My Take: 7 life lessons from a Holocaust survivor
Author Caroline Stoessinger, right, befriended Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommers.
April 19th, 2012
01:27 PM ET

My Take: 7 life lessons from a Holocaust survivor

Editor's Note: Caroline Stoessinger, a concert pianist, is the author of "A Century of Wisdom: Lesson's From the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor."

By Caroline Stoessinger, Special to CNN

At age 108, Alice Herz-Sommers is the world's oldest survivor of the Holocaust. She was imprisoned at Theresienstadt, which was conceived by Hitler as a "model" concentration camp.

Herz-Sommers - Alice, as I know her - is a pianist. In between summer 1943 and the camp's liberation at the end of the war, she played more than 100 concerts at Theresienstadt. Most were solo recitals culled from memory from her extensive repertoire. She has survived for more than a century with a profound faith in humanity intact and a smile on her face.

As music is her kind of prayer, Alice still practices piano - Bach, Beethoven, Schubert – for three hours every day.

I got to know her in London, where she now lives, through mutual friends who are musicians, historians and Holocaust survivors. For Holocaust Remembrance Day, here are 7 lessons she has taught me:

1. Hatred only begets hatred

Alice recognizes that anyone, anywhere, and at any time can adopt hatred and, worse, can infect others with its venom. Hatred that may begin with one person, like a single pebble cast into a lake, can spread out incrementally to larger and larger groups, and even to entire nations.

"We are responsible for our actions and our words," she says. " And each of us must vigilantly guard against prejudice and hatred in our own minds and with the words that fall from our lips. No one is exempt. Hitler could not have come to power except in the climate of excessive hatred."

2. Love your work, no matter the situation

Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's "hangman," and his underlings understood that adding musical and artistic events to Theresienstadt could be a huge publicity stunt, to prove to the outside world that all was OK for the Jews.

They ordered the prisoners to form a Freizeitgestaltung, or Free Time Committee, to organize concerts, lectures and other events. Crudely printed posters appeared to advertise the programs.

Prisoners had no money so tickets were free. So many musicians had been sent to Theresienstadt that for a time before the members were shipped to their deaths in Auschwitz, four symphony orchestras could play there simultaneously.

The artists took their performances just as seriously as if they were performing on the world stage. "As our situation became even more difficult, we tried even harder to reach for perfection, for the meaning in the music," Alice says. "Music was our way of remembering our inner selves, our values."

The Nazis failed to understand that the power of music to provide comfort and hope to the performers and their audiences was stronger than the terror of their Nazi masters. Every composition that
was written in Theresienstadt, every concert played there, became a moral victory against the enemy.

3. Perseverance

On Alice's third day in Theresienstadt, she was told to play a recital the following week. "But I need to practice," she responded.

The next morning, Alice found the room where she had been assigned the 9:00 – 10:00 practice slot. With no time to waste, she began to work on her Chopin etudes only to find that the pedal did not work and that several keys stuck repeatedly.

Refusing to be defeated, she quickly adapted to the piano's limitations and began to play with abandon, losing herself in the music. "At least I was making music and that always made me happy," she says.

Despite the conditions in the camp and the inadequate, broken-down, legless instruments provided for concerts, emotionally she may have given her finest interpretations of Beethoven's and Schubert's sonatas in Theresienstadt.

4. In routine there is hope

Despite the filth and hunger, Alice's routine life of working her obligatory factory job, performing, caring for her six-year-old son Rafi, and giving him and a few other children elementary piano lessons in spare moments helped her never to lose hope.

"We were not heroic," Alice says. "We improvised. We managed to keep doing, keep working as usual. To not practice was unthinkable."

5. If you have something spiritual, you don't need as much food

In the camp Alice learned what she could live without. Rather than grieving for what she did not have, she rejoiced in what she had. Alice knew that no one could rob her of the treasures of her mind. "I am richer than the world's richest person because I have music in my heart and mind," she says today.

While performing the prisoners could nearly forget their hunger and their surroundings. Besides the terror of finding their names on a deportation list for Auschwitz, the fear of dying of starvation, typhus, and other diseases had become a reality.

"Music was our food, our religion and our hope," she says. "Music was life. We did not, could not, would not give up."

