My wife and I visited the Jewish Memorial in Berlin, Germany, a few years ago. We were traveling with a mixed group of other ministerial colleagues, which was new territory for me. After the obligatory security scans and staff questions, we made our way into the claustrophobic underground tour…cautiously at first.
In the memorial, the story of the Jewish plight in Nazi Germany is told through timelines with backlit black and white photos and explanations. It painstakingly demonstrates how families were affected by the war.
I was taking it all in but traveling rather quickly through it because I was looking forward to a more enjoyable activity that afternoon. The pictures saddened me a bit. I had seen holocaust pictures before, which looked like most of the others I had viewed. It was just another history tour, a sad chapter of others’ misfortunes until I entered the room that contained “the picture.”
I was walking along reasonably until I entered the room, but what I saw stopped me in my tracks. There on the wall, on a large black and white canvas, was a picture of my 12-year-old son Michael. It wasn’t my son, you understand, but a photo that looked so much like him that it took my breath away. The picture of this young boy with the soft dark eyes (he was only 11 years old when it was taken), caused my throat to clench and seize right there in the dark cavernous recesses of the Jewish Memorial. This young boy was put to death for the “crime” of being Jewish.
I couldn’t stop weeping as I thought about how much I loved my only son and how devastating it must have been for a family to lose this little boy with the soft, curious gaze. He was someone’s child, and I was constrained to stay and mourn his passing, a death that had occurred some 70 years prior.
A Different Person
My feet were planted in this spot for what seemed like an eternity. I stood, looking into his face, and begged God to forgive me for ever being calloused and unfeeling about the plight of these poor families. They have been ripped apart and sent to their deaths (or concentration camps). Yet, I had passed by with just a cursory glance. I hadn’t given any of it much thought until I looked into a picture’s eyes of a young child. That child could have been my son in another time and place.
I left that memorial feeling like I had become a different person than the man that went in just two hours before. No longer could I allow myself to be placated during a tragedy that I saw on the news by saying “pat” things like, “Oh, that’s too bad.” God had allowed me to try and understand another’s pain, and I am grateful for the experience.
Michael Temple writes from North Dakota.
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