Ever since I read The Diary of Anne Frank in second grade, I have been morbidly drawn to any and all accounts of the Holocaust. I watch documentaries and read journals, trying to understand the depths of courage of those who suffered at the hands of Nazi regime, trying to fathom the situation from a German point of view, trying to wrap my mind around the magnitude of human evil and the capacity for human forgiveness.
On Tuesday, April 22 in a German courtroom, a hunter came out of hiding.
According to New York Times reporter Allison Smale, Oskar Groning, a former member of the SS admitted before a court of Holocaust survivors that he was indeed morally complicit in the murders of nearly 300,000 Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz.
Groning was a bank accountant who was responsible for gathering money belonging to the prisoners who arrived at Auschwitz. Because he never directly took part in gassing or killing any of the prisoners and even complained at times to superiors of the treatment of the prisoners, he, for a long time, claimed that he had a minor role to play in the deaths of those 300,000. However, at the age of 93, he turned to the judge at his trial saying, “It is beyond question that I am morally complicit. This moral guilt I acknowledge here, before the victims, with regret and humility.”
I am not a Holocaust survivor. I have no idea the weight and the excruciating pain that they and their families must carry everyday, let alone the millions who did not survive the horrific ordeal. I am not commenting on how genuine or disingenuous this apology is, nor am I saying that it makes up for the horrific crimes done. Only God alone, the impartial, loving, perfect judge, can determine that.
I am, however, drawn to this story. The regime to which this man belonged sent countless Anne Franks into literal hiding. Hiding in closets, in staircases, in furniture, they had to physically stifle their humanity on so many fronts, from coughs, sneezes, laughter and tears to freedom and their basic human rights.
And yet, it seems that those at whose hands these hunted fled, have long been hiding. Hiding their guilt, their shame, their involvement, their memories. Stifling the waves of deep regret and deep fear that I hope rise up even in the most hardened of hearts. For over 70 years, this hunter has been in hiding, living in a severely stiffled humanity. And now, at the age of 93, he has left his hiding place. He has done what I can only imagine to be among the hardest things a human must do on this earth. He has stood in front of people he has deeply wounded beyond repair and finally admitted his guilt.
Psalm 32 talks about the freedom that come from facing our guilt before an even greater court, the court of God almighty.
How blessed is he whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night, Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.
I acknowledged my to you, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgression to the Lord” and You forgave the guilt of my sin.
Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him. You are my hiding place, You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance.
We will all be called to stand before the presence of the Judge of all the Universe and tremblingly confess our deep failures and guilt. And yet the greatest shock of all human history is that our guilt does not need to be imputed to us. It has been imputed to God’s own son, His very self, on the Cross for those who flee from their hiding places and run into Him. He becomes our hiding place. No memory of guilt, no sudden wave of shame, no human court, can rip God’s children from the secure hiding place of Christ.
This forgiveness doe not belittle the wrongs that have been done in and through human history; in fact, it accounts for all human evil fully. It does not overlook that which cannot be overlooked. Rather, against all odds, it takes out the full wrath, the seething anger, the full vengeance upon the tender Son of God. He not only takes my punishment, but goes so much further by inviting us to take up an eternal hiding place, an infinite safe place in Him.
Oh, how I pray that Oskar Groning would know this hiding place. Oh, how I pray that even while standing deeply guilty in a human court, he would know a deeper forgiveness that came at a price even more unimaginable than the Nazi war crimes.
Oh, that I would be brave enough like Oskar Groning to admit my guilt, to come out of hiding.
Oh, how I pray that the scandalous forgiveness offered me by God Himself through the death of God Himself would free me to forgive those who are impossible to forgive otherwise.