Book Review: Where Was God?

wherewasgodWhere Was God? The Lives and Thoughts of Holocaust and World War II Survivors

Author: Edited by Remkes Kooistra

Publisher: Mosaic Press, Oakville, Ontario, 2001

204 pages, ISBN 0-88962-757-6, CDN $20.00, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson


This volume, as the title suggests, is both a history and memoir of Holocaust and World War II survivors, edited by Rev. Dr. Remkes Kooistra. It is based on oral interviews of survivors, conducted by Rev. Dr. Kooistra and others. It is dedicated to the nation of Israel in memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.

Rev. Dr. Kooistra, a Dutch survivor of World War II, was a theologian, linguist, sociologist, professor, chaplain and pastor. He was educated in the Netherlands, graduating from the Dutch Reformed Church seminary at Kampen, and earned a doctorate in theology and sociology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He was pastor of congregations in both the Netherlands and Canada. He also taught at various post-secondary institutions, and was chaplain at the University of Waterloo.

The work consists of three parts: Part I provides the Dutch historical context and briefly traces the history of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism over the past 2000 years. Part II consists of the actual interviews and stories of the Holocaust survivors. Part III is titled Beyond Survival, and includes Rev. Dr. Kooistra’s reflections on his life during the war years.

Volumes of this nature of course are usually very somber and emotional. It is not easy to re-live and tell the story of such horrific events—one can be re-victimized and re-traumatized by such a process. Even readers who have not survived such cruel experiences as those interviewed here may feel somewhat traumatized; as one of the recurring themes is the senseless violent acts committed against the Jewish people.

From a historical perspective, this is a valuable work, since it provides readers with an inside view of how Dutch Jews were persecuted and deported by the Nazis; as well as how Dutch citizens hid and helped their Jewish people survive.

In relation to the volume’s title, those who survived provided a wide range of answers concerning their understanding, doubts, confusion, etc., of the question, “Where was God?” during the Holocaust.

Here is a sample of one survivor couple, Jack and Miriam Somer. When answering the following questions said: Do you still believe in God? Miriam answered: I do, but I don’t understand God. Was the holocaust a punishment from God? Jack answered: A punishment for little children? I can’t believe this. Miriam answered: I don’t know. Punishment for what? There are enough guilty people among us. The Nazis are not the only ones. The whole world is guilty. We all let it happen. Should we all be victimized by a holocaust? (p. 138)

This volume is a worthwhile read for those interested in Holocaust and World War II history as well as Jewish-Christian relations.


100th Anniversary Celebration

Yesterday Sunday, September 29, 2013, I was privileged to celebrate the 100th anniversary of St. Peter Lutheran Church, Stettler, Alberta, where I was ordained and served in my first call as pastor.  Of course brought my camera along and took some photos.

Church Exterior Front

Church Exterior Front

Church Exterior Sideview

Church Exterior Sideview

Church Sanctuary

Church Sanctuary

I appreciated the opportunity to assist the resident pastor with the worship service and share a greeting/address with the congregation. Meeting with parishioners after so many years brought back many warm and grateful memories too. There were both tears and laughter, as folks reminisced; remembering the saints of old who have gone to their eternal reward; as well as the saints of today and their participation in this community of faith. I learned many things from the folks in this congregation, three of which I am in particular most grateful: the ministry of hospitality and generosity, the importance of listening on a deep level, and the love of and appreciation for music. Most of all I’m grateful to God for his constant faithfulness, love and grace, which continue to be poured out in abundance among the pastor and parishioners of this congregation. To God be the glory!


Lincoln the movie

Brief Movie Review of Lincoln

By Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Colour, 150 minutes

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Produced by Steven Spielberg & Kathleen Kennedy

Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln

Based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

For this Canadian reviewer, Lincoln was full of surprises. I was surprised and disappointed that the movie was not as comprehensive as I had wished for and expected—it only covers approximately the last four months of President Lincoln’s life, late 1864, after he was re-elected up to his tragic death by assassination in early 1865. I was hoping for a more complete biographical presentation of Lincoln’s life than this.

Another aspect of the movie that surprised me in a more positive way is the lack of glamorizing civil war violence in the movie, which is a trademark of way too many Hollywood movies—for that I commend Spielberg.

The movie consists mainly of Lincoln meeting with various other politicians; in his tireless endeavour to pass the 13th amendment, banning slavery before the civil war ended and the Confederacy states rejoined the union; which would likely prevent any possibility of passing the amendment if the latter occurred first.

What surprised me with Lincoln’s political agenda was his willingness to wheel and deal with his political adversaries by political patronage—which, at best, was ethically problematic and misleading, and, at worst, illegal and even corrupt. Although at times Lincoln struggles in a genuine way ethically over such political tactics in the movie as well as with the tragic loss of life of the lingering civil war—nonetheless the behind the scenes political manoeuvring demythologizes this reviewer’s image of the 16th president of the U.S. as “honest Abe.”

One of the highlights for this reviewer was the stellar acting of Daniel Day-Lewis; who ironically is not an American, but holds citizenship in England and Ireland. Day-Lewis is a very convincing Abraham Lincoln. He is able to, in his down-to-earth, folksy style; regale his audiences with story, parable, and witty humour in such a fashion that gains the love and respect of everyone. Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln the ordinary, accessible, universal human being; as well as Lincoln the lonely, mysterious political genius.