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A Visit to Auschwitz

By Rev Tan Eng Boo

Those entering its main gate were greeted with an infamous and ironic inscription: “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free.”

During my recent tour of Central Europe, I visited the notorious Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland, today known as the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. It tells the story of the largest mass murder site in history and serves as a reminder of the horrors of genocide. This camp can hold up to 90,000 prisoners. "Between 1.1 million to 1.5 million people, the vast majority of them Jews, died at Auschwitz during its years of operation. An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 Poles perished at the camp, along with 19,000 to 20,000 Romas and smaller numbers of Soviet prisoners of war and other individuals.” (

Martin Luther's Rhetoric

Visiting Auschwitz reminded me of the words of the 16th century reformer, Martin Luther. This is a crucial lesson that leaders must always be careful with their speeches or writings. Luther did a grave injustice to the Jews:

“Luther's attitude toward Jews took different forms during his lifetime. In his earlier period, until about 1537, he wanted to convert Jews to Lutheranism (Protestant Christianity). In his later period when he wrote On the Jews and Their Lies, he denounced them and urged their persecution.

In this treatise, he argues that Jewish synagogues and schools be set on fire, prayer books be destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, Jewish homes burned, and property and money confiscated. Luther demanded that no mercy or kindness be given to Jews, that they be afforded no legal protection, and "these poisonous envenomed worms" should be drafted into forced labor or expelled forever. He also advocates murder of all Jews, writing "[W]e are at fault in not slaying them".

The book may have had an impact on creating later antisemitic German thought. With the rise of the Nazi Party in Weimar Germany, the book became widely popular among Nazi supporters. During World War II, copies of the book were commonly seen at Nazi rallies, and the prevailing scholarly consensus is that it may have had a significant impact on justifying the Holocaust. Since then, the book has been denounced by many Lutheran churches.” (

There have been efforts by some evangelical groups to justify this writing of Luther. We cannot justify the writing of Luther in this manner. What Luther wrote was wrong. Was the reformer anti-Semitic?” I do not think so. I see him as someone with a sharp reaction against a religion, Judaism.

Religious leaders must be extremely careful with their spoken or written words

Why Did God Allow the Holocaust?

God's ways are higher than our ways.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8, 9).

We know that He has a purpose in allowing it.

“At least one part of God's plan was accomplished in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Following this period, the modern nation of Israel was re-established, offering a nation for the Jewish people after millennia of being scattered among the nations.” (

Such atrocities also teach people to look for ways to prevent it from happening again. But mankind will always repeat history because of the sinful nature in our being. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19).

The holocaust is an ugly picture of what sin can cause. Namely the dehumanisation that we as humans are capable of and the basest ways we can treat our fellow humans. Jesus is the answer to this problem. When our sins are dealt with by Jesus precious blood (1 John. 1:7, 9), we have fellowship with one another.” (1 John 1:7).

Note: I must mention something about our Polish tour guide in Auschwitz. There was no smile at all and he looked serious and solemn throughout the tour. I heard that the guides were all that way. It is good that they keep that posture, as they remember the thousands of their fellow Poles who were exterminated in Auschwitz

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