MINGLED TEARS OF JEWS AND GENTILES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-20-78 10:50 a.m.
In the passage that you just read, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion” [Psalm 137:1]. And the title of the address today is The Mingled Tears of Jews and Gentiles.
To us, the Second World War is history. It is something that happened long ago. To our youngsters it is as ancient as if you recounted the wars of Alexander the Great or of Caesar or of Napoleon. But to the peoples and the nations of Eastern Europe, it is a living present. The lost family members are remembered in deepest sorrow. The ruined buildings, the great monuments of the beautiful architecture of a century, of two centuries, sometimes of four centuries ago, lie in heaps and in ruins. The tragedy is kept in constant memory.
In Dresden, for example—a city that was about eighty percent destroyed, just before the war ended about fifty thousand of their people slain in the attack—there is a building, a massive frowning kind of a structure called the George Schumann building. In it, the Nazis kept the anti-Fascists, the anti-Nazis: those who opposed Hitler. And in the courtyard of that ugly building, there is a platform on which about 1,100 anti-Nazis were executed. And just beyond are six bronze statues facing that platform of execution, one of them a woman with her head buried in her arms, weeping. And day after day, the children, the German children of Dresden, are marched by with flowers to place on that platform of execution. It is constantly kept before the people, the terror and the horror of the Nazi onslaught.
In the war, there was something like thirty million people who were killed. The tragedy of the war is most poignantly seen in Poland. Poland is literally a land of tears and of trouble. The location of the nation is tragic. It is between Germany on the west and Russia on the east. And the conflict that they have known on either side has seemingly been unending. And the attitude of the people toward the Germans on one side and the Russians on the other side is one of bitterness, sometimes deepest hatred.
The general feeling of hatred toward Russia is especially apparent because they are under the iron heel of the Kremlin. They try to joke about it. The jokes are kind of lame, but they are interesting, and they illustrate the attitude of the people.
They said there were two men in orbit, in space. One was a Russian, and one was a Pole. And the Polish people said, “We can separate ourselves from the earth, but we can’t separate ourselves from the Russians.” Another was that, when the announcements was made that Gagarin was in orbit, a Polish announcer said, “The Russians are in space.” And a man replied, “Hopefully, all of them!” This is typical of the attitude of the Polish people. They are exactly as Israel in the ancient day, and in the present day. Israel is a land located between Assyria and Babylon and Egypt, in the ancient day, between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies in a later day, and, of course, between Syria and Iraq and Egypt today. Poland is a land of constant war and trouble.
The Polish people are a great people. When you walk through their city of Warsaw, that has been rebuilt, you see monuments to men and women who are known to us from childhood. Their names are household words. Here for example, in a square is a bronze monument to Copernicus, a Polish astronomer. The beautiful bronze was made by Thorvaldsen, possibly one of the greatest sculptors in the world, in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Copernican theory is that, not the earth, but the sun is the center of the universe; and that the earth and the planets revolve around the sun. That is Copernicus.
As you walk along, you will find a monument to Chopin. In a beautiful park, there is an unusual bronze to that famous Polish pianist. It’s a blowing willow tree, and under it, he is listening with his hands extended. That is, he is listening to the voices of nature. The Poles didn’t like it, but when the Germans swept over the country, they took it and melted it down for ammunition. Then the Poles recreated it exactly, and now love it profusely. His heart is buried in the Church of the Holy Cross. And as I stood and looked—his body is buried in Paris, as I stood and looked, like a Westminster Abbey, great tablets and his head in bronze—as I stood and looked at it, the first thing in the tablet is Matthew 6:21: “For where your [treasure] is, there will your [heart] be also”: Chopin.