6. Complaining does not help. It makes everyone feel bad.

Alice is anything but naïve and is acutely aware of the evil that has always been present in our world. "I know about the bad, but I look for the good," she says.

7. Faith is stronger than fear.

As she faces the last years of her life, Alice does not waste time with fears of death and worries about the unknown. "We come from and return to infinity," she says. "The soul
lives on without the body." Alice finds consolation in her spiritual theme song, "Urlicht," with its opening words "I come from God and I will return to God."

"Things are as they are supposed to be," she says. "I am still here, never too old so long as I breathe to wonder, to learn, and to teach."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Caroline Stoessinger.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Holocaust • Judaism • Opinion

soundoff (507 Responses)
  1. Paula

    Great life lessons. I wish the women could have learned them a different way, but I will learn from her pain.

    April 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  2. Stephanie

    I find it very sad to read all these post and to realize that so many on all sides haven't learned Life Lesson #1 in this article.

    April 21, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Jimbo

      You are so correct. Now if only Jews would start behaving and having respect for the Palestinians, the Iranians, the Arabs than we wouldn't be in this mess? Would we?

      April 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Ted Nugent's Cousin

      Jim, Israel was made a nation in 1948, how long did it take the Arabs to try to destroy them? Now they are outnumbered 50 to 1 and surrounded by people that call them animals and denegrate them (Just like the Nazi's) and you expect them to do what? Have respect? for someone that won't even recognize their right to exist!!!

      April 21, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • jim

      Hey Ted

      You're every bit as mentally challenged as your cuz – might doesn't make right turd burglar

      April 21, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Josh

      Israel is made of fake people, most of them are NOT semites. they are from Europe.

      Ok Israel is there but than STAY PUT AND STOP STEALING MORE LANDS EACH DAY!


      April 21, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Peikovianyi

      Oh, Jimbo, if only you could lick my toilet clean.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Peikovianyi

      Josh, you could help Jimbo.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Kalessin

      @Josh- if they speak Hebrew...they are semitic.

      April 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  3. angelika

    What an remarkable Example of a person she is. I am first generation American-German. I have studied and educated my self about the Holocaust. My old generation people won't talk to us about our past history. Even thus it is important to know our history, so that this history never repeats it's self.
    Once I heard Ellie Wiesel (famous book author and also a Holocaust survivor ) speak about his experiences . I talked to him afterwards in German. I asked him for forgiveness what my German people have done to his people. He said :"You are too young to take on such a burden. " It very much humbled me. I ask all Jewish brother's and sister's to forgive what my country had done to them. it was so not right. My grandparents suffered too .... But I ask that as we as human beings stop this hate. It is nothing to become of it when you hate!

    April 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Minuet

      So where is the apology for killing millions of my Native American forefathers? Are Jews the only people on this Earth that have feeling? Are we others all less humans? stop crying.

      April 21, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  4. Seven11

    Why this article now? Are israelis/jews constantly trying to remind US and get our sympathies so that we would support them in attacking yet another Muslim country, Iran?
    This is nothing but a mind-playing game in the name of Holocaust.
    Every other day you see a story about jews being subjugated etc. Get over it. US is not going to fall for this trick again. Jews made US go into Iraq war and now they want US to sacrifice US by attacking Iran for Israel.
    CNN stop this sickening behavior.

    April 21, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Beth

      Because it is Holocaust remembrance day–Yom HaShoah. Similarly, CNN carried stories about the Armenian genocide on the day Armenians remember that event. Were you complaining about that as well?

      April 21, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • md2205

      You and Bolbul are really twisting things around. You make statements without backing them up with information. In fact, Israel wants to bomb the nuclear reactor so Iran doesn't nuke Israel. America is telling Israel not to do it. There are involved military issues behind this.

      The worst thing for Jews and for the world would be if people forgot about the Holocaust. Too many regimes want to exterminate entire populations within their countries, and if we have any conscience, we should get our governments to do something about it. At least to count ourselves among those who protested, or those who send money, food, clothes – something. And if you are going to counter by saying that is exactly what Israel is doing now, as those who learned nothing of Jewish and Israeli history would claim, I suggest you stop getting your information from biased media that tampers with photographs and doesn't report about the Arab terror attacks Israel suffers daily and only the response, misleading millions of people to think Israeli attacks are entirely unprovoked.

