They Died As Jews
As Israel commemorates the victims of the Nazi Holocaust this week, Christ church Jerusalem is taking time to draw attention to a little-known aspect of this horrific chapter in human history, the murder of several thousand Jewish Believers. One such Jewish Believer was Winawer (brother of the well-known author Bruno Winawer), a Polish Jew who believed in Jesus and was caught up in a terrible predicament when the Nazis invaded his country from the west while the Soviet Union invaded from the east.
Unsure where to flee or what to do, he turned in desperation to the Jewish community in Warsaw for help, but was turned away because of his profession of faith in Christ. Then he went to the Catholic Church to try and get some help, but they turned him away because he was Jewish.
Ultimately, Winawer perished like millions of other Polish Jews, helpless to do anything for himself and denied any help from those who should have helped him. There are many other stories like his, where Jewish Believers sought help from the Jewish community but were rebuffed because they were considered "traitors" to the community, and then went to the Christian community for help but were rebuffed because they were ethnically Jewish. These stories are as bewildering as they are heartbreaking, but we must not forget them.
Our researcher, Kelvin Crombie, has spent much of the last few years researching this phenomenon and has already published two books on the subject, with more in the pipeline. The project is tentatively titled They Died As Jews "Christians should commemorate the Holocaust because it took place in so-called 'Christian Europe' and most of the people who carried it out were baptized Christians," he explains. "That's not to say that they were necessarily born-again Christians or church-going Christians, but the fact is most of them were baptized Christians. So the Holocaust is obviously a huge stain on world history and a major trauma for the Jewish people, but it's also a huge stain specifically on Christian history. It happened in an environment where the Gospel had been preached for centuries and where Christianity was the permeating civilizational culture.”
"So there are very good reasons for Christians to study the Holocaust just to see how it happened and what caused so many so-called Christians to be involved and what lessons can we learn from this. In Jeremiah 17:9 it says "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" I think there's a very good lesson for Christians in particular to take away from all this, that if such an event could happen in so-called 'Christian Europe' then it can happen anywhere."
"Finally, there are many Jewish followers of Jesus who were murdered in the Holocaust and they are our brothers and sisters in the faith, so it's also important for us to know their stories, just as we look at the persecution of Believers under other regimes and in other parts of the world. I've worked out that there are at least several tens of thousands of such Jewish Christians among those who were murdered in the Holocaust. There are seven different categories of Jewish people who followed Jesus. My book Seven Phases of the Holocaust includes all of this documentation."
The involvement of CMJ in commemorating Jewish Believers who were murdered in the Holocaust is appropriate and necessary for several reasons. "CMJ had centers in several locations in Europe, the main one being in Warsaw and another large center in Lviv, which is now part of Ukraine but then it was part of Poland. At these centers, there were hundreds of Jewish Believers who were part of the work of CMJ, directly and indirectly. Another center in Jassy, Romania, was run by a Jewish Believer who was later murdered by the Nazis. There was also a center in Holland, in The Hague, where a Jewish Believer and ordained priest named Johannes Rottenberg was deeply involved. He was later murdered at the Mauthausen concentration camp. There were many other things that CMJ did to help Jewish people during the Holocaust and Jewish Believers were involved in many of these efforts.”
The plans of the Nazis to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe (and later North Africa and other areas they took control over) developed in stages and sometimes changed in reaction to events. But from the very beginning, especially in Eastern Europe, the Jewish followers of Christ were treated exactly the same as other Jewish people. They were officially classified by the Nazis as non-Aryan Christians and they usually called themselves Hebrew Christians and simply called converts by other Jews. In some cases, such as in the Netherlands, the Protestant Jews were treated somewhat better than the Catholic Jews because there was a senior Catholic official in the Netherlands who took a strong, public stand against the Nazis. The Protestant churches in Holland managed to protect many, but not all, of the Protestant Jews in that country. In other parts of Western Europe, there was also some protection afforded to Jewish Believers, but many of them still perished. In Eastern Europe, there was hardly any protection. From the perspective of the Nazis, faith didn't matter, only bloodlines.
