Tonight, Israelis have already begun to gather for the beginning of Holocaust Memorial Day. There are fewer than 150,000 Holocaust survivors alive in Israel today. Their numbers are dwindling, but we must never forget—the horrors, the tragedies, the sacrifices, the survivors.
Our enemies continue to breathe threats of annihilation. Antisemitism is alive and raging again in our day.
To honor the 6 million men, women, and children who were murdered and to remember those who lived, I would like to share with you today an excerpt from my book, Identity Theft, an action-packed fictional account of a Jewish man’s journey to faith in the Messiah.
While seeking to find answers to life’s big questions, David Lebowitz, a writer for a Philadephia newspaper, finds himself on an unexpected path to learn about Jesus, the very JEWISH Messiah (despite what he’s been told). David is escorted by an angel to different key scenes through the last 2,000 years—personally significant and historically pivotal—through some extraordinary interactions in a heavenly classroom and with his angel instructor.
Thank you for praying for and loving the Jewish people! One day ALL Israel will know their Messiah—Yeshua!
Until all Israel is saved (Rom. 11:26),
The lights dimmed, but this time I wouldn’t watch. I sought to get up in order to escape and found that I couldn’t. I was literally glued to my seat. I yanked and jerked, but nothing worked. I was stuck there. Finally, I resigned myself. On the screen were the words:
1945, Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp
And a young boy began to tell his story of horror…
“My name is Tuvia Lebowitz. I am sixteen years old. Today, I am free. But while my body is free, my soul will ever be held captive to memories and horrors too painful to utter. My mother is dead. My father is dead. My sisters may be dead. My little brother is dead. And I have not eaten a proper meal in five years.
“It all began when I was ten years old. My father was a university professor. We lived a comfortable life, and I was happy. My friends were Jewish and Polish, but over time fewer and fewer of my Polish friends were permitted to play with me. I was very sad about it, and so were most of them—we didn’t understand. But one day, one of those boys, Jacek, came up to me as I walked home from my violin lesson and yelled, ‘You Jew! You killed Christ. You will also suffer!’
“I had no idea what he was talking about, but the anger with which he said it sent a shiver up my spine as I had never known before. The coming years, however, would bring ample fulfillment of the premonition I felt in that moment.
“The day came when all the Jews of Warsaw, nearly a third of the city’s population, were required to leave our homes and move inside an area that was smaller than 2.5 percent of the city. Four hundred thousand people were living in an area that was designed for just over 3,000!
“Once inside, no one was permitted to leave the ghetto, as it came to be called, without a work permit. And these were restricted mainly to older people.
Fortunately, my father was one of the few to be granted one, although his status as a university professor was now relegated to factory worker.
“Over time, food in the ghetto became scarce. We were surviving on fewer than 200 calories a day. My father would sell some of our possessions to keep us from starving. It wasn’t uncommon to see dead bodies on the streets. Some starved, others froze to death, and some just gave up. Hunger and disease were the two biggest killers. There were, of course, those who told us this would all pass, that we had simply to obey the rules, and in time all would return to normal. They can’t kill all of us, they reasoned.
“The day came when we were informed that trains were to transfer us out of the overcrowded ghetto. We were told that families were to be resettled in better areas in the countryside. It was a welcomed prospect, and I hoped that we would be among those selected to leave this dirty, congested place for the country. But then rumors began to trickle in that the families who were leaving were not going to a better place but to slave labor camps where some were killed, and others were forced to work for the Nazis. Many simply refused to give credence to these stories while the rest of us were terrified. But again, community leaders assured us that these were just rumors and everything would soon be all right.
“And then our name was called—we would be going to the countryside. We took all our belongings, which weren’t many, and boarded a train. There were no seats like on the trains I used to love to ride when we traveled from Warsaw to visit my grandparents in Lodz. My grandparents? What had become of them?
“We crowded into the cattle cars, and just when I thought I had found a place to stand, I was shoved backward. The car was already full, but they just kept herding more and more people into the car. Where was my little brother?
“The heat was simply unbearable, and almost immediately, the complaining began: We are going to die in here. Move. I need more room. They might as well bury us in this train; we’ll never survive. You could hardly breathe; we were packed so tightly together. It was terrifying. After a few hours, people needed to relieve themselves, and with no facilities, the stench was horrible. They had told us things would get better, but they only got worse. Exhaustion overtook me, and I found myself dreaming I was back at home, but someone would faint or cry out, jolting me out of the fantasy and reminding me I was living in a nightmare.
“Our ride only took about a day, but it seemed to go on forever. We later learned from others in the camp that their ride was even more horrendous. They were crammed in the cattle cars and would go for days without food or water. The Nazis had actually demanded they pay a fare for their train tickets! Sleep was nearly impossible, but after a couple of days, they said you fall into a state of stupor where you could be asleep and awake at the same time. Someone would die right next to you, but the car was so crowded they barely slumped over.
“I had just turned thirteen. I was supposed to have had my Bar Mitzvah by now. I would have stood proudly in the synagogue, chanted from the Torah, and endured the praises of my family, friends, and relatives. Instead, here I was, enduring suffering like I had never thought possible. How much more of this could we take?
“When we arrived at the first work camp, or as we would call it later, the death camp, we were taken off the train and separated into different groups. When my mother was told to follow the women, she became hysterical. She grabbed my little brother and begged the guards not to separate them. They ripped him from her, and when she protested, the butt of a guard’s rifle found the back of her head, knocking her to the ground. I was in shock. Was this really happening? I wanted to fight, but I couldn’t move.
