The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Simon Wiesenthal: Hunter of Nazis and Justice

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Simon Wiesenthal died on September 20, 2005. Wiesenthal made it his mission in life to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. He is best known for his role in tracking down SS leader Adolf Eichmann. “Eichmann was found in Argentina, abducted by Israeli agents in 1960, tried and hanged for crimes committed against Jews.”[1] Wiesenthal was after justice not revenge. This is an important distinction. But a question remains. How did Wiesenthal account for justice when so many Jews rejected any belief in God after their personal holocaust experiences? The Jewish atheistic theologian Richard Rubenstein is representative of those who believe God died on the gallows and in the gas ovens of Nazi concentration camps. “I am compelled to say,” Rubenstein writes, “that we live in the time of the ‘death of God.’ . . . The thread uniting God and man . . . has been broken. We stand in a cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos, unaided by any purposeful power beyond our own resources. After Auschwitz, what else can a Jew say about God?”[2]

In April 1985, NBC presented “Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story,” the gripping and courageous account of Raoul Wallenberg, a “Christian and his efforts to save European Jews from their Nazi exterminator, Adolf Eichmann. He helped save the lives of more than 20,000 Hungarian Jews (some say 100,000) during World War II by bargaining with Nazi officials, establishing safehouses, distributing false passports, disguising Jews in Nazi uniforms, and setting up checkpoints to avert deportations. During the course of the story, when the viewer is confronted by a scene of wholesale slaughter in a concentration camp, a Jewish teenager turns to a rabbi and confronts him with what he perceives to be an unanswerable question in light of the atrocities: “How can you still believe in God after all of this?” The rabbi, not needing time to respond, answers: “How can you still believe in man?”

If we live “in cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos, unaided by any purposeful powerful beyond our own resources,” than what does it matter that Jews and other “undesirables” were murdered by the millions? If God is dead or never existed, then there is no justice. For that matter, there is no right or wrong, meaning or meaninglessness. Eric Benet sums up the impasse: “We’re just a drop of water, in an endless sea. All we do just crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see. All we are is dust in the wind.”[3]

Jewish survivor and historian Elie Wiesel has taken note of the dilemma created by an atheistic worldview adopted by so many Jews. “Many Jews believe that evil won out and that God died in the Holocaust. That settles the quandary for them, but it didn’t settle it for Wiesel. . . .What would drive someone like Wiesel to maintain his theism when religious atheism seems to be more viable?”[4] Wiesel knew that if he abandoned God, he had no basis to account for justice or injustice. What makes a holocaust unjust? Why not call what happened to the Jews the “great dying” similar to the wholesale extinction of dinosaurs? What justified hunting down and prosecuting Nazi war criminals? What made them criminals?

Wiesenthal and Wiesel were after justice, but in a Godless, impersonal, and chance universe there is no such thing. “Even Jewish death-of-God theologian Richard Rubenstein is forced to grant this point: ‘Murdering God . . . is an assertion of the will to total moral and religious license.’”[5] Levanthal offers a helpful apologetic model in gaining the trust of Jews who have abandoned any belief in God:

When our Jewish friend or colleague protests in a vehement moral that there is no God since the Holocaust, it is imperative that we lovingly remind him or her that such moral outrage, if it is to be valid, must be grounded in the very existence of God, His transcendent law, and His absolute morality. Otherwise, it is ultimately groundless emotional ranting.[6]

With no God, the Nazis could not have been held accountable for their atrocities. With no God, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are nothing more than “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Endnotes:

[1] Danica Kirka, “Nazi hunter Wiesenthal remembered worldwide as a ‘soldier of justice,’” USA Today (September 21, 2005), 10A.
[2] Richard Rubenstein, After Auschwitz: Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1966), 151–153. Quoted in Barry R. Leventhal, “Undoing the Death of God,” Christian Research Journal 28:4 (2005), 14.
[3] Eric Benet, “Dust in the Wind”: www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/ericbenet/dustinthewind.html
[4] Leventhal, “Undoing the Death of God,” 17.
[5] Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, 20. Quoted in Leventhal, “Undoing the Death of God,” 14.
[6] Leventhal, “Undoing the Death of God,” 21.

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