      April 22, 2012 at 3:23 am |
    • Seven11

      Well, most people outside Us/Israel know US/Israel lie, twist facts...remember Iran war? All created on lies about Iraq's non-existent WMDs provided as 'evidence' by Mossad to US.
      Thankfully the Internet & Satellite TV has opened our eyes and we will NOT support Israeli crimes anymore. God Bless Obama.

      April 22, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  5. mklsgl

    Hey Jew-haters, guess what? You can't say anything that hasn't been said time and again for thousands of years. And more, there will always be Jews. You will never accomplish what you so desire. Remember this, Israel is not just a nation; it's a state of mind.

    April 21, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Isreal is a terrorist, Apartheid State that is nothing without our American, blood, sweat, tears and money. You beggars are just that. You ruin our beautiful US coz of one-sided love for your sandpit Israel.

      April 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Nora

      Well said, Jimbo. When Israelis start seeing Palestinians as their fellow humans, they will always remain an Aprtheid terrorist country.
      Thanks to Obama, US support for Israel is gradually fading.

      April 21, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Peikovianyi

      Nora, you must be after Jimbo and Josh in the Human Centipede.

      April 22, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • md2205

      Dear Nora,

      In the last thousand years, there were thousands, if not millions, of Jews who were kicked out of almost every country in Europe, and almost every Arab country in the last hundred years, after having all their property taken from them, and after being imprisoned and tortured. The Jews who could get to Israel never let themselves become a refugee problem because they worked together to better their lot while rebuilding their land. Why haven't the Arab countries, drowning in their oil dollars, seen fit to assist their brothers from their plight? Why? Because it would be politically unwise. Refugees make good headlines. Those squalid refugee camps are exploited to make bad guys out of the Jews. Israel did not drive out the Palestinians. They left by themselves in 1948 when the Arab countries surrounding Israel told them to leave so they could invade and drive the Jews into the sea. They told them they would come home great victors; that Israel's destruction wouldn't take long; that they could take the spoils. The Arab countries turned their own people into refugees.

      Accusations such as yours must be backed up with facts or they are merely slander sourced in hatred.

      April 22, 2012 at 3:44 am |
  6. Holocaust is a money making industry

    hah ha ha here we go again with Hollowhoax stories again.....the more zioniost Jews in media keep talking about Holocaust the more value it loses.

    April 21, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Sarah

      Wow, i cant believe that anyone would ever say such a thing

      April 21, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Holocaust is a money making industry

      sarah - other have had their Holocaust as well but they don\t whimper like the Jews do

      April 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Peikovianyi

      ha ha ha die screaming

      April 22, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • Kalessin

      @Holocaust is a money making industry- "other have had their Holocaust as well but they don\t whimper like the Jews do'

      Hmmm, could it be that ppl who could bring up awareness of these other horrors are too busy being jerks online like you?
      And you must not know many Israelis....they do not whimper...they ROAR!

      April 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  7. Prayer changes things

    Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things .

    April 21, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • Anna

      What a set of life's lessons learned by a 108-year old lady. I like the one about 'hatred begetting only more hatred'. Today I will practice tolerance and acceptance for each person that I meet in my small world. Thank you for publishing this blog

      April 21, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Science

      Wow found you way back here............ the matrix has got you by the throat aye chadie/dot ?

      You really are stuck on the ICR .

      June 17, 2013 at 10:17 pm |



    April 21, 2012 at 4:57 am |
    • nope


      April 21, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • momoya

      Who cares?

      April 21, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  9. b4bigbang

    TV news reports "swarm" of earthquakes in Pacific Northwest (4/19).
    All predicted by Jesus in the Gospels as a sign of the end!

    April 21, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  10. sanjosemike

    Just a brief note to Israel and Jew haters. OK, I get it. You hate the Jews. All I ask is that you understand that Jews give more than they take of society. The latest cancer cure may very well come from israeli (and Jewish) medical scientists, as well as advances in technology. Unfortunately, Muslim cultures have lost their way.

    By far the biggest victims of Muslim terrorism are fellow Muslims. Ultimately, Muslims will have to learn to respect themselves and stop their internecine wars. Shi'a have been fighting against Sunni since 632.

