On Sunday, I preached on Acts 7:55-60, the story of the stoning of Stephen. I focused not on Stephen but on the figure of Saul, who watches the stoning from a short distance while guarding a pile of coats belonging to the men doing the actually stoning. I set up a comparison between the actions of Saul and the actions of those who collaborating with the Nazi regime in the 20th century.
Several of you spoke to me after church on Sunday with an interest in continuing the conversation on the church blog. Here is an excerpt from the sermon to get the conversation going.
Two weeks ago I had the great privilege of spending a good part of a day at the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. The experience of walking through it was powerful and overwhelming. There is a special exhibit currently showing entitled Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust.
The exhibit tells the story of the millions of ordinary people who witnessed the crimes of the Holocaust-in the countryside and city squares, in stores and schools, in homes and workplaces. Across Europe, the Nazis found countless willing helpers who collaborated or were complicit in their crimes. The exhibit poses the questions: What motives and pressures led so many individuals to abandon their fellow human beings? Why did others make the choice to help?
That exhibit has haunted me. I’ve been asking myself: How would I have responded in such circumstances? Would I have risked my life to save my neighbors? I like our neighbors. I really do but would I risk my life and the lives of my family to help them? Or would I have been a collaborator? The exhibit makes clear that there were degrees of complicity. In some circumstances, the local population worked directly with the Nazis and actively participated in rounding up their fellow citizens and executing them. Others turned in their neighbors for alleged activity that the regime had identified as dangerous to the state.
I like to think that I wouldn’t have actively collaborated. But the most common form of collaboration was very passive. Looking the other way. Not saying anything. Not taking any action to stop the momentum of events. Standing to one side. Focusing on the safety of close family and friends. If I am honest – I can imagine myself doing that.
Questions to ponder and discuss: During the Holocaust, what motives and pressures led so many individuals to abandon their fellow human beings? Why did others make the choice to help? How do you think you would have responded? What are present day ways in which we collaborate with injustice, as individuals or as a community?
You can learn more about the exhibit here.
To learn about a modern day Stephen and what you can do to support her, please click here.