Have you ever asked, “How can I make a difference in the face of such overwhelming evil?”

It is easy to become discouraged and passive in response to manifestations of systemic evil.

How does one make a difference in the struggle, for example, against racism, oppression of minority populations or women in many societies, antisemitism and prejudice against people of other faiths, and senseless violence occurring all too regularly throughout American cities?

As I reflect on Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, I find personal encouragement in recalling the heroism and faith of several Baptists who, during the Second World War, found creative and sacrificial ways to oppose Nazi antisemitism and express solidarity for the Jewish people during one of history’s most overwhelming periods of systemic evil.

After Kristallnacht, Great Britain actively supported the Kindertransport of Jewish children, some already orphaned.

Approximately 10,000 German and Austrian Jewish children arrived in that country. Some of these children were relocated from London to Shefford to escape the nightly bombings by the Luftwaffe.

One Baptist layperson, Samuel Ashby, saw a need and met it. He purchased, refurbished and then donated a school building to the Jewish community of Shefford.

It was dedicated on Nov. 15, 1939, and the occasion “realised a dream dear to his heart of showing kindness to the Jews.” Approximately 250 Jewish children benefited from this act of charity.

An incredulous reporter sought for the motivation behind such generosity and caring. Ashby responded, “I love the Jews and I have always done all I could to help them. I am a Christian and like to copy my Master, who was a Jew. I hate Hitlerism and its oppression of the Jews.”

In France, several Baptist pastors courageously helped Jewish people fleeing Hitler’s wrath.

In Paris, Henri Vincent and his congregation served the city’s Jewish population even while resisting the Gestapo. Their ministries met the spiritual, social and financial needs of Jewish refugees in the name of Jesus Christ.

Madeleine Blocher-Saillens, the first female French Baptist ordained pastor, personally assisted Jewish refugees.

She was touched particularly by the plight of Jewish children. When confronted with one family’s needs, she responded instinctively, “We will see what we can do.”

Most prophetically, even though it might cost her dearly, Blocher-Saillens rejected ministering to German Baptists working in Paris on the grounds that to support them would be a form of unethical collaboration. “As long as they are our invaders, we cannot collaborate,” she declared.

In Nice, Edmond Evrard and his family risked their lives to protect Jewish refugees. The Baptist minister cooperated with Jewish resistance groups in Nice, including the Marcel Network, which, through the leadership of Moussa Abadi and Odette Rosenstock, saved 527 Jewish children.

The Baptist congregation in Nice permitted their building to become “a gathering point and shelter for Jews and a center of unusual activities.”

In March 1944, Evrard was approached by three Jewish representatives seeking to conduct a Purim service in the church. He believed it was “his duty before God” to authorize the service. Jewish participants arrived by bicycle, while Evrard’s two sons maintained a watch outside.

While most German Baptists either passively or actively succumbed to Nazi control, a few courageous leaders responded to Hitler’s antisemitism and totalitarianism.

In Vienna, Arnold Köster consistently offered pastoral support to Jews who asked for his assistance. He continued to preach from the Jewish Scriptures even as the Nazis sought to eliminate its voice. Köster uniquely insisted on criticizing the Nazi regime from its beginning in 1933 until its fall in 1945.

Herbert Gezork, a rising star in the German Baptist Union, quickly realized that his respect for the Jewish people was decisively at odds with the agenda of the Nazi regime. He expressed his opposition to Nazism by voluntarily going into exile in December 1936.

Two decades later, Gezork recalled his personal feelings back in 1936: “Those of us who, in spite of all the success of Hitler, resisted him because of our spiritual, moral, and political principles, had to flee the country or landed sooner or later in a concentration camp. We were a small minority.”

Even when we are a small minority, there are still opportunities to express individual agency and represent the themes and principles of the Kingdom of God.

If individual Baptists could do so in response to the Nazis, then we too can face, with faith and courage, manifestations of evil in our day.

Baptist resistance to Nazism and its antisemitism during the Holocaust, to be sure, was neither universal nor decisive in defeating this evil.

Nevertheless, for me it was historically significant and certainly inspirational.

Following Jesus involves embracing the challenge to oppose evil in all its manifestations, regardless of the cost, and to seek for tikkun olam (“mending or healing the world”) and shalom (God’s peace).

Author’s note: This article is based on excerpts from my forthcoming book with a working title, “On Opposite Sides” (Judson Press).

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week calling attention to International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The previous articles are:

Several Remembrances Needed on Holocaust Remembrance Day Jack Moline

Annual International Remembrance Offers Powerful Message Rachel Ain

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