Bill Moyers visits and explores a community of Christians in northern Israel. While there he explores Christian anti-semitism and asks: where were Christians during the Holocaust?
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(Plane flying over fields.)
Rev. SIMON SCHOON: (over scenes of Nes Ammim): The sky above Calvary was as dark as the sky of Auschwitz. And Jesus cried, as many Jews in Auschwitz did, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”
(Interior scene; on camera): When Golda Meir — you all know the name of Golda Meir — when she visited the Pope, she told him, “My memory on the Christians is that in the ghettoes of Poland there was the cry, ‘The Christians are coming, the Christians are coming!’ But not to bless the Jews or to serve the Jews, but to kill them during the time of Easter and Good Friday, because they wanted to murder, they said, the murderers of Christ.” That was her memory. And I hope — I hope that the Jewish people, when we are coming here, living here, and when you are coming, that they also say the Christians are coming, but then in another sense. (People singing hymn in English.)
SIMON SCHOON: We are Christians from several countries, from several churches, and we came to live here in solidarity with the Jewish people.
BILL MOYERS: (standing in front of farm, machinery, fields): I’m Bill Moyers, and this is a farming village in northern Israel. Some 120 people live here, growing roses and avocadoes between the Mediterranean Ocean and the hills of Galilee. Joshua gave this land to the tribe of Asher; Alexander the Great conquered it; Jesus began his ministry nearby; the Crusaders left a Christian castle from the thirteenth century; Napoleon tried to take the port. And from those hills on the Lebanese border, Palestinian terrorists have carried on the latest of many wars here. But it isn’t the scenery, the history or the danger that makes this village unique. It’s the people who live here, and their motive for coming. The name of this place is Nes Ammim. In the Old Testament it means, “a sign to the nations.” And therein is a story. (Girl ringing community bell.)
BILL MOYERS: (over people walking to services): It is Saturday in Israel, the Jewish holy day. It is also, strangely enough, the day of worship for these Christians. They belong to an unusual community settled here in northern Galilee in 1961. There are hundreds of farming villages in Israel, but only one Nes Ammim. (At religious service.)
SIMON SCHOON: We sing this prayer for the coming of the Kingdom of God. (Congregation sings hymn in English; Schoon baptizes child in Dutch.)
SIMON SCHOON: (Holy Communion): Baruch attah Adonai elohenu … melech ha’olam … boray pri hagafen. And he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all mankind so that sins may be forgiven. Every time you drink this cup, you will do it in memory of me.” Receive, then, the blessing of the Lord.
(Benediction): Y’varech’cha Adonai v’yish’m’recha … the Lord bless you and keep you. Ya’ er Adonai panav ay lecha vee’ hu’ ne’ cha … the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. Y’ sa Adonai panav aylecha v’ya’sem l’cha; shalom … the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace; amen.
BILL MOYERS: The spiritual leader of Nes Ammim is the Reverend Simon Schoon from Holland. Why did you come to Nes Ammim?
SIMON SCHOON: I felt solidarity with the people of Israel. And I was in my education at home grown up in very close connection with Israel. And I got the opportunity to come here, so we saw it as a kind of calling, and we came here.
BILL MOYERS: Solidarity. Define solidarity with the Jews, with Israel.
SIMON SCHOON: Solidarity is, for me, really sharing life … sharing all the beautiful things, but also sharing all the difficulties. For example, when we came here there were a lot of terrorist attacks here. We came with two little children, so it was not so nice. We realized that very much. The third night we were here in Nes Ammim there was a terrorist attack in Nahariyya; we heard the noise. And then you think what we have done to come here.
(Over young people walking on road) : We are coming from several different countries, from Germany, from Holland, from Switzerland, from England, from the States, from Sweden, and remaining in our own Christian identity. We are not becoming Israelis. Why should we? We are no Jews, we are no Arabs, so why should we become Israelis? We are living here as a sign of friendship, as a sign of solidarity. (Over people working with roses): It’s of course a strange thing that we have left our countries and our homes to live here, but I think we must confess as Christians the outrage of Christian anti-Semitisim in history and the holocaust. It’s not possible to connect a hundred percent the holocaust towards the Christian Church, but the Christian Church has made the fertile soil for this outrage. Many Christians stood aside, kept silent, didn’t protest, didn’t stand up; and I think that is our responsibility to say that now and to show another attitude.
