Undoubtedly, the holocaust imposed by Nazi Germany is one of the darkest periods of world history. Concentration camps were the zenith of that darkness.
Buchenwald Concentration Camp, located near Weimer Germany trailed only Auschwitz in the horrors it imposed. Despite having no gas chambers, thousands died each month within Buchenwald from disease, malnutrition, beatings, and executions. The most wicked of Buchenwald’s oppressors was Ilse Koch, the wife of Buchenwald’s camp commander who was known to beat prisoners with her riding crop and murder Jews to use their skin to make book covers, gloves and lampshades for her home. To be sure, the atrocities committed at Buchenwald are largely incomprehensible.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who led the Confessing Church during the reign of Adolf Hitler spent his final weeks at Buchenwald before being transferred to Flossenburg concentration camp where he was hung.
Sixty-nine years ago Buchenwald was liberated by Patton’s Third Army. US troops stormed the gates of Buchenwald to find the Nazis had fled only hours earlier. When the US soldiers entered the barracks, they found was thousands of starving men and boys tightly stuffed into bunks piled from floor to ceiling. One of the young boys in the barracks was Elie Wiesel who would go on to win the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize for his insightful reflections on the horrors of the Holocaust. He had been transferred there from Auschwitz.
The US troops told the captives (in English) that the camp had been liberated and they were now free! Yet – not one Jew moved. They remained motionless in barracks. Those who had come to liberate the captive Jews were strangers in uniforms and those long enslaved suspected that new faces only meant new oppression – and subsequently, new abuses. The Jews disbelieved the freedom that was now a reality.
Army Chaplain Rabbi Hershel Schockter was one hour away when he heard the news of the Buchenwald liberation. Racing to Buchenwald, he would soon become the first Jewish chaplain to enter the now liberated concentration camp. When he arrived, he hurried into the first barracks and observed the Jews who hadn’t moved in over an hour. Though free, they were paralyzed by fear.
Rabbi Schockter spoke to them in Hebrew – “Peace to you Jews. You are Free!!!”
Slowly, the truth of freedom began to sink in. What was once only a dream now began to be grasped as a reality. Jews began to move from barrack to barrack with the liberation proclamation – We are free!!!
This story reminds me of the glorious truth that Christians have been freed from the slavery of sin by the shed blood of Jesus Christ who has stormed the gates of the enemy and liberated his children. And yet, many believers remain in bondage to their sin, held captive by fear. For many, the reality of liberation has not resulted in life transformation. The truth of deliverance appears too good to be believed. Fear keeps shackles locked. Shame hides the key.
Sadly, many pastors are held captive by loneliness, secrets, shame, guilt and fear. While many may proclaim the message of liberation and freedom to their congregations, they themselves struggle to believe that the truth of deliverance from bondage can personally apply to them.
In His infinite mercy, Jesus Christ proclaims freedom to pastors and ministry leadership. Peace to you believer, in Jesus, you are free.