Friday, September 25, 2009

The Legacy of Shame

Those Who Save Us
by Jenna Blum

First off, let me apologize for letting my blog get outdated. I have been away for a few days at an orientation retreat for a pilgrimage that I will be taking to Israel in a few weeks. One of the emphases of the pilgrimage is for pastors to unplug and take a couple of weeks to renew ourselves at the sacred sites of our faith. I can't wait! In the spirit of that breaking away, I did not try to blog while on the retreat. Since I don't have a laptop or a Blackberry, it's not as hard for me to unplug as it is for others. I'll remind my readers when the time comes, but Ex Libris Fides will go dormant while I am on the pilgrimage. We will be staying in hotels that have some computers, but the time to use them is apparently very expensive. Our travel group is going to have a blog about what we are doing each day. If you are interested in following the trip, let me know and I will send you the link when I have it.

Those Who Save Us is a disturbing story to read. It's the second book I've read in the past year about the holocaust time from the German perspective - how terrified many of them were of the Nazis, and the desperate measures that some of them took to survive. The moments of grace are apparent when Germans risked their own lives to help the persecuted Jews. Not all Germans resisted the Nazis, of course. They would never have come to power if there had not been plenty of people who were willing to let them do what they did, and many eagerly participated in the atrocities. There was always, though, a remnant of people who held on to their sanity and who did what they could to help their suffering neighbors.

The relationship around which the whole story turns is Anna's relationship with a high-ranking SS officer names Horst. She becomes his mistress so that she can get more food and stave off starvation for herself and her daughter. The officer also provides a small amount of protection from the madness of the Nazi forces. However, once the war is over Anna has to live with what she did, and the shame never relinquishes its hold on her. She is so consumed with self hatred that she believes herself to be unworthy of love, and she closes herself off from meaningful relationships with her daughter, the man she married, and even potential friends.

How high a price do we pay for our sins? How long do we have to bear the burden of them? I suppose by almost any definition Anna committed sins in her struggle to get through World War II alive, but she also risked her own life over and over again to carry bread to Jews in a nearby concentration camp. Does one offset the other? Unfortunately, Anna had no sense of the possibility of redemption to be found in Christ or in any kind of faith tradition. She initially became disgusted with the German Protestant church for their complicity with the Third Reich (with a few notable exceptions like Bonhoeffer), and never returns to faith or relationship with God.

I realize that Anna is a fictitious character, but I wonder how many of us do what she did. She felt justified in renouncing faith and never going back to it, but I wonder how many people use that renunciation as a way to avoid having to face their own shame before God. If Anna turned her back on God, she did not have to deal with what she had done in the context of who God asks us to be. Sadly, she at the same time forfeited the experience of grace and the possibility of lifegiving reconciliation. That, to me, is what makes the book so sad.

Those Who Save Us is worth reading, but it will stay with you in uncomfortable ways. Sometimes that is a good thing.

Reverent Reader


At 9/29/09, 1:17 PM , Blogger Ruth said...

great post, Leslie, thanks.


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