    Nobody is perfect, and neither are the Jews. But the fact remains that they have been living in the ME for over 3,000 years. Ancient Jewish history was also full of internecine wars, but the Jews seem to have "grown" past that. It's time for Muslims to do the same. Otherwise the world may very well end in an internecine nuclear war between Sunni and Shi'a.


    April 21, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • Bulbul

      dear Jew;

      Stop preaching and stop being paranoid. Maybe that that has been inculcated in Jewish genes now. You had Holocaust on you so learn from that. Don't create Holocaust on Arabs. We are tired of you dragging US into endless wars for your Eratz Israel. We will stop changing Israel's dirty diapers. And stopped already have we. And Obama has Muslim blood so... better grow up now Jews/Israel.

      BTW, you seem to forget Ireland.

      April 21, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Mahmoud

      To sanjosemike;

      Do not worry about us Muslims. We are just 1400 years old. You Jews have been around, what 5000 years ?. And still with your self-claimed "superior intellect" you have not been able to solve your land disputes.
      So keep your advise to yourself. You have not achieved nearly enough in 5000 years. And yea', stop whining & bickering.

      April 21, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • Oy Vey

      "And Obama has Muslim blood so.."

      Really? What's the medical test for that?

      April 21, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • jim

      Another example (and there are many blogs using similar arguements) of scientific or other achievement justifying – slaughter in the middle east and elsewhere – I just don't get it

      April 21, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • MustafaZR786

      So that gives Jews/Israelis a blank cheque to kill Arabs& grab their lands? It's like saying I save lives as a doctor (which I am) but than I can go and kill anybody who doesn't agree with me.

      April 21, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Kalessin

      @MustafaZR786- "So that gives Jews/Israelis a blank cheque to kill Arabs& grab their lands?"

      1. There was no nations where Israel was founded. Therefor, they didn't grab any lands.
      2. The lands in question was under the control of the UK. They had every right to do with those lands as they saw fit.
      3. Why aren't you yammering about Jordan, Syria and Leb? The European powers divided those lands up just like Israel.
      4. Israel is a legal nation and has the right to protect it's citizens (Jews, Arabs and Druze) from idiots that want to have a Proxy War for their masters the Iranians.

      April 23, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  11. Aubrie P.

    Enough of this same propaganda being heated and served over and over again. Die already so that we don't have to hear this one more time, it's none of our business, we don't care, go tell them in Israel to the Israelis only. A ton of cruel things happened in history, what if everybody kept telling them for centuries? Move on. US is in idiocracy era already to let Jewish lobbies and propagandists to control their media like this.

    April 21, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Shivver

      Karma – wait for it, it shouldn't be long.

      April 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  12. Ijs

    What about the Holocaust Jews are creating on Iran by foxing EU/US and imposing ridiculous sanctions on Iran?
    What about millions of Africans who were enslaved by White masters? Where is the holocaust museum for the Blacks?
    What about the hundreds of thousand Native Americans the Whities wiped out ? Where is the Holocaust outcry for them? What about the 1000s of Oborginies enslaved and killed by White Imperialists in Australia? Where is the tribute and homage to them?
    Most cultured were trashed by Whites. But the Jews have made a systematic industry from crying Holocaust almost everyday.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Kalessin

      Bitter much?
      Sounds like you are the one at fault. If you took even a fraction of your energies..you could generate the press needed to bring about change and get recognition where you think it's needed.

      And plz...don't be racist. "Whitties"?

      April 21, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  13. Sweet-Fragrance

    Again with the Holocaust crap. Shut up, Jaws! All caste, creeds have had their holocausts. But the Jews have mastered the art of crying. And what about the Holocaust they are creating on Palestinians?
    Sick of Jews crying all the time. They want sympathy so they can get our monies and kill others for their Eratz Israhell.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Gianni

      I feel so sorry for you. Your hatred makes you blind to universal truths. You seem sadly destined for a lonely and bitter life. Good luck.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • Sweet-Fragrance

      Hey Gianni;

      Your ignorance to see ONLY Jews as victims makes the world sad. You fail to see that these same whining Jews are creating Holocaust on others now and war-mongers like the EU/Americans are complicit in the act.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Leo

      Go to Israel and then visit the Arab nations around them. Let me know how safe you feel! There is not a safer place than Israel, I have been there. Ask some of the women how much freedom they have, for in Israel the Arab women can do anything even run for government positions. In some of the Arab countries they can't even drive a car.