BILL MOYERS: (over shots of Lev Bausch watering garden) Lev Bausch came to Nes Ammim from Lincoln, Nebraska.
LEV BAUSCH: The root reason for our coming to Israel was our feeling about the return of the people to this land, the restoration of the land, in our lifetimes. I was born in 1941, so when we read the Bible and read about the restoration of the people, then it happened suddenly in my time, in my lifetime.
BILL MOYERS: But you’re Christian.
LEV BAUSCH: Yes. I’m Christian. But the Bible is the whole Bible, it’s not just one part of it, and as Christians we accept the whole Bible, the Old and the New Testament, and it’s something so exciting to see the return of this people that was prophesied over 3,000 years ago. We traveled three months in Europe on our way to Israel so that we could understand better what happened to the Jewish people in the holocaust.
BILL MOYERS: How were your eyes opened?
LEV BAUSCH: Well, we visited places like Dachau, and concentration camps and resistance museums and places where people were hidden during the war.
BILL MOYERS: When you were at Dachau and the other concentration camps, did you say, “Christians did this, Christians took part in this”?
LEV BAUSCH: I don’t feel that true Christians did that. But then, on the other hand, if you say, then who did it, they were named Christians and they used the name “Christian” and they felt themselves Christian, so they were Christians. But in their heart, if they were really Christians, I don’t know how they could have done it. I don’t know how it could have happened. The Jewish people have been accused, and they’ve said to them, “You killed Christ.”
BILL MOYERS: Christians said that.
LEV BAUSCH: Christians have said that to the Jewish people, “You killed Christ.” But Christians don’t stop to realize, when they say that to the Jewish people, that in the Christian belief of the Trinity Christ is part of the godhead. So therefore they’re saying to the Jewish people, “You killed God.” And this is something anathema to the Jewish people. They don’t believe that God could have been on the earth so that anybody could kill him. (Scenes of plane flying over field, men planting young avocado trees, armed man.)
SIMON SCHOON: (over scenes): We are an ecumenical community here. Mostly we are from Protestant background. We like to give form to our religious feelings in a sober way, and especially in a communal way. We in Nes Ammim want to get acquainted with Israel and to study the Bible here in the land of the Bible, and to know more on the people of the Bible and live for a while in the land where Jesus lived. (Over scenes of community members picking and weighing avocadoes): In this country we have to work hard. There are six days that we work, and only one day of rest. There is a poor and weak economy here, so we join them; we join Israel in everything. (People working in buildings and fields.) (Schoon and family going to beach.)
BILL MOYERS: Reverend Schoon and his wife are raising their three daughters and adopted son in Nes Ammim.
SIMON SCHOON: For children I think it’s a paradise living here. Not much traffic, and always beautiful climate. I think it’s good for them to learn to live together with people of other faiths and from all corners of the earth. We have not so much time for entertainment, because there is a lot of work here. But when we have time we try to escape, by maybe going to the beach, playing with the children, and sometimes we are going for some days off to the Lake of Galilee … or to the Sinai.
(Over family at dinner): We have a lot of things which we do together. We got contact with the adoption service here, and they tried to find a place for a black boy from somewhere, from Africa; and they needed a place for him in a family — he was born here in Israel — and he could only be adopted by a Christian family because religious law here in Israel forbids that Christian or Moslem children are adopted by Jews. And there are not so many Christian families; it was difficult to find a place for him.
(Over family at play in yard) So we offered to have him in our family; we are really very glad that we have done it. Our three blond daughters are very glad that they have now a dark brother. Some months after he came here — he came here in October ’77, and some months later he became already our legal son, by court order.
BILL MOYERS: This solidarity which brought you here, this sense of calling, this desire for solidarity: is there a danger that you can carry your search for solidarity so far that you lose your own distinct Christian identity?
