Sermon / January 29, 2017 / Julie Hoplamazian / 

July 8th 1942: “At three o’clock… the doorbell rang. I didn’t hear it, since I was out on the balcony, lazily reading in the sun. A little while later Margot appeared in the kitchen doorway looking very agitated. “Father has received a call-up notice from the SS,” she whispered. … I was stunned. A call-up: everyone knows what that means. Visions of concentration camps and lonely cells raced through my head. How could we let Father go to such a fate? “Of course he’s not going,” declared Margot as we waited for Mother in the living room. “Mother’s gone to Mr. van Daan to ask whether we can move to our hiding place tomorrow. The van Daans are going with us. There will be seven of us altogether.” Silence. We couldn’t speak. The thought of Father off visiting someone in the Jewish Hospital and completely unaware of what was happening, the long wait for Mother, the heat, the suspense – all this reduced us to silence.

August 21st 1942: “Now our Secret Annex has truly become secret. Because so many houses are being searched for hidden bicycles, Mr. Kugler thought it would be better to have a bookcase built in front of the entrance to our hiding place. It swings out on its hinges and opens like a door. Now whenever we want to go downstairs we have to duck and then jump. After the first three days we were all walking around with bumps on our foreheads from banging our heads against the low doorway. Then Peter cushioned it by nailing a towel stuffed with wood shavings to the doorframe. Let’s see if it helps!”

October 9th 1942: “Today I have nothing but dismal and depressing news to report. Our many Jewish friends and acquaintances are being taken away in droves. The Gestapo is treating them very roughly and transporting them in cattle cars to Westerbork, the big camp in Drenthe to which they’re sending all the Jews. Miep told us about someone who’d managed to escape from there. It must be terrible in Westerbork. The people get almost nothing to eat, much less to drink, as water is available only one hour a day, and there’s only one toilet and sink for several thousand people. Men and women sleep in the same room, and women and children often have their heads shaved. Escape is almost impossible; many people look Jewish, and they’re branded by their shorn heads. If it’s that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilized places where the Germans are sending them? We assume that most of them are being murdered. The English radio says they’re being gassed. Perhaps that’s the quickest way to die. I feel terrible. Miep’s accounts of these horrors are so heartrending… Fine specimens of humanity, those Germans, and to think I’m actually one of them! No, that’s not true, Hitler took away our nationality long ago. And besides, there are no greater enemies on earth than the Germans and Jews.”

November 19th 1942: “Mr. Dussel has told us much about the outside world we’ve missed for so long. He had sad news. Countless friends and acquaintances have been taken off to a dreadful fate. Night after night, green and gray military vehicles cruise the streets. They knock on every door, asking whether any Jews live there. If so, the whole family is immediately taken away. If not, they proceed to the next house. It’s impossible to escape their clutches unless you go into hiding. They often go around with lists, knocking only on those doors where they know there’s a big haul to be made. They frequently offer a bounty, so much per head. It’s like the slave hunts of the olden days… I feel wicked sleeping in a warm bed, while somewhere out there my dearest friends are dropping from exhaustion or being knocked to the ground. I get frightened myself when I think of close friends who are now at the mercy of the cruelest monsters ever to stalk the earth. And all because they’re Jews.”

May 18th 1943: “All college students are being asked to sign an official statement to the effect that they ‘sympathize with the Germans and approve of the New Order.” Eighty percent have decided to obey the dictates of their conscience, but the penalty will be severe. Any student refusing to sign will be sent to a German labor camp.”

March 29th 1944: “Mr. Bolkestein, the Cabinet Minister, speaking on the Dutch broadcast from London, said that after the war a collection would be made of diaries and letters dealing with the war. Of course, everyone pounced on my diary.”

February 3rd 1944: “I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me, and I can’t do anything to change events anyway. I’ll just let matters take their course and concentrate on studying and hope that everything will be all right in the end.”

The Franks went into hiding in 1942 after their several attempts to secure visas and flee to the United States were denied due to increasingly rigid immigration laws rooted in a heightened mistrust of any refugee coming from Nazi occupied countries during WWII. They were discovered, arrested and transported to a concentration camp on August 4, 1944, where Anne, her sister, and her mother perished.

This past Friday, January 27, was Holocaust Remembrance Day. And we would do well to remember the lessons from that dark chapter of history. Remembering is an important part of our faith. From the beginning of God’s covenant with Israel, we read, throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, God’s exhortation to remember who we are and where we have come from. The prophet Micah was one of many sent to the people of Israel to remind them of the history of their covenant with God:

“For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”

Remember, God is saying, that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt. Remember that you were once strangers in a foreign land. Remember that you were once oppressed and begging for freedom. And I sent prophets to free you, because that is who I am and what I do. I am the God of justice, kindness, and mercy, and I will not forsake my people. Remember, God says, because you seem to have forgotten. You seem to have forgotten the justice, kindness, and mercy that I have shown you. And you seem to have forgotten that all I ask of you, in return, is that you extend the same justice and kindness to others. Remember, God is saying, I don’t need fancy feasts and superficial gestures of adoration.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”

Some Christians actively participated in the Holocaust; others helped create the environment for that kind of atrocity to flourish, and others were just thankful they weren’t the targets so they remained silent and kept going to church to thank God it wasn’t them.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”

Justice and kindness, as biblical mandates, are clearly expressed as the compassionate activity of God’s people toward the poor, the oppressed, the immigrant, the refugee, the stranger, the imprisoned, the widow and the orphan. The justice and kindness of God, and of God’s people, is that which lifts up those who are in need of our help, our love, and our compassion. Christians, on the anniversary of Holocaust Remembrance, would do well to remember the ways we have fallen short of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. To remember the times and the ways we as individuals, and we as an institution, have chosen safety and access to power over the true convictions of our faith. To remember that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was a refugee fleeing genocide. To remember that the God we worship is the God who continues to bring us out of slavery into freedom, and to remember that the cost of justice and kindness is never too high of a price to pay.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

As our Lord Jesus reminds us: it is the poor, the meek, the oppressed, the peacemakers, the merciful, who are closest to God’s heart. Blessed are they.

July 15, 1944 (just 3 weeks before the Franks were discovered and sent to their deaths): “It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them.”

May the day that Anne never lived to see be made manifest in all of us. Amen.