I am currently spending six weeks as a Fulbright scholar at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. On my walks to the university to teach my classes, I always stop for a moment to pay respects at the multiple memorials embedded in the sidewalk.

I read the name on the plaque, note their relationships and calculate their age when they walked through their front door for the last time before being systematically murdered.

I simply cannot imagine the horror they felt at that moment. 

Some six million Jews were sent to the ovens at concentration camps. But to say “six million” is somewhat of an abstraction. It is a number most of us cannot comprehend. 

Saying “six million” glosses over the individual, which is dangerous. To say “six million” is to create an image of an enormous mass of people in our minds. This masks the individual humanity of the one person walking through their door for the last time.

The one is lost among the inconceivable number of six million. 

Abel Herzberg, a Dutch Jew who survived the Bergen-Belsen death camp, encourages us to capture the humanity of the individual. He argues that: “there were not six million Jews murdered; there was one murder, six million times.” 

Commenting on Herzberg’s statement, Thomas Buergenthal, one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz, explains: “One of the problems with the six million number is that nobody can imagine that. You cannot personalize six million. You can personalize one person. I think it expresses a reality. It is true, because each one of those souls was killed, and each one had an individuality of his own, a history, a memory, a life, and that is lost in this whole discussion when we sort of cavalierly go over and speak about six million.”

I stop at every plaque to contemplate the extermination of just one individual— an individual who was a father, a daughter, an uncle, a cousin. An individual who was loved. An individual who had a story, a history and a future.

But when I multiply this one individual six million times, I’m left to wonder about God being absent six million times. After all, did not God promise God’s chosen people to always be present? “For the LORD will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance” (Psalm 94:14).

What do we do with the overwhelming proof of an absent God? This becomes problematic when theologians, like the recently deceased Jürgen Moltmann, argue for a hope based on a God who keeps promises.

For Moltmann, if God keeps promises, the gospel can be verified. This assures believers of an eternal afterlife and provides meaning and purpose for the here and now. It procures a sense of security, leading to peaceful assurance of a future amidst life’s vicissitudes.

God may have once made a promise to the Jews, but Moltmann’s God seemed to have changed God’s mind. Under his framework, salvation history now belongs to a newly chosen people— Christians. The original promise God made to the Hebrews facilitated the massacre of the original inhabitants of Canaan. 

Likewise, when God promised Euroamericans their own promised land, the indigenous people of the land— in the name of Manifest Destiny— were also required to be victims of genocide so that their land could be taken. Both the indigenous people of Canaan and the U.S. faced eradication because they occupied the space outside salvation history. They were not among “the chosen.” 

When God’s chosen— Jews— faced the Nazi death camps at the hands of God’s newly chosen— Christians— a spiritual justification was required. Euroamericans had to write themselves into the historical salvation narrative as “the New Jerusalem” or the “New Israel.”

The shining light upon the hill. 

Moltmann argues: “In faith in the gospel, [human beings] see themselves as children of God the Father. But in prayer they talk to God as they talk to their friends. . . Wherever a person prays in Jesus’ name, God is being claimed as a friend, and the request is urgently made in the name of that friendship.”

If this is true, then God stands condemned. God is guilty of failing to keep God’s promises.

But if we argue that Christians replaced Jews as the chosen, then God can be absolved of guilt. The victims of genocide can instead be blamed for their own holocaust, because they did not pray in Jesus’ name. Doing so would have transformed their prayers into an urgent request before their friend, God. 

My fear with this logic is the absolution of Christians’ complicity in the murder of a single Jew six million times by blaming the single Jew for not praying in the name of Jesus.

This is the problem with everyone claiming to be a “chosen people.” Inflicted horror upon others who are not chosen becomes acceptable as the Other is dehumanized and placed outside God’s salvation history.

As I stand before these bronze sidewalk plaques, my mind drifts to others not chosen who today face similar genocidal horrors.

We honor “never again” whenever we stand in solidarity with lambs being led to the slaughter because every single human being— regardless of beliefs or lack thereof— is chosen to live a life void of the existential threat of those who self-appointed themselves exclusively as the only ones chosen.

Editor’s Note: This article has been edited from its original version. 

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