Saturday morning we put on our walking shoes and headed to the march. I think because there had already been some reconciliation at Friday night’s service, some people felt there was no reason to come the next day for the march. All of the 200 people who had attended the night before weren’t there that morning, but we still had about 100 people show up.
We hadn’t advertised the march in Lviv very much, except for telling churches about it, but apparently people got wind of it through Kyiv. When Kyiv started advertising a lot, the official site for the Lviv City Council put up an article about it, and press websites began talking about it as well. When we had first approached City Council for approval, they told us we wouldn’t be getting police protection or escort. But, to our surprise, we showed up Saturday morning and there were 2 police cars and 4 police officers there to escort us….by order of the Mayor! Apparently, when the Capitol started advertising and talking about this, the local government decided it was a bigger deal than they thought.
We gathered at a monument dedicated to victims of the holocaust, located near the former Ghetto and train stop that took them from the Ghetto to a concentration camp in Poland. First, a local Messianic Rabbi prayed the Mourner’s Kaddish (a Jewish prayer that mourners recite), and then we lined up on the street to begin our 4 km (2.5 mi) walk. The streets weren’t completely blocked off, but it was a 2 lane road the whole way, and we were given 1 lane to walk in. There were 4 people who walked at the front, 2 carrying Ukrainian flags, and 2 carrying Israeli flags. I was glad the streets weren’t blocked off, because we definitely got the attention of all those who drove by us, and hopefully they went home and researched what was going on in the city that day. We had a bus follow behind us, for those who were older or handicapped and couldn’t walk that far, but most people walked.
After walking for a little over an hour, we arrived at our end point – a field where the Jews were forced to relinquish all their belongings to the Nazis, behind the former concentration camp. We gathered there, and began to listen as Oleg Vasyukov told his story of surviving life in a concentration camp as a 9 year old boy. He was taken with his mother, brother, and some other relatives, to a concentration camp in a town on the Eastern border of Ukraine. One day, the Nazis began loading all children 10 years old and younger into a cart, to take them to a gas chamber. Oleg bit the hand of one of the German soldiers, and was beaten so badly they left him for dead there at the camp. He wasn’t dead though, and later his mother and brother came to get him and take him back to the barrack. His aunt began insisting to her sister, Oleg’s mother, that she take her 2 sons and try to escape from the camp. So, on Dec. 25th, 1941, under the cover of a snowstorm, a mother took her 2 sons and escaped from Drobysky Yar concentration camp. For almost 2 years, they hid in various villages until the Soviet army invaded in August of 1943. They found out later, that the day after they escaped, the Germans began to liquidate Drobysky Yar concentration camp by mass shootings. Though they escaped, Oleg’s brother, who became a member of the Resistance, was eventually killed.
After Oleg told his story of survival, Gunther came up and asked Oleg for forgiveness for all that his people had done to him and the Jewish nation. Oleg responded to him by saying, “Of course I forgive you! Though there really isn’t anything to forgive you for; it wasn’t you who did all those terrible things. You don’t have to live with the guilt you feel. But, if you need forgiveness, then I forgive you.” And in that moment, Oleg and Gunther hugged – the grandson of an SS officer, and a Jewish survivor who was left for dead by an SS officer. Only God can orchestrate such moments!
The outside service was supposed to last under an hour, but we ended up standing out there for nearly 2 hours. A number of the Germans spoke, repenting for the deeds of their relatives, and a number of Ukrainians spoke, extending their forgiveness.
To end the service, we had the Germans stand at the front, and the Ukrainians went down the line hugging and forgiving each person. It was a beautiful time and I know that God was pleased by what He saw that day. There were difficulties in planning the march, but we stood on the promises God had given us that He would bless this event….and He did! He brought to pass what He had promised, and we got to stand and be a part of it. It was amazing to be a part of an event that was publicly displaying support for Israel – without making a loud demonstration. All we did was walk through the city and carry Israeli flags, but the people of Lviv saw that there are those in this city who stand with Israel! There was reconciliation between the Jews and the Germans, and also between the Germans and Ukrainians, and we have prayed to God asking Him to remove any curses brought on this city by unforgiveness. Now, we are expectant for what God will do and the blessings this city will experience.
Thank you all so much for your prayers! God definitely answered and blessed us!
Ways to continue praying:
* Many in our church are interested in learning more about the Jewish roots of Christianity. My dad is planning on doing a weekly Bible Study in Autumn, and it will probably be opened up to any churches who would like to join. Pray that many more hearts will be open to learning about this great treasure of our faith!
* Pray for the pastors who were against taking part in the March of Life, that their hearts will be open to seeing God’s heart towards Israel and the Jews.
* There is still a lot of anti-semitism in the world and in Lviv. I’ve been reading comments to an online article about the march, and many people are leaving anti-semitic comments – one even went so far as to say, “All Jews (though the author used a derogatory term) need to get out of Ukraine!!!” It’s so sad to see such hate in people. I have engaged in conversation on this site though, and one guy has been asking me a lot of questions. He’s asked me if I forgave the Germans and if the Jews forgave them. Now he’s asked me what we’re supposed to do with the fact that Ukraine, as a nation, was also affected by the Nazis, and that not all Germans feel guilt for what their countrymen did. Please pray for me, that I would use wisdom in answering his questions, and that somehow he would hear something different in me and begin to ask further questions that might lead to an open door to share the power of Christ’s forgiveness with him. So far I don’t feel like I should be saying things about my beliefs regarding God, but if he were to ask me questions, I would gladly answer them.
*Now that the march is over, I’m seeking God to see what the next step in my ministry here is. Please pray that I would know His will and what His plans are.