OPENING ACTIVITY: A ‘Do-over’
Ask students to share their answers to the following questions:
What does it mean to receive a “do-over”? Why would someone receive one?
In a way, a “do-over” is similar to forgiveness. It means setting aside what someone has done and giving the person a second chance to do something differently or in a better way. Although the former member of the Nazi SS who is the focal point of this week’s story won’t be getting a “do-over,” he is the surprise beneficiary to some extent of what it means to be forgiven.
OPENING STORY: [Read the story aloud or make copies and pass them around.]
HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR FORGIVES HER CAPTOR
Oskar Groening, a 94-year-old former bookkeeper at the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp in southern Poland, was convicted last summer of being an accessory to the murder of over 300,000 Jews at the camp. Even though the he didn’t actually kill any of the Jews transported to the camp, he was sentenced to four years in prison.
But unlike many in the Nazi SS who either participated in the Holocaust or stood by as it happened, Groening admitted guilt for what took place. Groening may also be unique to some extent in that he received forgiveness from camp survivor Eva Kor, who was transported to the camp in 1944 along with the rest of her family. Kor’s mother, father, and two older sisters were among the thousands of Hungarian Jews gassed to death in Auschwitz.
Kor met with Groening during the trial. But instead of condemning Groening, she embraced him, kissed him on the cheek, thanked him, and forgave him for his past mistakes. “I believe forgiveness is such a powerful thing,” Kor said. “And this is what our world desperately needs beside punishment.” The story of her meeting with Groening is chronicled in a documentary entitled The Girl Who Forgave the Nazis, released earlier this year.
Groening joined the SS early in the war and was assigned to administrative duties at Auschwitz in 1942. His job was to collect money and other valuables from the Jews transported there for “selection.” Although Groening did not participate directly in activities that resulted in the death of Jews, he was troubled by what he witnessed and at one time thought about requesting a transfer. His fears of being sent to the Russian front may have discouraged this notion, however. He was later transferred anyway to a unit in the Ardennes and was captured there by Allied armies in 1945.
When Groening returned to Germany, he refused to tell others about the role he played in the war. This changed 40 years later when he fell into a conversation with a Holocaust denier, one of many in Germany at that time who denied that the Holocaust ever happened. Still troubled by his past, Groening sent the man a pamphlet regarding the Holocaust and wrote, “I saw everything. The gas chambers, the cremations, the selection process. One and a half million Jews were murdered in Auschwitz. I was there.”
Groening was verbally attacked by neo-Nazis for his comments. This prompted him to speak more openly about his experiences and the guilt he shared in what happened. However, those confessions created legal problems for him when Germany changed its laws to allow the prosecution of those who worked in the camps, even if they didn’t directly participate in the murders.
Although Groening challenged his legal guilt for what took place, he acknowledged that he knew what was going on and was morally guilty for being part of the organization that committed the crimes. “For me there’s no question that I share moral guilt,” he said during his trial. Knowing that he couldn’t expect forgiveness from the victims because of the severity of his crimes, he added, “I can only ask my God for forgiveness.”
Kor’s expression of forgiveness may have given Groening a glimpse of the extent of God’s forgiveness. Only time will tell if this will provide him with the inner peace he desires.
Now have your students form small groups to discuss these questions.
- What does it feel like to be forgiven for something you’ve done wrong—especially if there is no way to atone for or make right what you have done?
- Who have you forgiven over the years? What has been their response?
- How do love and forgiveness go together?
Looking for Steps 2 & 3?
You can find Steps 2 and 3 in your teacher’s guide; your Step 4 appears below. To purchase a teacher's guide, please visit: Bible-in-Life or Echoes
GIVING AND GETTING FORGIVENESS
Oskar Groening cannot undo what he did in the past. But he has taken one step in experiencing forgiveness by admitting the part he played in the Holocaust.
As we acknowledge our own sins, it’s important to remember that because of His love for us, Jesus already did what was required so our sins could be forgiven. So we ask for His forgiveness, have the faith that He does forgive us, and live differently in light of that forgiveness.
Ask students to return to the groups they had in Step 1 and to respond to the following:
- How should you respond to God knowing He has forgiven you for your sins?
- Who needs to hear that you have forgiven them for what they have done to you?
Close the class in prayer. Thank Jesus for His sacrifice so we could be forgiven of our sins. Pray that you all will acknowledge your need for forgiveness, respond to it with gratitude, live differently in light of it, and forgive others for how they have wronged you.
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