A friend of mine, Joshua, posted a picture of a place he visited last year (see insert) and commented, “The scariest place in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp: its medical/pathology unit where medical torture and crazy inhumane experiments were conducted on prisoners. Doctors and nurses who worked here saw it as just part of their daily job... After they knock off from work, they go home to spend time with their family and friends like normal people...”
Another friend of mine, Aaron, also commented, “God was there too. Yes there, of all places.”
Here’s my reply. Please bear with me.
Yes, God was there too. I guess that's why it makes it all that much scarier. Imagine every scream, cry and plead for help, relief and deliverance fell on deaf ears purportedly for a purpose beyond the endless gruesome suffering of the innocent. Divinity and humanity adulterated by unspeakable cruelty almost reduced Calvary into a mere prologue (or prelude) to a painful narrative of unimaginable evil before death as the much-sought-after deliverer arrived. Ironically, it was a grotesque fate that only death could elevate.
I guess the devil was there too. Wouldn't want to leave him out, wouldn't we? Because for this level of extreme macabre-ness, men cannot be acting alone. Unless of course he had made a Faustian bargain with the devil in a soul-for-personal-enrichment transaction and was no longer his own to speak of, but the tormented instrument of evil most vile, most incomprehensible and most self-gratuitous.
At the Nuremberg trial, a polish woman who survived Auschwitz named Severina Shmaglevskaya was asked by the prosecution, one Smirnov, about how Jewish children were selected for the gas chamber and below is an extract of what she recalled with grisly nonchalance:-
Smirnov, counselor: Tell me, Witness, did you yourself see the children being taken to the gas chambers?
Shmaglevskaya: I worked very close to the railway which led to the crematory…I saw many children among the Jew bought to the concentration camp. Sometimes a family had several children…Women carrying children in their arms or in carriages, or those who had larger children, were sent into the crematory together with their children. The children were separated from their parents in front of the crematory and were led separately into gas chambers. At that time when the great number of Jews were exterminated in the gas chambers, an order was issued that the children were to be thrown into the crematory ovens or the crematory ditches without previous asphyxiation with gas.
Smirnov, counselor: How should we understand that? Were they thrown into the ovens alive or were they killed by other means before they were burned?
Shmaglevskaya: The children were thrown in alive. Their cries could be heard all over the camp.
Friends, theodicy has never found a more formidable foe in the world’s marketplace of debate, argument, discourse, and even intellectual wrangling, up until now, in the cold, unfeeling, and plain walls of a concentration camp where God, man and the devil are hopelessly entangled in a cosmic-like existential battle for the soul of humanity. If anyone wants to argue for God, to advocate for His everlasting love and His all-consuming power, he would be deceiving himself if he thinks that he can do it all with sophistry-like verbiage in the comfort of a hall packed with theological eager beavers, apologist wannabes and bible-based aficionados.
Nothing can be further from the truth than to expect a charming evening of armchair theodicy to solve the greatest conundrum of faith that no great philosophers and theologians had over the centuries even come close to resolving it. This is a herculean task only the penetrating wisdom of God himself can unravel, and if he should choose to keep it from us for whatever reasons, all our efforts to find the answer, however sincere and diligent, would fall flat on our wet-behind-the-ears faces. It is like playing a game of treasure hunt on a grand scale and some cosmic urchin had deliberately hidden the treasure at the horizon tip of one of the many universes and we are supposed to travel a hundred times faster than the speed of light to even hope to catch up.
In the two most cursed and abominable places of history, the Cross of Calvary and the Crematory of Auschwitz, we find this common bloody thread running through them: the absolute silence of a loving God and the apparent triumph of gratuitous evil. For Calvary, it was an elected silence, muted with great restraint, for an enduring purpose at the end; thus the triumph of evil was but momentary at our savior’s via dolorosa. But the pain suffered by the one who was hung was itself still unimaginable. One could therefore almost be forgiven to mistake it as an intentional lapse of divine oversight.
But what is one to make of the screams and cries of little ones being thrown alive into the fire of the Nazi concentration camps? What’s the long term purpose or the line of scrimmage strategy here for these charred babies? What could have possibly kept universal and unconditional love from saving the young and the innocent from the self-relishing evil that awaited them in their own via dolorosa?
Of course, with cold, dispassionate logic, one can embrace this lamentation, even with some understandable disingenuity, “Alas, the curse of this fallen world had it all coming!” Well, at first glance, it is difficult to fault this lamentation until one reflects a little deeper on the cognitive dissonance it creates. You see, in an air-conditioned hall where theodicy is stripped naked and brought to bear, the skeptics would inevitably serve in return this guileful repartee to the believers, with I guess the same cold, dispassionate logic, “From an honest believer’s point of view, it is understandable, even quietly appreciated, that Calvary does not eliminate all sufferings in this world. But shouldn’t it at the very least, without interfering with our free will and character growth, both spiritually and otherwise, eliminate gratuitous sufferings, that is, the sufferings of defenseless babies and children most unforgivingly tossed like twigs and tinder into the fire alive?” How should sincere believers return the serve then with the same deft riposte?
I guess, if a metaphor helps, in the human ovens of Auschwitz, theodicy has been transformed into the image of an earnest believer trying to clear the forest swamp of gratuitous suffering armed with only a theological old dusty broom. Alas, the debate like the great Manichean battles of this world will go on indefinitely between good and evil, God and suffering, life and death, faith and human logic, and humanity and inhumanity.
In the end, whichever way you see it, however deep you delve into it, in that nondescript, unassuming and unpretentious building of inhumane experiments lies the deepest mystery of faith that will continue to produce the greatest anxiety and exasperation for humanity for now until its eventual unraveling by the divine revealer. For who is in a better position to resolve it all, and once and for all, than the one who had, whether directly or indirectly, created it all? And I guess the first of the many unraveling will be the answer to this question: Why love took its time? Cheerz.