They have each said it was the smell they still couldn’t forget. The smell of the corpses. The smell of the almost-dead. The smell of disease and death. The smell of depravity.
I have had the opportunity over the years to meet and visit with several men who participated in the liberation of the concentration and death camps created by Germany’s National Socialist Workers’ Party. The horror of what they and their colleagues found defies words – yet simultaneously demands we try to find the words so it can be remembered and fought.
Adolf Hitler’s personal antisemitism and racism doesn’t begin to explain the six million people systematically murdered by the Nazi regime.
The Holocaust was the natural result of the world view embraced by Nazis. When one abandons God and His precepts, when one looks to government as the savior, a cult of death and destruction is but a step away.
The God-rejecting systems of socialism and communism enabled the murder of more than 100 million people around the world throughout the 20th century at the hands of their own governments.
As governing systems, socialism and communism demand – like the ancient Romans before them – that government be placed over the God of Abraham. The dignity of man collapses before the needs of the state.
Walking through the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC, or its counterpart – the Yad Vashem – in Jerusalem is an emotional experience; the sheer magnitude of the inhumanity is overwhelming.
It is overwhelming because we know all humans are capable of such atrocities, left to our devices and separated from God. Yet, thankfully, God provides us glimpses of the beauty possible when people love Him and serve His people.
Honored outside Israel’s Yad Vashem are more than 26,000 Gentiles who placed themselves in danger to rescue Jews from the clutches of the Holocaust; a tree planted in memory of each.
Among those honored is Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, a Baptist from Knoxville, TN. While himself a prisoner of war, Edmonds watched in January 1945 as Nazi guards began gathering up Jewish POWs for persecution or murder. He wasn’t going to allow it.
Edmonds stepped in front of the German officer and declared, “We’re all Jews.” He went on to inform the man that every American POW should be counted as Jewish, gathered up, and executed. Of course, that would be in direct contradiction to international treaty… thus making the individual German soldier personally subject to war crimes. The Nazi holstered his weapon and walked away. Hundreds of lives were saved that day.
But hundreds, out of six million lost? It might seem inconsequential. Except to those who were saved. Except for the example it set.
If we are to reject socialism and tyranny, if we are to live in a self-governing political system, we must first be self-governing. We must be like Roddie Edmonds, willing to stand up and raise our voices to defend and improve the lives of those around us. It can be risky, but we are called to be faithful. Such acts of personal courage are like the scent of a rose, reminding us just how beautiful God’s world can be.