By Christine Darg
Jerusalem Channel
     The world is racing toward conditions described by the Book of Revelation with restrictions creeping into all levels of society.
     Everybody should read at least a couple of books on the Holocaust to understand the depths of human depravity and the insidious loss of freedoms.

     Lesley Ann Richardson’s new book “By High Ordeal” is one such riveting manuscript that should be required reading for this generation. It is a biography of Holocaust survivor and Israeli artist Sam Herciger with each chapter of one man’s story set within the context of brilliantly researched historic narrative. 

Richardson’s title “By High Ordeal” is taken from Leonard Cohen’s song, “Who By Fire,” as the lyrics go, 

“Who by fire and who by water

Who in the sunshine, who in the night time

Who by high ordeal, who by common trial …”

….inspired by the haunting “Unetaneh Tokef” prayer on Yom Kippur. The prayer describes God’s review of the Book of Life and the fate of every soul for the coming year – if they will live or how they will die. 

The gripping tale of artist Sam Herciger describes the heroic spirit of Holocaust survivors and the supernatural strength often imparted in the most dire circumstances, even when their bed was made in Hell. 

Time after time, as a young teenager and then into his married life Herciger was persecuted for simply being a member of the Jewish race. He was incarcerated so many times that I lost count, but the most horrendous prisons he endured were Nazi concentration camps and Nazi death marches. 

Amongst his artwork Sam Herciger portrayed a crucified Jesus wrapped in a tallit. In this he followed Chagall, who had painted a series of crucifixions during the Shoah featuring the image of Jesus as a Jewish martyr, identified completely with his brethren.

Herciger’s biography serves to illustrate the power of positive words spoken over individuals. From where did Herciger receive the will and the strength to keep living when he was reduced through starvation and hard labour to only 35 kilos? From time to time he had remembered a chance encounter with a stranger in his youth, somebody who looked like a Prophet of sorts whom he met on the banks of the Vistula River in Poland. The Prophet spoke words of life and had predicted a future for Herciger, telling him that he would become exactly what he wanted to be. This mysterious man would reappear in many of Herciger’s later art works. 

     “By High Ordeal” is a triumph of the human spirit and a testament to the endurance of God’s covenant people. Not only did Herciger survive the infernal ordeal of the suffocating train to Auschwitz and upon arrival having his wife brutally torn from his side, never to see her sweet face again, after his liberation his second wife also died an excruciating death from multiple sclerosis. Sam Herciger and his third wife Edith emigrated to Israel in 1969 and established an artist’s colony in the Negev, drawing many thousands of visitors and where he worked until his death in 1981. 

We need these Holocaust survivor stories to illustrate the power to overcome the depths of evil and to remind us not to cling very tightly to this world, for throughout the narrative there is a Higher Power reminding us of the world to come. 

     The Yom Kippur prayer “Unetaneh Tokef,” part of which is as follows:
“On Rosh Hashanah it is written and Yom Kippur it is sealed
How many shall pass on and how many shall come to be;
who shall live and who shall die;
who shall see ripe old age and who shall not;
who shall perish by fire and who by water;
who by sword and who by beast;
who by hunger and who by thirst.…”

Internet Screenshot of Leonard Cohen’s song

Songwriter Leonard Cohen heard this prayer as a child in the synagogue and as a result he wrote the haunting song “Who by Fire.”

     Death certainly has to be faced, and churches should do more to help believers prepare for it….. because death is the main enemy of existence.
     But as strange as it sounds, there is also a generation of believers who will never die. An orthodox teaching in Christianity is known as the Rapture (or the “harpazo” in the New Testament Greek, a word related to harpoon). Yes, an entire generation of believers will be supernaturally harpooned up to Jesus when he suddenly appears in the atmosphere for those looking for him. (Luke 21: 36; John 14: 3; 1 Thessalonians 4: 16-18; 1 Corinthians 15: 51-53; Titus 2: 13; Hebrews 9: 28; Revelation 3: 10)
     We live in hope, our blessed hope.
     Elijah the prophet was a type of translation by fire. He never died but was raptured to heaven in a whirlwind, in a chariot of fire as recorded in 2 Kings 2.
     Perhaps a line some be interposed into the “Unetaneh Tokef,”
     … and who by translation?