SIMON SCHOON: Perhaps it would be possible, but for me … for me, not. I think I have found more my Christian identity here in the country, because here is the Bible written, here Jesus lived. Jesus was Jewish. I find back here in this country my own roots, the roots of my faith. And it has strengthened, just, my belief, my faith. And I discovered that my faith has very Jewish roots.
BILL MOYERS: (Over Schoon and companion on way to Hebrew lesson): Simon explores the roots of his faith by learning Hebrew in the nearby town.
SIMON SCHOON: Chris and I are going to Hebrew school, where we can improve our knowledge of Hebrew, because we like to speak here the native tongue. We have to improve it, because we speak every day a lot of Dutch, English and German, and it’s much better here, for contacts, to speak Hebrew, of course. It’s nice to be in a class with all kind of new immigrants from all parts of the world, because you have very interesting discussions. I learned Tanach (Bible) Hebrew in the university already in Holland, so that I knew, and now I am learning modern Hebrew; so that’s another thing for me.
BILL MOYERS: Why, theologically, was the idea of Nes Ammim so vehemently attacked in the beginning?
SIMON SCHOON: Because we said we wouldn’t do mission. That was the point. The Christian churches couldn’t accept that we didn’t want to convert Jews. Very simple, but very difficult.
BILL MOYERS: There are Christians who believe that in the Christian ethos missionaries are good people, they’re serving a good cause.
SIMON SCHOON: Yes, I believe so. I’m also confirming that. We are not against mission in general, we are against mission in Israel. Because we see very clear distinction in the Bible between the nations in general and the Jews. The Jews are God’s people, they are within the covenant. They serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They are not rejected by God, as the apostle Paul said. So I think there is no need to convert them.
BILL MOYERS: Have you been criticized by other Christians for your position on the state of Israel and your commitment to solidarity?
SIMON SCHOON: Of course; we are criticized very often, because there is often in the Church a polarization. You are either only for the Jews or you are only for the Palestinians. But I think it’s ridiculous. Why couldn’t you choose for both — a Jewish state here, and also a place to live for the Palestinians?
BILL MOYERS: You said recently, I think, that the pioneer time for Nes Ammim is over. What did you mean by that?
SIMON SCHOON: The first ten years they had to work very hard to build the community up to earn a normal living. But now we have come into another phase, another stage. We can give now more time to lectures and seminars and encounters, and we receive a lot of guests.
LEV BAUSCH: (to tour group): This bell is rung when we have weddings, when we have babies born, when we have a fire, and for church service and Shabbat. (Laughs.)
BILL MOYERS: (over shot of tour group): Although it’s off the main road, thousands of visitors, from Israel and abroad, stop at Nes Ammim every year.
LEV BAUSCH: (in greenhouse with tour group): The flowers are picked here every morning, they’re sorted, and in the evening they’re on a flight to Holland, to the flower auction they arrive. And they’re auctioned off to whoever buys them. Three years ago, before the civil war in Lebanon, the flowers were going from Israel and two days later they were on the table for Christmas in Beirut.
(With tour group in lounge): I don’t know if you’ve been on a kibbutz — maybe you haven’t — or you know what a kibbutz is. The agriculture, the work, is done communally. But the living is private. Why a Christian settlement in Israel? That’s probably the first question that comes into everybody’s mind, and Nes Ammim is the result of a long history. There are two events that occurred in our time that have greatly influenced Jewish-Christian relations. One event was the holocaust, in which six million Jewish people died in, quote, Christian nations of Europe. The other event was the rebirth of the state of Israel. The holocaust was just the climax of this long history of anti-Semitism, of the widening gap between the Christian Church and the Jewish people. Christians killed Jewish people just because they were Jewish, just because they were … especially because they were Jewish. Such people as Adolf Hitler quoted Church leaders when he used the reasons for doing what he did in the final solution to the Jewish question in Europe. One of the leaders that he quoted was Martin Luther.
(Mail delivery — people speaking Dutch.)
LEV BAUSCH: (over office scenes) Nes Ammim is really a missionizing center, not in the way that we would think, but it is a center of trying to influence other Christians toward an idea of better dialogue with Israel. So it’s more of a center of real missionizing toward the Christians. (In office.)