      When the Arabs finally recognize Israel’s right to EXIST then they may get somewhere, otherwise why would Israel ever trust them? They don't even trust themselves!! Do you know what happened in 1948, 1967, 1973?

      The best thing is the Almighty God promised to gather them in the last days, and now he is protecting them against enemies whose population is 50 times greater than Israel!!

      April 20, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • D'Souza

      Now matter how much u sugar-coat Israel. It is after all a terrorist Apartheid State. I have lived in Arab States as US Defense contractor. And it is not bad. Especially Dubai, Abu Dhabi. Whatever u say Israel is a theocracy and not a democracy like US or even India. Jews want to keep all Americans in the backwards state of thinking tell them that Israel is the only "democracy" in the MiddleEast but the ruth is far from it.

      April 21, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • Sweet-Fragrance

      Your answer is typical zionist type. I talk apples you talk oranges. when world talks about Iran is not developing nukes, Israhellis in turn start diverting attention about Syria's internal matter. And divert attention away from the topic at hand.

      And Jews are the Chosen ones! Chosen to be hated by all, for you killed Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

      April 21, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Leo

      When Israel will give 500 Prisoners for their 1 precious Kidnap victim it says everything.

      Jesus gave his life away, he layed it down. If he didn't die you would be dead in your sins.

      April 21, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • jim

      Do a google search on the # of holocaust films made to date – compare this to the # of films made about the Palestians being evicted from what was once Palestine – a similar story

      April 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Leo

      What does the number of movies have to do with anything?

      Lets look at Nobel Prize winners Arabs vs Jews..


      April 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Leo

      Since 1910 there have only been 6 Arabs even though they have nearly 20% of the worlds population.

      But I almost forgot Obama... that gives them 7. But wait what did he actually do to deserve it? Nothing!!

      April 21, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • md2205

      You are quite behind the times, my dear. Please read the following excerpt which the Pope in 1965 wrote which clarifies the Christian position on the topic presented in your post:

      ON OCTOBER 28, 1965

      ...True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ;(13) still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.

      Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

      Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

      Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows...

      I find it reprehensible that people want to equate Israeli self-defense with Germany's obsession with the extermination of an entire people simply because they were Jewish. There is a lot of Jewish history that you and those like you are unaware of, and a lot of modern history as well. I call upon you to read from unbiased sources to learn before you spout. Then your statements might contain some facts instead of unfounded slander.

      Forgetting about the Holocaust would be the worst thing to do, as it would let people be complacent in their peaceful little lives and not have to deal with issues such as protesting when governments murder the people within their borders. There is so much warfare going on in Africa, for example. Why don't people rise up and make protests about it, and demand our government to do more about it? There is so much abuse of women in the Arabic countries. Why don't people here in America protest it and ask our government to do more? There is enough pain in the world that could be addressed, but we have to turn from what is really not a problem, to what is really a problem and address it.

      As an aside, the same Bible you would like to appear as if you believe in says that G-d gave the Land of Israel to the Jews as an eternal inheritance.

      April 22, 2012 at 4:04 am |
    • Kalessin

      D'Souza- "Now matter how much u sugar-coat Israel. It is after all a terrorist Apartheid State....Whatever u say Israel is a theocracy and not a democracy like US or even India."

      Wow..that will come to a real shock to all the Arab and Druze citizens of Israel. That will also be shocking to the members of the United Arab List-Ta'al and Balad parties that are in the ruling elected body of Israel; The Knesset.

      April 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  14. Leo

    One of the hardest questions confronting Christians defending the biblical record is, "How could a good God commission Israel to destroy women and children when they're fighting their battles?"

    This has happened more than once in the Bible. It's difficult to explain the answer to this, though I think there are a couple of reflections on the issue that offer food for thought. You can approach this from a couple of different directions.

    First one caveat. I fully acknowledge that not all good answers are going to be emotionally satisfying to a lot of people. That's why this is a hard issue, because people let their emotional sensibilities rule instead of trying to see the bigger picture.

