The old man could not control his weeping as he rose from his seat. His mind transported him back to years earlier, when he was young and impressionable – too young perhaps to intervene, but too old now to ever forget.
Tears ran down the man’s face as he began to tell his grim tale to the woman who had given her speech and triggered his memories. As he opened his mouth, the words poured out, and he was back in the days of his youth. It was the year 1943…
I considered myself a Christian. I attended church since I was a small boy. We had heard the stories of what was happening to the Jews, but like most people today in this country, we tried to distance ourselves from the reality of what was really taking place. What could anyone do to stop it?
A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we would hear the whistle from a distance and then the clacking of the wheels moving over the track. We became disturbed when one Sunday we noticed cries coming from the train as it passed by. We grimly realized that the train was carrying Jews. They were like cattle in those cars!
Week after week that train whistle would blow. We would dread to hear the sound of those old wheels because we knew that the Jews would begin to cry out to us as they passed our church. It was so terribly disturbing! We could do nothing to help these poor miserable people, yet their screams tormented us. We knew exactly at what time that whistle would blow, and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns. By the time the train came rumbling past the church yard, we were singing at the top of our voices. If some of the screams reached our ears, we’d just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.
If you were a pastor at that church in Nazi Germany, what would you have done? Would you have encouraged your people to praise God more loudly to drown out the screams of the persecuted, suffering masses? Or would you have prayed to God for inner courage and, with a passionate fire, led your congregation outside to stop the trains hurtling all those Jews to death – no matter what it cost you? What would you have done?
In the 1980s, Ian Kershaw published a book about the culture in Nazi Germany. He made the observation that “the road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.” Indeed. The indifference of God’s people, no less.
Fast-forward. The year is 2012. Today, the horrors of Nazi Germany may be past, but an even greater number of people are screaming on the road to their own deaths. The Holocaust murdered six million Jews – 1.5 million of whom were children. But since 1973 and the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, a staggering fifty-four million unborn babies have been murdered by abortion – in America alone. And many of these babies were left to die or killed in unspeakable ways after surviving their abortions.
Every year, 1.21 million abortions take place in the United States. Every five years, we repeat the number of deaths in the Holocaust once again. And 73% of the women getting abortions report a religious affiliation. How many of them sit in our churches, hearing silence from their fellow church members and their leaders?
There is no question about the science. There is no question about the reality of an unborn baby’s purely human development. There is no question about the morality or the commonsense answers. There is only the question about what we will do.
Penny Lea – the speaker who heard the old man’s story – wrote a poem that captured the hidden reality she saw on those Nazi trains:
I found myself in anger, I cried out in despair. I prayed, ‘L-rd let them hear me! Let just one person care!’ I raised my voice to heaven as the train kept moving on, as we passed behind the church yard! I could hear the worship songs. I cried out all the louder to the Christians there inside, but they raised the chorus louder not hearing me outside. I knew they heard the whistle and the clacking of the tracks. They knew that I was going to die and still they turned their backs. I said, ‘Father in heaven how can your people be so very hard of hearing to the cry of one like me?’ I shouted, ‘Please have mercy! Just a prayer before I die!’ But they sang a little louder to the Holy One on High. They raised their hands to Heaven but the blood was dripping down. The blood of all the innocent their voices tried to drown. They have devotions daily, they function in My Name, and they never even realized it was I upon that train.
Christ first came to this earth as an unborn child. Arguably, the first person to recognize Christ as the Savior was an unborn child. And for Christians, it is Christ we serve as we save the unborn. It is His life we defend and His Name we worship – not as we sing to cover the screams, but as we open our mouths to save the innocent children He has created.
For those of us who are people of faith, Christian leaders, or pastors, what would you have done in 1943 in Nazi Germany?
And what will you do today, in 2012?