CHRISTINE PILON: Sunday — there’s a group of English-speaking people coming, I think, around next week.
MAN IN OFFICE: And next month, there certainly is a group of English educationists and churchmen coming.
LEV BAUSCH: (over scene): We feel that perhaps we can have some influence, maybe, on Christians where maybe Jews cannot have that influence.
BILL MOYERS: (over shots of irrigated field, Johan Pilon’s grave): Christine Pilon has a special place among the people of Nes Ammim. She has lived here since its pioneer days. She represents the entire history of Nes Ammim because she is the widow of the founder, Johan Pilon. He was a medical doctor in nearby Tiberias, when the idea for Nes Ammim was born in conversation with Jewish friends. Although he died in 1975, the dream was by then a reality, and Christine is today its link to the past. Tell me about the first day you arrived at Nes Ammim.
CHRISTINE PILON: Now, the first day in Nes Ammim won’t easily forget, because when we came there was practically nothing in Nes Ammim, and we were squeezed, a family of five children, into a couple of barracks. There was a bit bigger barrack where all of us had our meals, where the washing was done, where a little office was put in; it was all very, very primitive, you know: different to the life we were used to. We were in Holland the six years that my husband prepared Nes Ammim in Europe.
BILL MOYERS: (talking about dog, laughing): He’s very active today.
CHRISTINE PILON: (Scolds dog in Dutch.) Zeelander!
BILL MOYERS: (Laughing.) He’s a ham. (Dog playing with Christine.)
BILL MOYERS: But there was little here — few trees, no flowers ….
CHRISTINE PILON: very small. No trees — there were trees, some. It was really a bit primitive. But they were very,
BILL MOYERS: Did those early settlers here, including your husband, feel a deep sense of guilt?
CHRISTINE PILON: Each group reacted according to the history his country had during the Second World War.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think that the Christians who came to America from Europe, the Old World, were at least infected by that mindset which sometimes exhibited anti-Semitism?
CHRISTINE PILON: Yes, I think we all of us are; all of us are affected by it. Maybe by our teachings, I don’t know what it is. But I think all of us are affected by it. If only you say the Jews are the Christ killers — and how many of us have not heard this? — it makes a terrific impact on a child, if you say that. And I think maybe it forms its ideas even subconsciously, maybe. And now we have a generation of children in Holland, for instance, who don’t know Jews. If there is a talk about Jews, they say, “What is this?” You see; there are so few left. (Moyers and Schoon over file footage of Nazi parade, Hitler reviewing troops, and Nazi rally. Nuremberg, 1934.)
BILL MOYERS: Remember when you first heard of the holocaust?
SIMON SCHOON: I was very young. There were a lot of documentaries in Holland on television. I remember a very good Memorial Day on the fourth of May in Holland that made much impression on me, and I think then I heard also on the holocaust.
BILL MOYERS: What happened? What went through your mind?
SIMON SCHOON: I couldn’t understand, and I cannot understand till today, how such things were possible, how … human beings could change into beasts. It is not understandable, it’s beyond rational understanding.
BILL MOYERS: But you’ve given a lot of thought to it. Do you have an opinion? What happened?
SIMON SCHOON: I think it was the utter crime; it was the extreme paganism. It was also, from Christians who joined in it, I think it was the betrayal of their faith and of their principles. They were apostates, they really left their Christian faith by doing these crimes.
BILL MOYERS: Is it possible that politics and nationalism, culture, are stronger than religion?
SIMON SCHOON: It’s often so. (Scene of greenhouses and rosebeds.) (Over scenes of cutting, sorting trimming, bunching, packing and loading roses on truck.)
