Now in their 80s and 90s, many survivors of the Nazi Holocaust were upset when a photo of Holocaust survivor Eva Kor, 81, surfaced earlier this year.
It was a photo of Eva embracing Oskar Groening, 94, in a German courtroom in the city of Lunenburg. Groening had been a SS sergeant and chief accountant at Auschwitz concentration camp, the same camp the Nazis sent Eva and her Hungarian Jewish family to die.
The courts found Groening guilty and complicit in the slaughter of 300,000 Jews in the Auschwitz gas chambers.
Eva and her identical twin sister Miriam were ten when their family arrived at the concentration camp.
As the cattle cars emptied, Eva recalls the Nazis scouring the hundred of Jews standing on the train platform. The guards were looking for identical twins. When a guard saw Eva and Miriam, he yanked them out of their mothers arms and took them away.
They were of keen interest to Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi surgeon at the camp who used Jews for his brutal experiments. He particularly wanted to work on identical twins comparing results of different experiments, usually done without pain medication.
Every week, Mengele injected the two girls with different concoctions to see how they would respond. At times, Mengele said he expected them to die. But while the rest of their family died in the Nazi gas chambers, Eva and Miriam survived.
In an interview with the English newspaper, The Telegraph, Eva who now lives in Indiana said she decided years earlier to forgive the Nazis after visiting Auschwitz during the 1980s.
She said, it was “not because, they deserved it, but because I deserve it.
So when the old SS sergeant reached out to hug her, Eva responded.
Many refuse to forgive believing they are somehow still punishing the offender.
But Eva understood this important principle about forgiveness — when you refuse to forgive, you only punish yourself.
“Why survive if all you want to be is sad, angry and hurting.”
We see this principle at work in Matthew 18 – Jesus’ classic teaching on forgiveness.
Jesus tells of a slave who owed a massive debt of 10,000 talents to a certain king. It is hard to estimate how much this was in modern currency but it was certainly in the millions of dollars, perhaps as much as $10 million.
There was really only one way this could happen, the servant was probably managing the king’s tax-collection regime where there were a number of private tax collectors working beneath him, such as the Apostle Matthew (Matthew 9:9).
The king had called for an accounting, but something had gone terribly wrong. The slave was short $10 million. It appears he may have used the money for private investments on the side to generate personal income. Maybe he handed out some loans. Perhaps a tax collector was having a bad week and asked for an extension before paying his tax collections.
However it happened the servant was short and unable to cough up the money, the king ordered him and his family sold into slavery (v 25). In an act of utter desperation, the man fell to his knees and pleaded for mercy. The king relented and forgave him.
After receiving forgiveness, we read the servant’s response:
“But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.'” (v 28).
A denarius was equal to a day’s wage for a common laborer (Matthew 20:2), so 100 denarii was three month’s pay. Presuming a basic minimum wage of $10 per hour, the man owed $5,000.
But as we read the verse carefully, we see the king’s slave had his hands around the man’s neck. He was strangling him in a blind rage.
Perhaps the most significant point of this story is the servant was not strangling him over a lousy $5,000. He was strangling him over the hundreds of other people who had taken advantage of him, robbed him, defrauded him, or failed to pay back their loans just as this man had.
You can’t lose $10 million without a few things going bad.
All those offenses and genuine hurts were piling up. They had not been dealt with and eventually became a massive mountain of infected rage and bitterness.
It was an open gangrenous wound in his soul and this man who owed him $5,000 was being punished for the hurts associated with the loss of $10 million.
When anger exceeds the offense it is a classic sign of unforgiveness.
I remember my wife and I had invited Christian friends over for fellowship. To this day, I can’t remember what we were talking about, but I will never forget the sudden explosion of anger and bitterness that poured out of husband over what had just been said.
I turned and asked him why he was so angry. He looked at me and couldn’t answer because his anger was so out of proportion to the situation.
He wasn’t angry about what we were talking about, he was angry about what it stood for in his life — all those previous words spoken to him. It was a yoke around his neck and the tether had been yanked.
He needed to forgive.