Remember Your Prayers – and the Holocaust

As we get farther and farther away from the previous century, there are more people who don’t believe the terrible things that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jews during World War II. In some cases people are not even being taught about the Holocaust. In other cases they are being told that it never happened.

The Warsaw Orphan, a novel by Kelly Rimmer, tells about what the Nazis did to the Jews in Poland. They rounded up all the Jews and crowded them into a part of Warsaw known as the ghetto. They built a wall around the ghetto so that none of the Jews could get out. At first, they forced the Jews in the ghetto to work in factories producing things that the Nazis needed for the war. Then they started loading them up on trains and taking them to concentration camps to be executed. I hope what happened during the Holocaust is never forgotten or repeated.

Fortunately for some of the Jewish children in Warsaw, a group of non-Jewish relief workers, that the Nazis would allow to go into the ghetto to care for the sick, found a way to start smuggling them out of the ghetto and placing them with adoptive families in safe areas. The children would often have to travel through Warsaw’s sewer pipes to get to freedom but at least they were out of the festering ghetto.

But once they got out of the ghetto the children were not in the clear. If a Nazi soldier came across a child and suspected the child might be Jewish the soldier could stop the child and question him. When they did so, the Nazi soldiers would ask the Jewish children to do two things; say something in Polish and recite some Catholic prayers.

In Poland in World War II everyone was either Jewish or Catholic. The Jewish children spoke Yiddish and very little Polish and, of course, would not know any Catholic prayers. So if a child could not speak Polish and didn’t know any Catholic prayers it meant they were Jewish and they would be sent back to the ghetto. When the relief workers found this out, they started to teach the Jewish children Polish and some Catholic prayers before smuggling them out of the ghetto.

Back then, every Catholic child knew their Catholic prayers. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say the same today; every Christian child, whether they are Catholic or Lutheran or whatever denomination, knew their prayers.

And what about you? If someone stopped you and asked you to prove you were a Christian by reciting some Christian prayers could you do it?

Hopefully, we could all recite the Lord’s Prayer without any problem. Being able to recite Martin Luther’s morning and evening prayers would be a great way to prove one was a Lutheran. Many Christians have also learned to say mealtime prayers. How about any others? How many prayers could you recite to prove that you were a Christian?

Jesus gives us an important lesson in prayer in Luke 18:

[9] He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt: [10] “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. [11] The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. [12] I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ [13] But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ [14] I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

While the Pharisee is brag-praying, the tax collector is beating his breast in humble contrition and repentance. According to Jesus, the one who humbled himself is the one who goes home justified.

The simple prayer of the tax collector is a great one to have memorized: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Another thing the relief workers did in working with the children that they were smuggling out of the ghetto was to keep very detailed records of the children they were able to free from the ghetto. This was so that, after the war was over, if any of the children’s family survived the war, they could be reunited. When we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, God marks us down in his book so that no matter how separated we may become from God, we can still be reunited with him. Through faith in Jesus, God’s Son, our names are recorded in heaven.

Even during the horrors of World War II there were still good people who risked their lives to help others. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” is a prayer that reminds us how good and gracious God is to us sinners and motivates us to help others too.

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