    One way to approach the problem is to show that it's a much bigger problem than first imagined. Curiously, I think this helps make the solution simpler. God's command that Israel destroy women and children in battle is really just the tip of the iceberg.

    What about when God slew the firstborn of Egypt? Many of these were women and children, some infants. Every plague on Egypt–the hail, the gnats, the frogs, the locust, the boils–fell on all Egyptians equally, not just upon the soldiers.

    What about Sodom and Gomorra in which, with the exception of Lot and his family, every man woman and child was turned to cinder? Everyone was indiscriminately destroyed. The same thing happened in the Genesis flood. Only eight in the entire world survived. It's interesting that I have never heard anyone raise the complaint "What about the women and children?" in these instances.

    When you read the book of Revelation you'll find this practice of God's is not limited to the Old Testament. In the future, God will once again visit judgment upon the world and destroy not just the soldiers, but the women and children as well. I've never heard anyone raise an objection about that, but isn't it the same problem, essentially?

    The underlying question, "Is it right for Jews to kill women and children at God's command?" can only be answered by answering another question: Can God legitimately judge and destroy the world or any portion of it or its inhabitants that He sees fit to destroy? Is this inside of God's prerogatives or outside of it?

    My answer is unequivocal: It is not evil for God to take life, because God is the Author of life. He can give it and He can take it away. That's part of the prerogative of being God. All that He creates belongs to Him. This is His world. He needs no further justification, because He is not compelled by any law higher than Himself.

    Second, our notion of the sovereignty of God entails that every detail of the world is under direct control of God. Nothing happens that He doesn't either actively cause or passively allow. God did not create the universe, wind it up, then let it spin out its course without His involvement. Instead, regarding every nation of mankind on the face of the earth He has "determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation." (Acts 17:26)

    This means that since humans are mortal, there comes a time when every life God created "shuffles off its mortal coil" and returns to Him, either for ultimate judgment or for ultimate reward. God, the Giver and Taker of life, calls every life back to Him at some point and in some manner. The timing and the method of each person's demise is somewhat incidental, from a moral perspective. It's up to Him.

    So I'm arguing first that it's God's prerogative to take life when He so chooses, and second that the means He uses to take that life is a matter of His prerogative as well. Whether it's by disease, or mishap, or hailstones, or the angel of life, or the sword of a Jewish soldier, the means is up to Him. It's His prerogative.

    My third thought has to do with the question, "What did those women and children do? They were innocent." I certainly understand the response and there is a sense in which on an emotional level I am troubled when I consider this. But there's another aspect to keep in mind.

    God deals with people not just as individuals, but as groups. When the nation of Israel is doing well as a nation, doesn't He prosper the whole nation, even though there are individuals in the nation that are scoundrels? When the nation is doing well, generally speaking, God blesses the nation and everybody prospers.

    However, the flip side is that when the nation is corrupt, then God judges the nation as a whole and everyone gets judged, even those remaining few that might be innocent. God is dealing with the nation as a group, for good and for ill. It works both ways.

    This should not be a foreign concept to us, though we probably haven't considered the connection between this biblical reality and modern day practices. When the President and Congress agree to go to war against another country, they act as federal heads of state and commit each and every American citizen to war against a foreign power. The nation is at war, not just our lawmakers.

    And we all suffer alike in the process. We surrender our effort and our taxes and even our life blood, if necessary. We all participate, even though war wasn't our idea. We acting as a unit, as a family, as a nation. And those we war against retaliate against us as a unit.

    In the same way, when I nation rebels against God, it is not uncommon for God to go to war against that nation itself and not just against a few rebellious individuals. God takes up arms against the land and against every man, woman, and child.

    Let's keep this in perspective, though. In the case of the nations in question that were utterly destroyed by God, it isn't a few citizens that imperiled the many. We know from Abraham's appeal on behalf of Sodom and Gomorra that God will spare a whole city of sinners for the sake of a handful of righteous people. Instead, there was a pattern of ongoing, thorough-going, and persistent moral rebellion against God that went on for years–in many cases, for generations–in spite of repeated warnings by God.

    There's a third thing. It pertains to the challenge, "If God were really good, how could He do such a thing? How could He destroy these innocent people? This is barbaric." They take this record of God's judgment as evidence that the God of the Bible isn't really good at all, and therefore should not be believed in.

