An Interview With Holocaust Survivor Dr. Vera Schlamm
Ed. note: Dr. Vera Schlamm spent her childhood in Nazi Germany and Holland. Her early youth—the days when most girls are beginning to date—was spent trying to survive on tiny morsels of food while in Bergen-Belsen. For a fuller account of her story of survival and her earnest search for God, see the book Jewish Doctors Meet the Great Physician, which contain the accounts of a number of Jewish doctors who came to believe in Jesus as Messiah. One of the interesting things in life is to listen to the questions people ask and to realize how much misunderstanding there is. One of the reasons for the latter is that we often don’t listen or don’t believe what we hear, usually because we don’t want to.” So said Dr. Vera Schlamm, in an interview with ISSUES. The rest of her comments follow:
Editor: Can you give us an example of this misunderstanding from your own life experience?
Dr. Schlamm: An obvious example is the Holocaust, which is close to me, since I went through it. When I hear Germans say they didn’t know what was happening, I realize that what they are saying is that they didn’t know the full extent of the atrocities committed; or they mean that if they did hear, they just couldn’t believe it. I have a friend who grew up in Nazi Germany who immediately endeared herself to me when she said: ‘Of course we knew. My father always said, “If they treat the Jews badly where everyone can see, what must they be doing to them in the camps!”‘
In most cases, it was a matter of not wanting to know, which is understandable, but no excuse.
The same is true of governments of some countries, including America. I understand that they knew whatt was happening but ‘just couldn’t believe it.’
Editor: When you came to America did people want to know what really happened in Europe?
Dr. Schlamm: One of the questions I was asked frequently when I first came to this country is: ‘Was it really as bad in the camps as they say in the news?’ Now the question is: ‘Was it as bad as was shown in films such as “The Hiding Place” or “The Holocaust?”‘ My answer is ‘Yes, except it was worse because there is no way you can show these things on T.V. or in a movie theater, and certainly no way that you can exaggerate what happened.’ The fact that the question is still being asked shows that we sometimes just don’t want to believe the truth, and look for a way out.
Editor: What other misunderstandings have you found to be significant?
Dr. Schlamm: When I came to believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and committed my life to Him, I was amazed at the questions and misunderstandings that it created. One of the main Scripture passages that spoke to me was Isaiah 53. I came upon it because I was reading the Jewish Scriptures to see what God expected from me, that is, how I could please Him as a Jew.
Editor: And what did you discover in reading this portion of the Scriptures?
Dr. Schlamm: The little I had heard about Jesus made me see very plainly that this passage is talking about him. There is certainly no one else this could apply to that I know of. Yes, I have heard the interpretation that it refers to the nation Israel, but on careful reading of the passage in its context, that just doesn’t make any sense.
When I discovered this chapter in my Bible, I was surprised that I had usually read and listened carefully when the Scriptures were read in the synagogue. As I checked the reading schedule for the year, I found to my great astonishment that this passage is left out.
Another case of closing our eyes to what we don’t want to believe? But when I try to explain why I believe that Jesus is the Messiah. people don’t want me to use the Bible.
Editor: Why not?
Dr. Schlamm: They have preconceived ideas of why I came to faith in Christ, and very wrong concepts of what Christianity is. The basic attitude is: “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.” It surprises me that they don’t want me to use the Scriptures because, after all, that is what Judaism is based on.
When I studied medicine, I had to learn what the medical books were saying, not what writers in popular magazines came up with. The same is true for my faith. One reason that I started to read the Scriptures was that I wanted to know what God had to say, not what people were saying, because I found that even in Judaism as it is practiced today, there is a great variety of interpretation and observance. It is as the writer of Judges said: “Everyone does that which seems right in his own eyes.”
Editor: How did you view Christianity before your faith experience?
Dr. Schlamm: Like most Jewish people, I used to think that Christianity was a Gentile religion and had nothing to do with me. But the day that I committed my life to Jesus as the Messiah, I realized that I hadn’t “changed” but rather grown in my own faith. For it is really the other way around: Gentiles who believe in Jesus must come to trust the God of Israel…the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Editor: Then you’d like to clear up that misunderstanding, too?
Dr. Schlamm: Yes, and I have many opportunities to do so. The other day a Jewish gentleman asked me, ‘Do I have to become a Christian in order to accept Christ?’ Now I knew that he already believed in Jesus, but could see that he still had some of the old misunderstanding of equating being a Christian with being a Gentile. So I explained to him that Christ is the English version of the Greek word for Messiah and that a Christian is a follower of the Messiah. He was greatly relieved!
Editor: Dr. Schlamm, in conclusion what would you like to tell our ISSUES readers?
Dr. Schlamm: Obviously, there are many more questions and misunderstandings I could share. My main point is that many questions and misunderstandings can be cleared up if we would just be willing to listen and learn. I once overheard a college professor say, “You can’t go wrong it you are looking for the truth because there is only one truth.” That statement has helped me many times. Just yesterday, I heard a good definition of truth. Are you ready? “Truth is what God says.” It is as simple and as profound as that. Are you willing to investigate the truth?