Beginning sundown Wednesday and ending 24 hours later, Jews and Christians around the world are observing Holocaust Remembrance Day, as they do every year.
They will remember the many victims of that genocide, but this year the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is challenging believers to also use the occasion to help the remaining Holocaust survivors, many of whom live in poverty around the world.
“While it’s critical for the Jewish people – for all people – to remember the Holocaust and learn its lessons, sadly, we have been focusing on memorializing those who perished in the Holocaust, but ignoring the current plight of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors around the world who are living out their last days in wretched poverty,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the IFCJ.
Joel Richardson, director of the new documentary “The Global Jesus Revolution” and New York Times best-selling author of many books on Bible prophecy and the Middle East, praised the IFCJ’s statement.
“When we read the words of the prophets as well as the writings of the apostles, it’s clear that the orphan, the widow, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the poor, the needy, the afflicted – they are to be the emphasis for us as followers of Messiah because they are the focus of God’s heart,” Richardson told WND.
Eckstein and the fellowship work year-round to help impoverished survivors in Israel and the former Soviet Union, where the bulk of survivors live. The fellowship provides more than $7.3 million annually in food, medicine, daycare, winter heating fuel and other assistance to more than 18,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel. They also donate $15 million annually to more than 60,000 survivors in the former USSR for the same purposes.
However, even that is not enough to care for the last remaining survivors, most of whom are in their 80s. Eckstein is calling on Christians and Jews “of conscience” to help the IFCJ fulfill its mission.
“We must move from memorializing the past to also acting in the present,” Eckstein said in the press release. “This is not only about paying for programs to improve survivors’ final days. It is also about doing something tangible to fulfill our moral obligation to the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors while we still can. We must do justice now for those who endured one of the most horrific episodes in human history.”
One remaining Holocaust survivor is Anita Dittman, who recounted her harrowing tale in a book and documentary film, both titled “Trapped in Hitler’s Hell.” She said the IFCJ’s idea to refocus Holocaust Remembrance Day on her struggling fellow survivors “sounds great.” Dittman herself is not struggling like so many others; in fact, she still gives frequent public speeches about her experience.
“I’m grateful that at my age – at the end of this month, I will soon be 89 – I still have the strength, and I thank God that I can still go out and speak,” Dittman told WND in a phone interview. “We must talk about it. There are so few of us left who went through it, you know. I was one of the younger people in the camp, and not all of us are around anymore.”
Dittman said she gave a speech this week in a courthouse in Minneapolis. She didn’t know if it would go over well, given that it was a secular environment and she always mentions the power of God in her talks. But more than a hundred people packed the room where she spoke, and they received her well.
“I was so overwhelmed because I didn’t expect it,” Dittman confessed. “I thought, well, it’s a secular environment, but they were just so happy that I spoke about it, and in fact I spoke over an hour. Usually I’m allowed 50 minutes or at the most an hour, and I tell you, nobody left the room, so it must have been okay.
“But there is definitely – and of course I’ve been doing a lot of speaking lately – but there is definitely a desire to hear a message like that from somebody who has really gone through [the Holocaust]. People are very grateful.”
Dittman said she also spoke at a public school recently and the children were one of the most grateful audiences she has ever had. She was relieved because some public schools don’t let her speak unless she promises to take Jesus out of her message, which she refuses to do. At the school in question, students had to return a signed permission slip from their parents allowing them to hear Dittman speak. More than 300 slips were sent out, and all of them were returned signed, according to Dittman.
“There’s still a lot of good people; it’s just we don’t always hear about them,” she concluded.
There is one regret Dittman has, however.
“I wish the churches would be a little bit more friendly to Israel,” she said.
Richardson, for his part, wishes Christians would realize their attitudes toward the Jewish people helped bring about the Holocaust.
“In my opinion, one of the biggest problems is that I don’t believe Christians have ever truly wrestled with the degree to which our own supersessionist (replacement) theology contributed to the culture in Europe that existed that made the Holocaust possible,” Richardson declared.
He said conditions in Germany were ripe for the Holocaust in the 1930s and 1940s, and those conditions resulted in part from 2,000 years of Christian mistreatment of the Jewish people. And supersessionist theology is the root of the problem.
“Once Christians claim that the Scriptures teach that God has perpetually forever rejected the Jewish people and is punishing them for their rejection of Jesus, then it’s a very natural, logical thing for Christians to participate in what they see as God’s punishment of the Jewish people,” Richardson said.
Richardson warned that humanity has not learned its lesson from the Holocaust and is bound to repeat it again.
“Seventy years ago is yesterday and we often think that we’ve somehow civilized or progressed to the point where something so unimaginably abhorrent and inhumane isn’t possible, but the fact of the matter is the theological, political, religious and social realities that made the Holocaust possible are still fully present today both in the church and popular culture and throughout the nations,” he cautioned. “And not only in the Middle East, but also in the western world, in Europe, in the United States and even in the church itself.”
Anti-Semitism remains prevalent around the world today. An annual report from Tel Aviv University recently found violent attacks against Jews decreased worldwide in 2015, but they attributed it to increased security around Jewish institutions in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January of that year.
The same report concluded “institutionalized anti-Semitism” was on the rise. It pointed out that three members of Britain’s Labour Party were suspended in one day for anti-Semitic social media posts. The situation got so bad that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, himself a harsh critic of Israel, was forced to put out a statement promising not to tolerate anti-Semitism in his party.
Meanwhile, a report from the non-governmental group Campaign Against Antisemitism found hate crimes against Jews in Britain actually increased in 2015, but police charged fewer suspects for those crimes. One reason for the increase in attacks, of course, could be the huge influx into Europe in 2015 of Muslim migrants, who Hungary’s cabinet chief warned would bring strong anti-Semitism to the continent.
But Dittman believes there is a deeper cause behind the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the world. She pointed to the Old Deluder.
“Satan,” she said simply. “That’s Satan that’s influencing people to feel that way. He’s still very active now especially, since his days are numbered.”
However, Dittman doesn’t fear the devil because she knows she has God on her side. He protected her through her time in a German prison camp, and she believes He protects her, and all believers, to this day.
“When people applaud [my speeches], I always say to them, ‘You know, I thank you for your response, but that applause belongs to the Lord because if it hadn’t been for Him, I wouldn’t be here to talk to you,'” Dittman revealed. “When we love the Lord, we know that whatever we are, whatever we can do is strictly His doing. It’s just in His hands, and He definitely has a plan for all of us.”