becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street

Leo Baeck

Leo Baeck was a Rabbi and a native of Germany, who had studied philosophy in Berlin as well as completing his religious training. He served as an army chaplain in the German army during the First World War. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Baeck worked in his capacity as a respected leader of his community to defend the rights of the Jewish people. He was eventually transported to Theresienstadt in 1942. Whilst he was there, he taught classes exploring the ideals and the ideas of the great visionaries of history including Plato. Several times before his deportation he was given the chance to escape from Germany. He never considered it, believing that it would be wrong to desert those who would be left behind. After the war he relocated to London. This is the prayer he wrote towards the end of 1945 in response to everything he had experienced:

Prayer for Reconciliation and Peace among Nations

Peace be with them who are of evil intent, and let there be an end to all revenge and talk of punishment and retribution.

Beyond all measure are the cruelties; they exceed all human power of conception, and too many are the martyrs…

Therefore oh God, do not with the scales of justice measure their sufferings, charging them to their hangmen, taking gruesome account; but let it be different. Ascribe and account instead to all the hangmen, informers, and traitors, and all evil humans, this: all the courage and spiritual strength of the others, their humility, their high-spirited dignity, their silent efforts in spite of everything, the hope that never gave in, and the brave smile that dried the tears, and all the love, and all the sacrifice, and all the fiery love… all the pierced and pained hearts that yet remained strong and confident, in the face of death and in death, yea, even in the hour of deepest weakness…

All this, oh my God, shall count for a resurrection of Justice - the good shall count, and not the evil; and to the memory of our enemies shall we no more be their victims, no more their nightmare, but rather their help, that they be able to let go the frenzy…

Only this shall be demanded from them, that we, now that all is over, may live as humans among humans, and that there shall be peace again on this poor earth for the people of good intent, and that peace may also come to the others.

Image © TopFoto from the Jewish Chronicle Archive