Problems linked to Jewish Evangelism in a Post-Holocaust Ukrainian Society

Опубликовано в Jewish history

Dr. Igor Rusniak

The Holocaust, or Shoa in Hebrew, was the total destruction of the Jews by the Nazis during World War II (this war in Russian history was known as “The Great Patriotic War”). Nazi leaders called the mass destruction of the Jews “the final answer to the Jewish problem”.

It is well- known that there were nearly 6 million Jews annihilated during World War II, which was approximately one third of the Jewish nation.

Though World War II ended 69 years ago, the Holocaust through its monstrosity, continues to directly or indirectly influence different aspects of ministry to the Jewish people, including evangelism. Ministry to the Jewish people in Ukraine has also experienced the influence of the consequences of the Holocaust.

2.7 million Jews were living in Ukraine (in the current borders) until 1941. Ukraine took first place in Europe and second place in the world for the number of Jews within its borders.  The destruction of the Jews was openly done and in the utmost, cruel form in Ukraine, which was occupied by Wehrmacht’s army.  It was on account of the Nazis who lived here, as well as the Jews who were not simply Jews, but  Jewish- Bolsheviks who supported  Soviet power.  Nazis saw in the Jews the “moving power of a world revolution”. The mass-killings of Jews began from the first days of the occupation and continued for more than three years.  In the west regions of Ukraine, the Jews were rounded up into ghettos.  In the rest of Ukraine  ghettos were not found. The Nazis murdered Jews by way of mass execution.  As a result, 1.5 million Jews were executed.  Nearly 340 thousand of them were taken out and destroyed in Poland, in specialized, concentration camps in Belzhets, Auschwitz, Sobibor and Maidanek.  We must take into account also Jews who were evacuated at the beginning of the war from Ukraine into Russia, mainly into the North Caucasus, and then were found and destroyed by Nazis in 1942.  The average number of Ukrainian Jews was no less than 1.6 million people who were destroyed by the Holocaust.  Practically every Jewish family in Ukraine has relatives who were murdered by Nazis during the war.

It is necessary to note that the mass destruction of Jews was carried out not only by German occupiers, but also by police divisions and volunteers from the residential population who were widely involved with them.

After the war, during the existence of the USSR, the Holocaust was not considered in Soviet society as a separate and unique phenomena, but it was interpreted as a part of the Nazi’s politics of genocide, with respect to the Soviet people of different nations. There were several reasons for this approach to the Holocaust. One of them was anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.  This usually was in hidden form, but at times it showed up openly. In the first years of  Soviet power, anti-Semitism was considered as an ideologically detrimental philosophy.  There were attempts to fight against this evil at that time. But in the 1930's  anti-Semitism had stopped drawing society’s attention and the fight against it failed. As a consequence, demonstrations of anti-Semitism became more frequent. It is also known that anti-Semitic attitudes spread to all levels of society, including to the highest Soviet leaders.  As a result, the Nazi’s anti-Semitic politics were propagated in the USSR up to the incursion in 1941 of German troops into Soviet territory. Information about the mass destruction of Jews by the Nazis was not made known to the Soviet community. 

The anti-Semitic attitude sown into Soviet society remained after the war. It appeared as animosity towards Jewish history and culture, in attempt to suppress the Jewish self-consciousness. Therefore, anti-Semitism was a key factor which formed the attitude of the Soviet community towards the Holocaust.

Another reason for why the Holocaust was not marked as a separate and unique phenomena was in the internal policy of Soviet leaders.  The USSR adopted a policy to create a so-called, “common Soviet people”, in combination with the Russian- national elements of society. As a result, the victims and losses of the Soviet people as a whole, and of the Russian people in particular, were emphasized, without giving attention to the suffering and victims of small ethnic groups; especially the Jewish people. Though  the number of deaths in the war was highest for the Jews.

