, what is something you wish more people knew about the Holocaust? Or  what is one fact/principle/person you have gleaned in your studies that more people should know about?

I think it might be the widespread support for Hitler’s plans. I think there’s a view that it was only Hitler’s plan and perhaps a few of his most loyal henchmen who used force to make it happen. Sadly, there were many in Germany, and outside of Germany, in Poland, Russia, other places who willingly turned Jews over to the Nazis for self-preservation, often (somewhat understandable), but, also, often because of widespread Antisemitism across Europe.

From a Biblical perspective, do you have any input on the Holocaust? 

We can be encouraged that despite one of mankind’s most concerted efforts to eradicate the Jews, God’s promise was kept—to preserve His chosen people.

More specifically, we know that the Holocaust was a horrific event. Often people question God's reasoning for allowing such an event to happen: how would you respond to that, and can you think of any historic examples of the same principle?

It’s always tough to explain why horrible things happen in our world, of course. Perhaps a part of it is to show that above it all, He still reigns—it goes on, but He stops it, and can work with, through its results. One of the reasons, I think, is to show very clearly that we are NOT basically good, but we are, as humans, capable of horrific, horrible things—not just the Hitlers of the world, but also the thousands who cooperated with his efforts. After the war, Sociology/Psychology tried to examine if these things were just “German” in nature, and many of their experiments showed that, sadly, they were universal in nature.

Interview with Dr. Jeff Brown

Something I've always wanted to do is talk to someone who is presently in Germany, Poland, or some other country that has been significantly impacted by the events of the Holocaust. Finally, I got my opportunity!

Dr. Jeff Brown is a long-time missionary to the country of Germany. Recently, he graciously granted me the time to interview him about his experiences in Germany relating to the Holocaust. Below are the questions and his responses. Enjoy!

Are there any ways in which public perception of the Holocaust is unique or changing in Germany?

I am not current enough on this. I will answer as best I can. Most school children, since the 1980s have been well-taught about how the Holocaust took place and who was responsible. There is still an unspoken feeling of guilt on the part of most Germans about the responsibility of their nation in the event. There are quite a few youths in Germany who side with the neo-Nazi movement. They are also Holocaust deniers. But they are really a small percentage of the population. The amount of antisemitic activity (such as desecrating Jewish cemeteries) has increased in the past 6-8 years. Again, this represents a small minority of German youth. But it is growing (while at the same time the radical left is growing even more among youth in Germany). Political events of 70 years ago, or even 20 years ago have little meaning to many young people under age 30. So they don't take the lessons as seriously.

What is the attitude of German nationals you have interacted with towards the Holocaust? Do they relate personally to it? What is the general attitude towards Jewish people?

There is a three-fold answer to this question.

First, 20 years ago I often met older people who had lived through WWII, and who were positive about Hitler. They felt that the Jews had brought their fate upon themselves (the logic was twisted, but they believed it). I also met other people who spoke plainly about how evil the Hitler regime was, and how it was responsible for the murder of millions of Jewish people.

Second, the postwar generation (my generation) generally understands that what the Hitler regime did was an abomination, that it must never be allowed to happen again. They also usually answer that they are morally no better than their parents and grandparents. They simply know now from history not to repeat it. That is an honest answer. Then there are others in the postwar generation who are always defensive when the subject is brought up.

Third, the members of the Generation X and later, generally know about the Holocaust and its causes. But the event is distant, and for some, not meaningful. In particular, young people in the eastern part of Germany have not been as well taught about the Holocaust as those in the west.
18 years ago Der Spiegel found that 25% of the German public is antisemitic. I would guess this statistic, if examined again, would prove at least the same as before in the nation. Jews that I know tell me that they have received criticisms at work, simply for being Jews.

Do you think Germans are more cognizant of Holocaust events than other people around the world?

Definitely. Only Jewish people exceed them in sensitivity to this subject. As I mentioned in my first answer, children are taught as a part of school curriculum how the Holocaust happened and who was responsible.

April 19, 2011

Too Young To Die?

One of the most gripping and timeless stories written concerning the Holocaust comes from a young German Jew. Her sixteen years of life were cut short in the death camp Auschwitz, but her personal diary is still read today.

Anne Frank. Her name is synonymous with the Holocaust, and her memory represents one normal person's account of life in hiding from hateful murderers. The video provides a brief glimpse into the life of Anne Frank.

April 12, 2011

Holocaust Essay Contest

In high school, we learned only a little bit about the Holocaust and surrounding events. But, one of our class projects for the year was to enter a Holocaust essay contest sponsored by a local Jewish Community Center.

Since this was a topic I had always been interested in, I had no problem diving into the details surrounding an important facet of Holocaust history: kristallnacht. Whether you are a well-read scholar who knows boatloads of information, or if you are someone like me who always wants to learn more, I hope everyone learns from this short essay. This link is to the essay in the Jewish Chronicle. Enjoy!

March 20, 2011

Simon Wiesenthal: the man who wouldn't quit

This project is an interesting glimpse into the life of an amazing Holocaust survivor. Simon Wiesenthal miraculously outlived six million fellow Jews to create an incredible legacy after World War II. Wiesenthal volunteered to the War Crimes Tribunal after recovering from life in the death camps, then went on to doggedly research, hunt, and convict Nazi war criminals. His efforts led to the capture and conviction of over 1,100 criminals linked to the Holocaust. But, don't stop here... find out more!

March 12, 2011

Readers are Leaders... Time for a Book Review!

