My father, Hans Bernd, was ten years old when he fled Germany on one of the last trains of the Kindertransport to England in 1939. His sister left just before him. He had to make the journey to England alone, and leave his parents behind. They were killed in Auschwitz. Several other relatives were also sent to concentration camps. Many had sadistic experiments performed on them and most died. My great-aunt is the oldest living survivor from the infamous “Voyage of the Damned” on the St. Louis. All were traumatized by their experiences during the Second World War, and their struggles affected me as well.
As a young boy I did not really understand the Holocaust. I just knew Hitler killed my grandparents. I knew that we were Jewish, and that my father had been beaten up when he was my age just because he was Jewish, even by some of his teachers. I used to dream of being an underground hero who would rescue everyone should the Holocaust happen again.
Jonathan Bernd as a young boy
When I was a little older, I noticed my dad did not express his feelings as openly as some people, and I remember my mother trying to explain to me that as a young boy, my father learned to hide his feelings. He had learned that his persecutors in Germany were less abrasive if he didn’t respond to their actions against him.
When I was a teenager trying to “find myself,” I realized much of my personal insecurities could be traced directly back to the fact that I was the child of a Holocaust survivor. I was very angry with the Germans for what they had done to my family. Some of my surviving relatives decided to stay in Germany, so I had been there quite a bit, but I still harbored resentment and anger towards the German people.
My father, who started to believe that Jesus was the Messiah before I was born, did find in his faith the ability to forgive the Nazis for what they had done to our family. When I was 22 years old, I came to the same belief as my father. I realized that God had forgiven me for ignoring him, for trying to figure out life on my own, and for so many other things. It was now my turn to forgive others, including the Germans. Forgiving them was a monumental challenge for me, and no, it did not happen overnight. It was a process, but I am thankful for the healing that has taken place. When I visit Germany today, it is without that bitterness.
Hans Bernd’s “kinder card” used for travel out of Germany
Forgiveness does not mean forgetfulness. I think it is important to remember and memorialize the Holocaust because too many people try to pretend it didn’t happen, or that it was not as bad as it was. We need to be confronted with what we can become when we ignore God.
The world should learn a lesson through the Holocaust: that it is imperative that we raise our voices for what is right. The world’s silence during the Holocaust killed my relatives. Likewise, I would be committing the same crime of silence if I did not mention that the only way to have healing from the traumas and hurts of the Holocaust is to have reconciliation with God that comes through Jesus. Without the Messiah, though it is almost impossible to imagine, the fate that awaits all of us at the end of our lives is much worse than the Holocaust. God forgive us if we keep that to ourselves.