Beyond the Ashes: Cases of Reincarnation from the Holocaust

by frankbeswick

This book makes a powerful contribution to holocaust literature.

Seventy years after the Holocaust ended, we are in reflective mood, and as a result there is a range of films and books on the subject, not to mention the discussions. But Beyond the Ashes, originally published in 1992, is a unique book. Hasidic Rabbi Yonassan Gershom has researched the experiences of people who claim to have been reincarnated Holocaust victims, Jews mainly, but not only. As is befitting for a rabbi, he does not deviate from the high standard of scholarship, which we have come to expect from members of the rabbinate. He takes not a purely scientific view, but attempts to draw on scientific and religious techniques to research his subject, and he is sensitive to paranormal modes of experience. This is a well-written, factually well-informed piece of writing that would repay the thoughtful, spiritually sensitive and open-minded reader. Be aware, though, that books of this nature challenge all conventional thought systems to some extent.

Building at Auschwitz. Image courtesy of pyty.

The Roots of the Project.

The book begins when Gershom describes a chilling, but ultimately positive encounter with a Norwegian woman who had come to him for a discussion, but the discussion slipped into talk of the Holocaust, which had always fascinated her. While this was going on the rabbi slipped into an altered state of consciousness and saw,almost superimposed upon the woman's body, the figure of a Holocaust victim. To avoid being uncritical, he tested her by asking her to repeat the words of a Jewish prayer, which she could recite by heart, even though she herself was not Jewish and had never learned it. She spoke of vague memories of being a Holocaust victim. This experience triggered Gershom's quest. 

From then on he began to realize that this was not a freak, one-off event. Slowly, steadily a significant number of individuals approached him to discuss their nightmares about being taken away and murdered. A short article cannot do justice to the wide range of harrowing accounts, so to get the real flavour of them you must read the book. They detail a phenomenon so challenging to conventional science and psychology that it was suppressed by a conspiracy of silence until Gershom broke the chains. 

Gershom is a serious scholar, you would expect nothing less from a rabbi, a wonderfully well-educated group of people from a community that prizes scholarship. He takes an open minded and critical approach to these claims. Of vital importance is that he shows where he is coming from, which many scholars do not, laying out the specific branch of Judaism into which he was ordained as rabbi. This is the hasidic [chasidic] branch. This enables him to state that he comes from a theological tradition that accepts reincarnation.

The strength of the book is that the author is open to a methodology wider than the exclusively psychological. His psychological method is primarily a response to the serendipitous discovery that befell him that winter's night. But rather than experiment he follows the path of gathering personal testimonies. This is a psychologically valid technique, but as he is a healer/therapist rather than a researcher he did not do follow up studies as Ian Stevenson, who also researched reincarnation, did. This is a methodological limitation to his work, but as he makes no absolute claims to proof or authority, and merely makes an inference as to the probable truth of reincarnation, there is no loss of credibility therefrom. 

He draws widely and deeply from the well of rabbinical scholarship and integrates the scholarship into his book. He is open to the paranormal. A great quality of genuine scholars like Gershom is that they confront issues face-on without the intellectually disreputable malpractice of explaining away experiences that do not fit their preconceptions. That he was prepared to confront a new experience rather than merely brushing it off as an anomaly is to his credit, and without this openness the book would not have been written.

Beyond the Ashes

Beyond the Ashes: Cases of Reincarnation from the Holocaust

Is it possible that people living today died in the Holocaust? Rabbi Yonassan Gershom presents compelling evidence that supports this seemingly impossible phenomenon. Based on t...

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The Message of the Book

I have never met a book on reincarnation that did not challenge a variety of world-views, and no theological or philosophical system sits comfortably with it. This book is no exception.Secularists, for whom there is no soul or afterlife, will struggle, dismiss and probably belittle. But theological systems that reject reincarnation will be badly challenged. Catholicism can handle this challenge, as it has room for intermediate states betwixt heaven and hell,and early Christians accepted the doctrine of reincarnation until Justinian kidnapped the pope and rigged the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, but Protestantism cannot and would have to radically rethink its theology. The issue of memory is raised, for if memories are coded in the brain how can any survive death. The supposedly scientific response of claiming that such memories must be coded in DNA is unsupported by evidence and does not work, smacking of the desperation of adherents of a failing world-view, metaphorical flat earthers clinging to a materialist raft in a growing storm while refusing the life-boat that will lead them from their error. Yet Christian clerics who routinely brand all such experiences as coming from the Devil, are just as guilty of close-mindedness. There is no evidence that Satanic activity is present in their lives any more than it is present in the lives of the rest of us. 