The effects on the  attitude towards the Holocaust in Soviet society was influenced by the Soviet ideological attitude, according to which the Holocaust was interpreted as one of the Nazi’s ideological displays.  In turn, the Nazis was interpreted as a display of the capitalist system, in which the roots of evils such as genocide were hidden.  An anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli foreign policy of the Soviet Union was put together, which explained Zionism as a reaction to bourgeois ideology. Therefore, there was no proper attitude toward the Holocaust in society, even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.  This term was not present in public affairs and no  proper attention was given to it in scientific circles.  Even the terms themselves, “Holocaust”, “Catastrophe”, “Shoa” were unknown in Soviet scientific literature. Usually there were terms such as “destruction” and “liquidation” to discuss this subject.  The term “Holocaust” was included in Russian by means of English only  in the 1990's.  The subject of the Holocaust was not labeled as unique phenomena. It was considered as nothing special and distinctive from other events of mass killings of people that  belonged to other nations or social groups.   It follows to emphasize that the USSR denied that he Nazis killed six million Jews, many of which were Soviet citizens.  And also that the Jews were doomed to destruction by the Nazis beforehand.

A change took place in the attitude towards the Holocaust after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This subject area had become one of the most important for Ukrainians, Russians, Byelorussians and for other nations.  But the post-Soviet society still continued with misunderstanding and indifference to the fortune of the Jewish people during World War II.  In certain cases, this subject was concealed because it required answering fundamental questions about man as an entity, about human society, morality, faith and religion.

Such an attitude towards the Holocaust in post-Soviet society partly exists among believers. Many believers and even churches either do no attach importance to the Holocaust or they consider the Holocaust on the basis of the general attitude of the secular world, with respect to genocide of national minorities and social groups. Also the influence of anti-Semitism has been inherited by the historical Church.    

In this case, believers must repent to become free. Many believers and churches are exposed to the influence of the “theory of substitution” that has negated the special relationship of God with the Jews, and the special role and destiny of the Jews in God’s plans.  Many believers are not properly informed and are ignorant about the level of  suffering and destruction of the Jews during the World War II.  It can cause serious problems in different aspects of ministry to Jewish people, including in Jewish evangelism.

The Holocaust occupies one of the key places in Jewish conscience, in contrast to gentile society. As it was stated earlier, there are practically no Jews in Ukraine who have not experienced the loss of relatives and friends during the war. The attitude itself of various groups in Jewish society may be different towards the Holocaust. One group may consider the Holocaust to be identical to the genocide of other people. Such a universalist view is supported by Jewish groups who are substantially open for emancipation and assimilation.

Other Jewish groups, especially religious Jews, consider the Holocaust as a factor in the unity of Jews, and their isolation and dissociation from other nations. Such an attitude is propagandized by those circles who want to transform the memory of the Holocaust into a collective experience which isolates them from Christians and the Gospel of Yeshua Messiah (Jesus Christ). Particularly under the influence of such an attitude, it has fed the ideology of a people that are in a position to stand strong against an antagonistically inclined world.  For example, supporters of this view assert that there is a threat of a new Holocaust, including from the western world, which is ready today to abandon the Jews, as they have done before.

One more view on the Holocaust takes an intermediate position between the two spoken of. It admits the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and  its results, including the necessity of a  militarily and politically strong, independent Jewish state.  And with this view, supporters of this approach express their concern about efforts to develop Jewish life by a panegyric of Jewish suffering. They express alarm about the their image as Jewish people from a “people of the Scriptures” to a “cremated people”.

Therefore, the Holocaust does not allow the Jews to be indifferent and it occupies a key place in Jewish consciousness and identity. It was so in the Soviet Union and it is still the same after the disintegration of the USSR.  For example, an opinion poll in 1998 among Jews of modern Russia about the most important factor for a man who “is a real Jew” showed the following results:

- it is necessary to follow the Kashrut – 5% agree

- to share ideas of Zionism – 7%;

- to visit a synagogue – 9%;

- to know Hebrew or Yiddish – 20%;

- to be a community of inheritance with the state of Israel – 25%;

- to keep a collective memory about the Holocaust – more than 77%  agree.

There is reason to believe that the same statistics exist in Ukraine.

The term of Holocaust is one of the key terms used by anti-Messianic Jewish circles for raising a wall between Jews and faith in Yeshua Messiah.  Particularly they ask the question: Could the Holocaust have happened at all if Christian theological and cultural Judo-phobism wouldn't have prepared a way for it?  On the other hand, many among Gentile circles, including some believers, attempt to present the Holocaust as a pure problem of the Nazis or a problem of the Jews.

