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Pilgrim to Unholy Places

Christians and Jews re-visit the Holocaust


Raymond Pelly

Based in New Zealand, the author, an Anglican priest, made a number of pilgrimages 1995–2008 to the extermination (and other camp) sites of the Third Reich, 1933–45. These find expression in Diary entries that describe the sites as they now are and scope the problems they raise for both Jews and Christians. 

The book thus places the Holocaust at the centre of Jewish-Christian dialogue. In face of the silence of God and the choiceless choices of the victims, the central question is how we – Jews and Christians – can talk agency either of God or the inmates. With a view to opening a conversation between Auschwitz and Golgotha, the author invites the Jewish interlocutor into a consideration of the Jewish victim Christ in the ‘no-way-out’ of the cross.

Can there then be mutual recognition between the many Jews of heroic faith and self-sacrificing love in the death camps and the victim caring Christ? Three examples are cited: a Mrs Levy at Auschwitz; the Paris Rabbi, Berek Kofman; and Janusz Korczak at Treblinka. These and others like them embody an ethic of caring that allow us to be hopeful about the modern world.

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1. Hearing the Cries: The Self-emptying Pilgrim ChristPhilippians 2:5–11 on Kenosis


1. Hearing the Cries

The Self-emptying Pilgrim ChristPhilippians 2:5–11 on Kenosis

First, the intuition that has driven my pilgrimages to unholy places from the start: ‘at this juncture in history we have to learn to hear the cries of the victims before we can hear the voice of God, see God’s face. In such a quest, the self-emptying (or kenotic) Christ who is both victim and redeemer has a double function. He first heals our deafness, restores our sight, cures our speechlessness. Through the proxy of faith we learn the habits of his heart, make them our own. We thus get to hear what there is to hear, see what there is to see, speak of what we ought to speak. As Christ heals us, secondly, we may become aware of God’s holy presence in, or especially in, unholy places, the gravesites of the victims. New life begins here. This is the contemporary reference of the “habits of the heart” in question.’ Put simply: as we approximate to the kenotic, victim Christ, we learn to see with his eyes, speak with his mouth.

To get the full import of this, some brief words of explanation. Kenosis is a Greek word that means ‘self-emptying, relinquishment, or self-limitation’– each word conveying a nuance of the meaning-rich original. Its importance for my reflections is that it encapsulates the vital link between Christ and the victims. This is the Christ who, in taking the ‘form’ of...

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