I mentioned yesterday that I am going to start posting journal entries that I wrote in Poland and start discussing Israel. Right now, I am going to post the last thing I wrote in Poland; a theological reflection on the cumulative emotions of the entire trip, which culminated with a very strenuous day at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I still believe some of this. Other parts I don’t. (If there are typos, awkward grammatical mistakes, or rocky language, please note that I have not edited it and wrote it somewhat hurriedly in a Warsaw hotel room.):
I can think of no single theological reason or explanation for this. It is 100% incomprehensible. A God could not have been there. Marta Wise (the Holocaust survivor who accompanied us to Auschwitz-Birkenau and told her story) said that when there was rain– and it saved her life– it was מן השמים, from God. But she didn’t believe that God had any role in the mass murder.
No. That is unacceptable to me. It cannot be that simple. You can’t just flip God on and off at ideal moments. There is no divine light-switch.
If anything, this trip has strengthened my sense of Jewish Nationalism (perhaps Zionism), and pushed me further in the direction of Atheism. It’s not that I don’t believe that there is a God, but rather that I don’t understand the scale of effect which God has on daily or cosmic life. After walking the surfaces of Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz, the mass graves, and Poland as a whole, I am left with more questions– perhaps never to be answered– and a much more coherent, yet still murky image of what happened.
I think, however, that before this trip, the question, “Do you believe in God?” was not something that I really saw as a grey area. But now I do. Alan (our educator) said something that resonated with me, though.
ישראל– the pride and namesake of ourselves and our homeland– means “struggle with God.” That comforts me. Does God exist? Who knows. Did God have a role in the Holocaust? I don’t think so. Therefore, maybe God doesn’t exist. But I’ve learned on this journey that being Jewish does not mean adhering to the set of standards for belief or disbelief in God. It means struggling with the existential and theological implications of day-to-day life.
If you’re going to take the time to assess the Holocaust, I don’t believe that God should be in the equation. If you’re looking for answers, at least, then adding God will further confuse you.
Confusion yields frustration with “God” and with the Nazis. It is for that exact reason that I took a brick from the rubble of a crematorium and threw it at the ground. What is there to get? Do we even want to understand?
Where was God? I don’t think it matters. It’s up to us to make sure doesn’t ever happen again.