God is working in amazing harmony, on different levels, moving in same direction different people to accomplish His desire to heal and restore what was broken. We have witnessed this to be very true recently in Hainburg an der Donau/Austria (and area) – place chosen by fr. Peter Hocken for his last years of life and ministry.
The small Austrian City of Hainburg (with aprox. 6000 citizens) located close to the borders of Austria, Slovakia and Hungary has witnessed many tensions and bloody chapters in its history. During World War II, Hainburg became one of the way-points of the Jews during their Death March to Mauthausen, the Nazi concentration camp in Austria. The majority of the Jews travelling this path were Hungarian Jews, prisoners of the working camp called Engerau, today on the outskirts of Bratislava (the capital city of Slovakia) held under Austrian Guards.
A few years ago, one of the TJCII intercessors, Viera from Bratislava, discovered the fact that close to where she lives in Petrezalka, Bratislava, the aforementioned working camp of Engerau, was located. Its previous existence seems to be a quietly forgotten fact, not known to many Slovaks or Austrians. Approximately a year ago, the idea was born among TJCII intercessors from Slovakia, Austria and Hungary that this year there should be common time of prayer and repentance there, since the history of the camp binds these 3 nations. Preparations including historical studies have been undertaken. The event was finally planned for 14 of April 2018.
At the beginning of March Sister Mary Paul who lives in Hainburg, was contacted by a member of the city council. They told her that 29th of March there would be a special commemoration and unveiling of a memorial for the suffering of the Jews who were forced to march from the camp Engerau through Wolfstal, Hainburg up to Bad Deutch Altenburg, to be transported to Mauthausen. There were about 460 bodies found along the way when this issue was examined. Altogether around 1600 Hungarian Jews worked and died in Engerau. Sister Mary Paul was asked to help the organisers of the event to get invite some Rabbis to be present. She contacted people from TJCII Slovakia and Hungary and very next day there were two Rabbis one from Bratislava and one from Budapest ready to come for the meeting!
The commemoration took place on 29th of March as planned. Striking for TJCII people was that same as in 1945 this year it was preparation day for Passover and same as that time it was also Good Thursday. It gave whole new dimension to know that and to try and imagine what Jews who should celebrate their liberation and salvation from slavery would have felt. Also what could Christians feel commemorating the Last Supper, the Passover Meal, knowing that just few meters from the walls of the church Jews are walking in deadly march!?
At the ceremony were probably about 100 people – among them members of the group who annually marks the death march from Bratislava to Bad-Deutsch Altenburg, some local people including a Catholic priest and a Lutheran pastor, as well as the group of TJCII people from Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.
The ceremony began with a greeting from the mayor, followed by a historical explanation from a woman who wrote several books about the history of this camp/death march and who organises the commemoration each year. She came last month to the middle school there and explained the history to the oldest children. Several of them were there and they read various reports from that day in history, including a police report and a few pages from the diaries of local people. It was shocking.
Then the president of the Austrian parliament spoke. He took responsibility as an Austrian and emphasised how this must be the attitude, no longer to view themselves as victims of the Nazis. Then came the blessings by Father Othmar and Pastor Jan, followed by the speeches of Rabbis.
Rabbi Gabor said that the fact that this death march happened on these “holiest of days for the Catholics” meant that we as Christians betrayed our very selves. It was a betrayal of the Jewish people, it was a betrayal of Jesus, it was a betrayal of our very selves. He then blessed the city. Rabbi Misha prayed the Kaddish. He also said a few words about the fragility of life, the fragility of a memorial, the fragility of a promise “never again.” But his message was full of hope and gratitude for what he was experiencing in the ceremony.
After the official proceedings, there was also the unique possibility for TJCII people and Rabbis to enter the old synagogue which stands, very close to the late Father Peter Hocken’s house. It was very special since it is not open to the public and is in serious need of renovation. There is also whole chapter of God’s work in it as the subject of synagogue comes back in prayers in the house regularly these months. But this is another story…
Getting back to Engerau. What a wonderful next step in bringing this tragic story to the light and bring God’s healing was a time of common prayer and repentance for the TJCII intercessors on 14th of April. There was a time of preparation in the house in Hainburg with prayer and some historical introduction. It was amazing to discover in the group there was a Hungarian lady whose father took part in Death March and another Austrian lady from area whose relatives were involved in Nazi power system. It wasn’t planned by people, it was God itself to make it possible! The whole group of people from three nations went to Bratislava to pray next to the Leberfinger Restaurant, where there is still a building where prisoners of the working camp used to live. In part of Petrezalka where today there is a significantly “dark” atmosphere marked by poverty and crime. During the prayer time, the local group of Gypsy children began playing around and joined us and started dancing with prayer flags. This was an amazing sign of God’s grace being poured out and sign of the promise of restoration and turning tears into joy.
The last surprise was to discover that the very same weekend there were other prayer and evangelistic initiatives in places we have prayed (or nearby). Again we could see the goodness of the Lord! He is constantly working to fulfil His plans of salvation and restoration of all things.