(This blog is the second part of a multiple-part series written in response to The Lutheran Center’s Alternative Spring Break trip to Germany in March of 2018.)
by John Grinvalds
Standing in Buchenwald is like standing at the edge of the world.
Set atop a tall hill, the camp is surrounded by the sprawling German countryside—a world of friendly hamlets and brooding forests. The world, replete with potato houses and dark beers, that we students, staff, and alumni of the Lutheran Center had been so eagerly journeying through. The world that turned its face away as thousands of innocent men, women, and children were killed in the Holocaust.
From inside the wire fences of the camp, you can see the world, but it does not see you back—either because it cannot or because it refuses to. And that is the banality of evil: Evil cannot function without democratic deference.
Buchenwald is the perfect embodiment of a land of Law without Grace. It is where the world ends and where human depravity and wrath are laid bare.
The sign that reads “Jedem Das Seine” or “To each what he deserves” is more than just a cynical motto etched onto the entrance gate; it shows concretely the fate of humanity without graceful intervention—without the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ.
Using the Law in its most primitive, brutish, and malevolent form, the Nazis entirely subverted justice and turned it into raw power.
But despite the atrocities committed in Buchenwald, the clock, frozen at the moment of liberation, stands triumphant over the emblazoned gate as Christ stands triumphant over our sin—the victory of time over death, destruction, and misery. Still, despite our strongest attempts, Christ strikes down human power with the meekness of the Gospel.
God assures us of God’s mercy even in the darkest night, when the rest of the world has turned its back on us. We look first to the rugged cross and then to the empty tomb.