I have just finished reading Hugo Gryn’s book “Chasing Shadows”. Gryn was for 32 years, until his death in 1996, Rabbi at the West London Synagogue. But in earlier life he had been a holocaust survivor and an inmate at Auschwitz. The book tells his life story up to a point just beyond being liberated from the concentration camp.
Near the end of the book he describes how he
hid on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, in 1944 so that he could spend the day
saying the prayers that belonged to it.
He talks of how the prayers, unsurprisingly, led him to tears, and yet
to a firm faith. He writes: “I must have
sobbed for hours. Never before or since
have I cried with such intensity and then I seemed to be granted a curious
inner peace. …. I believe God was also crying. … I would like you to understand that in that
builder’s yard on that Day of Atonement, I found God. ….
People sometimes ask me, ‘Where was God in Auschwitz?’ I believe that God was there Himself –
violated and blasphemed. The real
question is ‘Where was man in Auschwitz?’
He goes on to say a few other significant things right near the end of the book:
"People often say that time is a great healer. I am not sure about that. What I think time does do for you, is that it gives you a perspective."
"Those who survive a tragedy such as the Holocaust cannot keep silent, but must do everything in their power to testify to the fact that life is the gift of God, and that it is sacred."
"Time is short and the task is urgent. Evil is real. So is good. There is a choice. And we are not so much chosen as choosers. Life is holy. All life. Mine and yours. And that of those who came before us and the life of those after us."
I remember - it must have been in the eighties - once hearing Rabbi Gryn speak at a conference. It was a meeting of the Free Church Federal Council (when such annual meetings took place) in Eastbourne. Unsurprisingly, I don't remember anything of what he said, but I do remember it being impressive. That someone could come through all he experienced and remain a person of hope and faith is indeed encouraging. One of the points in the book is his stressing that such things as happened to him take place when people don't engage and don't understand each other. Because of that one of his priorities in life was to encourage people to understand and embrace diversity.
Let's follow that example!