It is 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops on January, 27 1945. There are now few survivors. Fewer to tell the story. It is a horror that has haunted history and blemished Europe.
Adventists had a small part in that story—some hiding and protecting Jews, some ending up in the death camps themselves.
Visit Adventist Church headquarters in Riga, Latvia, and you will find a small star of David in the pavement outside the building. Scattered across the city, the stars are memorials to the brave citizens who hid or helped Jews during the Nazi occupation.
Not far up the road is another star, outside a simple timber-frame building where two Adventist sisters lived in an upstairs apartment. They took in a 17-year-old Jewish boy, sheltering him at great risk to their own lives. Their kindness let to his acceptance of Christianity. Ysack Kleimanis eventually became a minister and one of Latvia’s most effective soul winners.
In Hungary, László Michnay saved the lives of over fifty Jews, hiding them in church properties and with church members, and working to help them escape.
“There were so few that had the courage for this,” recalls Magda Berzenczey, Michnay’s daughter, referring to Adventists who helped Jews during the Nazi period. “Yes, there were some, but there should have been more, many more.”
Michnay decided to build up a clandestine network for the rescue of Jews. His faithful wife, Jolán, a “mother in Israel,” supported him wholeheartedly.
Central to his rescue operation was the Adventist church building on Székely Bertalan Street, near the Jewish ghetto. In a range of small rooms, corridors, and corners of this building—in cellars, attics, under the stairways, and behind the stage—the fearless pastor kept in hiding a number of Jews, code-named “U-boats.” He made no distinction between Adventists of Jewish descent or Jews. Michnay tried to help everyone who asked. You can read his full story here.
Auschwitz symbolizes the horror of the Nazi death camps and the genocide that wiped out 6 million innocent lives. Yet Adventists were not immune to the horror of the death camps.
In a moving documentary that highlights Adventist mission in the Trans-European Division (TED) across 90 years, Raafat Kamal, TED President, shares stories of hope and courage that still inspire us to mission today. Among those stories is the testimony of Polish Union President, Ryszard Jankowski. He recounted how nine of his family members were incarcerated in Auschwitz and Ravensbrück because they faithfully kept the Sabbath. Most of them died there.
While Jankowski shared the story with obvious emotion, he also states that it is their example of faithfulness that inspires him to mission.
Holocaust memorial day is more than a history lesson. There is an insistence that history should not be repeated, despite more recent crisis in Rwanda, the Balkans, and with the Rohingya peoples.
“More than one million people, most of them Jews, were murdered at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland before it was liberated in January 1945. Remembrance is not enough, and past lessons are quickly forgotten,” remarks TED President Raafat Kamal. “Today, evil and hatred is on the increase with new faces. The remedy can only be found as reflected in the mission of our Seventh-day Adventist Church, ‘Make disciples of Jesus Christ who live as His loving witnesses and proclaim to all people the everlasting gospel of the Three Angels’ Messages in preparation for His soon return’.”
Adventist leadership in Poland published an official statement recognizing the horror of what took place at the Nazi death camps. In part it states, "On the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Board of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Republic of Poland, on behalf of all church members, would like to pay tribute in memory of all victims of this terrible crime. Auschwitz-Birkenau is one of the darkest pages in human history. This is the place where, using biblical symbolism, the blood of our brothers and sisters innocently shed on those grounds calls to God and to us. To us—to be remembered, and to God—for justice at the Last Judgment." Read the full statement in English here or in Polish here.
"The horror of the holocaust is not dimmed by time,” states TED Executive Secretary Audrey Andersson. “Rather the passing of time puts a greater responsibility on all of us to work for reconciliation where there is war and discord, to ensure these events are never repeated."
A poem by Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy highlights our desire for peace and the horror of war:
Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God,– War!
Today we sorrow with those that mourn. We commemorate those who stood by the dispossessed and we commit ourselves to follow the wisdom of Micah 6:8: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?” [AMPC]