The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holocaust


Photo by Yongmi Jo


When I look at the cross, I see hope. I see the joy of redemption, the power of love over death, and the gravity of Jesus’ sacrifice for me and for the world. When I walked the dirt roads of Auschwitz a few weeks ago, I saw despair. I saw a horrific crime against humanity, the unthinkable power of evil over the masses, and the depth of sorrow brought about by such destruction. Following in the steps of the 1.5 million brought there to be executed and worse, I was left reeling by the injustice of it all. Shocked by the evil. Sorrowful that such a tragedy happened in our world, and is not so far off.


Today God has reminded of my harrowing visit as we celebrate the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, born Edith Stein, executed at Auschwitz. “Even now,” she wrote in her will, “I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death...so that the Lord will be accepted by His people and that His Kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world.” Still it baffles me, still I comprehend so little. But this holy woman, this sister of mine worthy of imitation, is a ray of light in the darkness.


Recently, I was praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary when the memories of my visit to Auschwitz resurfaced, and powerfully so. I remembered thinking immediately of Jesus’ crown of thorns at the sight of the barbed wire, and then Jesus brought to light even deeper connection. His Passion came alive as I prayed and mourned, and with it came unexpected solace. He walked me through His suffering, showing me how He was there all along with His people, how He had not abandoned them. It began in the trees.


The Agony in the Garden


As we walked along the barren field with rows of barracks and ruins of gas chambers, we came to a small forest. It was an eerily beautiful day, a light wind slipping through the branches of the birch trees. It was there, amidst the trees, that women and children and men unfit for work were ordered to wait until the gas chambers were empty. They awaited their death there together, surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation.


Jesus, too, awaited His death in a garden. A garden that mirrored that of Eden, that of paradise. A garden that soaked up His bloody sweat, that cursed earth being sanctified by each drop. Jesus was there with His people, I know. He sat in the trees alongside them, He awaited their pain. He took on their agony. They were not alone.


The Scourging at the Pillar


It was almost too much for me to take, learning of the torture carried out by the Nazis. The daily roll call could last 12 hours or more, no matter the weather. Women were stripped bare, shaved, humiliated. Left with nothing. Prisoners suspected of planning their escape were interrogated and tortured. The prisoners were rendered voiceless, like lambs led to the slaughter.


Jesus, too, was scourged. He, too, was stripped bare, humiliated, reduced to silence. But His silence spoke more than any words. His submission for the sake of our sins was heroic. He stood by those who were humiliated and despised, naked and scourged. They were not alone.


The Crowning with Thorns


The delicate lines of taut barbed wire hemmed the prisoners in. They were a constant reminder of their capture, their subjugation. They had lost their freedom, been stripped of their dignity. Treated as animals to be contained, controlled, castigated.


Jesus, too, was hemmed in. Those barb-like thorns pierced His precious head, His head worthy of a golden crown, His body worth the worship of every living creature. But He, too, was treated as an animal. He, the God of the universe, submitted Himself to the rule of His own creatures. He rested His crowned and bloody head beside His people. They were not alone.


The Carrying of the Cross


Work will set you free, the entrance to the camp read. Those men who were able-bodied were forced to perform hours of manual labor, leveling the ground, laying brick, digging ditches. They underwent constant beatings and abuse. They must have weakened, have fallen, have cried out for help. This work enslaved them, and often led to their death.


Jesus, too, carried His cross. He, too, suffered under the weight of the wood that splintered His bare back. He fell three times, barely able to continue on. Each step led Him closer to His death. But He shouldered His cross right alongside those men, falling and aching and crying out as they did. They were not alone.


The Crucifixion


1.5 million men, women, and children lost their lives at Auschwitz. Theirs were precious, innocent lives. They were led, and they followed. They followed to their demise.


Jesus, too, was led to His death. He followed with peace. He followed with the knowledge that this was not the end. That His time had come, was now at hand, that the work of salvation was about to be accomplished. He was nailed to the cross for all to see. But Jesus was not crucified on His own. He was beside two others. And again, in some mysterious way, He was beside 1.5 million others. His sons and His daughters. He joined them as they cried out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? As they breathed their last. They were not alone.


When I look at the cross, I see hope. When I looked at the camp, I saw none. But now, Jesus has accompanied me as He did them. He has shown me the mystery, the sorrowful but marvelous mystery, of His Passion that has been shared. And He asks us, too, to accompany Him.


We are not alone.

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