CHRIS: (Director of Horticulture for Nes Ammim): The idea of our flower industry, it fits very well within the idea of Nes Ammim. In a way it’s a commitment to the land. This has a very practical aspect as well, that we don’t come here only to talk with the people in Israel and to learn from them, but that we also show, in a way, that we really are interested in Israel. We export roses to Europe during the export season — that is, from October till May — because in this time of the year there are not enough roses of good quality in Europe; and that’s interesting for us to export them, because then we can get very good prices because there’s a lack of good roses on the market. Because we are from Europe, we know more exactly what kind of quality the consumer asks for, and that’s why we can teach the Israeli rose grower somehow how he has to produce good quality … how he should sort the flowers and bunch the flowers so that they will give good prices. We export approximately 14,000 roses per day, and that is during 200 days. Altogether it will come close to two and a half, three million flowers.
BILL MOYERS: (over cafeteria scenes): In the beginning the idea of a Christian settlement in a Jewish state was opposed by the Israeli government. Christians meant missionaries — people who would try to convert Jews from their own religion. It took years of long debate before orthodox Jewish leaders realized that these Christians had a different mission.
CHRISTINE PILON: For me the most meaningful experience here was the day that the orthodox rabbi from Nahariyya carne here. This rabbi, he was very much against Nes Ammim. I can show you articles — I have them here -he wrote in the big papers in Israel: “Nes Ammim is Mission,” “Why I am Against Nes Ammim,” and it lasted six years before he phoned Nes Ammim and said, “I would like to come and talk to you people.” So we accepted, and he came …
BILL MOYERS: Do you remember the day he came?
CHRISTINE PILON: Yes, I was here. I was here, and he came, with his wife, and I think his daughter. And he said, “Well, you all know me, who I am. I have been against Nes Ammim, I’ve written against Nes Ammim, I’ve talked against Nes Ammim, but I have come now to take it back.” I think it is — for me, it was a historical day.
BILL MOYERS: When you heard him say that, how did you feel?
CHRISTINE PILON: Well, I felt really, you know, a sense of achievement.
BILL MOYERS: You converted him.
CHRISTINE PILON: (Laughs.) Yeah, maybe. In a sense, in a way, yes. (Moyers with Schoon and Rabbi Keller, chief rabbi of Nahariyya.)
SIMON SCHOON: (greeting Keller): So — Baruch habah.
BILL MOYERS: Bill Moyers, New York. (Interior scene.)
BILL MOYERS: Way back into history there were Christians who accused the Jews of murdering Christ; there were Christians who took part in the Inquisition against Jews; there were the Crusaders, who came and destroyed Jews; there were the pogroms; there was the holocaust. You are willing to forgive and forget all that history?
RABBI KELLER: No. I don’t forget. I don’t forgive. If I see men who are willing to change their mind on this issue, then I see him and I speak with him as — like all other men. But all these criminals the Nazis, yes? — I don’t forgive them.
BILL MOYERS: Why were you afraid of missionary work?
RABBI KELLER: Because we had lost in the holocaust a third of our people, and so every soul, every person of the Jews was of importance for us.
BILL MOYERS: But what about the Church, the Christian Church that remained muted, silent, when all of that was going on? What about the Church?
RABBI KELLER: We suffered very much from the Church. The Christian Church has the name of Jesus. And you know how much we suffered from the Christian peoples and this … sign of Jesus. So we can’t forget it.
BILL MOYERS: The cross, turned into a swastika.
RABBI KELLER: The cross was a sign of our suffering.
BILL MOYERS: I was very young then, and even though I have read about the holocaust and studied Nazi Germany, I still find it incomprehensible what happened. How do you explain it?
RABBI KELLER: You can’t explain it, when you didn’t see the terror … terror — from the Gestapo. It was a system of terror.
SIMON SCHOON: You said you cannot forgive, but I think in Jewish tradition the word tchouva — repentance — is very important, and I think that is just what we want, to show repentance for everything what has happened.
BILL MOYERS: You can’t forgive, and you can’t forget. But you’re willing now to embrace a Christian community led by a Christian minister right in the shadow of your own synagogue?
RABBI KELLER: Yes. I saw, first, when we come together, I know he’s a Christian, and I have to respect his religion. And he knows that my religion is not like his religion, and he respects my religion. And we have no interest to convert each other. And I think we are friends now.
SIMON SCHOON: I think in Germany it’s difficult. Many people — many older people — don’t want to hear…
RABBI KELLER: Don’t want to see.
