Israel's 'Eternal Memorial' a Light to Never Forget

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Nearly 70 years have passed since Germany's Third Reich systematically wiped out at least 6 million European Jews, about a million and a half of whom were children.

Memories of that horrific genocide are still very much alive in the mind of Israelis.

An estimated 125,000 people survived the camps and thousands of others were in other places. Eight-five-year-old Asher Udd is one of them. He often talks to groups at Yad Vashem, Israel's main Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, about how he survived.

Udd, who calls his survival a "miracle," said he never questioned God during his time in the concentration camp.

"Through the war, I didn't ask questions. I was busy, every second, every minute, every hour, maximum every day to fight to stay alive. I didn't inquire," he told CBN's Scott Ross.

"Today, if you ask me, 'Anshel, how did you survive?' I say I didn't run away; I didn't fight. I'm not religious but I point upstairs. I believe in God," he said.

An 'Eternal Memorial'

Many feel it's important to commemorate the past and also to educate this generation to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. That's what Yad Vashem is all about.

Robert Rozett, director of Yad Vashem Libraries, spoke with Ross about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, then and now.

The museum's name comes from the book of Isaiah, where God promises to create a "yad vashem," which in Hebrew, really means an "eternal memorial."

While Rozett doesn't believe a holocaust would happen today in the same way, he said Jewish people must be on guard because some anti-Semitism is genocidal.

"Well, first of all, anti-Semitism... is at the heart of the Holocaust, right, because the Nazis have a hateful ideology that's racist and anti-Semitic. And their racial arch enemy is the Jew," he explained.

"And that's also, again, part of an unfolding anti-Semitism that's been with us in the Western civilization for about 2,000 years," he said.

When asked whether there is a correlation between Islamic terrorism and this Jew hatred that occurs today, Rozett replied, "It's fundamentally very anti-Semitic."

"That, of course, doesn't mean that all Islam is that way," he added. "That kind of Islam at times really talks in genocidal terms… If you listen to (former President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad and Iran, several years ago, it's already threatening Israel, you know, with the right to exist."

Rozett said that although the Holocaust is over, anti-Semitism really never went away.

Christian-Jewish Relations

Still, Rozett notes that nowadays he sees an improvement in Jewish-Christian relations. Even during the Holocaust some Christians and others, like Oscar Schindler and Corrie Ten Boom, risked their lives to save the Jewish people.

Susanna Kokkonen, director of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem, spoke with Ross in an area called the "Avenue of the Righteous" about the Gentiles willing to risk their lives for the Jews.

"They were people who were non-Jews and they were willing to risk their lives to help a Jewish person by hiding them or by giving them food or different things," Kokkonen explained.

"And we have trees planted for these people. So, here for example, we have the tree of the Ten Boom family from Holland. But Corrie Ten Boom's tree actually died when Corrie died. And they had to plant a new tree."

"This is going to be a big tree one day but it's for the next generation, and so were good deeds of these people," she continued.

"They may have saved one person, but that person went on to have a family, and it means that they saved the next generation," she said.

Up to a million people visit Yad Vashem each year. Kokkonen said many of those visitors are Christians.

In 2006, the museum decided to establish the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem, an outreach program toward the Christian world.

"I feel that on one hand there are some Christians and some Christian leaders who have really studied that period (the Holocaust)," she said. "And they really want to know what happened, why the Christian world was unable to see the Jews as their neighbors."

Spiritual Blindness

But many wonder where the Christian church was in 1933 when Adolph Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany.

"I think if we look at Christian leaders, the people who were responsible, the people who were leading other people, we see that they were unable to recognize evil," Kokkonen explained.

"And I think it was that blindness, that spiritual blindness that made them unable to stand," she said. "And if you look at Hitler, he offered a religion. You could say that there were two religions in Germany at that time: Nazism and Christianity."

Kokkonen also said it's possible the Holocaust could happen again in a different way.

"When you look at political processes, and you look at legislation, mass murder never starts as such," she told Ross. "There's always a preceding period of changes in the society when things become more acceptable to people."

A Clear Mandate

When asked what gave her a love for Jews, Kokkonen said, "I love the Bible."

"But I also feel that when you look at Israel here in a sea of hostile countries, you can clearly see what light it presents, what Israel brings to the world and how God miraculously brought this nation back to their ancient homeland," she continued. "And I think that we as Christians, we don't have a choice. The Bible is very clear."

Part of Kokkonen's work includes running a Christian leadership seminar to educate leaders from around the world.

Despite Israel's past and the ongoing presence of anti-Semitism, she remains hopeful for the future of the Jewish state and the Christian church.

"Because God's word is so clear that He is Israel's future, and He is our future," she said. "So we have every reason to be hopeful. And whatever we will have to go through, He is going to give us the strength."

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Scott Ross and Julie Stahl

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