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Izak Goldfinger

I attended a remarkable meeting in Scotland earlier in the year. In a packed function room at an Inverness hotel we heard Izak Goldfinger, a small, quietly spoken Polish Jew, share his experiences of life in a number of Nazi concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz, during the era of the Holocaust. As Izak told his story quietly and matter-of-factly, there were points at which listening became almost unbearable. He recounted how in Plaszow he was beaten so severely by the sadistic commandant Amon Goethe, played by Ralph Fiennes in the film Schindler’s List, that he lost an eye. On another occasion he survived an attack by Goethe’s killer dog while other prisoners had their throats torn out by the animal. And just days before his camp was liberated his emaciated body was run through with a bayonet and thrown into a mass grave. Incredibly, after being unconscious for several months, he recovered.
In spite of all that Izak suffered, there is no bitterness in his heart for those who tortured him and after the War he sought out some of his former tormentors and forgave them. Izak’s one expression of anger was reserved for a former Capo, a Jewish ancillary from the camps, who had treated his fellow Jews brutally. Recognising the Capo in a Haifa café after the War, Izak broke a chair over his head and then held out his hand in a gesture of friendship and forgiveness.

Where did Izak Goldfinger find the ability to love his enemies? In the camps he encountered groups of Jewish people, including rabbis, who believed in Jesus and met daily to pray. Through them he came to believe in Jesus. During the question time I asked Izak why he, a Jew, believed Jesus was the Messiah. The answer was straight and to the point: “Because it is written in the Bible. Go and read it for yourself.” That put me in my place!

Izak’s story confirmed my long-held suspicion that there was a significant number of Jewish believers in the death camps. In the last half of the nineteenth century a quarter of a million Eastern European Jews had found salvation in Messiah through the work established in Budapest by Dr John Duncan. Their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would have been deported and it is entirely feasible that thousands of them retained faith in Jesus and bore testimony to him in the camps. A century before the rise of Nazism in Europe the Holocaust was known to God and perhaps the birth of the Jewish missionary movement was for such a time as that.

The Holocaust is a great problem to Jewish and Christian theologians and philosophers, and rightly so. Elie Weisel and others ask where God was in the Holocaust. Without wanting to trivialise the enormity of the Shoah, it seems to me that Izak’s story answers the question perfectly: just as God was with Israel in Egypt, so he was with Israel in Europe more than three millennia later when the furnace of affliction was rekindled and heated sevenfold.

God will never forsake his people. They are loved for the sake of the patriarchs. His gifts and calling are irrevocable, and though the Jewish people ascend to the heavens or make their bed in Sheol, in mercy he will seek them and save them. Of that we may be sure.

Mike Moore

This article first appeared in the September 2005 edition of the Herald


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