The educational project “Fountains of Hope” started in Hungary in 2012. Its inspiration came from the work of the Canadian sculptor Rick Wienecke, which is permanently on display in Israel.
He is the author of the seven paneled sculpture exhibit entitled “Source of Tears”.
This exhibit, in a very interesting way to present a dialogue between the crucified Christ and the Jewish nation, suffering through the Holocaust. This unusual dialogue leads one to meditate and reflect upon the problem and meaning of suffering. It was the idea of this deep and meaningful dialogue as well as the meeting together of representatives of Slovakia, Hungary and Poland that gave birth to this project in 2012.
As the Shalom Ministry Association in Oswiecim, we also took part in this project. The development of this idea grew and took shape throughout the next year. This has led to the realization of the next project, which happened in March/April/May of this year. Its main theme was the Gospel and its role in history. This time representatives from Austria joined the others from Hungary, Slovakia and Poland.
We began with a meeting in Budapest where one of the things we reflected upon was possible problems of teaching the middle and younger aged generation, and dialogue relating to the holocaust..
Unfortunately, we came to the conclusion that the main problem in teaching and discussing the Holocaust is anti-Semitism, which is so deeply rooted in the mentality of our nations. In our churches, in the middle of Christian Europe, we talk about many lofty ideas, we preach meaningful sermons and speak idealistic words,, but often what is lacking is something that is, at the same time, so simple yet so difficult, namely words that become flesh. Our Lord, God and Creator didn’t just give us words and promises but put them into practice in this way: “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn.1:14 a). We need today for all the beautiful words and ideas to be acted upon in practical, daily action.
The subject of our own identity and the position we should take in regards to the Jewish nation was also considered. We often go through an identity crisis not only nationally, but also globally, especially as we relate to God’s choosing of the Israel nation. It is very difficult to accept the fact that someone had bed chosen before us and received the covenants and promises: “Israel, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised. Amen” (Rm.9:4.5). It was this choosing of Israel and their identification with these blessings that became a spiritual under girding to anti-Judaism and later anti-Semitism which led to much persecution, mass murder and finally to the Holocaust.
This hostile attitude of the nations toward the Jews and Israel today, in the post-Holocaust era, is a result of the nations’ not fully understanding their own identity and calling from God. Our task should be to come to grips with our own identity and calling as nations which will help us take a correct standing in the light of God’s plans in election and salvation for Israel and the Church.
The main conclusion of the next meeting was not to be silent because silence destroys relationships in societies, families and our relationships with God. Silence is the biggest ally of anti-Semitism which especially affected Austrian and German society in the period before the war and its consequences can be seen until today. It is also a problem in our own society. We often cover up our prejudice and apathy by silence. We need to be aware that the biggest enemy of silence is God Himself, who said in His word “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest and give Him no rest” (Is. 62;1a, 6 b+7 a). In a similar way but in another situation in God’s words resounded through Jesus : “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Lk.19:40). The worst thing about silence is that it is passed on from fathers to their sons and the victims are not only the persecutors of the Jewish nation but the Jews themselves, who lived through all those horrors. Neither group is able to talk about what happened. This doesn’t bring healing for anyone.
In this situation it was very moving to see the victims of the Holocaust in Hungary meeting with the descendants of their persecutors, they all decided to speak about their experiences and feelings. It was wonderful to see their mutual reactions of suffering, shame, tears but, most wonderful of all, also mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.
During these meetings we also listened to messages from the Shalom Ministry Association in Oswiecim. Mainly they were about the deep roots of anti-Semitism that were planted through the teaching of the church fathers, causing, in effect, the growth of replacement theology. The Christian world first marginalized the Jews from the church and later from God’s plan of salvation. From the beginning they were accused of crucifying Christ, performing blood libel and profaning the host. All of it, together with human hatred, contributed to anti-Semitism through the ages, persecution, the worst effect of it all being the holocaust of which the former death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is a symbol. Today’s multinational church carries the unimaginable weight of guilt for the outpouring of innocent blood, which beginning with the blood of Abel calls out in a loud voice to God for vindication. God has given the church, in His unlimited grace and mercy, a way of escape from the curse of crime and bloodshed. Besides the innocent blood of Abel as well as millions of other innocent people that were murdered and call out for retribution there is the blood of the Lord Jesus, which was poured out on the cross of Golgotha and calls out louder and better than the blood of Abel. The difference is that the blood shed by the innocent Lord Jesus, as opposed to the blood of Abel, calls out for forgiveness and justification for everyone who desires it. “…to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hb. 12,24).
The first step is repentance and a sincere confession of sins, especially the pouring out of innocent blood which, like a huge black storm cloud, hangs over our nations, blocking out the sunshine of God’s blessing in our fellowships and churches.
As the meeting continued a delegate from the Museum of Slovakian Jews presented very painful facts from the history of the Slovakian nation, which, under the leadership of the president and priest Josef Tiso, worked together with Hitler. The effect was that the anti-Jewish laws that were established in Slovakia at that time were much worse than the shameful Nuremberg Laws. The Slovakian government paid in support of Hitler’s Germany 500 marks for every Jew that was deported to an extermination camp. This example, as well as many other examples from the European nations, present us with a shocking testimony of the role the gospel has played in our history and the role it should have played.
