“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?”—Proverbs 24:11–12
Raoul Wallenberg came from a wealthy and famous Swedish family. When the Nazis started rounding up Jews in Hungary, Wallenberg went to Budapest as a diplomat to hand out Swedish citizenship papers to thousands of Jews. More than 400,000 Jews had already been deported to Auschwitz, but 200,000 remained in Budapest, so Wallenberg acted swiftly and fearlessly.
He even chased down deportation trains, pulled Jews off, and declared them Swedish subjects under his diplomatic protection. The Nazis weren’t sure how to stop him. The Swedish embassy in Budapest could not accommodate all the new citizens, so Wallenberg purchased thirty-one buildings to use as “safe” houses and declared them Swedish property, protected by international law. Wallenberg may have saved as many as 100,000 Jews from a deadly fate.
Wallenberg’s decisive action, at great personal cost and even greater personal risk, is a model for all of us. Whenever we see injustice, whether small or great, we should take action. It’s easy to see something and think, “That doesn’t affect me,” but the principle of being accountable for our fellow human beings goes all the way back to the early chapters of Genesis. After Cain killed Abel, God asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).
Later, in Genesis 9:5, God said “And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” So the answer to Cain’s question is: yes, you are your brother’s keeper. Each one of us has a responsibility to those around us. God desires that we serve as guardians for one another.
People tend to ask, “Where was God during the Holocaust?” but it’s also appropriate to ask “Where was man?” More than six million lives were lost during the Holocaust, not only at the hands of perpetrators, but also at the hands of bystanders who did not prevent or stop it.
According to Proverbs 24:11–12, ignorance is no excuse because we cannot tell God “we knew nothing about this.”
We must do more than just remember the atrocities of the past. We must also accept responsibility for preventing such tragedies in the future. The timeless truth calls each of us to action: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). In what ways can we look out for the interests of others today? How can we stand up for someone today?
It may not be as earth-shattering as buying 31 buildings, but even the small, ordinary steps are important to God.