As I walked along through the streets of the city, there is a monument to Madame Marie Curie, a physicist, a Polish woman, who received the Nobel Prize for her discovery of radium. And of course, you’ve heard me speak of the fact that, when I was a young man, I heard the prime minister of Poland play the piano, the incomparably great Paderewski. And as they reminded me when I spoke of the monuments that I had seen through the Polish citizens, I was reminded that in the Revolutionary War there was a great Polish patriot who served under George Washington as a commander in our American troops: Kosciusko. We have cities that are named for him in Mississippi and in other places in America.
Their great suffering, to us, is almost indescribable and unthinkable. One of the things that you do when you visit Warsaw—their name for it is most beautiful: Warszawa—they will take you to what they call “Old Town.” That’s where the castle and the king lived, and the people at first gathered around. In Old Town, in the documentary, you sit there and look at it for about forty minutes. They are made from films captured from the Nazi army and also from their own. The documentary begins with a telegram from Hitler that Warsaw is to be completely obliterated and its culture is to be destroyed.
So the films portray that awesome holocaust. The vast, beautiful, medieval city, then the bombs hurling down from the sky, and then, the destruction, vast and illimitable: the city in heaps, in rubble, and in ruins. Eight hundred thousand Poles lost their lives in that onslaught in Warsaw. Some six million Poles lost their lives in that onslaught in the nation. And in the group were two million, seven hundred thousand Jews. The Jews—six hundred thousand of them, were gathered in what they called a “ghetto”—and that’s where the word came from. In the middle of Warsaw, in a small area, the Nazis built a wall and placed those six hundred thousand Jews, fifteen to a room, in that small area. And since they did not die by starvation fast enough, they were courted off to the gas chambers. The horrors of those days, to us, are beyond imagination. The little Jewish children starving to death would, like scavengers, seek food in the streets of Warsaw under the watchful eyes of the SS troops of Hitler. And if there was somebody who helped the child or who gave the child something to eat, he was shot immediately, on the spot. I asked our guide, who was a most gracious woman, “Did you see that?”
She said, “This is what I lived through. My neighbor, my next-door neighbor, was a woman, a mother, who had four children. She took in a fifth, one of those Jewish children, and a traitor of her own people told the SS troops. They knocked at the door, commanded her to come forward with those five children, and said, ‘Which one of those is Jewish?’
“She replied, ‘They all five are mine.’”
“They asked her once again, ‘Which one of these children is Jewish?’
“She replied, ‘All five of the children are mine.’”
“The SS troops took the first child and shot it. They took the second child and shot it. They took the third, the fourth, and the fifth child and shot it. And last of all, they shot her.” That was her neighbor.
The monument in the ghetto before which President Carter prayed is one of the most moving of all of the monuments I’ve ever seen in my life. In the foreground is a Jew, prostrate, in absolute and utter despair. Just back of him, standing, are those in defiance. And at the top is a mother flinging her baby from the top of the house that it might perish on the pavement below. And then, last of all, to fling herself to a more merciful death. On the other side of the great monument, you see the bronze picture of the Jewish families, mothers and children being led to slaughter against a wailing wall. And in the middle of it, a rabbi, holding to his heart the sacred scroll, the Torah, and, with his hand raised to heaven, asking why, which is the eternal cry of those who suffer in great tragedy.
What of the Baptists in that day, in that holocaust, and in that awesome destruction? I asked the pastor of our Baptist church in Warsaw, Aleksander Kiersztyn. I said, “What of you and what of your congregation?” Of course, in that onslaught of the Nazi army, the church was blown into pieces. The people were slain and scattered. After the war was over, he gathered together; he found fourteen of his scattered members in the Baptist church and started over again.
In the kindness of the civic government, and because Poland is ninety-five percent Catholic, the communists can’t quite completely control the destiny of the nation—and that will be increasingly true. The Catholics were kind to the Baptists, and in the goodness of God, they were allowed to rebuild their church house. And he said, “When we cleared the rubble and began to build, we came across many, many human bones buried beneath the debris of the destruction.”
So I asked him, “What, and how, was it with the congregation of Baptists with that ghetto there and these Jewish people there?”
