Brightening the death camp where you are

The call for Christians to become involved in every facet of society reminds me of Kurt Gerstein, a conservative German nationalist who tried to serve the Lord – as a concentration camp staff member.

Gerstein had led a network of Christian university student groups in Germany before Hitler outlawed them. Later, because of his Christian witness against government policies, he lost his job as a mining engineer and his membership in the Nazi Party (okay, so he was a complicated guy). Fortunately, he was good at fumigation and pest control. Eventually his influential father got him back into the Party and into the Gestapo (hey, everybody needs a job), where he was given a top-secret assignment – to provide the concentration camps with a more efficent poison gas than carbon monoxide.

When Gerstein realized what he was asked to do, it tore him up to his heart. So he dedicated himself to the doomed cause of fighting the evils of the death camps, even at the risk of his life. He told his boss a few times that the poison gas cannister had a leak and needed to be destroyed. He asked the president of the poison gas company to leave out the odor-causing chemical which warns pest control workers when they get a whiff, but burns the throats of the doomed and the dying, who get more than a whiff. He urged hundreds of outsiders to inform the international media about the death camps, believing that the German people would demand they be closed if they found out about them. And every day Kurt Gerstein went to work at the office.

None of it really made much difference. Nobody listened. The top Allies already knew about the camps. They weren’t fighting to liberate the Jews, thank you very much. The people who lived near the camps already knew what was in the smokestacks. After the war, the French captured Gerstein and he hung himself.

It seems to me that Christian involvement in every aspect of a corrupt society is a costly luxury, available only to those Christians who don’t pose much threat to the corrupt society anyway, or to those Christians who don’t consider personal corruption to pose much of a threat to themselves.

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