Just below Yad Vashem, the memorial in Jerusalem to the Holocaust, is a new memorial of a different kind. It is called “The Valley of the Communities”, a stark and ugly collection of huge rooms, no roofs, the walls made of very large slabs of roughly hewn rock. The visitor is not impressed with the artistic finesse of this unique memorial! Above the entrance to each room is the name of a country and upon large slabs of slate have been engraven the names of towns and suburbs where Jewish communities were found in Europe before the Nazi regime removed their existence from the face of the earth. The enormity of the tragedy is felt in an entirely new way. There are no statistics. ‘Six million deaths’ can be heard or read about but it is so vast a number that it hardly comes home to our heart and conscience.

They were not 6 000 000 individuals so much as they were communities of Jewish people, families of grandpas and grandmas, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, infants and babies. They had synagogues and schools, music schools, charities, trades and businesses, publications and a wide diversity of specific Jewish activities. The Talmud and other rabbinical writings provided a religious unifying influence but kept their eyes veiled from the light of Jesus Christ. Despisement by the Gentiles was a general affliction yet among themselves there was song and theatre life and intelligence, warm family ties, social support, business and, in the more western countries, great financial strength. There were many thousands of these Jewish communities spread throughout Europe from east to west.

When the curtain of World War II was finally drawn back hardly a vestige of these communities could be found. In the city of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, the Jewish community of 120 000 occupied a significant portion of the central districts; all that can be found today is the occasional street sign or other plaque, whose Yiddish expressions bear testimony that at one time a large Jewish community had lived and flourished there. One hundred and twenty thousand with all their aspects of life have vanished! Parents and grandparents, youths and little ones are all gone with all their life and activity! It is an unforgettable experience to visit The Valley of the Communities and pass slowly through one room after another, tragedy upon tragedy, thousands of them till the heart can bear it no longer.

Why this so great devastation? Who can measure such calamity, so deep, so widespread? Since the loss of their land in AD70 these people had rallied to preserve their identity and seemed to have succeeded to an astonishing degree. “For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee…” (Jer 30:11). When He sent His Son into the world they crucified him and relied upon Caesar’s loyalty to make sure he was both dead and buried. “His blood be upon us and our children”, “We have no king but Caesar”, were their foolish assertions; and in that terrible blindness they remained, with few exceptions, hemmed in by the web of rabbinical legalism, prospering in the business and financial world, aloof and proud in the new era of democratic freedoms. Their new colony of Jews in their ancient land inspired them to greater national confidence: but don’t ask them to leave and live there!

The Hope of Israel had taken a breath of new life. Since 1917 Britain had occupied the Holy Land and specifically opened the doors to Jewish immigration despite the risk of their relationship with the Arabs or Britain’s increasing need of Middle Eastern oil. In 1933 when Hitler came to power there were 850 000 Jews in Germany; the vast majority of these ignored the Hope of Israel despite hundreds of pieces of anti-Jewish legislation passed in the years 1933–1939. They clung to Germany and Europe and only a trickle sailed off to the land of their fathers, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So the hunters came and did their terrible work (Jer 16:16). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).

For many long years they had prayed for the peace of Jerusalem, eaten their Passover before a lamb without flesh and proudly declared, “Next year in Jerusalem”. When the gates of Jerusalem swung open they largely ignored the blessing now available to them and hankered back over the fleshpots of Europe, vainly imagining that the Nazi influence would be mitigated and they then could go on with their comfortable lives in Europe. Tragically millions never awoke to reality before they stood before the gates of Auschwitz and Dauchau and the doors of the gas chambers.

The “Hope of Israel”, the “hope of the promise made of God unto their fathers” had been so eroded in their hearts by present interests that they found death rather than life and passed away as smoke and ashes.

What a dramatic lesson for ourselves, who also enjoy life in a wonderful country of opportunity, of peace, of prosperity. The first Christadelphian writing was called Elpis Israel, “The Hope of Israel”, because Brother Thomas could see so clearly that the restoration of Israel upon the land promised to Abraham and the establishment of David’s Son on the throne of Yahweh in Jerusalem, were intimate elements of the gospel of the Bible. Jesus was the Messiah to fulfil these long-awaited promises, so “confirming the promises made unto the fathers” (Rom 15:8).

So may our Christadelphian communities still resound with thanksgiving to have this certain knowledge, to see with joy the amazing truth of a new Israeli nation in the land of Israel despite the persecutions of 1800 years of dispersion and the constant threats from nations near and far.

The hand of the living God is in these things.

“Let us hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Heb 3:6).