    I approach it from a different direction. I think the preponderance of evidence from the same historical record–the Old Testament– is that God is good. He continually demonstrates not just his holiness, but also His patience and forbearance for those that consistently rebel against Him, though He has graciously cared for them.

    This gives us good reason to trust Him. And if we have good reason to trust Him, then when we see things that seem to go against our sense of goodness and justice, it seems only fair to give the benefit of the doubt to God, who just might know something more than we know.

    When we were children, our own parents acted in ways we didn't understand. We didn't think their decisions were fair. Later we learned that, for the most part, they had insight and information unavailable to us that influenced their decisions. Many times we learned that they were acting in our best interests after all, though we didn't see it at the time.

    These are the kind of things we discover as we grow up. We learn that our parents were right most of the times we thought they were off base. The same kind of hindsight is true with God. God may know a few things we don't know.

    By the way, the question has also been raised, "Why destroy the cattle, too?" My understanding is that in many of those cultures the people were so decadent they were having intercourse with animals. This caused rampant venereal disease in animals and humans that even infected children as well. So this may be– I'm not sure, but it may be– another reason God wanted these entire cultures wiped out. Because of their moral corruption, they were physically corrupt, and this represented a health threat to the new inhabitants of the land, the children of Israel.

    Even if that wasn't the case, as the Author of life God still has the right to take life according to His own judgment. I've given you three good reasons to help make sense of that. Whether it's emotionally satisfying for you or not is another issue altogether.


    April 20, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Kalessin

      Nicely written.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Kallie=kiss azz.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Kalessin

      You disagree Tomma that it was nicely written? Or are you offended that someone can say something positive about another person's post?

      April 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      None of the above. I am just observing and passing judgment. You're a kiss-azz.

      April 20, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hey, Kallie, have you seen Leotard's latest drivel? He thinks Obama is a Muslim.

      How do you like them apples, Uncouth Dingbat?

      April 20, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Gianni

      That should have been a bit longer.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Caffeine Mode

      If it hadn't had plenty of breaks between paragraphs I wouldn't have bothered trying to read it, so it is slightly better written than most religious diatribes of that length, but the literary and cogitative elements are clearly wanting in discernment and diligence.

      The author attempts to gloss over the reprehensible actions of the Jews in the OT by implying that they got the "golden authority" to be psychopaths from their "god", yet does not examine anything about the credibility of such a course, nor does he address any of the underlying issues despite having them yelled in his face all day long on this blog.

      April 21, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • Kalessin

      Oh Tomma..such a bitter young lady you are. If it soothes your ego..pass your little petty judgements.
      I could care less about what he said about Obama. He was wrong on that if that is what he said. What of it?

      April 21, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nothing of it. You're just kissing the butt of a moron. Bad judgment, dear.

      April 21, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Kalessin

      No Tomma...you are bitter.
      That...or you've been on here so long that you cannot even acknowledge the very concept of being nice. Yours is a sad life.

      April 21, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son


      April 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • md2205

      People have to realize a few things. One, the mentalities of people and nationalities two and three thousand years ago was much different than now. Two, people too easily look at the Jews and say they are fighting or did fight and get upset, not remembering to look and see why. The Jews fought back only when attacked; that cannot be categorically said of any other country of thousands of years ago. When nations back then fought, they usually killed off the entire people they conquered. That applied whether they started the war or not. Besides the Jews not starting wars back then, they only killed those people G-d told them to. That meant the guilty ones, and they left much of the populations alive, as per G-d's command.

      Don't forget that when G-d sent the plagues to the Egyptians it was because of the harshness and violence they committed upon the Jews they enslaved. When you wrote, I wasn't sure if you thought G-d was punishing the Egyptians for no reason. G-d decreed that the Jews had to live in Egypt for those hundreds of years, but the Egyptians didn't have to make it torturous slavery. And even though the Egyptians did treat the Jews so badly, during the Passover seder, when we tell the story every year, we spill out some of our wine during the recitation of the plagues. Wine symbolizes rejoicing, and pouring some wine out of the cup demonstrates that our rejoicing is not perfect, because other people suffered in the process of our liberation from slavery and from Egypt. True, they did evil and deserved to be punished, but the Torah tell us, "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice."

