Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day

In honor of Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am re-posting this article.

Beniko Gihon #137010

Beniko Gihon #137010

Working with tour groups in Israel is [almost] always a blessing. It’s exciting to see visitors’ faces when, as they say in Hebrew, “the coin falls.” In other words, when “the light comes on” or the connection between a certain event and place happens. I love to see the joy of discovery, especially as it relates to the Bible. But my groups generally have modern cultural and historical interests, too. Every group is different, and I’m regularly on the look out for things out of the ordinary and not on the itinerary that will make my group’s visit to Israel more special than it might already be. For this group, I found that special historical gem in the breakfast line.

As I approached the special-order egg line, I noticed the tattoo on his arm, 137010. Immediately, I knew he was a holocaust survivor because I’ve seen these tattoos in the museum, and probably a dozen times in person. However, I never had the nerve to ask the bearer to share his/her story; I just imagined what it might have been.

This time was different. I took a deep breath and asked the elderly gentleman a) if he spoke Hebrew, and b) if I could ask a question. “Yes,” he answered to both questions. I was hesitant, but I proceeded to ask if he would tell me the story of the numeric tattoo that appeared on his left forearm. I was afraid he would be embarrassed, but he wasn’t. In fact, he seemed pleased that I asked.

Beniko Gihon #137010

Beniko Gihon #137010

Interacting with my inquiry about his tattoo, he said, “My name is Beniko Gihon; in Germany my name was changed to 137010. I am a Jew originally from Greece.” He continued with a moving, two-minute version of his story. His family had been rounded up in Thessaloniki, and he was the only survivor. Over the course of five years, he was systematically transferred to/from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Warsaw Ghetto, and Dachau. He had a variety of jobs, but mainly focused on his work in the crematoria.

I was translating his story for a man from my group and noticed that others had started to lean in closer to listen in on our conversation, which indicated that they found this interesting, too. After a couple minutes, his eggs and mine were ready, so, unfortunately, we had to bring this encounter to a close. I thanked him for sharing his story, we shook hands, and parted ways.

I found a table near my group and sat down by myself. To say that his story was gut wrenching would be an exaggerated understatement. But, his story wasn’t the thing that affected me the most. It was the question he posed: “Why were the Christians so quiet?”

I wanted my group to hear Beniko’s story, but I wondered if that would be asking too much. As I ate my breakfast, I kept an eye on him from across the room and wondered whether I should ask him to speak on the bus. Since he didn’t seem to mind my initial inquiry, I decided to go for it, and the outcome was just what I had hoped.

After my group boarded the bus, I brought them up to speed on what was about to happen, then I introduced Mr. Beniko. He climbed the stairs and stood proudly in the front of the bus and began to share his story.

Beniko, which is the Greek version of Benjamin, started with some details of his family and how the Nazis came to Greece and killed so many. The rest were taken to the labor and death camps in Germany and Poland, which is where he learned to speak German, and where his name was changed to 137010.

His story lasted longer than I had given him, which I knew it would. But, seeing him standing in the front of the bus and hearing his biography was worth every minute.

Some specific details that pierced my heart:

“I saw, with my own eyes, the soldiers toss little children in the air and shoot them like birds.”

“As people were herded off the trains near the crematoria, they pleaded with the soldiers to know where their children or parents were. The soldiers would point to the smoke rising out of the crematoria and say, ‘there they are.’”

“The people were packed so tightly into the ‘showers’ that when the Zyklon B gas was released they all died standing, and only fell to the ground when the doors were opened. As we removed the bodies, we could see the scratches on the walls where those on the outer edges were trying to claw their way out.”

As a worker at the crematoria, “I collected the fat that came from the bodies as they were burned. The Nazis used the fat to make soap for us prisoners, and I bathed with soap that may have been made from the remains of my parents and other family members.”

Beniko’s story, made the horrors of the Holocaust real and personal for us, impacting each in a slightly different way. I tried to give some current perspective to his presentation because the easy thing would be to say, “I wasn’t there” because none of us were. I reminded the group of the words of James 1:27 that pure religion is to care for the widows and orphans, which I understand to mean “take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.” I also think that being born again demands that Christians have an active interest in “the least of these” (Mt 25).

Shalom, My Brother and Friend

ברוך דיין האמת

zvi-50 yearsZvi Kalisher, a man I truly admired for all the right reasons, now stands in the presence of the risen Christ. This day was inevitable, but one which, in an earthly way, I hoped would never come.

Countless stories of Zvi’s exploits will be shared among friends over the next week, and there are many great stories that should be told. But here, I want to remember the simple man behind those stories of heroism, whether they be stories of the holocaust or of sharing his faith in Israel. He was not flashy. He didn’t seek to own stuff. Though he was famous in some ways, fame and fortune were not his goals in life. He wasn’t an intellectual; he loved and lived the simplicity of the gospel and knowing Jesus as Saviour! He often said, “I don’t need a train to carry all the books to explain God and faith. I just need this one book.” Then, he would hold up his Bible for all to see which book he referenced. He was a simple man in the best ways.