He said, “Well, I will give you an illustration. There was a mother in our congregation.” And he said, “In her basement, she hid and fed ten Jews in daily fear of her life. If it was discovered, it meant immediate execution for her. Then,” he said, “moreover, every day, she put a yellow band around her arm with a Star of David as though she were Jewish, and with a basket in either arm, she went into the ghetto.” He said, “In one basket she had bread to feed the starving people, and in the other basket, covered over, she had a Bible, the Word of God.”
“Well,” I said, “what did they think of that: her coming into the ghetto and reading the Bible to those Jewish people?”
He said, “The rabbi responded to her, ‘Welcome, how welcome you are,’ then added, ‘You make it easier for our people to die’”—this, a ministry of our Baptist people in those cruel and tragic days.
The rebuilding of the city of Warsaw is the greatest civic miracle I have ever beheld in my life. Piece by piece, stone by stone, they have rebuilt that destroyed metropolis. It was a heap of endless rubble. They marked off the Main Street with chalk. And they asked me, “Guess what was the first store built in the city?”
I said, “Well, a food store.”
I said, “A clothing store.”
“No,” they said, “a flower shop, for that was a sign of our hope and our resurrection, our renascence.” And as the habit is in Poland, whatever you do, they will give you a flower or a bouquet in love and in appreciation.
I was interested in the building of the Bible Society. The Bible Society was housed in a building in which they had done their work for one hundred forty years, and the bombs blew it away. But the great stone above the entrance remained. And in the rubble, there it was, with these words on it: “Heaven and earth may pass away, but God’s Word shall endure for ever. Amen” [Matthew 24:35]. The motto: “Every Pole a builder, in love, in faith, in work.”
The Christian spirit evidenced in those dear people who gathered together in the Baptist church is precious and tender. After the war, and after the Baptist church had been rebuilt, a German Lutheran pastor came to deliver an address in the Baptist church. And when he started, he used these words—he said, “I am ashamed to speak in the German language. I ask you in the name of Jesus Christ to forgive us.”
And the pastor, Aleksander Kiersztyn, said to me, “After the German Lutheran had spoken, there was a mother in our church who went up to him, and, with tears falling from her face, she said, ‘The Germans killed my husband, and the Germans killed my three sons, and I am left alone a widow. But, in the name of Jesus Christ, I forgive you.’”
This is the foundation and the basis upon which we have any hope of building a new and a better world. In the study of Lucian Jacobi, pastor of the Baptist church in Dresden, seated there, a church in the converted house, domicile of a restaurant, but they’ve done well with it. Seated there in his study, I saw a Star of David. And I saw before it a menorah, the seven-branched lamp stand. And I said to Rolf Daumann, who is executive secretary of our Baptist people in East Germany, “Look at that Star of David, and look at that Jewish menorah. What is that, and why?”
And he replied that Lucian Jacobi, the pastor, had been an anti-aircraft gunner in the Second World War under Hitler and was stationed in Leipzig and shot at the planes going over to destroy Dresden. But he said, “He is a great friend of the Jew, and that’s why the Star of David and the menorah.” And that can be said for our Baptist communion everywhere, here and around the earth: we are great friends of the Jewish people. The dread of war and the prayer for peace is almost universal. The dread of war is awesome.
In Dresden, where the synagogue once was built, there is a large menorah without the center candlestick; just the three arms on either side. And I said, “What is that? It’s unusual.”
They said, “Each one of those arms represents one million Jewish people slain. So, the three arms on this side, three million Jews; the three arms on this side, three million Jews—six million Jews who lost their lives in that awful war.”
I thought of the lament of Jeremiah in 4:19: “O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.” And in chapter 8 and 9:
We looked for peace, but no peace came; for health, and behold, trouble!
Oh that my head were a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
And what you find in the heartache and heartbreak of the Jews, you find also in the heartache and heartbreak of the Gentiles. And that’s why I named the address The Mingled Tears of Jews and Gentiles: six million Jews lost their lives; twenty-four million Gentiles.