SIMON SCHOON: No, no.
RABBI KELLER: Because they were …
SIMON SCHOON: And it is — for example, in Holland, it’s also very difficult; there are some Jews still living there, and for them it’s difficult to see it. And for example, my grandfather also died in a concentration camp, so for my mother …
RABBI KELLER: Why?
SIMON SCHOON: He was a resistance fighter.
RABBI KELLER: Yes?
SIMON SCHOON: Yes …. In the Netherlands, yes. Holland also suffered a lot from the sight of the Nazis. And Poland. (In greenhouse.)
BILL MOYERS: Do you think, Christine, that we’re talking about ancient, dead history here? Are these …
CHRISTINE PILON: No — no, no, no. Because I told you in the beginning that what happened in the concentration camps, it was such a question mark that it forced Christians, really, to examine their whole history, you see? It’s not — and this I want to emphasize — Nes Ammim is not only the holocaust, you see, it is the whole history that we as Christianity have had with Judaism. And there you see — all the time you see these explosions, heh? — of anti-Semitism: the Crusaders; the Inquisition; you know, what happened with the Marranos. You know, all of our history has known these moments, had these real explosions of anti-Semitism. And I think that there is a theological root, you see?
BILL MOYERS: (over community activities at Nes Ammim): The people of Nes Ammim never allow themselves to forget what brought them here. All they have to do is look across the fields to the neighboring village, Lochamei Hageitaot, named for the ghetto fighters of Warsaw. The village was settled by the survivors of the holocaust.
SIMON SCHOON: (over scenes of men in machine shop, cleaning machinery): Many survivors of the holocaust are living quite near to us, in Kibbutz Lochamei Hageitaot, which name means “the fighters of the ghetto.” They are the survivors of the ghetto uprising in Warsaw. They are living just two kilometers from here.
(Over office scene; men conversing in Hebrew, one man with a concentration camp number tattooed on forearm) : I think at the moment they really accept us, but there were other times in the beginning, there was a lot of hesitance and a lot of resistance, and they didn’t accept us in the beginning, and it’s quite understandable. They thought we were missionaries, we wanted to convert them and to draw them out of their identity, out of their Jewishness. There were a lot of misunderstandings, but I think we really fit now in our area and we are really accepted.
BILL MOYERS: (in field in front of Holocaust and Resistance Museum): The people of Nes Ammim have almost memorized the dark pages of their historic faith, from the sermon of the third century bishop who accused the Jews of killing God, to the terrible slaughter by the Crusaders, who drove the Jews into the synagogue of Jerusalem and burned them; to the Inquisition, when thousands of Jews were sent to the stake; to the example of Martin Luther, who called for the burning of synagogues and the expulsion of Jews.
In time, Adolf Hitler, whose civilization was shaped by centuries of Christianity, would call not just for their expulsion but for their extermination. More than six million Jews were slaughtered. There were Christians who tried to stop it with individual acts of courage and resistance, but there were others — many others — whose anti-Semitism prepared the ground for the holocaust and who looked the other way when it came. The people of Nes Ammim have vowed not to forget those awful times, and in their own way to atone for them. So they come to Lochamei Hageitaot.
SIMON SCHOON: (to tour group at Museum) We don’t want to forget, and therefore we are coming here, and therefore we want to tell you about this past, and we are very glad that Miriam Novitchwill also explain things, because she has experienced it ….
BILL MOYERS: (over tour group at Museum) The director of the Museum is Miriam Novitch, a Polish Jew who survived the holocaust.
SIMON SCHOON: (at Museum) … are all Nes Ammimers now. Most of them stay for one year, some of them longer; and we want to tell them about the history of Jews and Christians and on the holocaust, and therefore we are always going to visit the Museum.
MIRIAM NOVITCH: (over shots of photographs of prisoners in concentration camps, starving children, ghetto scenes, ovens, people being forced marched) The photographs are made by the SS men, by the German Nazis. It’s surprising that such photographs were done. Why? How is it possible that while you destroy the people, when you commit such a terrific crime, you photograph the victims? Well, this is an evidence par excellence of the crime. Why was it done? Maybe because no one would ever ask account for the crime against the Jews. The Jewish people were — they didn’t have an independent state, they were dispersed; sometimes they were welcomed, sometimes they were not. So it is just a record for a committed action. Here you see children and women, because it’s already after the selection. It means they have no right to live; they are going to die soon. And they were so many that they had to wait to die.