The next meetings under this project took place in Kosice in Slovakia. Kosice, today an industrial city of more than 20,000 people, experienced very difficult times during the war. The difficult situation in the city at that time made it twice as difficult for the Jewish community. A great and moving example was the documentary film, which showed the fate of Juhuda Berkovitz, a Jew who survived the Holocaust. The film not only presented the tragic facts of what happened to Juhuda and his father, but also the inhuman attitude of his Slovakian neighbors just after the ending of the war. When Juhuda was miraculously saved and returned to his hometown, he was cursed and rejected by his former neighbors who refused to give him even the most simple help.
In the light of this shocking film came further lectures, which focused mainly on our past and how in so many different ways we are responsible for what happened to the Jews from our nations.
After the meetings in Kosice we were able to visit Kosice and Budapest, especially the Jewish parts of the cities. It gave us the fuller picture of the life and culture of the Jewish communities in Slovakia and Hungary.
The next part of the project took place in the Benedictine Abby in Pannonhalma, Hungary. This is a very unique place, the birthplace of Hungarian Christianity. This is where the Hungarian priest, Geyza, received the Benedictines, which began the process of Christianizing the Hungarian tribes. Now, besides the 60 monks who are located there, there is a men's high school with 350 students. In this beautiful, historical place we listened to some very interesting lectures. One of the speakers was a young history teacher from a Budapest high school who brought about 30 students with him from his school. During his talk the question was asked “What has happened with the more than one thousand years of Christian tradition in Hungary?” Considering the place we were in, the question seemed very important. In answer to the question the very dark and shameful history of the war in Hungary was exposed. He spoke about the support of the Nazis by the community and church leaders, especially seen in the actions of the Arrow Cross Party. This included many terrible murders of Jewish Hungarians, all without the participation of the German Nazi army. The terrible end to this was the deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau of more than 430,000 Hungarian Jews, organized by Adolf Eichmann and his fellow Nazi workers. Many very difficult questions were put forth during this lecture.
The Mother Superior of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Darmstadt also spoke during the meeting. The sisters from Darmstadt, led by Mother Basilea Schlink, were pioneers in the German-Jewish reconciliation after the Holocaust and their God blessed work has positive effects, even to today.
Her purpose in speaking was to show the guilt of the German nation, who made the symbol of a star, which in the Bible was a sign of hope, a sign of shame and persecution which the Jews had to display during Hitler's occupation of Europe. Instead of the cross, the symbol of rescue and salvation through Jesus, it was changed into the swastika, a symbol of terror and death.
The next meetings were in Austria, in Linz and Mauthausen. The lectures in Linz were started by the words of the holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner and writer Elie Wiesel: “Not all the victims were Jews but all the Jews were victims”. These words give a very clear picture of the tragic fate of the Jews at that time.
During several meetings in Linz we tried to find an answer to the difficult question of Austria’s part in the II World War and the Holocaust. Why was Hitler received with such enthusiasm in Vienna and Linz? These and other questions remained without a clear answer. Austria’s long silence after the Holocaust and their refusal to take responsibility for the crimes of the III Reich was also discussed. Austria’s position, so clearly in error, gave rise to the saying: “Mozart is Austrian but Hitler is for sure German”.
We listened to the account of Dr. Rafaela Stankievich, a native Austrian with Jewish ancestry, as she told about how her parents lived during the Holocaust. She spoke about her reflections and those of her own children on the subject. It was difficult for her to tell us about her own memories and experiences. Many people of her generation, the second generation after the Holocaust couldn’t free themselves from the trauma of their ancestors, who lived through or were killed in different places in Europe. The places of their grave sites are not even known, only their names, which are ever alive in their memories. The main message she presented was the sad conclusion that the trauma of the holocaust was so great, that even though we knew what happened we still couldn’t understand how and why it really happened.
The leader of the Union of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Hungary also shared his thoughts with us. As an example of the attitude of Hungarians towards Jews he spoke about the groups of forced laborers during the war. Hungarian citizens murdered almost all of these workers, mostly young Jewish boys.
The last two presentations were very optimistic. The first was prepared by two high school teachers from Linz, they put together a unique project based on the memories of those who survived the Holocaust. They sacrificed their time, hearts and also got their schools and local churches involved. It all had a good effect, which we could see during their presentation. It was a huge encouragement to get involved and by our own efforts involve and change the attitudes of the societies in which we live.
The last speech by the pastor of a charismatic church in Neustadt was not only a good summary of the meetings but also a lively account of what we could do with the guilt of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust which has weighed upon our nations because the sins of our ancestors had major effect on our own lives. The worst curse of the errors of our ancestors is that the next generations commit the same errors and crimes, following their example. The only way to break the chain of cursing that has lasted through many generations is to, like Daniel the prophet, identify with the sins of our ancestors, confess them and come before God in prayer for forgiveness.
At the end of the Austrian part of the project, together with a crowd of many thousands from many countries of Europe and the world, we celebrated the anniversary of the liberation of the death camp at Mauthausen. The way the prisoners were treated there was the worst of all the camps in the III Reich. It was a great privilege and experience to meet with some of those who lived through the horrors of this camp.
These are people worthy of our highest respect because all that they suffered was the price they paid for speaking out against the all encompassing evil that surrounded them.
One of the largest and most influential Christian magazines in Europe
L’ Oservatore Romano in one of its articles given to the subject of the Holocaust stated: “We must keep the memory alive, a continued source of learning, helping us to find new ways of brotherhood and oneness”. The same magazine states: “The destruction of Shoah forces Christians to deep reflection”.
But will these reflections, that Christianity is forced to consider, bring the fruits of practical action and the right attitudes in our nations? Will the words and thoughts become flesh? We have to answer that question and many others individually in our hearts and consciences.