It was a fresh, spring morning in the German countryside. A young boy, dressed in his Sunday clothes, dawdled along as he made his way down a dirt road. Ahead, his parents paused to wait.

“Come along.” His father urged for the second time.

The child begrudgingly quickened his steps. Why sit inside on such a fine day? He hoped, for once, the minister would suggest taking the service out of doors. But, as the red-brick building came into view and with it the line of people filing in, he knew it was not to be.

The service opened with prayer, a couple hymns were sung and then the minister began to preach. The child shifted in his seat, wondering and waiting. 

He was wondering if the wooden pews had been made to be uncomfortable on purpose so people wouldn’t drift off to sleep. He was waiting, as he did every Sunday, for the whistle of a train and the clatter of its wheels upon the track.

He looked down at his brass watch. Its hands were moving steadily closer to nine-thirty. Another minute… There it was! A distant whistle announced the locomotive’s prompt arrival.

It soon drowned out every other sound, for the track ran close behind the church building. The minister kept preaching, as he always did, and the adults looked on politely – pretending they could hear what he said.

Then suddenly, a new sound joined the usual rumble and clatter. A sound they would not soon forget. Through the noise of the train, from the box cars it pulled, came moans, wails, and cries for help.

There were people inside!

Everyone in the church pressed towards the windows. Tears sprung to the eyes of some. Others shook their heads. But no one moved to do anything about it.

Their Response

The train continued to pass by the little, country church every week on its way to Auschwitz. Every week the cries of men, women, and children interrupted the Sunday sermon. After a while, it became so disturbing that people didn’t want to come to church. 

They all agreed something needed to be done. But what?

The next Sunday a change was made. They didn’t run outside to stop the train – that would have been suicide. They didn’t make an appeal on the prisoners’ behalf – that would have been pointless. The church simply changed the time of their service so they’d be singing as the train went past.

We sang as loud as we could to drown out the cries.” Recalled one of the church congregants. “If perchance we still heard them, we just sang a little louder.”

How Could They?

Reinhold Niebuhr said, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Under the rule of the Nazi Party, an unspoken understanding permeated Germany. Those who kept silent and obeyed the laws would be left alone. Those who dared to defend the condemned masses would die with them.

This is why the church which met by the train tracks chose to ignore the plight of the Jews. They’d all heard rumour of the atrocities of Auschwitz but they were afraid to help. They felt the fate of the Jews was something they could not change. 

Were they right?

Indifference Then and Now

“Years have passed, and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear the sound of that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive me! God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.” Those are the words of a man who was only a boy when the train of Jews was weekly passing his local church.

Indifference has not faded into the past with the tragedies of the Holocaust. It is a failure you, I, and all of the Church today are equally prone to. We, like those Germans, can quickly be desensitized if we refuse to intercede for those who need us most.

In talking about abortion, that same man who listened to the cries of the Jews as a boy said, “It’s happening all over again! May God forgive America [and Canada] for drowning out the screams of dying children. May God forgive the Church for allowing this holocaust to take place.”

We may not sing over the cries of train loads of victims during our Sunday services but we daily overlook injustice, ignore those who need our help, and excuse ourselves because interceding for them would be difficult.

But may I remind us of Proverbs 24:11-12 which says, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will He not repay man according to his work?” (NKJV)

So, How Will You Respond?

Don’t choose indifference. Don’t excuse yourself from this fight because you don’t know how to help. Don’t call yourself a Christian while doing nothing to intervene.

If Christ gave his life to save you, is it not your reasonable service to extend that same love to the ones who need your help?

*This article was based on a true account which was originally published by Penny Lea at: https://www.pennylea.com/sing-a-little-louder.

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