(In front of model of concentration camp): The extermination machinery functioned all year; and it was organized in such a way like a factory, that they always searched new ways how to ameliorate the functioning. First of all, the people came here and they thought really they are going — they are going to be transferred somewhere else. So when they were in the train, as they were, and the gate was opened there; but the people didn’t know. They were in the trains, their families, their children; and they thought they are really going somewhere to live. And then a part of the train was brought here in front of the station — the station was made as a station, a railway station, posters were … “The next train is going to Bialystok at six o’clock,” and so on, to give you the illusion that you are really here to go somewhere. Do you see on the gas chambers, the commander gave the order to paint a Jewish star. And he was standing there. And when the group of people went to die, the commander used to day, “Sie Juden haben fiber eine Judenstaat getrachtet; hier ist ihre Staat” — “You Jews, you are trying to have a Jewish state; here is your state.”
They didn’t kill only in concentration camps and extermination, they killed in the forests, they killed in the fields; and there was a different tarnung, a different system. Like in this little town where was my family. They said what? They said, “All men from sixteen to forty-five are going for three days out of the village, out of the little town, to work. Let them take a shirt, let them take some food.” Well, the women prepared some sandwiches for them, and they gave them a bottle of water or milk, and said, “Shalom, I’ll see you in three days.” So the men went. How could they know that outside on the marketplace lorries were waiting, and one was covered — a gray lorry — full of machine guns? They didn’t know. They went for work, for three days. And then they were taken to the neighboring forest, and they machine-gunned them all. Then they say the Jewish people didn’t revolt; the Jewish people want to die like this! Some compare us to sheep, even. Terrible! It’s to diminuate the responsibility of the Christian world, is it? So they died.
SIMON SCHOON: May I ask you something, Miriam?
MIRIAM NOVITCH: Yes.
SIMON SCHOON: We are all young people.
MIRIAM NOVITCH: Yes.
SIMON SCHOON: We haven’t experienced the war, and we are living now in a Christian village next to you. It is for us very disturbing to realize that the people who committed these crimes here, many of them called themselves Christians. So how do you now regard Nes Ammim? I think in the beginning Lochamei was not so glad that we were coming. But how do you see the fact that we are living next to you?
MIRIAM NOVITCH: Well, you see, if Jewish people had to take into consideration all the enemies they had, they would have to be, as I told you, full of hatred themselves, and cynical and bitter. But you want to repair what was done; you are sorry about it, you understood that there are many things to be changed, may I be so mild and say so, in the Christian ethics. So we accept it, we are even happy, you know? The Western culture — let me say, the Christian culture — has to choose: either to recognize this terrific crime … or not to.
BILL MOYERS: Do you ever get the feeling that the world generally would like to quit talking about the holocaust?
CHRISTINE PILON: Yes. I think so. I can feel a tiredness about it, and I think also that we maybe neglected the psychological moment for it, because people were in the beginning, in Europe, they were terribly shocked after Auschwitz.
BILL MOYERS: Miriam Novitch at the Museum says that the holocaust is not a Jewish question, it’s a Christian question.
CHRISTINE PILON: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: What do you think she means by that?
CHRISTINE PILON: Well, I think that she means that we are also sitting on our ashes, because it was a failure — it was a failure, as I see it, of Christianity that this could happen. There must have been a possibility in our Christian thinking, starting long, long ago already, that finally could prepare the ground for what happened in the years ’40-’45. Because it did happen in the midst of a Christian Europe, you see; in the midst of a Christian civilization.
BILL MOYERS: Do you mean that we sit on the ashes of six million Jews as well?
CHRISTINE PILON: Well, in a way you could see it like that, that we are sitting on the ruins of a relationship, and that it is only, I think personally, by recognizing our past that we can start a new leaf.
