Tag Archives: Concentration Camp

“Kingdoms Fall”

Kingdoms Fall (CaD Na 3) Wayfarer

Nothing can heal you;
    your wound is fatal.
All who hear the news about you
    clap their hands at your fall,
for who has not felt
    your endless cruelty?

Nahum 3:19 (NIV)

I am wrapping up the book Band of Brothers by Stephen A. Ambrose, the book that inspired the HBO miniseries of the title. I’m enjoying getting more depth and insight to the actual story told in the miniseries, and I’m impressed with how closely they stuck to the true story.

For those who are unfamiliar (if there are any) Band of Brothers is the story of one company of airborne infantry from boot camp through D-Day (when the Allies invaded Normandy) and to VE Day (Victory in Europe) in World War II.

One of the things that has stood out in reading the book is the way that things changed for the soldiers when they made their way into Germany itself. There was such a contrast between the German towns and villages which had been untouched by the war and the violence, destruction, and devastation Easy Company experienced fighting its way through France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Even more stark was the relatively “normal” life they witnessed of German towns and citizens protected from the carnage their country had unleashed on others and the horrors of the concentration camp the men discovered in the nearby woods. Richard Winters wrote, “…it leaves feelings that cannot be described and will never be forgotten.”

I have to believe that this is about as close as most modern readers can come to understanding the schadenfreude the prophet Nahum spews in today’s chapter. Assyrian brutality is infamous in history.

From one commentary I read:

“Many casualties, piles of dead” (vs. 3). Assyrian armies had inflicted these horrors on conquered enemies. The inscriptions of Ashurnasirpal give the most frightful reports: “I captured many soldiers alive. The rest of them I burnt. I carried off valuable tribute from them. I built a pile of live (men and) heads before his gate. I erected on stakes 700 soldiers before their gate. I razed, destroyed (and) turned in to ruin hills the city. I burnt their adolescent boys and girls.” When Sennacherib conquered Babylon, he related, “I left no one. I filled the city squares with their corpses.” Relief sculptures depict Assyrian soldiers bringing the heads of their enemies for secretaries to record.

The epilogue of Nahum’s prophetic message is its fulfillment. Assyria an its capital city of Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612 B.C. Nineveh was utterly destroyed. Assyria became a province of the Babylonian and Persian empires, then faded into history. Just 200 years after Nineveh’s fall the Greek adventurer, Xenophon, traveled through the area and was completely unaware that Nineveh, once the largest city on the planet, had ever existed there.

As I’ve been reading and contemplating Nahum’s prophetic poetry this week, lyrics of an old U2 song keep flitting through my soul:

Kingdoms rise, and Kingdoms fall.
But You go on, and on, and on.

As I prepare and study for a series of messages this fall on the wisdom of the Sage of Ecclesiastes, I also can’t escape the notion that all life is simply “vapor” that comes and goes so fleetingly. I can see it. It appears tangible, yet when I try to grasp it simply slips through the fingers.

And so I leave the words of ancient Nahum for now, until the journey brings me back this way. Kingdoms and empires come and go on this earth as they have since the first civilization in Sumer. And so, they ever will until the Great Story is concluded. And so I press on with the words of Isaiah echoing in my soul:

Doom to those who go off to Egypt
    thinking that horses can help them,
Impressed by military mathematics,
    awed by sheer numbers of chariots and riders—
And to The Holy of Israel, not even a glance,
    not so much as a prayer to God.
Still, he must be reckoned with

Isaiah 31:1-2 (MSG)

And so, I reckon I’ll take a brief respite from this chapter-a-day journey to enjoy an extended Labor Day holiday with dear friends. I plan to resume Wednesday of next week. Enjoy your holiday, my friend. Cheers!

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Coincidental Presence

That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.
Esther 6:1-2 (NIV)

I am currently listening to the book The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather. It tells the true story of a Polish army officer who volunteered to be arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in order to smuggle out news of what was happening in the camp and to attempt to create a resistance movement from within. After enduring the hell-on-earth realities inside the camp for years, he escaped and was able to offer primary source evidence of what was happening inside the camps to the Allies.

As I’ve been listening, it has brought to mind the story of Corrie Ten Boom (told in her book The Hiding Place), a Dutch Christian who ended up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp with her sister. She and her family hid Jews in their home until they were caught by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. She was the only member of her family to survive. I have a connection to Ten Boom through my mentor, and the founder of our company, who was head of marketing for the feature film made about Corrie Ten Boom’s life (also called The Hiding Place). He spent a lot of time with her and she had a tremendous impact on his life. As long as I knew him, he had a photo of Corrie in his office and he loved telling stories about her.

The first-hand accounts of life and death inside the Nazi concentration camps are always sobering and difficult to read or hear. They are so horrific and difficult to fathom or absorb. I’m reminded, however, of Corrie’s description of her sister, Betsie, who never failed to experience God’s presence, and even joy, amidst the terror of their daily existence inside the camp. Corrie was released from Ravensbruck because of a clerical error. She spent the rest of her life telling her story and telling whoever would listen: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

In today’s chapter, we reach the narrative center of the story of Esther. Things look bleak. Esther, Mordecai, and the Jewish exiles are in a deep circumstantial pit. The king has decreed the annihilation of the Jews throughout Persia and his highest official is bent on leading the genocidal slaughter, beginning with Mordecai. But now, unexpectedly, a coincidental event becomes the pebble that starts an avalanche of events which turn the tide of the story. The King has a bout of insomnia and he insists that the annals of his reign be read to him. It just so happens that the story of Mordecai unearthing an assassination plot (about five years earlier) is read to him, and he realizes that Mordecai was never honored for bringing the dark plot to light.

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. But I find God present and active in the coincidences and events that happen in the story. If God is omnipresent, and most followers of Jesus would cognitively say that He is, then God is always present even when His presence isn’t acknowledged. Even in the deepest and darkest of pits. Betsie Ten Boom didn’t just believe in God’s omnipresence, she experienced it amidst the hell of a Nazi concentration camp, and her sister Corrie was, coincidentally, released by a clerical error in order to tell the story to millions of people.

In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on the notion of God’s omnipresence, and what that really means. I’ve always found it odd that people in church pray almost every week for God’s presence, and in doing so deny the very thing we say we believe. If God is omnipresent, then it’s silly to ask Him to be present. What we really should pray is that we actually experience God’s presence there, here, everywhere, at all times in all circumstances. Because God is always present.

I remember sitting at the bar just inside the front door of our local pub last summer. The door was propped open to allow fresh air in the place and a friend from my local gathering of Jesus followers happened to walk by and see me there. He stood in the doorway and greeted me, then engaged me in a conversation, but it was obvious that he was not about to step foot inside the establishment and the whole conversation felt incredibly awkward. Knowing a bit about my friend’s background, I realize he was raised to believe that one should never go inside a bar and I honor his conscience. Nevertheless, I’ve known fellow believers who would avoid going into a pub as they believe it to be a godless, evil place. I’ve had some amazing God experiences and conversations in pubs. God is there.

I want to experience God’s presence at all times, in every place, and in each circumstance. It’s then that I begin to see the coincidences of clerical errors and ironies of a King’s insomnia for what they really are.