For the past three months Jackie and I have been serving an English speaking church in Nuremberg, Germany. Tomorrow we will return to the United States. We have found a beautiful city, a beautiful people and a welcoming country. We have made life-long friends in the church from around the world, most of them young adults just starting their careers. They come from such places as Cameroon, India, China, England, Ireland, Austria, Brazil, Poland, Ukraine, U.S. and, of course, Germany. Nuremberg has become a cosmopolitan crossroads.
Of course, Nuremberg hasn’t always been that way. While here, I have often reflected on that dark period when Hitler led this nation and the world to the brink of the abyss. During those days, Nuremberg played a pivotal role, the site where the Nuremberg laws were passed in 1935 that launched the deadly persecution of the Jews. Nuremberg was the site of the annual Nazi rallies where up to a million people assembled to worship Hitler and cheer his programs of prejudice. And, of course, it was here that the Nuremberg trials were conducted in 1945 to hold the Nazi leaders accountable to International law.
My father’s brother was among the occupying forces that entered Nuremberg on April 15, 1945. His memories of this place and the atrocities of that time are far removed from the Nuremberg that has grown up in its place. But his sacrifices, and those of millions others, are largely responsible for creating the freedom, justice and peace that have taken root and flourished more than half a century later.
The Nazi rally grounds have been turned into parks where couples stroll beneath shade trees and families play with their children beside a tranquil lake. Near by, the Document Center (Doku Zentrum) “documents” what happened in the Second World War, an attempt to understand how a nation could be led to commit the atrocities unleashed by Hitler’s regime. It is a sobering place that looms over the peaceful park that surrounds it. Last week we attended an open-air concert by the Nuremberg Symphonic Orchestra in the same place where thousands once hailed Hitler and cheered his speeches. Sixty-five thousand people gathered in clusters with family and friends to picnic on blankets while they listened to classical music.
Nuremberg, the largest city in Franconia and gateway to Bavaria, is impressive as an idyllic and tranquil place. But always, underneath the surface, there lurks the memory of the Second World War and the questions it raises.
Nuremberg is a constant reminder of our potential for good and evil, our infinite capacity for the divine and the demonic. The evil that lurks within the human heart, that raised its head in Nuremberg more than half a century ago, continues to raise its head among us today. We witnessed that evil recently in a movie theater in Colorado, a year ago in Arizona outside a local Safeway where Gabriella Giffords was attacked, in Syria where hundreds are daily gunned down in the streets, in Iraq and Afghanistan where terrorist bombings continue, and countless other places too numerous to list. Nuremberg is a reminder that each of us, every people and nation of every generation, need Jesus our Savior to deliver us from our own worst passions.