I spent last weekend at the Pax Christi USA conference, reflecting on peacemaking and nonviolence for a few days – and there will be plenty to post in coming days. For now, I wanted to share two amazing stories – connected acts of nonviolent resistance given their religious tinge.
The first piece is from Waging Nonviolence, which if you don’t already read is a necessary resource for imagining a new world through peaceful means. The article shares methods of resistance by Europeans under Nazi occupation. A few highlights of the interfaith actions:
“Direct intervention and non-cooperation in Bulgaria helped to save their country’s 48,000 Jews…leaders of the Orthodox Church refused to comply with the deportation orders, staging sit-ins in the king’s chambers and even threatening to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being transported. This pressure eventually encouraged the Bulgarian parliament to stand up to the Nazis and rescind the deportation orders, saving most of the country’s Jewish population…
“Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a Protestant village in southern France, were motivated by their religious convictions to help thousands of refugees escape Nazi persecution by hiding them in private homes as well as Catholic convents and monasteries.”
Aside from the absolute effectiveness of nonviolent resistance against (even) the Nazis, who are often quoted as the reason we would need war as the only solution to mass atrocities such as theirs, there are lessons for interfaith relations today. In essence, in war time, the division existing between Christians and Jews or between denominations of Christianity melted away. Orthodox Christians literally offered their lives to resist Jewish oppression, and Catholic institutions afforded a welcome that broke the strictness of monastic life.
Decades later, the Jewish community in Serbia reacted similarly when an existential threat was posed to their neighbors. The piece is about when it is ethical or proper to withhold a news story for the good of those involved, but within that argument is this story:
“The other story kept was how the synagogue in Sarajevo certified many non-Jews as Jews in order to let them pass through the lines – above ground — out of the city. As the rabbi told me and others with a smile when we in the news finally did that story, it was the only time he can recall when Jews were not blamed for a war and that they were given passage without harm…As the animosity among the Serbs, Croats, and the Bosnian intensified, Jews were left in a unique position. Independent from each of the warring factions — they were even offered an opportunity to leave Sarajevo at the beginning of the siege of the city — the Jewish community had access to food, medical supplies and other goods during the war that were unavailable to the rest of the population
“A look at the numbers of Jews in Sarajevo before the war – compared to the number of ‘Jews’ who left the city – is a staggering difference. The ruse was clever and effectively.”
Common humanity united Europeans in resistance during both these trying periods. Though anti-Jewish sentiments are prevalent in Christian history including World War II that is not the sole narrative for people of faith. Faced with the ability to leave a war zone, the Bosnian Jewish community remained in solidarity and in active resistance. These communities did not weaken their faith by aiding others, even welcoming them in as honorary Jews or Catholics, and they did not act in spite of faith. Beautiful resistance that was powerful and life-giving was because of strengthened faith among communities!
At times, interfaith work currently seems impossible on matters of justice – like immigration or gun safety laws – because of theological and institutional difference. What if we imagined our common goals of justice, equality, and peace were so very necessary, though not comparable to combating genocide, we could put aside religious differences (though cognizant of them and in dialogue separately!) for the good of common struggles? These two articles prove it is possible, and even desirable given their positive outcomes.