Minute Meditation: Belief in God and Religious Practices in the Concentration Camps

The Entrance to Auschwitz
During the Shoah or Holocaust, there were, fundamentally, two different responses to belief in God and religion. First, not a few people rejected the existence of God and religion, becoming atheists. For example, in 1987, in Clifton Park, New York, I met a very nice man, a Holocaust survivor, who said that he entered the concentration camps believing in God, being religiously Jewish. But while being in the camps and after liberation, the man said that he could no longer believe in a God that would allow “innocent” babies, children, young and old adults to be senselessly murdered. The gentleman became a “secular Jew,” being ethnically Jewish, while rejecting the religion of Judaism.
The second response to God’s existence and religion was given by Viktor Frankl, the eminent psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. In his book Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, Frankl observed,
“A]mong those who actually went through the experience of Auschwitz, the number of those who religious life was deepened – in spite of, not because of, this experience – by far exceeds the number of those who gave up their belief.”1
The lesson for today, I suppose, is that it is extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, to eradicate the notion of God from the human mind and expunge the religious longings of human beings. They are, indeed, “incurably religious.”
Hence, Frankl concludes,
“God is not dead …, not even ‘after Auschwitz.’”2
1) Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (New York, N.Y.: Insight Books/ Plenum Press, 1997), p. 19.
2) Ibid.

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