Where was G‑d during the Holocaust? Was faith possible in Auschwitz? These are questions not only for theologians and religious thinkers, but for anyone who believes in G‑d. How could an all-powerful G‑d allow such evil to exist?

Among the survivors themselves, the results were mixed. While many Jews experienced a strengthening of faith in Auschwitz, even more walked away from Torah and religion after the Holocaust. For them, faith after Auschwitz was just not possible.

Was faith possible in Auschwitz?

In fact, the Holocaust is merely the latest and greatest example of the atrocities our people have suffered. We have grappled with this question for millennia. The first to raise it was none other than Moses, who asked G‑d why He had done evil to Jews in Egypt.1

For our generation, however, the question has taken this form: Where was G‑d in Auschwitz? What are we to tell the asker? And what are we to tell ourselves?

One thing is clear. When one who has suffered asks the question of one who hasn’t, the only possible answer is empathy. What words can mend a broken heart? There are no logical answers to emotional questions. Indeed, rational answers are counterproductive at such times. The only possible response is empathy and emotional support.

For those who did not suffer themselves, the question is a logical logger jam. If we believe that G‑d orchestrates world events and that G‑d is just, we are left with two unacceptable possibilities: to suggest that the Holocaust was just, or to admit that G‑d is not really in control.

The only alternative is to conclude that the divine will is inscrutable, and that the human mind cannot comprehend G‑d’s mysterious ways. This is the only possible answer that does not compromise our faith. But not surprisingly, it fails to satisfy. Many who have asked the question have rejected it. If it is the only answer available to us, how can we make it palatable, first to ourselves and then to others?

Not a Question

I met a Jew who witnessed unspeakable crimes and inhumane suffering when he visited concentration camps as a soldier in the liberating American army. For years afterward, he rejected G‑d. He attends synagogue faithfully, but proclaims that he is there on protest – to protest G‑d’s inaction during the Holocaust. When he asked me where G‑d was during the Holocaust, I tried an empathetic response, but he wanted to dialogue. He wanted more than emotional support. He wanted answers.

What could I possibly tell him that he had not already heard?

As I considered my response, I remembered a story about a rabbi who asked his former student why he had abandoned religious observance. The student explained that he had several questions that led him to lose his faith. The rabbi replied that if the questions came before he had abandoned his faith, they were questions. But if the questions came after he had abandoned his faith, they weren’t questions. They were answers that justified his abandonment of faith. Questions, concluded the rabbi, can be answered—answers cannot be answered.

Suddenly I knew what I had to say.

The question you’re asking cannot be answered, I told him. It defies human logic because it transcends us. That much you already know, but please consider my next point. A question is by definition a prelude to anIf it cannot be answered, it is not a question answer. If it cannot be answered, it is not a question—it is a statement. The sentence, “Where was G‑d during the holocaust,” is followed by a period rather than a question mark.

This means that one who makes the statement is responsible for crafting the next sentence. When you ask a question, you expect your interlocutor to respond. When you make a statement, you expect him or her to listen. Where was G‑d during the Holocaust is a statement that we can all agree on. The question is, what is your next statement? Now that you have stated a universal truth, that we don’t understand why G‑d allowed the Holocaust, the question is, do you still believe in Him?

You are the sole proprietor of your next statement.

All your life, I told this man, you tied your hands by charging others with answering your question. When they couldn’t answer it, you were unable to believe. Stop granting control over your belief to others. You are not asking a question, you are making a statement, which leaves you in the driver’s seat. You are free to make your own choice - free to believe.

Faith is not the language of the heart or mind, it is the language of the soul. If you choose to deal with this problem on a soul level, you may craft your next sentence as a statement of faith. You can accept your inability to explain the Holocaust and choose to believe anyway. The opportunity to believe, closed to you for so many years, suddenly opens again.

I don’t know if his faith was restored,2 but he did thank me for the fresh perspective.