Therefore, the Holocaust is a tragic event in the history of the Jewish people and of Ukraine and of all humanity. Remembrance of this tragedy is passed on from generation to generation of Jews, and essentially determines the Jews' attitude to a Gentile environment; especially to believers in Yeshua Messiah. It is necessary to break down barriers between Jews and those with faith in Yeshua the Messiah, which  are there due to negative aspects in the memories of the Holocaust.  Let's note some keys to get over this barriers.

Because the Holocaust happened by an open and extremely expressed manifestation of anti-Semitism, the fight against anti-Semitism is a key spiritual aspect.  Particularly in the Kyiv Jewish Messianic Congregation (KJMC), prayer against anti-Semitism is an integral part of prayer life.  Anti-Semitism, its consequences and how to fight against it are subjects of studies and seminars which are conducted by ministers of KJMC.  Also KJMC, for the fourth time in 2014, has  held a global prayer meeting against anti-Semitism and Nazism. This prayer event is supported by other Messianic Jewish congregations and churches of different denominations. The spiritual prayer battle against anti-Semitism and Nazism releases  God’s rich blessings on the Jews and Gentiles, and the main blessing is salvation according to faith to Yeshua Messiah. The international prayer against anti-Semitism and Nazism provides a whole list of events, particularly interdenominational prayer  meetings which gather leaders of congregations and churches. There are also seminars on the spiritual roots of anti-Semitism, Nazism and xenophobia, along with their manifestations and how to stand against this evil.

The “March of Life” is one more important action in the struggle against anti-Semitism and Nazism and their consequences. Believers of the TOS ministry from the German city of Tubingen who were descendants of Nazi participants in the mass destruction of Jews became the initiators of the “March of Life”. The first “March of Life” took place in 2007 in the southern region of Germany, as an action of repentance for the death of the Jews in the fire of the Holocaust, and also as an action to support Israel as a protest against demonstrations of anti-Semitism in these days. The “March of Life” took place in Ukraine in 2010. Its aims were:

- to remove the shroud of suppression covering the mass destruction of Jews in Ukraine by German Nazis during World War II and to reveal the direct or indirect collaboration of the part natives played in it

- repentance by the Ukrainian nation for the mass destruction of Jews in the Holocaust so as to destroy the curses and consequences of this sin in Ukraine.

The “March of Life” attracted wide public attention in Ukraine. It was organized by the TOS ministry from Tubingen with the support of a committee of churches – participants in the “March of Life”, and many Jewish organizations including the Ukrainian Independent Council of Jewish Women.  In Kyiv on the grounds of  the Babi-Yar Memorial, participants gathered for a  meeting.  Those present were able to hear stories of the repentance of believers from Germany, testimonies of Jews surviving the Holocaust, appeals to the people of the world not to ignore global tragedy in any form, and about the necessity to fight against neofascism, neonazism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism.  Many Jewish leaders, Christian pastors, and the ambassador of Israel in Ukraine, Ms. Zina Kalay-Klaitman, spoke about the importance of the initiative of repentance on the side of the Germans.  The “March of Life” took place in many other cities of Ukraine as well. It became an important event to break down walls of separation which were raised by the tragedy of the Holocaust.  And it is necessary to continue efforts in this direction.

 As stated previously, one of the barriers to effective evangelism ministry among the Jews is a lack of information by believers in respect to different aspects of Jewish culture and history, including the Holocaust.  And therefore, educational programs studying these subjects have significant sense.  Particularly at KJMC there is a Messianic Bible School and correspondence school, training Messianic ministers. The required part of their educational program includes subjects devoted to ministry to Jewish people, to problems of anti-Semitism, to the history of the Jewish people, and the Holocaust.  Historical terms and events of the Holocaust are considered not only with a careful preservation of historical accuracy, but also with an analysis of the causes of the Holocaust and its place in the minds of the Jewish people.  As  experience shows, these terms effectively help believers, especially from Christian churches to understand and have a modern mentality of  the Jews.  In turn, this gives the opportunity to build more effective relationships with Jews and thus for them to come to know the Lord Yeshua.  Subjects devoted to ministry to Jewish people, to problems of anti-Semitism, to the history of the Jewish people and to the Holocaust are included in the educational program of the Messianic Theology Department, which will be opened by on the basis of the Ukrainian Evangelic Theological Seminary.

But the most important factor in Jewish evangelism is, was, and always will be God’s love to the Jewish people, which is in the heart of everyone who truly believes and loves the Messiah of the Jews, and of all people, the Lord Yeshua.


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