It has been a very emotional couple of days; heights of joy in reuniting with my sister’s family (missionaries in Poland) after several years to solemn contemplation as I touring the Auschwitz 1 labor and death camp, to sheer wonder at the largest Medieval town square in Europe in “Old Town” Krakow. I am enjoying my first European travels in my life and becoming increasingly excited to be sharing the Word of God with Polish believers beginning this Friday evening and continuing on for a week (prayers appreciated).
I will hopefully blog some more in the days and weeks ahead about my travels, three things compelled me to write this post. 1. We were able to stay a night in “Old Town” Krakow in an apartment built in the 18th century and they happen to have updated it with internet access. 2. My eyes shot open about 4:00 am thanks to my body clock not yet adjusted to my new time zone. 3. I have been thinking much about my tour of Auschwitz 1 and wanted to get some reflections and thoughts written down.
here are some short, quick thoughts that I have had from Auschwitz 1 and then a few comments about the death camp of religion that I have been mulling over for the past 10 hours.
1. Only a fool or an evil person would deny or downplay the atrocities that were perpetrated by Nazis in their execution of Hitler’s “final solution” to the “Jewish question.” The evidence is copious, the numbers are staggering, and the stones scream loudly of evil when you see it in person.
2. The reason and need for hell has more meaning and power when you see with your own eyes and feel with your own hands what evil the heart of man is capable of. Shame, introspection, anger, sorrow, fear and many more emotions gripped my heart each time we walked into yet another cold brick building that served as torture chambers for countless souls. Walking into the “shower” rooms where the SS ushered calm, naked, men women and children who looked up expecting water to come out of the dummy shower heads, but instead began to vomit, shake, and scream as zyclon B gas poured into the execution chamber brought me to tears. As I touched the walls of that shower room, I thought of how many hundreds of thousands of tiny little hands clawed at those same walls and all I could think of was the evil human heart and the need for Divine grace. True, not all sinners become psychopaths like Hitler, but there was no way that Hitler alone is to blame for the nearly 1.1 million who were murdered in Auschwitz. Unless God should show mercy, there is no evil that the human heart cannot imagine.
3. The point of these “work camps” was not production, but death. There was little production value that these work camps produced for the Nazi military machine, their purpose and end was death. Our guide expressed several times and it was obvious from the visible evidence, that work itself was a tool intended to bring death. The SS required impossible labor upon the prisoners so that they would intentionally die if not immediately executed upon arrival. This was something I had not realized before my visit.
And this is what make the sign over the entrance to the camp so staggering. “Arbeit macht frei” –“Work will make you free” a steel sign made by prisoners in Auschwitz as a means of controlling the huge population of prisoners in the camp. It was pure propaganda. There was not one instance of anyone working for their freedom in Auschwitz. In fact, the harder one worked, the more likely they were to die sooner because of the terrible living conditions and petty punishments. It was a lie intended to distract the prisoners while the death engineers developed new ways to kill them all, and along the way to gain some resources for the Nazi war-machine.
As I ponder this sign, I could not help but think of how the world’s religions compare. Since in our first parents we all sinned, death camp upon all and all have sinned. As the sentence of death looms over every human being, we long for ways to escape the self genocide that our depraved life brings. And here comes the religions of the world, promising that we can be set free, if we are willing to work for it. And because, by nature we all are interested in doing something to better our condition, we believe the lie of the religious commanders and we work and work and work in order to be set free from sin and guilt. Yet we never are, because it is all a lie, propaganda. No one is set free by work, work further enslaves and weakens the soul until death surrounds and kills. As Paul the Apostle says, “The letter (law) kills, but the spirit gives life.” We need someone outside of the death camp of religion to liberate us. We need someone to rescue us from our own depravity. And that is the heart of the Gospel, God himself descended upon his sinful humanity and Christ alone, not religious work, is able to rescue us from the sentence of eternal death that is upon us. Praise God for his eternal and matchless grace. Work cannot make the spirit free, only Jesus can and he does by grace alone through faith alone.