“Forgiveness demonstrates the presence in the world of the love
which is more powerful than sin.”
- Pope John Paul II
This is just one of the quotes I wrote down from the Pope John Paul II museum, but I think it’s so powerful. We’ve now been back for a little over a month, and with the stress of the end of the semester between finals and papers due, our trip to Oswiecim seems so far away. However, I still think about what we learned in that short time away. One of the main things I realized is that there were so many things surrounding WWII and the Shoah that I will never be able to understand, and I definitely struggled with that realization for a while, even for a good few weeks after we were back. However, what we’ve learned and continue to learn has shown me that love and forgiveness overpowers the hatred that continues to exist in our world.
Fr. Manfred, one of the lecturers we were lucky enough to have at the Center for Dialogue and Prayer, spoke to us about love and about how God is manifested through love. He told us that it was through love that God was present during the Shoah – that it was through love that God was present in the camps. He made it easier for me to understand that though love isn’t always clear and isn’t present in every story from that dark time, some stories allow us to see it in action and in this way, to see how God was present during the Shoah.
He shared a few stories of his encounters with survivors who had different perspectives on this idea of love and of God’s presence. One survivor that he knew had survived Auschwitz II-Birkenau, but his job was to throw corpses into the burning fields every day. Because of this, he never felt God’s presence; he didn’t understand why they had to die, or why he had to burn them, and he would hope that people would come to help their situation. He would wonder where God was and continue to ask why; he couldn’t see God through the destruction or in the people that surrounded him. I found the next perspective interesting as well because of what Fr. Manfred had to say about it. This woman worked in the women’s camp in Birkenau and saw people go to the gas chambers; she asked Fr. Manfred what he meant by God, and she told him that because of what she saw there, she is unable to believe in God. She did say, though, that she believes in love. Fr. Manfred said to us something like, “who am I?” to tell her that it’s the same thing – that when you believe in love, “that is what I am talking about when I speak of God.” I found this powerful, as it is in alignment with the teaching of respect for all beliefs.
The next story is yet a different outlook: this man was also a survivor of Auschwitz-II Birkenau, and he was not religious when he was there. However, he said that his experience during the Shoah made him realize that it means something to be Jewish. He began to study and learn and found that whenever people helped one another, when they were good to one another, when they did something for another that costed more than it helped them, that that was God in action. When you do something out of love that costs more than you gain, this is God — and it just amazes me that he took this understanding away from his own experience at Birkenau.
I’ve decided that while it is true that I will most likely never understand many of aspects of the Shoah, I know now that understanding everything is not the point. The point is standing witness to the tragedies of the past as well as to the progress we’ve made as a human race. The point is the greater understanding of love and respect for one another as humans that has come out of this experience for me and for our class, and hopefully, for the world as a whole. I’ve realized that in my memories of our time in Auschwitz, I’m starting to see the love more than the hate. Of course it’s easier to see the love when you aren’t standing in the middle of where it all happened, where the hate allowed for the worst crimes against humanity to be committed, but the understanding of how far we’ve come along with the realization of how much further we need to go is something I’m lucky to have acquired from this once in a lifetime experience.
|The Prayer of St. Francis, displayed in the Center for Dialogue and Prayer|