“And then, when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, one of the other guards solved the dilemma by pulling out his handgun and putting a bullet through Chaim’s head, with as much emotion and effort as he might use to pour himself a cup of coffee that morning. They were savages. My little brother lay dead on the ground, blood streaming from the gaping hole in his head. The image haunts me to this day and always will.
“No one cried, no one screamed—we were simply in shock. Surely what we had just witnessed with our eyes didn’t really happen. Chaim couldn’t be dead. And yet, he was. A five-year-old Jewish life was of little consequence to the Nazis.
“Father and I were herded into the men’s line while my grief-dazed mother, still in shock, was pulled into another line. We would now work for our tormentors. My two sisters, barely twelve and fifteen at the time, were placed with other girls their age. Only later did I learn what would happen to these girls. They would be used to service the Nazis. Fortunately, I was too young to understand such things. It would have been too much for me. But now I am a man. I’m sixteen and know exactly what they did to my sisters. I don’t even know if they are alive.
“My mother only survived a few months. The devastation of watching her baby, her youngest son, murdered before her eyes, robbed her of the will to live. She was inconsolable. The other women covered for her as best they could, but soon it became clear to the guards that not only was she not doing her share of the work, but she no longer cared whether she lived or died. Mercifully, before she could be sent to the gas chambers or be terminated, she was gone. One morning she simply didn’t wake up.
“This happened three months after we arrived, but my father and I only found out a year later. I didn’t even weep. By that time, I was completely numb. Death was everywhere. It had become too familiar to warrant a response. And part of me was grateful that she no longer had to suffer in this nightmare.
“I was sure it was only a matter of time before these monsters or this godforsaken place would kill me as well. My father, on the other hand, was completely undone by this news. He held on for another year, for my sake, but in the end, hopelessness, despair, and malnutrition claimed him. Like my mother, one morning, he simply did not wake up.
“At fifteen, I was, at best, the man of the house, or at worst, the only one left in the house. Part of me hoped my sisters were dead. The thought of some sleazy, overweight Nazi officer with alcohol-laden breath, laying his hands on either one of them, sickened me.
“I was transferred to Auschwitz in early 1944. While we called the work camp a death camp, Auschwitz was an actual extermination center. As I passed through a gate, a guard hissed at me, ‘You killed Jesus Christ; now we will kill you.’ Jacek was right. They blamed me for the death of a man who died 2,000 years ago—a Jew no less, someone they themselves would have killed, given the opportunity. I was 15 years old; I had never killed anyone! And I wondered, in passing, what exactly had become of Jacek. For all I knew, he could be living in our house. Or maybe he had joined the Hitler Youth and was now training to fight for the Nazis.
“The guards obviously agreed with Jacek as they forewarned us of our fate, their retribution for our crime of killing Christ. The butt of a rifle in my stomach accompanied the threat, in this instance. How much more could I take?
“They then moved us to Birkenau, one of the camps adjacent to Auschwitz. There, in a red brick building, which from the outside appeared harmless enough, they had built fake shower blocks. Instead of encountering clean water, unsuspecting victims were led into the showers and asphyxiated by poisonous gas.
“This was one of the cruelest and yet most efficient tricks of the Nazis. How do you kill thousands of people at one time and keep them from panicking or, worse, revolting? You give them a cake of soap and tell them they are going to receive the first shower they have had in weeks or months.
“The red brick building was just one of many such death machines. Its only distinction was in the fact that it had been the first, or so I was told. Because I was young, it was my job, every day, all day, to drag the lifeless corpses of my people out of the gas chambers, loading them onto carts to transport them to the crematoria. All the while, I was hoping against hope that I wouldn’t share their fate.
“I was surrounded by death. I no longer felt human, so I guess they’d won. Clearly, that was the subliminal message the Nazis transmitted by transporting us in cattle cars. In truth, I felt just like an animal seeking to survive the barren winter—only winter was now going into its fourth year.
“Finally, in January 1945, the Germans began to demolish the gas chambers. Our captors blew them up, one by one. They seemed intent on getting rid of the evidence. You could see the fear in their eyes. Was this war coming to an end? Would we soon be free? Was someone coming to rescue us?
“Our hopes of freedom, however, were soon crushed. The barely living were rounded up and ordered to march from Auschwitz to God knows where. Thousands who were too weak were simply left behind. It was freezing, the dead of winter. Tens of thousands of us marched and marched. It was nothing for someone in front of you to simply collapse. Those who couldn’t walk were left for dead. I passed hundreds of dead bodies. Who knows if they were dead when they hit the ground or simply froze in the snow? What would once have shocked me had become commonplace. A dead body…even that of a child… barely fazed me. What had they done to me?
“I had determined from the outset that I would survive—if not for me, in the faint hope that I might one day see my sisters again.
“Finally, we arrived at Bergen-Belsen. By April, most of the guards had fled, but the remaining ones seemed perversely intent on leaving no inmate alive. After several days with no food or water, more and more Jews began to collapse, go crazy, or simply die. Bodies were everywhere. Typhus was spreading. Surely my body would soon succumb to these deathly conditions.
“And then, yesterday, April 15, 1945, five days after my 16th birthday, British troops arrived, and—miracle of miracles—we were emancipated!
“Now I am free. Or so they tell me. What does that even mean at this point? My parents and little brother are dead. My sisters, if alive, have been violated repeatedly for years. What will become of me, of Tuvia Lebowitz?”
By now, I was sobbing inconsolably.
“David,” the angel called out. I didn’t answer. “David Lebowitz!” he called out again.
1 Tuvia’s story is of course fictional, but it encompasses many of the very real horrors that Jews endured in the Holocaust.