Q. What is the Jewish theological perspective on why the Holocaust happened?
There are those who somehow think that this was punishment for something which the Jewish people as a whole, or European Jewry in particular, might have done. Eliezer Berkovits is right to say that such suggestions are obscene.
What conceivable sin was committed by one and a half million Jewish children that warranted such a horrific fate? Were three million Polish Jews deserving of Auschwitz?
There are times when suffering is caused by sin, but from time immemorial theology has grappled with the issue of why there can be sin without suffering and suffering without sin. We owe it to the sacred memory of the martyrs not to indict them posthumously, call them in any way guilty, and whitewash the Nazis.
There are some who say that in order for man to have free will, God runs the risk that human beings will choose the path of evil, and Divine intervention to hold back the hands of the perpetrators would be equivalent to both giving and withholding free will at the same time. This theory moves the guilt for the Holocaust to where it really belongs – the Nazi ideology which coldbloodedly decided that Jews did not deserve to live.
The big issue is, however, God’s own place in the Holocaust episode. The bottom line question is, was it moral for God to let such undeserved suffering come upon decent Jewish human beings? In this respect the believing Jew cannot help still being angry with the Almighty. The most we can say is that God surely knows what He is doing even though it puzzles us and sometimes even outrages our conscience.