By Rabbi Dr. Bernhard H. Rosenberg
I am the son of Holocaust survivors. Most of my family perished in the Holocaust, either in the crematorium or shot dead on the street. I am still deeply disturbed by the tattooed number from Auschwitz on my father’s arm and remember my mother looking twice her age from her experience at the camp. Like many children of Holocaust survivors, I never had grandparents. I became a rabbi as a concept of never again. I vowed that I’d do everything in my power to stop evil and to make certain that people who are like the Nazis, demons that they are, would never succeed.
Before Easter a video called “That Jew Died for You” was released from the group Jews for Jesus. The video has garnered over a million views on YouTube and sparked some very hateful conversation. When I viewed the video, I recognized it as a movie of compassion. Indeed the said purpose of “That Jew Died for You” was to reshape views of Christ and His relationship to the Holocaust, presenting a positive image of hope and salvation instead of despair.
The video depicts a powerful scene set at the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp as a line of Jews awaits their fate. The Nazi guards at the front of the line decide who will go to the work camp and who will go to the death chambers. Toward the end of the video, Jesus, carrying a cross, comes to the front of the line and is sent by the guards toward the death chambers. I am not a stranger to this subject having just authored a new book The Holocaust as Seen Through Film, one of the many books that I have written with a Holocaust theme.
I do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah but I do believe he was a Jew. I am completely non-judgmental with regards to anyone’s religious observances. I don’t judge anybody because I did not go into the clergy for religion’s sake. I went into clergy for humanity’s sake. There are not too many Holocaust survivors’ kids around that think the way I do.
I do not agree with those who are attacking the video showing Jesus carrying a cross and being sent to the showers from the gates to Auschwitz. If Jesus were at Auschwitz he would have been murdered just for being a Jew. If anything the attack on this video bolsters Jews for Jesus, which I’m sure was not the intent of those critics. I think that the purpose of the video was to show that indeed Jesus was a Jew; whether you accept him as the Messiah is up to you. LET ME STATE CLEARLY: I DO NOT ENDORSE JEWS FOR JESUS OR THEIR BELIEFS. But I think their intent was not to harm our Jewish people but to depict Jesus as the observant Jew he was. The historical Jesus was a devout Jew.
I witnessed Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ in Manhattan when it first came out and there was an uproar—there was a fear that it would create a lot of anti-Semitism because of the way that Jesus is persecuted and victimized. The fact is that Jesus, at least the spiritual Jesus, was supposed to die and be resurrected and that did happen in this film. It was not the Jews that killed Jesus; rather it was Pontius Pilate and the Romans. In fact, if you saw that picture, you would see that the Roman soldiers did the floggings. Many people do not understand history at all.
I have taught Holocaust studies for most of my life on the high school and college level. When I discuss the Holocaust and God, I share many possible views. In truth, after having written numerous books on the subject I don’t have an answer. I cannot in good conscience believe that the Jewish people were punished, because if I believe that, then I would not be a rabbi, and probably would be an atheist. One and a half million priceless Jewish children were murdered. What was their sin? The answer I give myself and others is that mankind caused the Holocaust, not God. It is the only answer I can live with.
I believe that it was the teachings of the Church, not Jesus, that allowed Hitler to spread his ideology of hatred for the Jews. I am happy that the teachings of the Church regarding the Jewish people have changed. A special thank-you to the Christians who support the state of Israel.
The bottom line is that Jesus’ message was not to hate the Jews, but to love all humanity, and he would certainly not say that one should hate his own people. Instead of hatred in the world, there should be love. And if that was the message Jesus communicated, then that was an outstanding message for all of mankind. During this period of Easter and Passover, as well as the remembrance of the Holocaust, may love conquer evil and may we together fight hatred and intolerance.
Rabbi Dr. Bernhard H. Rosenberg
Edison, New Jersey
Rabbi Rosenberg received his ordination and Doctorate of Education from Yeshiva University in New York. He also possesses A.A., B.A., M.A., and M.S. degrees in communication and education. Jewish Theological Seminary presented him with his DD in May 2010. He taught Holocaust and Genocide Studies graduate courses at Rutgers University, and currently teaches communications and public speaking at Middlesex College. Rabbi Rosenberg appears frequently on radio and TV and has published eight books and hundreds of articles about the Holocaust. His most recent book is The Holocaust as Seen in Film with Bibliography.