“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” (Deuteronomy 4: 9).
Some people ask me why I feel the need to go to places like Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and to Babi Yar in Ukraine where 33,000 Jews were murdered in one day. Why go to specifically hear wretched, horrific memories from those who were Jewish children in Ukraine during the holocaust—stories that still haunt these now elderly folk and ensuing generations of their families? Why follow wintry trails into forests to pause and grieve for the thousands of Jews who were murdered there and still lie awaiting justice? Why do I try to comprehend the ‘how and the why’ of the concerted efforts to eradicate every Jew from planet Earth?
Canadian-born Rick Weinecke, a non Jew, explains that he tried to argue with God concerning His prompting to Rick to create the Fountain of Tears, a memorial to the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. In his book ‘A Dialogue of Suffering Between the Crucifixion and the Holocaust’ Rick asks: “How did it come about? Where does a prayer begin? Does it happen at the same time the tears start to fall, or has it always been there, waiting for the right time to express itself? How could I create a memorial to the six million who perished when I don’t have a memory of it myself? I thought this was a good argument and convinced myself for a time it was not for me to do.
“Suddenly I felt the Lord say to me, ‘But I do…I have a memory of every man, every woman, every child, every train car, every camp, every pit, every cry from every gas chamber. I have a memory of it all. You can create from my memory, not yours’”. Rick’s words continue to deeply move me and serve to answer, in part, my own deepening emotion and response concerning the long and grievous suffering of the Jewish nation.
In February/March 2019 I led my eighth tour to Israel, this time beginning in Krakow to visit Auschwitz, Schindler’s Factory and meeting members of the Jewish community in this lovely city. We also enjoyed Jewish coffee establishments and restaurants delighting in their delicious cuisine.
I still struggle to grasp what we saw, heard and felt in the camps, in spite of them now being ‘cleaned-up’ sites. How could this wickedness have happened? Surely this was man, created in the image of God, giving permission to act as host to the same demonic spirit that took residence in Pharoah, Haman, Herod, Hitler and right through to today’s Israel-hating regimes.
When I was led to begin this tour in Poland, like Rick Weinecke, I began to question whether this was something God was definitely asking me to do. Would others be interested in walking through areas of Poland with me? Would others be drawn to visit Ukraine, this land of unspeakable grief, this land where each town and village has its own Babi Yar?
Would others be willing to go to a land which seems that wherever you place your feet, you are walking upon Jewish bones? The Lord spoke into my heart that this was not my tour but His and that He would prepare those He wished to accompany me. Later, as I spoke to each person who had accepted God’s invitation, I found that this is exactly what had occurred.
Whilst the journey was sobering, with tears and grief at times, there was superb Jewish/Christian fellowship and love, born out of shared experiences unable to be voiced adequately. It becomes ‘a knowing’ rather than requiring explanation.
After Krakow, my group and I flew to Kiev to assist in the Christians for Israel’s loving outreach to impoverished Jewish holocaust survivors, and their families. This was not a journey for the faint-hearted and certainly not a ‘holiday’.
Our time in Ukraine was beyond words as we worked with the Christians for Israel’s Aliyah team in their outstanding, servant-hearted work. Some of my group expressed their joy of partaking in the work by teary “thank you for bringing us here” statements. It was a privilege to assist in packing hundreds of food parcels and then delivering them to Jewish folk in far away villages, accessed by atrocious roads damaged by snow and melting ice.
We travelled 2000 kms during our time there. The elderly folk we visited, who were children during the holocaust, are still understandably deeply troubled by indelible memories of parents and siblings murdered before their eyes, babies thrown into furnaces and having their own childhoods stolen. They are so delightfully appreciative, especially for the loving visits as well as the food to supplement their meagre pensions which are used mainly for rent, heating and medicines. In addition to the food there is an invitation for passport and practical assistance to make Aliyah from Ukraine to Israel.
We visited the Jewish National Fund to hear of their role, in cooperation with Christians for Israel, in assisting Jewish Ukrainians to make Aliyah to Israel.
Following our time in Ukraine we flew to Israel for a wonderful two-week tour witnessing the miracle that this nation is, under God’s sovereign hand. We specifically visited some of the Christians for Israel’s projects whilst there. One of the most moving was a visit to First Home in the Homeland run by The Jewish Agency and supported by Christians for Israel. Here the group were able to see the ‘end result’ of the Aliya—from Ukraine to Israel. This is a very special place where Olim are taught Hebrew and assisted to settle into the Israeli community.
One of the loveliest moments during the tour was made possible when in Ukraine I presented a superb patchwork quilt made by a fellow member of my local Presbyterian Church in Springwood, NSW. When Frances Spinney heard I was returning to Ukraine she made the quilt, resplendent with Hebrew motifs including hand stitched Stars of David and incorporating Numbers 6:24-26. It was specifically made for a Jewish person or family who was making Aliyah.