Dialogue of Suffering

The Cross and the Holocaust

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Editor’s note: In 2021, CMJ USA committed to writing about antisemitism in the United States throughout the year. We close with this meditation by artist Rick Wienecke. The ugliness of antisemitism bore the awful fruit of the Holocaust in the 20th century. What does Jesus have to say about this cataclysm? Rick and his wife Dafna created the Fountain of Tears, a sculpture that displays a conversation between the crucified Messiah and a Holocaust survivor. Learn more about the sculpture and the Wieneckes at fountainoftears.org.

By Rick Wienecke

In 2001, I had a number of encounters with the Lord in which he was showing me that he was going to restore to the Jewish people all that had been taken from them as a result of the Holocaust. I was to create a memorial to the six million Jews who had perished that would be interwoven with the seven last utterances of Jesus from the crucifixion. All the tears and emotions of this scared me, but at the same time, pulled and intrigued me. After much struggle, I began a creative response. 

For all the years that Dafna and I have given into sculpting the Fountain of Tears, we have realized that there is a genuine dialogue of suffering between the Holocaust and the Crucifixion. This dialogue is between two personalities; it is not a dialogue of religious symbolism. There are seven panels of crucifixion, but no cross shown. Why no cross?  

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?! A panel from Wienecke's Fountain of Tears

I have shared with groups that the cross as a visual symbol is much more negative to the Jewish people than the Nazi swastika ever will be. Through European history Christian persecution under the sign of the cross helped create the foundation for the Holocaust. This is a memory cut deeply into the minds of the Jewish people.   

One of the strongest comments made by an Israeli woman in seeing the Fountain was, “You have taken the two hardest things in our history and put them at the same table. This is insane.” She then started to call friends and relatives to come and see. The dialogue began to broaden our perspective in a lot of ways we never would have expected.

You have taken the two hardest things in our history and put them at the same table. This is insane.

I felt the Fountain had to focus on the person of Jesus and his last words with a single figure representing a Holocaust survivor, showing his response, his communication. The intense common suffering of both creates an intersection, a place of meeting a relationship?

Where can this intersection have its beginnings?  For this article, let’s focus on the first word that Jesus speaks as he is dying: “Father forgive them they know not what they do.Besides the Lord himself, does anyone really know the exact order of the seven last words? What would be the most important to Jesus? 

Rick Wienecke in front of his Fountain of Tears

In my understanding of the person of Jesus, it would have to be a prayer of forgiveness for his own killers. This is more than a prayer; it is an intercession to Father, pleading for his forgiveness because of the perpetratorslack of knowledge. Yet these words are even more. They become the foundation of the New Covenant, a covenant founded firmly on forgiveness.   

The covenant demands response: if you are forgiven you must give out freely forgiveness to your perpetrators.  This first intersection creates a real dilemma for the Holocaust survivor.

There is a deep understanding for the word “forgiveness” in Jewish thinking, but when it comes to the Holocaust, there is also a deep fear that if I forgive on any level, those that perished will be forgottenElie Wiesel in his book Night writes, “To forget would not only be dangerous but offensive: to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time. 

What we have discovered in our journey with the Fountain of Tears is that, at the intersection of the Holocaust and the Crucifixion, there is not always agreement, but there is definitely dialogue.  

A panel from Wienecke's Fountain of Tears


Thank you for these reflections on the relationship between the crucifixion of Jesus and the Holocaust. Some will find them provocative. I understand they are based in the first instance on the words of Jesus from the cross. I wonder if the Wienekes gave any thought to how Psalm 22 - many believe the whole Psalm was in Jesus' thoughts as well as on his lips as he suffered - connects to this discussion; especially the expression of feeling abandoned by God. Also, how about Marc Chagall's painting of the Crucifixion?

Which Chagall painting on the crucifixion, because he has many. Perhaps you mean the White Crucifixion, which pictures Jesus girded with a tallit as a shtetl burns around him.

I would imagine Psalm 22 is in the discussion because it is to this day the psalm Jews pray when in distress. There are reports that Psalm 22 is what was heard coming out of the gas chambers. The middle panel depicts 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?' In that panel, the crucified Messiah no longer has a beard. He is clean-shaven and even has a number tattooed on his arm in identification with the Holocaust survivor. They no longer dialogue with one another but in unison shout to God. (These details are noticed when the piece is seen in person.)

I believe point of this sculpture is to make the viewer confront these questions from within themselves. Just as Wienecke said it is not a conversation of religious symbolism, it is neither strictly a theological discussion in the academic sense but in the very personal sense. How does the viewer -- especially the Jewish viewer -- grapple with the suffering Messiah as they inevitably place themselves in the place of the Holocaust survivor?

I was priveleged to see the Fountain of Tears work when we were in Israel. Thank you for this tremendous expression of our deepest sorrow. Surely He has known our griefs.

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Article published on 12/14/2021