Samuel Willenberg was 20 years old when he entered Treblinka. The norm at this Nazi death camp was that within hours after arrival, those on the transport were taken right away to the gas chambers. Unlike about 800,000 other Jews who entered Treblinka, Willenberg was spared.
In August 1943, he joined others in instigating the Treblinka Revolt, an attempt by captives to break free of that hell on earth that promised only death. 200 escaped but only 67 (including Willenberg) survived. He subsequently served in the Polish Army before moving to Israel in 1950 with his wife, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Treblinka stuck with Willenberg, an accomplished artist. Thus, using his skills, he brought to life the atrocities he once experienced in that horrible place. Not only did he sketch maps of Treblinka that help historians accurately record evidence of the death camp, but he wrote a book about his experiences, and has produced several sculptures depicting life as it was at Treblinka. Several of his sculptures are on display at Beit Lochamei Hagetaot (The Ghetto Fighters Museum), while one stands prominently in the garden of the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Samuel Willenberg, the last surviving instigator of that revolt, died on Friday at age 93. In astounding numbers and in incredible ways, many Holocaust survivors “tell their stories” through art. Willenberg was no different. You can read more about Mr Willenberg, and see more of his artwork on this Yad Vashem webpage.
The world is quickly losing precious survivors whose stories must be preserved. Israel, and indeed many other countries in the world, have vowed “Never Again!” Yet we see similar attitudes and actions in our world that very closely mirror the precursors to the Holocaust. In fact, there are those who deny the Holocaust ever happened.
So what can we do? After all, we are half a world away, and besides….what does it matter?
To Christians, it must matter! We must stand with Israel. It’s not that Israel can’t live without us. (God is on her side!) I believe it is because we can’t live without Israel! Throughout history, nations and people groups who stood on the wrong side of God’s blessings and curses (Genesis 12:3) suffered retribution.
We can do several things:
- Tell their stories! Yad Vashem has invested tremendous time and expense to record testimonies and gather artifacts from the Holocaust. There is no lack of information!
- Stand up for Israel! Speak out about the importance of standing with Israel. Did you know that on college campuses our young people are being bombarded with anti-Israel rhetoric? It is also happening in the marketplace, in public forums, and even at churches! Take a stand!
- Encourage your Congressmen to support Israeli legislation! Not because Israel is perfect…they are not. But they are God’s chosen people, through whom God wishes to bless all the nations on earth. (Read Genesis 12:2-3 very carefully!)
- Pray for Israel! Psalm 122 commands us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, while Isaiah 62:6-7 encourages us not to keep silent, but to take no rest and give God no rest until He “establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.”
- Support organizations that actively and intentionally bless Israel, according to God’s command. I confidently recommend three organizations:
Israel was given by God to be a blessing to the world. Indeed, they have blessed us with the Messiah, the Word of God, and contemporary innovations that have made the world a better place. Let’s begin repaying the blessings that Israel has given to us!
Happy Lord’s Day!