Throughout history there have been different nominations for the Beast (Rev 13) the one who would really make war on the saints. You would be amazed at the names put forward. Napoleon was one for obvious reasons. When the papacy was really tanking the Avignon popes of the 15th century were popular as was Alexander Vl, the Borgia pope. The list is endless as are the endtime cranks down to John Hagee who have refused the heavy intellectual lifting it takes to decode scripture.
The 20th century disgorged a real qualifier for Beasthood if ever there was one—Adolf Hitler. Stalin would qualify particularly if you were Ukranian. Ronald Reagan probably incarnated Sinclair Lewis’ warning in the mid 30s that “when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross”-and causing so much suffering as Reagan did in Latin America. Reagan=Beast resonated with many in Guatemala and El Salvador.
For Jews, the madman Hitler stretched biblical faith like no other person in history.
The contemporary film The Boy in the Striped Pjamas (above) is an excruciatingly beautiful and profoundly demonic reminder of the Beast-like qualities of Hitler. We know that the innocent 10 year old Shmuel is headed for disaster as soon as we see him.
It brought back chilling memories for me, sitting in die Baden (”The Baths”) in Auschwitz in July 1991, I could almost hear the screams which emanated from here more than 50 years earlier. It brought to mind the extraordinary scene in the greatest novel of the Holocaust, The Last of the Just by Andre Schwartz-Bart.
Ernie Levy, is the last of the 36 just men, the lamed vovnik, those who according to legend bear anonymously the suffering of the world on their shoulders, Clear-eyed about his fate he accompanies his wife Golda to “the Baths and Inhalations”. He is carrying a little boy who has passed out. Children mill about him. “No heir, no memory would supervene to prolong the silent parade of victims…Only the stars would remain, gliding through a cold sky.” There would be no “deus ex machina” to rescue them.
The Just Man Ernie says as tears flood his eyes: “O. Lord we went forth like this thousands of years ago. We walked across arid deserts and the bloody Red Sea in a flood of salt, bitter tears. We are very old. We are still walking. Oh, let us arrive, finally.”
Psalm 130 the familiar cry of those living on the margins of hope comes to mind—De profundis clamavi! Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Lord.
“Breathe deeply my lambs and quickly” is all that Ernie can say as the Zyklon B is about to descend.
Even those hard ass grade 13 Neil McNeil students I taught would weep at this scene.
How long O Lord indeed. Time for the Son of Man or the Lamb on a cloud to intervene. It never happened and will never happen.
Many Holocaust survivors of course lost their faith in these years. Yet many did not.
I much prefer the scene at Bergen Belsen at the time of Hanukkah when it was time for devout Jews to kindle the lights which commemorated the Maccabean Revolt under another “Hitler”, a “Beast,” Antiochus Epiphanes in 160 BCE.
Not far from the heaps of bodies the rabbi of Bluzhov lit the first candle and chanted the first two blessings. Then the Third Blessing ,”Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe who has kept us alive and has preserved us and enabled us to reach this season.”
This was too much for Mr Zamietchkowski, a leader of the Warsaw Bund who challenged Israel Spira, the Bluzhov rabbi. How could the rabbi say this when thousands of emaciated bodies were within eyesight?
The thought indeed had crossed Spira’s mind. The obvious catastrophe unfolding before him challenged him too. Spira’s response was extraordinary. As he was looking to other rabbis for reasons to recite the third blessing he could not help but notice “a large crowd of living Jews, their faces expressing faith and devotion and concentration”
His conclusion:”If I was blessed to see such a people with so much faith and fervour , then I am under a special obligation to recite the Third Blessing.”
And so many Jews in the post war period engaged in prophetic activity as the Hopi Indians stated it: “We are the one we have been waiting for.” They refused the escapist Apocalyptic option of waiting for divine intervention. Having tasted their own “endtimes” they invoked the 614th Torah command (Emil Fackenheim)—do not allow Hitler (ot any other Beast) posthumous victories. With many other citizens of conscience they threw themselves into the Machine which was grinding blacks, gays, women and peace-people into oblivion or mindless conformity.
These were God’s intervention. S/he comes in crowds not clouds of engaged committed actors.