From 1940 to 1943 the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto struggled for survival under unimaginable conditions.
Most of the surviving Warsaw Ghetto residents had by 1943 lost some members of their family, certainly friends, neighbours, and colleagues. They had lost all their property, had suffered the excruciating pains of starvation, and had been unjustly treated and violently abused virtually every day.
Who could blame the Jews for wanting to make their enemies “pay dearly for their lives”?
For a person who seeks to follow the teachings of Jesus, the question of resistance to oppression and injustice is even more difficult than for one who follows the ancient teachings of the Jewish sacred texts. Did Jesus really have the Warsaw Ghetto in mind when he said,
Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile…. You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 4:39, 40, 43-45)
How are we to hear such words in the face of the horrifying reality of the Warsaw Ghetto, or any of the other atrocities the have afflicted the world on such a regular basis?
Of course, I cannot begin to answer this question for the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 any more than I can answer it for anyone today suffering the degradation and violence inflicted upon them by the injustice of forces over which they have no control. It is impossible for me to really even ask the question with any real honesty or integrity, sitting with my cup of tea in my comfy chair in my study.
How could I possibly know how I might respond if I were standing by watching someone tear my granddaughter out of her mother’s arms and piercing her body with a bayonet? Even as I pose the question, I feel the resistance rising in my gut. I experience a tiny measure of the rage that must have afflicted all those who suffered so brutally under Nazi atrocities.
What I do know is that in the actual real circumstances of my life, as they are at this moment, I am seldom well-served by resistance. The desire for revenge, to get even, or to make “the bad guy” pay, does not lead to creative life-giving action.
When I brace against life as it is, it becomes more difficult for me to see clearly what is really going on. When I start from a position of opposition, it is much more difficult for me to respond wisely to whatever may be taking place. Unresolved feelings of resentment, bitterness, or a desire for revenge cloud my vision and inhibit the flow of truth that is the only path to creative action.
If I am able to soften and open, I gain access to more profound wisdom and deeper insight than I have when I start from a place of antagonism. This may be a place to begin to address some of the twisted human tangle that allows Warsaw Ghettos to come into existence in the first place.