One of the most gripping and moving of all of the unexpected responses I’ve ever sensed, seen, experienced in the pulpit was in my preaching in the church, the Baptist church, in Moscow. At the morning hour, because they were observing the Lord’s Supper, I preached on the cross. And in delivering the message, I spoke of the blessing that ensues, that flows, out of the troubles and the sufferings of life; that all of the blessings of humanity have come out of the tears and sacrifices of the people. I was preaching that: out of suffering, salvation; out of death, life; out of the cross and its sacrifice and blood, our hope of heaven. And then I illustrated it. I said, “I have just been in Leningrad, and in that city one million seven hundred thousand people lost their lives, mostly by starvation in the three-year siege of Leningrad by the Nazi army.” And I said, “Before Moscow, in which city I now stand, there were other millions who laid down their lives opposing that awesome scourge.”
I never thought about it—it had not occurred to me, but the people whose husbands and whose sons had died in that war were in that service. And when I spoke of it, it was though the whole congregation burst into tears. Taking out their handkerchiefs, those old women wiped their eyes. Their husbands had died. Their sons had been killed. And they wept in memory before the Lord.
Whether it is a dead American soldier or whether it is a dead German soldier or whether it is a dead Russian soldier, when that mother bows over her dead American boy, when that mother bows over her dead German boy, when that mother bows over her dead Russian boy, the tears of all three are the same. The heartache of all three is the same. That’s why I think the glory prophecies of the Old Testament speak of the day of the Prince of Peace. Isaiah chapter 2: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they will not learn war any more” [Isaiah 2:4]. And you look at the prophecy: “And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. The climactic epithet—”the Prince of Peace”—He will bring peace to the weary, bloodstained nations of the earth.
“And the wolf… shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid…” [Isaiah 11:6]. “And the carnivorous, ravenous lion shall eat straw like an ox” [Isaiah 11:7]. “They will not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” [Isaiah 11:9].
The millennial kingdom is one of peace, and He will speak peace to the nations of the world. There will be peace in the valley someday, someday. And outside of that blessed hope that we have in Christ, everywhere in this world, there is dread for what tomorrow may bring. Our Congress assigning billions of dollars to increase its arsenals of destruction. The whole Orient in dread of what China and its massive, gigantic power is planning to do. NATO struggling to equal the strength of the nations of the Warsaw Pact, and if it comes, when it comes, it will not be fought in a trench on a Hindenburg Line or a Maginot Line. The next one will be fought in the skies above our heads, and the victims will be our children and the generation yet unborn, in the death of our expectant mothers; the destruction of our churches, of our cities, of our civilization. It is not without cause that the prophet speaks of Jesus, not only as Mighty God and Everlasting Father, but the climactic description, He is the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6].
Ah, what hope and what assurance we have in Him. He will not fail, nor be discouraged until He has set peace in the earth [Isaiah 42:4]. I’m glad I’m a Christian! I’m glad I face life with hope and persuasion that God controls.
And that is our invitation to you: to let God have a place in your life, let Jesus come in to your heart. Invite Him into your home; in the rearing of your children. In the business affairs of daily living; a partner in all that you do, a helper in time of trouble, a stay and a refuge in the violence of the storm; a Savior in the hour of our death. What goodness has God given to us in the faith and promise and hope, the gift and love of Christ Jesus; ours, for the asking, for the taking? Will you come and be with us in that commitment? “Pastor, I too accept the Lord Jesus as my Savior [Acts 16:31], and I too want to be numbered among God’s redeemed, and I too want to belong to the circle of the fellowship of this dear church.”
In a moment we stand to sing our appeal, and while we sing it, a family, a couple or just you, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles. “Here I come, pastor. I have decided for God and here I am” [Romans 10:9-10]. I’ll be standing just there, to the side of that communion table, while we sing and pray and wait for you, answer with your life. May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.