"I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live." (Deut 30:19)

"I feel I have just been to hell!" That was the outburst from a woman in our group just after we toured Mauthausen some years ago. Mauthausen is the former Nazi concentration camp near Linz, Austria, and now a museum.

Somber memories of that visit to Mauthausen were recalled the other day when the world commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the infamous death camp in Poland.

Esther and I went to Mauthausen as part of a daylong field trip taken by those attending a European conference where I was a speaker.

Mauthausen was not as well known as Auschwitz, but it matched Auschwitz in brutality. Going through it certainly was a gripping tour of hell: The barracks. The places of torture. The gas chamber. The ovens. The brothel (where the women were promised freedom if they participated, but after being used were gassed). The room with the granite slab where medical experiments were done on live inmates without anesthetic.

Later I met the son of a Nazi guard at Mauthausen. He was now a strong Christian, having repudiated everything about Nazism. But he recalled going as a young boy with his mother to visit his father. He said one way guards at Mauthausen got rid of a troublesome inmate would be to pretend they needed to measure the inmate's height. In a special room they would stand the inmate with his back to a wall. Behind his head was a small hole in the wall, and behind the hole a gun. In a moment he was murdered.

Photographs, many of them greatly enlarged, testified to Mauthausen's savagery. One showed an inmate hanging in the barbed wire fence after being shot trying to escape — the Nazis leaving him there as a warning to the others. Other photos showed torture. Others the inmates at work in the nearby quarry. Others the medical experiments.

There was one happy picture: It was taken after US soldiers from the 80th Infantry Division liberated Mauthausen May 9, 1945. It showed the inmates, perhaps a couple thousand, gathered in the large courtyard. Although emaciated, many in rags, and some with little more than a loincloth, all were smiling.

In our group was an elderly, godly Lutheran pastor who had survived 3 ½ years in Dachau because he had opposed Hitler. His first-hand commentary was powerful. Later Esther and I had dinner with him and his wife, and he told us with sadness that immediately after the war the churches filled; but then as his nation rebuilt and people began to make money, attendance dropped. He so wanted to see another spiritual awakening.

Siegfried Ernst, an aging medical doctor from Ulm, Germany, walked with Esther and me through Mauthausen. Dr. Ernst, one of Germany's most noted pro-life advocates whose grandfather had been the pastor of Ulm's historic cathedral for 33 years, had not supported Hitler. During the war he was sent to the Russian front to a field hospital. He said he prayed continually for God's protection. One day a bullet went through his thigh and he was evacuated. The next day every person in his unit at the front was killed.

It was just after the tour that I had a seminal moment. I climbed the steps to the top of the prison wall. As I walked I looked to my left, to the large courtyard below. Immediately I remembered the picture of the inmates crowded there after liberation. It was then when all I had just seen on the tour hit me: Mauthausen was a place whose purpose for being was to abuse and murder human beings — I was standing on the wall of a killing factory!

However, after a few moments I turned to my right. I cannot describe the beauty of what I saw. It was a warm, bright August afternoon. Just next to the wall was an orchard, full of fruit, well kept. All around were farms, with lush pastures, animals grazing, and typical Austrian houses and barns all set off with flowers, punctuating the landscape. In the distant were the snow-capped Austrian Alps. To say the vista was stunning is understatement.

I was caught up by the stark contrast of the two sights. On my left was hell. On my right, paradise. On one side, the epitome of depravity. On the other, Eden. I grappled: "How is it possible for human beings — intelligent, cultured human beings — who live in such a beautiful location, to build such a place as Mauthausen to wreak torture and wholesale bloodshed on other human beings?"

I knew the answer, but it took standing there on that prison wall to drive it home. It was another example of a society, in this case the Nazis, ignoring God and becoming intellectually arrogant. The reasoning of fools took over. Their corrupted logic easily rationalized stripping undesired human beings of their humanity — Jews, the handicapped, those who opposed the regime, and others. They facilely used propaganda to define unwanted people as human trash, needing disposal. Their "final solution" was a colossal human disposal industry, with Mauthausen a part.

Oh, one other factor: a distracted church and an accommodating citizenry.

Sadly, our own nation, our beloved America, using the same perverted reasoning, has gone down this path at least twice: with slavery and abortion.

It took a Civil War with some 600,000 casualties and perhaps $15 billion in treasure to wrench the plague of slavery from our nation. That war, Abraham Lincoln said "may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins."

What will it take to expunge killing in the womb? It may take a lot, because it is still our official national position that our unborn have the worth of toilet tissue. Our Mauthausens are the thousand killing clinics that destroy and dispose the waste.

Our abortion hell stands against the beautiful promise of what America was birthed to be: a nation under God, men created equal, freedom, respect for life, opportunity for all, a republican model of government, the pursuit of happiness, etc.

Let us be cautioned. Nazi Germany didn't get by with choosing hell. Slave-holding America didn't. And other societies haven't. Can it be any different for abortion condoning America?

The choices are clear, "Righteousness exalts a nation. But sin is a reproach (a disgrace, a shame) to any people (Pr 34:14)."

And, "By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted. But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked (Pr 11:11)."

Certainly, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD (Ps 33:12)."  

Let us pray: Our gracious heavenly Father, our Creator and Redeemer, thank you for Your great blessings. Everything we have is from You. But we have sinned. We have ignored the lessons of history, that societies who become arrogant and rationalize terrible evils, face the consequences of their choice: judgment. We repent for our beloved nation. Oh Lord, hear us. And be pleased to send revival to Your Church, and spiritual awakening to our nation."