Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thoughts of Yom Ha Shoah, Rwanda and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tonight at sunset marks Yom HaShoah, which is an Israeli national commemoration of the Holocaust. some people prefer Tisha B'Av or the 10th of Tevet, days which are historically tied to the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash, the Temple. There is much merit to this. It ties the travail of our times to a greater historical perspective, and joins Jewish martyrs of our times to those of previous generations. There is a general idea of connecting Yom HaShoah, which falls out on the 27th of Nissan, to Jewish resistance to tyranny.

The death anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was on Friday, April 9. At a time when the Nazis had taken over the churches in Germany, Bonhoeffer staked out a moral stand that was independent of state power. He opposed Nazism on religious, moral and political grounds. He was not a pacifist. He was arrested in 1943 for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was executed on April 9, 1945, a month before the German surrender to the allies.

Nazi Germany was not the last place where believers had to make a stand separating themselves from a wicked government. In Rwanda, many Christian churches failed the test, taking part in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. There were rare individuals who followed their conscience rather than follow the dictates of the mob. Rwandan Muslims were perhaps the most honourable faith commmunity in Rwanda during the genocide. They took in numerous Christian Tutsi and allowed no betrayals within their community. The New York Times reported as follows on the behavior of Muslims in Rwanda.

"Muslim leaders credit the gains to their ability during the 1994 massacres to shield most Muslims, and many other Rwandans, from certain death. "The Muslims handled themselves well in '94, and I wanted to be like them," said Alex Rutiririza, explaining why he converted to Islam last year.

With killing all around, he said, the safest place to be back then was in a Muslim neighborhood. Then as now, many of Rwanda's Muslims lived crowded together in the Biryogo neighborhood of Kigali."

It is essential even in peace time for believers to stand apart from the herd and to be willing to stand aloof from the powerful. It is a weighty decision to violate the laws of the land in the name of faith. But there have been critical times when such choices were necessary.

Yom HaShoah was originally going to be on the 14th of Nissan, which is the day before Passover. This was when the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising started. The uprising lasted an entire month. Those who were fighting were slated for extermination. The government and the surrounding population had turned against them. It was resistance for survival. When survival ceased to be an option, it was resistance to raise the cost of shedding Jewish blood. It shocked the Germans, who thought resistance would be crushed in a day.

There are times when revenge is beautiful, when it affirms the sanctity of human life. and there are times when resistance affirms higher values, that even the state must answer to the Creator.

This weekend, starting Friday with the death anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and culminating in Yom HaShoah tomorrow has been a time for me to reflect on remembrance, resistance and retribution. In a turbulent world, it is a theme that has its time and purpose. Conscience must always be ready to stand alone. That is the message of this day.


The picture at the top of this article is of children in Jasenovac, the infamous Croatian concentration camp

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