BILL MOYERS: (with Schoon): When I went with you to the memorial nearby, Miriam Novitch said to you — representing Christianity — “It’s up to you,” she said; “it’s up to you.” What do you think she meant by that?
SIMON SCHOON: She doesn’t want to judge, but she means that we have to look into our own hearts and see what was wrong and try to repair, try to really get a total other orientation in life. She means that it is in our camp to do that.
BILL MOYERS: She told me that the holocaust is not a Jewish question, it’s a Christian question. Do you agree with that?
SIMON SCHOON: I think the holocaust is the greatest question, the biggest question for Christian faith. Where were the Christians during the holocaust? And the biggest question is even, where was God during the holocaust — how he could abandon his people in this way? But immediately this means the question for us, where were all the people who called themselves after the Jew, Jesus? And that is an unbelievable question.
BILL MOYERS: You’ve had to confront that in your own faith. I mean, you’ve just made a good case for agnosticism.
SIMON SCHOON: Um-hm …. It’s a very difficult question. But when I see the cross of Jesus and when I see the crucifixion of the Jewish people in Auschwitz, I see similar things. And it’s not for me to say that there is yet a sense of hope in suffering, but yet I know that many Jews can see the state of Israel as a sign of hope, a ray of hope after the jungle … of Auschwitz.
(Men at guard post on night watch with guns, walkie-talkies.)
(People of Nes Ammim indoors, singing hymn in English. Quiet prayer afterward.)
(Nes Ammim community watching scenes from “Holocaust” on television.)
FIRST MAN IN FILM SCENE: … are treated well.
WOMAN: The barracks are packed with the old and sick. They carry the dead out every day. Where you came in, that’s a little fortress.
FIRST MAN: … carbon monoxide.
SECOND MAN: Why do you mention carbon monoxide?
FIRST MAN: Rumors.
SECOND MAN: I had understood unofficially that the subjects died in agony.
THIRD MAN: We can forget about the Jews, it’s no business of ours.
SECOND WOMAN: Where is he? How dare they do such a thing?
THIRD HAN: Oh, they do anything they want. (After film.)
SIMON SCHOON: When I see this film, it puts very directly a question to my Christian faith, an agonizing question. Where were the Christians ~n these horrible things? There is in one part of the film this scene that a Nazi family is singing “Silent Night, Holy Night,” and is celebrating Christmas. And it is so disgusting.
MEMBER OF COMMUNITY: To us Christians they are saying, “Where was God?” And when you say the Nazis want to destroy the people of God, and therefore the name of God, by many Jewish people, is the name of God destroyed? But they say, ah, we are chosen to suffer! When we say to irreligious people, “You are chosen people,” then they say, “Ya, only chosen to suffer. There is no God, for where was God?” (Whispering): And then we have not a very good answer for that.
SIMON SCHOON: Where was God in Auschwitz? I don’t think there is any answer. We can only confess our guilt, and I think we are standing with empty hands.
LEV BAUSCH: It doesn’t enter into the Jewish thought that some other human beings would consider the annihilation or the genocide of a whole people.
SIMON SCHOON: I think when people regard themselves as Christians, they … they must know from the Bible that the Jews are God’s chosen people, and that trying to destroy them is in a certain way trying to destroy the name of God. And I think that was the deepest aim of the Nazis, to destroy the name of God from the world…
BILL MOYERS: (over discussion) : It would be hard to argue that the people of Nes Ammim have had much impact. Their number is few, their voice small, their audience limited. These people have no constituency — no constituency except their conscience. Nes Ammim is a very small place, but it harbors a very large idea. The people here have seen a great evil done in the name of their God, the evil of anti-Semitism.
(Standing in front of community bell): The world isn’t free of it yet, and Jews know their best defense is in strong arms and shrewd politics, not in sentiments of good will. But Nes Ammim matters. It matters because it speaks to the truth. It isn’t so much guilt that has brought these people here as resolve that it must not happen again. For that, Nes Ammim deserves its name. It is a sign to the nations. I’m Bill Moyers.
(Nes Ammim community singing hymn.)
This transcript was entered on May 6, 2015.