The experience of visiting Auschwitz will make anyone reel in gut-wrenching horror. The crowds of tourists are rightly solemn and silent as they make their way through the world’s greatest museum of humanity’s inhumanity. We pilgrims found our minds and our stomachs churning. It is impossible to take it in, and quickly process the truths you are learning.
Like most, I had to ask where God was in the midst of such horror.
The turning point was our visit to the cell where Kolbe was martyred. You wend your way down into the cellar of the prison block, and there in one darkened cell is a barred window, out of which only the sky can be seen. On the floor are three candles. They provide the answer.
Where was God in Auschwitz? He was there in the prison cell, just as he was at the crucifixion of Christ, not defeating the evil with violence or force but by embracing the evil as the sacrificial victim. Whenever and wherever possible we must do all we can to oppose evil by passive resistance, civil disobedience, protest, boycott and even armed force, but when the evil is so overwhelming, when the stench of hell is so great and the hatred of Satan so violent as that of Auschwitz, one can only stand back, aghast and horrified by the hurricane of sheer, unadulterated cruelty, torture and premeditated murder.
Then all resistance is futile. Then any response — even one of charity and forgiveness — will be met with spitting fury. Then is the time for the silence of the lambs. Then all the Christian soul can do is to accept the role of victim and nobly embrace to the martyr’s death. Kolbe’s death as a sacrificial victim somehow turned the tables as the death of every martyr turns the tables, and shows even at the moment of death that violence can never win. As the darkness can never overcome even the smallest light, so the hatred of hell can never overcome the love of heaven.
In the center of Kolbe’s cell deep in the cellar of the punishment block the candles are a sign for they are Paschal candles. They stand like the three crosses on the hill — like three sentinels they stand alone in the unrelenting gloom of the harsh concrete room. Presented by two popes and a cardinal, the Paschal candles are solemn reminders that even in the darkest place there is hope, and that even in the depths of the extermination camps the life and light of Easter conquers all.
Fr. Dwight Longeneckeris a former Evangelical, then an Anglican priest and now a Catholic priest. Visit his website atdwightlongenecker.comto browse his books and be in touch.