"There are some really big numbers of Jewish Believers murdered in the Holocaust which get thrown around, but those numbers are based on very thin historical evidence. It's important to not exaggerate and be as accurate as possible. That's the only way to maintain credibility. In my conversations about this research with representatives from Yad Vashem and other Jewish community leaders, there has been some genuine interest. People often say "We never thought of this aspect of the Holocaust". If we want these very serious people to take us seriously, we have to make sure we are accurate and can back up our estimates with documented research.”
Another way that Christ Church Jerusalem is honoring the memory of Jewish Believers murdered in the Holocaust is through a physical memorial on the grounds of the Emanuel Center/Christ Church. Rector David Pileggi had a vision for such a memorial many years ago and has been pursuing it ever since. "The stories of Jewish Christians who were murdered in the Holocaust have been largely ignored up till now and it's time for those stories to be told. A memorial to them, placed in the garden of Christ Church which gets many visitors, would be an appropriate way to introduce these stories and hopefully generate interest in hearing more about them.
The community of Jewish Believers in Europe was small but thriving prior to the Second World War and the activities of the organization that we call today CMJ Israel was a big part of this community. Emissaries from our organization planted and/or assisted in the planting of several congregations of Jewish Believers in European cities, with most of them having connections to the community of faith in Jerusalem. It is therefore very appropriate that a memorial to the Jewish Believers who were murdered by the Nazis would be placed on the grounds of Christ Church Jerusalem.
From the Diary from the Years of Occupation, 1939-44, Zygmunt Klukowski
January 12 In Zamosc, Roman Niedzwiecki, city hall usher, known to everyone as “Romcio,” died of a heart attack. He was one of the most popular people in Szczebrzeszyn. For years he delivered legal papers to the populace. Today was his funeral and many people attended.
January 14 Among the Jewish population there is increasing nervousness. Two Jews were arrested and executed for hiding furs. Today six Jews were taken as hostages because of low fur collections. For the same reason all members of the Judenrat in Biłgoraj and Tarnogrod were arrested.
January 15 Very cold. This morning the temperature dropped to -15°F. We received information about the growing number of frostbite cases on the Russian front and the beginning of a spotted typhus epidemic in the German army.
In nearby villages the number of typhus cases is increasing; but on the other hand, the epidemic among the Jewish population is decreasing.
January 20 Very cold. People are freezing because of the lack of fuel, like coal or wood. Along with this the typhus epidemic is on the increase. One person who came down with spotted typhus is Dr. Franciszka Standochowa, wife of a colonel from Cracow, also a physician who is now some where outside Poland. She had just arrived in the city.
Again we see more brutality against the Jews. During the last few days in Szczebrzeszyn several Jews were shot. Their crimes: leaving town without a permit, transporting a cow without a permit, hiding a fur coat, and walking without wearing the Star of David on the sleeve. Similar actions are occurring in other cities and villages.
Today I visited a sick old Jew named Winawer (brother of the well-known author Bruno Winawer). He lives in one small room divided by a wooden partition. He sleeps on a litter of straw on the floor, together with his wife and teenage daughter. The Judenrat refuses to help him because he is a convert to Christianity, and the Polish population is still not ready to accept him. I cannot take him to the hospital because I do not have any more space. All the beds and even the floor areas are being used. I feel very bad about this.
The lack of news is very depressing; we really do not know what is going on. We cannot trust the German-edited newspapers.
Our colleague Kelvin Crombie is working on a very special research project. For the first time someone is systematically surveying the fate of Jewish believers in Jesus (Hebrew Christians/Messianic Jews) who suffered during World War II. Up until now it has not been widely known that many thousands of such Jews died at the hands of Nazi Germany and their allies.
Very little hard evidence, figures, and stories have ever been assembled about these victims, and their tragedy largely remains an untold chapter in the history of the Holocaust. Kelvin is in the process of
- collecting testimonies,
- compiling names of victims, and
- analysing how Jewish Christians were rounded up and murdered across Europe.
Part of the vision for this project is that the names of these individuals will be inscribed on a wall in the garden at Christ Church. This way they will be remembered and honoured.