I met Zvi almost 25 years ago, and I’m thankful that was not a one-off meeting. By God’s grace, I was able to get to know him personally and have him in my home on a regular basis. I learned much from Zvi, but the thing he modeled most for me was consistency. He consistently came to congregational meetings on shabbat. He consistently came to weekly evangelism outings. He consistently came to Wednesday night prayer meeting. He consistently carried his Bible. He consistently shared a testimony for the Lord. He consistently told me (and anyone who would listen!) about his kids and grand kids.

Consistency: such an important lesson for a young man to learn. Thank you, Zvi, for the lesson learned: ברוך דיין האמת.

Here are a few photos I recently inherited from a pastor who loved Israel.

zvi-family1

zvi-family

zvi-shul

In the Presence of Significance

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

Yesterday, I had the rare opportunity to sit with people of significance, Leon and Lorraine Dillinger. Such opportunities are rare in life, because people of true significance are rare treasures. I’m tempted to use the word “greatness” in reference to the Dillingers, but doing so would 1) embarrass them, and 2) risk taking honor away from the Lord whose work in and through them is what tempts me to use the word “greatness.”

In a nutshell: Equipped with an intense love for Jesus paired with an unsurpassed commitment to do the Lord’s will and some medical and Wycliffe translation training,  Leon and Lorraine went to Papua, Indonesia in 1958, and have, for 56 years and counting, given their lives to the Lord’s service among the Dani people. Leon, arrived 9 months before Lorraine, and in addition to preparing an airstrip for future flights in/out of this remote highlands village, he also prepared their “honeymoon cottage,” which was a grass hut. When Lorraine arrived, they married and lived in that grass hut.

The stories they have lived are too numerous to attempt to retell, but a few important ones must be included here: they reduced the Dani language to writing; taught the Dani to read and write (their own language); translated the Bible into Dani; have been part of the establishment of 130+ Dani churches, led by Dani pastors; and established schools and a Bible institute. They also helped improve the Dani people’s health by introducing certain medications and a variety of new vegetables (the sweet potato made up about 85% of the Dani diet when the Dillingers arrived) and protein sources including soy beans, peanuts and a variety of animals for meat.

A fun contextualization story: When they were translating Isaiah 53, they faced a conundrum.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

The Dani had no knowledge of sheep. The only animal of which they were aware were wild pigs. Lorraine said, “We wondered what to do. The Dani had never seen or heard of sheep. We decided that we could use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep’ because the Dani understood how pigs can run off; they see that all the time. However, that didn’t solve the problem. Pigs don’t go to the slaughter quietly, which meant we couldn’t use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep.'”

What did they do? Realizing only “sheep” or “lamb” could work in that passage, they requested and received from the Dutch government a flock of sheep and began teaching the Dani about the character/personality of sheep so that the passage could make sense to them. (The sheep also served as a source of protein and wool, which was helpful in the cold temperatures of the Papua highlands.)

In addition to speaking in chapel, Leon and Lorraine spoke to our student ministries class. I was impressed at how this couple who has spent over 50 years living among a primitive people could so easily communicate with a group of youth-directors-in-training, who are part of a high-tech, modern world. However, the principles of culture that the Dillingers learned in their work among the Dani are the same principles of culture that today’s student ministry leaders must adapt. I hope at least some of our students realized the privilege they had in hearing from these fountains of wisdom and knowledge yesterday.

leon-dillinger-time-coverIn the Dillingers, I met humble unassuming servants of the Lord. They have the work credentials – even making the cover of Time (Dec/1982) – that many in our culture would flash before others in order to get to the front of the line or gain complimentary goodies. But they don’t use their credentials in those ways. I noted in Leon’s chapel presentation that he didn’t communicate “I did” or “we did,” – even though it would have been perfectly normal in our “it’s about me” culture. Instead, always mindful to give the Lord proper priority, he used phrases like, “the Lord worked it out so that . . .”

Lorraine was equally humble (remember, she has worked side by side with Leon reaching the Dani since 1958): In a private conversation about what can be a controversial topic in mission theory, I pressed her for a clarification about their work as it contrasted to something a recognized missiologist said in a seminar I attended recently, and her answer was simply, “What we found was . . .” Even though she obviously disagreed with the other person’s statement and has a lifetime of credentials to support her position, she didn’t throw him under the bus or speak unkindly toward his work. She simply reiterated what she and Leon had experienced among the Dani. I learned much from their demonstration of humility.

Although they no longer live full time among the Dani, their work has not stopped. They continue to visit the Dani regularly, and Leon is working on a set of Bible commentaries in the Dani language. I hope that their complete story (or as much as is possible) can be captured in a book. The historical record of the modern mission movement will have a significant gap if it isn’t.

 

 

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