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December 22, 2016 / compassioninpolitics

How did survivors of the Holocaust maintain their faith?

That is indeed a perplexing question, but a question to which Biblical history and Jewish history can provide us with helpful answers to.

Initially, they knew the overall story of the Israelites through history. They knew Job. They knew Joseph. They knew David. They knew Moses. They knew about being lost in the wilderness. This generation has lost that along with their purpose, meaning, and significance.

God didn’t promise rainbows and unicorns. In fact, Psalm 23: 4 highlights:

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Other Psalms are Psalms of a combination of awe, wonder, lamentation, and comfort.

Our problem as moderns–that is citizens of the modern era–is that we think that pain and suffering are ultimately avoidable. But thats not always possible. We all go through pain. We all suffer. We all have to find the resources, resilience, and attitude to confront and deal with that pain.

As Viktor E. Frankl a Jew himself who endured the prison camps points out:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Here are a couple other Frankl on the notion of choice and suffering:

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

Viktor E. Frankl on Mans Search for Meaning

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” 

Viktor E. Frankl on Mans Search for Meaning

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.” 

Viktor E. Frankl on Mans Search for Meaning

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

Viktor E. Frankl on Mans Search for Meaning

I think they found that in community too. They found that resilience in family, friends, and community—not by themselves. In fact, in helping others, the suffering was in some sense transcended:

“The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.” 

Viktor E. Frankl on Mans Search for Meaning

This is the wisdom of World War II which is silenced, as if locked in a vault, which awaits someone to unlock the wisdom of their experiences and stories and how that relates to suffering, resilience, the human experience, and ultimately human potential.

For more insight on this question you can learn about the Biblical answers to suffering, which I’m sure the Jews were well acquainted with: Nathan Ketsdever’s answer to How does the Bible answer the problem of evil?

If you want to read more of Frankl’s book, its available on Amazon:

Man’s Search for Meaning: Viktor E. Frankl, William J. Winslade, Harold S. Kushner: 8580001069371: Books

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