THIS month marks 30 years since the release of Schindler’s List, Stephen Spielberg’s three-hour cinematic masterpiece which won seven Academy Awards. 1993 was also the year of my first visit to Kraków, Poland, and the districts of Kazimierz and Podgórze where Spielberg spent five months with his family during the filming.
During World War II, Podgórze was the site of the Kraków Jewish Ghetto. On that first visit in 1993, my wife and I, as guests of the mayor’s assistant, climbed the stairs into Oskar Schindler’s office on the first floor of the enamel factory, which was virtually untouched since the end of World War II. In a moment, we were right there, transported through history to the very place where one German, a wartime profiteer and pleasure-seeker, had taken his stand for the Jews. Last week we once again visited the former factory which now houses a museum depicting Kraków’s Nazi occupation from 1939-45.
Memories of the Holocaust
Looking out of our hotel window on to the snow-covered main square in Kraków, I was reminded of pictures of that same square eighty years ago, of buildings draped with swastikas and SS officers on the street. Although my wife and I do not have relatives in Kraków, something has drawn us back here year after year and there have been many encounters here with Holocaust survivors, such as Bart and Ludwiga who escaped the city as Jewish students the night before all Jews were required to wear the yellow star.
They told us their harrowing story – of a dangerous journey which took them from Nazi-occupied Kraków into the Soviet Union, where they were imprisoned in Siberia, then on to Palestine, and finally to north-east England, where, after the war, they built successful careers and brought up their children. They spoke in hushed tones and explained that they had rarely shared their story. Their Jewish ancestry and wartime experience was still something they felt the need to hide from most people. For the generation who had first-hand accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust, it seemed inconceivable that such Jew-hatred could ever again be manifested on the European continent and certainly never in Britain.
‘Never again’ was the motto of those who understood how the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany during the 1930s could create the climate where the mass murder of Jews could take place. In 2018, Stephen Spielberg, interviewed on NBC about the legacy of Schindler’s List, said: ‘Individual hate is a terrible thing, but when collective hate organises and gets industrialised then genocide follows. Hate is not something that is not to be taken seriously and we have to take it more seriously today than I think we have had to take it in a generation.’
Just over one hundred years ago, Britain, with the unanimous support of the League of Nations (the international body which preceded the UN), accepted the responsibility to re-establish a Jewish homeland in their ancestral home, Palestine. The covenant the British made in the words of the legal documents of the ‘British Mandate for Palestine’ was described as a ‘Sacred trust of Civilisations’. In 1921, British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill was responsible for giving away almost 77 per cent of the land designated for a Jewish homeland. That area, Transjordan, was then given to Palestinian Arab control and in 1946 it became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The modern State of Israel, established on May 14, 1948, exists on only 23 per cent of the land originally designated for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In the House of Commons seven months later, on January 26, 1949, Churchill said: ‘The coming into being of a Jewish state in Palestine is an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand, two thousand or even three thousand years.’
Echoes of the past
Last week my wife and I were back in the main square of Kazimierz, which 30 years ago still had buildings riddled with bullet holes, evidence of the atrocities which took place there during the Holocaust. Although Schindler’s List was shot in black and white, the iconic scene of the little Jewish girl wearing a red coat and wandering the streets as the area was cleared of Jews is etched in the memory of those who watched the epic movie which so vividly depicts that great tragedy. A memorial now honours the 65,000 Jews of Kraków and its environs who perished at the hands of the Nazis. The horrific events of October 7 in Israel, when civilians – including young people and babies – were terrorised and slaughtered, have been followed by a sudden and heinous re-emergence of Jew-hatred in Europe. On the streets of Britain’s major cities, we have witnessed hundreds of thousands chanting slogans which call for the destruction of the Jewish state and Jews themselves. Not since the 12th century has anything like this level of anti-Semitism been seen in England.
The facts of the 20th century history of world Jewry are either unknown or ignored by those who call out ‘From the river to the sea Palestine must be free’. Let us be clear – that means free of Jews. The ignorance of history, particularly amongst the young, and including many Christians, brings back frightening echoes of the past.
We must understand that the government of the State of Israel is a secular one, as is our own. A humanitarian catastrophe is taking place and innocent families are suffering on both sides of the conflict. We may not support every political or military action the Israeli government takes. However, Christian support for the Jews themselves, as a chosen people beloved of the Lord, must be unequivocal. Christianity is a Hebraic faith. Jesus was born a Jew in Judea. Christ will one day return to Jerusalem and Jews will be in that city when He comes.
The Church is grafted on to a Jewish root and has not replaced Israel. Our hearts break for the suffering of both Palestinian Arab and Israeli families during this conflict, but we must remember that it began with a level of savagery inflicted on Jewish families not seen since the Holocaust. As Christian believers, for us to stand with God’s eternal purposes for Israel and the Jewish people has never been more important than now.
This article appeared in Prophecy Today UK on December 1, 2023, and is republished by kind permission.