This week, Gov. Mike Huckabee, along with David Lane of the American Renewal Project, hosted a tour with roughly 100 ministers and faith leaders to follow the steps of three leaders who greatly influenced world history for the better, with the hopes that these ministers would return to America empowered to do likewise.
Retracing the steps of Pope John Paul II in Krakow, Poland, Margaret Thatcher in London, England, and Ronald Reagan in California, The Journey: A Spiritual Awakening, was designed to exemplify how “God raises extraordinary leaders for extraordinary times.” Huckabee explains, “their lives and messages brought hope to generations and freedom to millions by confronting evil everywhere. From their lives and their leadership we can extract immeasurable lessons for every nation wishing to be free and great.”
In the wake of Houston Mayor Annise Parker subpoenaing ministers’ emails and sermons, his timing, many argue, could not be more relevant. On Friday, November 14, Journey attendees visited Auschwitz and Birkenau and a museum located in the administrative building of Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory. On route to Auschwitz, Lane referenced similarities between 1930 Germany and 2014 America. Quoting from Inside Hitler’s Germany, Life Under the Third Reich, he paraphrased Martin Bormann’s assessment that national socialism and Christianity are “irreconcilable.”
Pointing to what was previously a predominantly Christian country shaped by Martin Luther who sparked the Protestant Reformation in 1517, he highlights the methods Hitler used to immeasurably transform Germany’s identity and culture. By 1938, much of Germany’s Christian practices were eliminated. Crosses in schools were replaced with Hitler’s picture, the Bible, with Mein Kampf, Christmas carols and the nativity play were eliminated, and the greeting, “Happy Christmas,” was replaced with “Yuletide.”
In fact, to Hitler, the role of the church would no longer serve Christ, but him. Posted on one of the museum’s walls was a statement Hitler made on October 2, 1940 about occupied Poland’s Christians. He said, “It shall be the priests’ task to keep the Poles calm, numb, and dumb.” The Museum’s commentary under the quote states, “The Germans did not manage to force the clergy to convince the faithful to leave [Poland] to work in the Reich, to join the Baudienst, or to work efficiently to benefit the German economy. Owing to admirable and wise behavior of priests during the occupation, the authority of the church grew at that time; much more people attended services as compared to before the war. Religiousness gave hope and palliated grief.”
Upon arrival at Auschwitz, Gov. Huckabee said, “We are entering a place where evil personified lost and God won. Where innocent, unarmed people were systematically murdered by the most educated, scientifically advanced, theologically trained, sophisticated, modernized and knowledgeable Germans.”
What happened to Germany, a leader in most academic disciplines and professional fields, Huckabee said, “should be a sobering reminder that unless we stand against evil in our own time,” another Holocaust to another people group “will happen again.”
“The very people who created the death industry and ‘scientifically’ and medically experimented on prisoners,” he added, “went home every day, ate dinner with their families, played with their children, went to concerts, and lived normal lives, knowing all the while those under their authority were living in horror.”
Former Austrian Kitty Werthmann helps clarify context and perspective from her experience living seven years under Hitler and three under Stalin. During an unrelated and recent even in New Jersey, she highlights similarities between 1938 Austria and 2014 America. Austria was in a deep depression with one third of its workforce unemployed. It’s inflation rate and bank loan interest rates were 25 percent. Many Austrians were declaring bankruptcy and begging for food.
She says, “everyone thinks that Hitler just rolled in with his tanks and took Austria by force. We were led to believe that everyone [in Germany] was happy. We were told that they didn’t have unemployment or crime; they had a high standard of living. We wanted the same way of life in Austria.
“We were promised that a vote for Hitler would mean the end of unemployment and help for the family. Ninety-eight percent of the population voted to annex Austria to Germany and have Hitler for our ruler. We were overjoyed and for three days danced in the streets and had candlelight parades.”
She lists how the government opened up field kitchens and everyone was fed, crime disappeared under the new government, and within one month people were employed through the Public Work Service.
There were other changes, however, related to restrictions on religious belief, expression, and teaching. In a predominantly Catholic nation, schools could no longer teach anything related to religion and prayer in school was banned. Children were required to sing, “Deutschland, Desutschland, Uber Alles, ” and Sunday became National Youth Day with compulsory attendance to teach children about Hitler’s vision for Austria. If children did not attend their parents were warned, fined the equivalent of $300, and eventually jailed. Unwed mothers were encouraged to have babies for Hitler, she explained, and all mothers were required to work; their children as young as 4 weeks old were to be taken care of by government psychologists.
By 1939 a food bank was established; food was rationed and could only be purchased with food stamps, administered by the government. “If you didn’t work, you didn’t receive a ration card. If you didn’t receive a ration card, you starved,” she says. Next, the draft was implemented as well as military training for teenagers. Medical research at universities and private healthcare was eliminated, replaced by nationalized healthcare, which forced many doctors to leave, and Austrians’ tax rates to increase by 80 percent.
By 1944 Werthmann noticed her neighbors, who had Down syndrome, were taken by the State Health Department “to learn a trade,” but within six months their families received letters stating they had died of natural causes. She lists other examples of laws requiring residents to turn in their guns to the government and those who disappeared who said anything negative about the government.
The comparison to America could not be more profound.
Today, American unemployment is 25 percent when including the unreported U-3 and U-6 numbers of those who have dropped out of the workforce, are no longer receiving unemployment benefits, and/or are underemployed working several jobs unable to feed their families. Americans are in 28 billion dollars of credit card debt, with credit card interest rates exceeding 25 percent in most states.
Similarities continue: whether its eliminating prayer in school or the ten commandments from court rooms, disallowing the teaching of creationism and only teaching evolution, removing religious holidays from school calendars, or implementing common core curriculum that redefines the family to include same-sex parents and transgender children as normal, and teaches Islam.
Upon approach to Birkenau, David Lane referenced a story about the Dutch missionary Hendrik Kraemer. He happened to be in his homeland in 1940 and was approached by his neighbors who asked him, “What shall we do? Our neighbors are dying. We don’t know what is going to become of us as a nation. Please… tell us what to do.”
Kraemer replied, “I am not going to tell you what to do, but I will tell you who you are. And if you know who you are, then you will know what to do.” He opened his Bible and read 1 Pet. 2:9, saying, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and a people claimed by God as his own, to proclaim the triumphs of Him who has called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” He then asked, “Do you know who you are?”
They thanked him, and that night they formed the Dutch resistance.
Upon leaving Birkenau, Huckabee said, “these people were brutally murdered because they did not fit into the plan of a government that only wanted a people to follow them blindly.” He went on to explain that remembering what millions of people believed and did because of the power of one man, Hitler, is not enough. “It’s not enough unless it does something to change the way we live the rest of our lives. This is not a time to say I’ve been to Auschwitz… because when the day comes when we are called upon to put at risk our lives, our families, our fortunes, we have to decide if we will march like lemmings to our death, or take whatever steps necessary to stop the kind of tyranny that results ultimately in what we’ve been able to see first hand today.”