Why in the world would someone WANT to go to Auschwitz? Well, here is my story.
Many of you know that I was Jewish before I became a Christian (and a pastor!). I spent a lot of time in Jewish youth group, made many friends, and took on some leadership roles in my temple back in Knoxville, TN. I loved it. In fact, many of the things I got to do in temple helped shape my early thinking about some kind of spiritual leadership, and here I am today, a minister, which is another very long story!
However, I had a lot of opportunity during my time within the Jewish community to become familiar with how important it is to remember the Holocaust, to educate people about it, and hear stories and build relationships with survivors. When I was in middle school, our youth group put on the play, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” which is about children in the Holocaust. When I was a freshman in high school, I took part in an amazing Holocaust Remembrance program which was part of an event at the Knoxville Museum of Art. A group from my high school choir teamed up with another high school in the area, and we learned amazingly beautiful music from the Holocaust to sing. We also put together a small dance group, which I was a part of, and we added a dance portion to the program as well. I remember one of our pieces included us running around packing suitcases as if we were being forced out of homes. We also learned some traditional Jewish dances. I also was privileged to sing “Jerusalem of Gold” as a solo (in Hebrew).
In college, I took a class on Literature of the Holocaust, which deepened my interest in Holocaust studies, art, stories of survival, and history. Even though my personal faith journey had led me to Christianity, I wanted to continue to learn about and honor my Jewish roots, which included taking part in Holocaust remembrance and opportunities to learn.
When I moved to Terre Haute after seminary to serve a church there, I learned about the CANDLES museum and felt drawn to it right away. When I met Eva and heard her story, I wanted to learn more. It seems that there have been many opportunities throughout my life to learn about the Holocaust in deep and meaningful ways, and so I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. I felt drawn to this journey to Auschwitz as soon as I heard about it, and I look forward to the experiences we will have there.
As a pastor (and former Jew), I also want to go to see and hear firsthand about Eva’s understanding of forgiveness. I want to understand where her faith is now, or if she has any at all. I want chances to come back and share my experiences and her story with others, that they might understand the deep forgiveness of God and our capacity to forgive. Above all, I want to journey to Auschwitz to learn, to listen, to build relationships, to honor the millions who perished, and to understand how we can work to overcome evil in this world.
The sign for the CANDLES museum has this phrase in Hebrew: “tikkun olam,” which means, “Healing the world.” Each of us is charged with that task. I hope that this journey will continue to plant seeds in my own life, that as a minister I can pass on to others.