The moral arc of the universe

Deuteronomy 1:17 You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.”


The great orator and social justice advocate Dr. Martin Luther King said in a speech, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends to justice.” I want to believe that, but I fear sometimes its arc is longer than I like and that I am too impatient in its arrival to justice. In August of last year, my husband and I toured Auschwitz and Birkenau, two concentration camps outside of Krakow, Poland. We walked shell shocked through barracks and across open fields littered with stone chimneys, the only remnant  of the many wooden building torched by the Nazis. We saw the stone steps that led to a subterranean crematorium. We witnessed piles and piles of shoes, braces, teeth and human hair saved by Nazis after being confiscated from the Jews that arrived in the camps; 75% of whom died immediately after arriving via cattle trains.

I remember with great clarity my feelings upon hearing that only a tiny fraction of those responsible actually met any kind of punishment for the horrific treatment visited upon Jews, Homosexuals, Communists, and Gypsies. I began to question how we cannot seem to bring evil to justice, and I was faced with an even crueler reality: to bring every person to justice would be an arduous task. For those who lived in the surrounding country knew well of the pungent smoke and ashes that filled the skies from the crematorium. They saw the frail workers. They were aware that the depots they worked at were the starting point for hundreds of cattle cars, filled with Jews departing under heavy guard. They may not have known the deportees were bound for death, but they must have wondered.

Germany is beginning to put former Nazi guards and soldiers on trial for their hand in the deaths of millions of Jews and targeted individuals. In the past, there needed to be direct evidence that the guard caused a death. In 2011, the language loosened a bit, and an Ohio autoworker was deported to stand trial for his crimes within the Nazi regime. Today, Oskar Groening, 93 years old, will answer for his part- as a counter of confiscated goods and infrequent guard for the unloading of trains.  He freely admits his role and has given interviews, namely one to the BBC 10 years ago where he describes with great clarity the treatment befalling a young child. I noticed that as he spoke, the child was referred to as “it” rather than he or she, an indicator in my book that his opinion of the humanity of Jews hasn’t changed much.
Although it would be easy to question the futility of putting a 93 year old on trial (the Cleveland, Ohio deportee, John Demjanjuk died at the age of 91 after being convicted. He was in the appeal process at the time of his death) for many still alive today, his trial shines a light on a genocide many believe to be a hoax. Sadly, it was no hoax, as thousands can recount the day they watched their siblings and parents die.

Perhaps it is proof texting to reference Deuteronomy. It props up my belief that since justice is finally at hand, we shouldn’t be easily swayed by age or fragility. But the charge you read is the one Moses gives to the good men he has chosen to hear complaints and  render judgment. So, I don’t feel too guilty. It gives me hope for all who have scraped by in this world cruelly, using others for their own gain- whatever that may be. God will hear the worst, and will judge. No one escapes final judgment, not even you or I. Even though the concept can be daunting (Repentance, anyone?) I’ll take it because I trust in God’s justice above the justice of this earthly world. Still, for those who suffered I hope this trial brings a small measure of peace.

The real crime that will never be punished, is the role of the human mind. The war against Jews and the like was waged with propaganda and received by willing hearts. We do it today with partisan politics and the people whom we fear. If only we feared the Lord as much as we fear one another.


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