      April 22, 2012 at 4:30 am |
    • Kalessin

      It's ok Tomma..you bore me too. 😉

      April 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!.!.*.~

      April 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  16. Keith

    The next holocaust will be much worse than the first. And it will be come about, in part, by the church which believes in replacement theology. If you are a believer, you should know where your denomination and pastor stands on this issue-you may be unpleasantly surprised. Replacement theology is error in the highest order.

    April 20, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Kalessin

      I got no pastor or denomination...I'm good to go.

      April 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • momoya

      Giggle giggle.. Yeah, like that was the point, K. 🙂

      April 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Kalessin

      Glad you caught on 😉

      April 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • momoya

      Oh, it's no big deal.. You're pretty easy to figure out.

      April 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Kalessin

      After reading most of your posts..I would just say your are quite deluded with your own abilities of reasoning. What may seem simple to you is the fault of your mind being unable to grasp larger concepts.

      April 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • momoya

      Of course you would.. and based on the level of intelligence and honesty in your posts, I'd prefer that you judge me that way.. I wouldn't want someone of your intellect and dishonesty judging me positively.

      April 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Kalessin

      I have been completely honest in all this. You just don't care for the truth I am telling you. Again..that's your problem and not mine.

      April 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • momoya

      You've been as arrogant and ignorant here as I've ever seen.. I wouldn't have thought it possible before today..

      April 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Kalessin

      Arrogent? Nope.
      Ignorant? Nope.

      You have yet to show otherwise. Though you have expressed your bad behavior in many different ways. Unless you think name calling is a high standard to have. Always consider this when debating online....if you start acting in a bad way...don't cry foul if ppl seem to reflect it back at you. Bad Karma and all that you know.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • momoya

      LOL!! As I said, I would rather somebody of your intelligence and ignorance think poorly of me than highly.. I appreciate your opinion of me and your silly accusations based on the jagged geometry of your own fvcked up ego.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Pssst


      Heads up - Kalessin (Lycidas, Uncouth Swain, etc) is passive-aggressive par excellence. He'll needle you until you blow up and then, well then... do what he's doing now... Breathe.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Psst etc

      Yep..that's me. Obviously one of the angry ppl that had troubles debating me before finally came out of their shell.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Kalessin

      "I would rather somebody of your intelligence and ignorance think poorly of me than highly"

      Plz don't think I am trying to be negative at you as a person. I don't know you and you don't know me. We disagree on things. You are obviously passionate about your side of the argument and that's good. If ppl weren't that way...this would be a dull place to chat.

      There are those on here that don't like my opinions and get frustrated. They really think they are cute when they mention some of my past usernames when they are using a new alias to do it. Kind of funny actually. I've never hid who I am on here. I simply like literature and get some usernames from it.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • momoya

      I have no idea what you're talking about.. Think of it this way.. You wouldn't want Stalin to think you were great, you'd want him to find your values off-putting.. Same deal.. Based on your posts, here.

      April 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Kalessin

      Reductio ad Stalinum
      Guess it's more creative that using Hitler for once.

      Part of my post was a left handed insult toward someone that wasn't you.

      April 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  17. scott

    Thank you for sharing this. It's amazing how humans can have the inner strength to overcome such an atrocity. I hope many more will think of life the way Alice does. We don't need to have all that is out there in the world as so many think they do.

    April 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  18. islamsux

    I have relatives, not Jewish, still living, that spent the war years in Poland less than 10 kilometers from one of the major extermination camps. I'd like to see you tell them that nobody cares. @sshole.

    April 20, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • islamsux

      Ahmed, this comment is directed at you, you filthy camel jockey.

      April 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  19. Luke

    Truly these are words of wisdom. Thankyou.

    April 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  20. Ahmed

    Stop shoveling this cráp in us and our childrens throat.... nobody cares!!

    April 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • cupajo

      Ahmed, this could happen to your family, your culture. You are truly ignorant if you don't care. And your religion does not serve you well if you do not care about your fellow human beings, no matter what religion they are. I feel sorry for you.

      April 20, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Gianni

      I find it almost impossible to believe that someone named Ahmed would post a mess like that. I call troll.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Shivver

      Get back on your stinking camel and into your cave.

      April 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.