I have in my film collection about 110 movies that deal with the Jewish Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s, as well as numerous books about that same theme—more accurately described as the Shoah. The notion of a Holocaust implies a burnt offering, something the Shoah was not. But of the two, the term “Holocaust” is the more commonly accepted term.
One prominent voice of these movies and books is that of Michael Berenbaum, an author of numerous books and articles on the Shoah. He is director of the United States Holocaust Research Institute and an adjunct professor of theology at Georgetown University. As a Jew, he does not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and part of the reason for this is that so many Christians over the centuries have persecuted the Jews, beginning with labeling them as Christ-killers and forming theology that had an anti-Jewish slant.
One of several of his books in my collection is The World Must Know, a history of the Holocaust that includes the names and faces of those who contributed to it, those who resisted it, and some of those who died in it. This book also includes Christian groups who turned their backs on the Jews during their hour of need, as well as Christian groups who came to the aid of the Jews.
There was more to helping the Jews than simply finding a place for them to hide. Daily food had to be provided, as well as a way for the people to wash themselves. Young children were still growing like weeds, and clothes had to be replaced. Then there were the health issues. If a medical emergency arose, how were the helpers to smuggle the Jewish person out of the hiding place, get them to a doctor or hospital, and then smuggle them back into hiding without the wrong people knowing? And if there are three people living at home, how do you buy food for 12 without drawing unwanted attention to yourself?
Getting caught hiding Jews could result in being shot and killed on the spot or being sent to a concentration camp. Why would people risk this for someone they didn’t even know and were not related to in any way? Those who did such things did not consider themselves heroes. It was simply the right thing to do.
Among the groups of people that did hid Jews during the 1930s and 1940s was the small group of people known as the Christian Reformed Church in Nieuwlande in the country of Holland that had broken away from the much larger Dutch Reformed Church. Michael Berenbaum writes about the Christian Reformed Church. Who would ever think that such a small denomination as the CRC would even be discovered by a Jewish historian? He writes, “they had an old tradition of revolt against sacrilegious tyranny as well as a powerful teaching of ethical responsibility. Arnold Douwes, one of the most active rescuers, said of this fellow townsmen, ‘everyone helped. We didn’t have any Dutch Nazis here.’”
The best way to keep a secret is not to tell anyone, no matter how trusted other people may be. When it comes to hiding Jews, the Nazis were offering cash rewards to anyone who was willing to turn in groups who were hiding Jews. It would have taken just one person to undo all the work that the CRC was doing when it came to hiding Jews. Turning people in was the safe thing to do, but hiding Jews and risking the loss of everything—including homes, possessions, bank accounts, and jobs—was the right thing to do.
And that qualifies the Christian Reformed Church to be included among the Jewish Righteous among the Nations. That is quite an honor. (Johns Hopkins University Press)