My father was born and raised in Vienna, Austria. He had to flee for his life and he barely escaped the torture of the concentration camps. After repeated attempts to escape—only to be captured and returned to Germany—he and his brother made a suicide pact. They would take their own lives before being sent to one of the death houses. Most of my father’s family would come to their untimely demise for the crime” of being Jewish. The rage in my father’s voice and the pain I saw in his face as he told me these things, I remember well.
Some of my earliest memories include clinging to my grandparents’ picture, mourning their loss. During the trial of Adolph Eichmann, I watched my father intently gazing at the television screen. I saw him straining his eyes, trying to see if he could recognize any of his loved ones among the carnage.
I also remember being called a Christ-killer. I remember the tremors that I felt each December when I saw the Christmas lights. To me those lights had a cold beauty; there was no love in them for me.
Years later, I discovered that Jesus is the Light of the World, and that in Him there is love. When I told my mother that I had become a believer in Jesus she said I was finishing the work Hitler had begun. Many Jewish people respond this way to Hitler, the Holocaust and a gospel they do not understand. Yet many Jewish people who survived the Holocaust respond differently. I’d like to tell you about one such person.
Stephanie was born in Austria before the occupation. Soon after its occupation a government official warned her family to leave the country because it would not be safe for Jews much longer. They wisely heeded the warning and left for England. Eventually, Stephanie settled in Canada after the war and made a life and raised her family there.
When I was a new missionary with Jews for Jesus I was stationed in Toronto and Stephanie was on a list of Jewish people for me to call. Many on the list were unsaved, but there were also local Jewish believers for me to meet. When I called to introduce myself to Stephanie, she told me, “I came to Jesus because of Hitler.” One can imagine my astonishment! I immediately asked her about her story, but she told me that it was too long and that I should come visit her the next day.
I did see her the following day, and she told me that while living in England she’d heard one of Hitler’s speeches on the radio. In this speech, Hitler declared his hatred for Jesus. Stephanie thought to herself that if Hitler hated Jesus so much that he would attack him on the airwaves, then Jesus must be a wonderful fellow! Shortly after, someone gave Stephanie a gospel tract called “Jesus Loves You, Too.” The timing was perfect. Stephanie accepted the tract and was challenged to examine the Scriptures for herself. Eventually, she became a believer in Jesus and years later, Stephanie’s husband and foster daughter also came to faith. When I asked her at the end of our visit if she had any prayer requests, she said, “All of my prayers have been answered.”
It is common for Jewish people to feel the trauma of the Holocaust as if they personally experienced it themselves. In my missionary work, I have heard Hitler used as a reason to reject the gospel and I have heard those who escaped him choose to embrace the gospel.
Each one of us is responsible for the choices that we make, and God’s grace is sufficient to overcome any barrier. I know there are those who feel the Holocaust prevents them from witnessing to Jewish people. If you meet with such people, please tell them the story of Stephanie. Christians need to remember that while Hitler left a horrible legacy, it cannot compare with the power of the Holy Spirit to guide those who are seeking the truth.