Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a recent trip to Berlin, Germany to discuss tensions in the Middle East. But a part of his visit was also reserved for discussions around the painful past—the Holocaust—that forever unites the two countries.
At one point, the publisher of the German newspaper Bild presented Netanyahu with a gift for the Israeli Holocaust museum—original blueprints of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. The large yellowing parchments showed “multi-colored sketches, with barracks and even latrines drawn in detail. Other, smaller sheets showed architectural designs of individual buildings, drawn from various angles….The blueprints include general plans for the original Auschwitz camp and the expansion of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, where most of the killings were carried out. They were initialed by the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, and Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess.”
Historians have confirmed that these plans come from early in the war—around 1941. They show that these depraved atrocities were planned with chilling calculation. Six million precious people died in gas chambers. Six million.
Now, it’s going on seven decades since Auschwitz was conceived and carried out by the Nazis. Why are we still talking about it? Well, for one, immediate descendents of Auschwitz are still alive—and the pain lingers. The father of Mr. Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, was the only member of his family to survive the genocide. The mother of another Israeli official survived in one of the barracks and he was hidden away with relatives in Belgium until the age of seven.
Why else do the Germans and Israelis revisit Auschwitz with such regularity? The publisher of Bild put it like this: “These plans have an important function — they remind us of a crime that, with the passing of time, seems ever more incomprehensible. It is of the utmost importance to continue to be reminded of it.” Remembrance and agreeing to the horror is a way of repenting. Looking at the blueprints – together- is a way of affirming that no such thing will be constructed again.
Most of us will never experience an Auschwitz –but we do experience broken places in our worlds—and it’s often brokenness that we cause. It could be relationships that get sideways—family, work, church—through disappointment, crushed expectations or insensitivity. It could be behaviors that are just wrong—or negative habits that you’ve struggled to change. It could be poor decisions that have consequences for you and others. It could be words you said that you wish you had back as soon as they crossed your lips. In each case, something is done by one person that causes hurt in, or brokenness with, another person.
I’ve done all those things at one time or another—and I’ll bet you have, too. Why? We all have a little Nazi inside—twisted, whispering desires of our commitment to design or control our own world—no matter how it impacts others.
The only way to bring healing to these broken relationships is repentance—a conscious choice to turn away from the behaviors, attitudes or words that caused the pain and towards different behaviors, attitudes or words that will bring healing.
So, in a weird way, repentance is like looking at the old blueprints of life choices that result in pain, brokenness and loss — and vowing to never build that sort of life again. The only way we change is to consistently choose another, better sort of relating And we have to choose that every day, not only because we know the old way hurts, but because the new way is better.
Paul describes it like this: “you were taught in Him…as the truth is in Jesus…to put off your old self, , which belongs to your former way of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and…be renewed in the spirit of your minds and…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph.4:20-24)
In other words, Christ-followers grow by persistent repentance. “Put off….put on.” Repentance is not just for the beginning of the journey with Jesus; it is the substance of our days with Him. Sin, in all its forms, is an incomprehensible horror that spreads brokenness. Christ-likeness, in all its applications, is a reconciling power that can spread healing to all sorts of relationships.
So, at our best, Christ-followers study our personal blueprint– and then build something else, by Jesus’ design. Something beautiful.