Reaching back into the events of the past often sounds boring, laborious, and no-fun. Surely it is going to be a lot like homework! We don’t want to waste our time working to learn when we are missing a college basketball game, do we?

Well, if you want to approach it like that, maybe history isn’t very fun. But for some people, the past is like an enormous pirate’s treasure chest: just open the lid and the entire fortune is yours to take!

Therefore, it’s time for our first… Book Review! Now before you ignore this post, hear me out. Even if you don’t like books about history or the Holocaust, this is one you have to read!

The book is called Remember Us: My Journey from the Shtetl Through the Holocaust, by Martin Small. Now, I’ve read a lot of books on World War II and the Holocaust: anything I can get my hands on. But this book is unique. Martin Small is an incredible writer, and his true story is absolutely gripping. Many Holocaust survivors seem to write with a very bitter or hopeless spirit. While Martin Small endured all of the horrors of the Holocaust, he maintains a positive outlook that refreshes readers and teaches a powerful lesson.  If you can get through the first three chapters, which are a little tedious, the rest of the book is absolutely gripping. I promise! So poignant is Small’s story that it has received much attention, even from Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel recommends Martin Small’s book.

I’m understand if you can’t afford to buy this book, or if you never have time to read, or if you don’t even like reading. But if you see it at your library, or if you need something to read on a trip, I can’t tell you how much you will benefit from reading Remember Us. It will change your perspective on the Holocaust. It also reminds each of us just how much we have to be thankful for!

March 8, 2011

The Auschwitz album

Could we ever imagine what it was like to be herded into a concentration camp? A Jew who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau released in 1980 a photo album she found in a German prison guard's coat. The pictures she discovered were donated to Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust museum in Israel. I compiled only a portion of the album into this slide show: the complete album can be accessed at the Yad Vashem website. All captions and photos are from the Yad Vashem collection:the entire exhibit is available online as well. The music is "Kol Nidre" (All Vows) recorded by Marty Goetz. Notice especially the faces of the Jews. We can talk all we want about numbers, figures, and statistics, but we must never forget that these were real, living people just like us!

Einstein and the Holocaust

Albert Einstein, 1947
Albert Einstein. The very name reminds us of greatness, of intelligence, of genius. A man who undoubtedly possessed one of the greatest minds of our century, Einstein is arguably one of the greatest scientists ever. But what does he have to do with the Holocaust? Is Albert Einstein relevant to our understanding of those terrible events?

The most brilliant man of the century was born in Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1879. Einstein’s early life was fairly active; he moved from Ulm to Milan in Italy and then to Zurich, Switzerland where he attended the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School, from which he graduated in 1900.

Albert Einstein’s achievements are numerous and often perplexing. The breakout point of Einstein’s scientific career came in 1905, when after struggling with with professors in college and parents at home, Einstein published four articles in a German magazine, Annalen der Physic. Einstein began to gain recognition in the science community. In 1919, Einstein tested and confirmed several of his theories on relativity and photo-electricity. The results of his studies gained Albert Einstein the Nobel Physics Prize in 1921. Still rising in international fame, he seemed headed for a stellar life as the leading physicist of Germany and the world.

Einstein at his home in New Jersey
The key factor in Einstein’s relevance to the Holocaust is that he left Germany. Einstein’s prominence as an intellectual Jew and international celebrity placed a heavy price on his head. In 1932, German antisemitism was close to the boiling point. When Nazis posted Einstein’s picture in a magazine with the subscript “Not yet hanged,” Einstein realized his safety was compromised. He left Germany for America, where he settled in Princeton, New Jersey.

Okay, so what does this have to do with the Holocaust? Albert Einstein was driven from his homeland by hateful, ignorant, calloused people. His incredible genius and God-given abilities were ignored and ridiculed in foolish attempts to perfect the perfect Aryan race.

What would have happened if Albert Einstein would have remained in Germany? What would have had to happen for him to want to stay? Would the result have been different if Hitler promoted a philosophy of living peaceably with all men, as Romans 12:18 says? If Biblical principles of love, compassion, mercy, and humility were applied to international public thought, undoubtedly the horrors of the Holocaust would have been avoided altogether.

February 20, 2011


Have you ever thought about perspective? Perception is something we usually don’t think about, yet it influences everything we know and recognize with our senses. Each of us probably has a unique perspective on Plato, fireworks, democracy, french fries, and pets. Our perspective might be influenced by our own interaction with these topics, others’ experiences we are aware of, or from our own knowledge.

Perspective is influenced by many factors. For example, have you taken a ride on a roller coaster? I never have, so your roller coaster experience would give you a different perspective than mine. You might enjoy memories of the feelings you experienced, or you might try to forget the nausea and fear the ride produced! Since I’ve never ridden on a roller coaster, my only experience comes from other’s descriptions and my own imagination. I might see a roller coaster from a distance, I might watch videos of what it’s like to ride one, and I might even stand next to one and watch others ride it. But until I actually ride a roller coaster, I won’t know exactly what it’s like.

History can be a lot like that. Most of history is something that we will never see in real life. We might hear others tell us about it. We might watch videos or even stand in museums of history. The events of the past are gone, and we cannot relive them. But we still can certainly experience history today!

The Holocaust is our primary focus here. The next few posts will significantly influence our perspective on the Holocaust. We will examine fascinating historical accounts and events and learn from influential personal testimonies. The best part is that we will see what God has to say about these historical events. The Bible has the answers to all of mankind’s needs, and we will be examining what God’s Word says about human history.