Thursday, April 4, 2013

An Easter story

You are free

One day in April 1945, Captain Hershel Schacter of the U.S. Third Army drove his jeep into Buchenwald, the Nazi death camp in Germany that American soldiers had just liberated.

He saw hell on earth: corpses everywhere; chimneys belching black smoke and the ashes of hundreds of prisoners who had been incinerated; and many hundreds of survivors--hollow-eyed and emaciated with starvation and disease, just a breath or two from death.

Captain Schacter, a Jewish chaplain, shouted, "Jews of Buchenwald: You are free!"

As he walked through the camp, he detected something stirring behind a mound of corpses. He found a survivor, a boy of seven. The child shook with terror, believing this uniformed man would kill him.

The chaplain coaxed him from the corpses, and he and the boy talked. He told him he was safe now, free.

Chaplain Schater and another Jewish chaplain helped take care of the Buchenwald survivors, ministering to their physical and spiritual needs for sometime to come, eventually resettling many of them in Palestine, now Israel.

There, the survivors began new lives.

(Among them was Elie Wiesel, author, humanitarian, activist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner.  About 15 years ago, I met and talked with Wiesel at length after a lecture at Missouri State University. I found him to be a gentle, loving, and Godly man. I felt as it I were in the presence of saint.)

That seven-year old from Buchenwald grew up in Israel and became a rabbi himself, Yisrael Meir Lau.  He went on to become the chief Orthodox rabbi of Israel and to write a wartime memoir, Out of the Depths, in which he tells of his meeting Rabbi Schacter.

At an event in Israel honoring Holocaust survivors, Rabbi Lau told President Barack Obama about Rabbi Schacter and thanked America for saving him and so many others.

In Holy Week, I first read about Rabbi Schacter in his obituary in The New York Times.  He had died at age 90 after a long and faithful ministry as an Orthodox rabbi in New York City.

In Buchenwald, Rabbi Schacter had seen the horrendous evil that humans can inflict upon one another--the cruely, violence, suffering and death. After the war, he continued to devote himself to serving God and humankind.

His story, and especially that of the orphan Leluk who became Rabbi Lau, is one of resurrection--of life coming out of death, of freedom coming from slavery.

As Rabbi Schacter said to the Jews of Buchenwald, "You are free!" so Jesus says in his resurrection on the third day, "You are free."

God is the victor. For the millions of people who perished in the Holocaust, to quote Isaiah, "suffering and sighing" are no more, for they are now with the God of life.

And one day we shall be with God, too, as one people sharing in our common Creator's eternal love.


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