Reading Matters

Holocaust survivor says it was luck, not God’s angels, who spared him

Walter Ziffer, born in Czechoslovakia in 1927, is a Holocaust survivor who lives in Weaverville and has taught at UNC-Asheville and Mars Hill University.

His new memoir, “Confronting the Silence: A Holocaust Survivor’s Search for God,” recounts his boyhood, the Polish and German invasions of his home country, his 1942 deportation and experiences in eight Nazi concentration camps.

He writes that when he talks to audiences about his experiences, someone in the audience always asks how he survived. he replies: “I was lucky, when others were not.”

This answer, he says, tends to shock certain members of his audience, “especially Christians.”

In their opinion, Ziffer writes, I should know that it was God or God’s angels who protected me because “God had other plans for you.”

To these comments, Ziffer, who will be 90 on March 5, responds:

“I cannot subscribe to their view of attributing my survival to God’s protection. I do not and wish not to see me singled out in some way by God from the rest of world Jewry, of whom one-third perished by Hitler and his henchmen during the Holocaust. How could God make me survive while one and a half million innocent children went to their death without God intervening on their behalf? Does not acceptance of such thoughts border on obscenity? Or is that we simply do not understand God’s ways – a thought often expressed in the Bible? As his creatures and as Jews, are we not to be thankful to God for all that comes into our lives, both good and bad?

“Sorry, but I cannot accept this,” he concludes. “This smacks too much of simplisitic Calvinism.”