It is riveting, but not comfortable reading, for no book on the Holocaust can be comfortable or fun. The book is packed with narratives of persons who claim to have memories. Gershom looks for clues as to their validity at all times and finds cases when they display knowledge of the Holocaust that was not common among most people in their lives. Many display a compulsive interest in Judaism, and some seem to have an unlearned grasp of Hebrew. This Xenoglossy, inexplicable knowledge of foreign languages sometimes found in reincarnation cases, cannot be explained away by talk of subliminal learning, as secularists are wont, as language-learning takes practice, which these people have not had. 

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A new Line on the Problem of Evil

Discussions the problem of evil, which we might call the problem of undeserved suffering, are in the West stuck in a conceptual straitjacket between conventional non-believers who ask why an all-powerful God allows unjust suffering, and conventional Christians who say that evil is due to free will and redress is in the afterlife. Neither side gives ground or progresses. Other views are sidelined, even when they would aid the discussion. Neither side considers reincarnation as part of a discussion of the problem, although Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Jains and Sikhs have all believed in it. Thus the debate remains stymied and stale, pleading for new thinking. This book brings new thinking to the table. 

As a Christian, nothing authentically Jewish is alien to me. So the works, thoughts and discussions of rabbis are a part of the Judaeo-Christian heritage that I believe should be treasured. I have long held the belief that a great loss to early Christianity is that it had too few rabbis, there being only Jesus and Paul. Christians and Jews should learn from each other, and books like Beyond the Ashes help the process of reconciliation that was so eagerly sought by the part-Jewish Pope John Paul the Second, Benedict the Sixteenth and the present pope.  Rabbi Gershom aids the learning process by his open-minded and tolerant approach to other faiths, and in this way he reflects the highest  traditions of Judaism.

I recommend this book to everyone. 

Updated: 02/05/2015, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick on 02/20/2015

Ian Stevenson did a great deal of research into this issue, and one of his four published research books was on cases in India. His work is worth studying.

WriterArtist on 02/20/2015

There are many who can remember their previous lives and they need not be spiritually adept. Some of them can go to many previous lives not just one. According to a study, in some cases; it was possible to verify the facts. In nutshell, the reincarnations from the holocaust are possible, but some people might try to fake them to gather attention.

frankbeswick on 02/05/2015

This is why I said that reincarnation cases challenge all belief systems. Many Hindu scholars have thought that only the spiritually adept remember, but the cases studied here are ordinary folk. Similarly, Christianity has for fifteen hundred years had no place for reincarnation, but we cannot wish these phenomena away. Materialistic philosophies simply cannot cope with the idea. But also, when you go to the works of Ian Stevenson, who researched this subject, including much research in India, one of his researchers set out to seek evidence of retributive [punitive] karma, but had to admit that he could find none, despite the fact that his belief system proclaimed it.

I have come to the conclusion that the world is different from what humans think it is and that there are mysteries that we have yet to comprehend. This realization does not have the slightest bearing on my religious faith, as it consists of trust in Christ and a belief that he is a manifestation of God. But He did not bring a full understanding of this world or the next, but a promise that following him was the way.

VioletteRose on 02/05/2015

Very interesting. I do believe in afterlife and reincarnation, but not sure if anyone can remember anything from their previous lives. I have read about such things happening though.

frankbeswick on 02/05/2015

To add to my comment on Koine Greek. This variety of Greek in which the New Testament is written was common, everyday Greek, an ordinary person's Greek that did not have the rigour of the classical variety. We do not know how precisely terms were used in Koine, though it was not a slang form and served for communication across the Mediterranean. Thus we must be careful when reading it. I can read the New Testament in this form of Greek, with the aid of a lexicon [dictionary] , but I am not an expert. I use my knowledge for checking up terms.

dustytoes on 02/04/2015

You certainly know a lot Frank, and I appreciate your replies. This book is definitely on my "to read" list.

frankbeswick on 02/04/2015

There is a problem with the interpretation of the word once. We are unsure whether it in Koine Greek meant first, and the focus of the text seems to be on the death of Christ before his resurrection. There is a serious problem with deriving a doctrine from one contentious text. I am afraid that one problem in Theology is that theologians derive too much from a text for polemic purposes.

dustytoes on 02/04/2015

Hello Frank, I am enjoying my bible lesson this morning. ;) In John 9:1 I see the discussion, but it would be difficult to believe it's about reincarnation. It appears to be that the rabbis believed that the man was blind because he had sinned - sinned in another life? But Jesus says that is not the reason that he is blind. If it is about reincarnation, isn't Jesus saying no, that's not why?
What about Hebrews 9:27 which says that "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement." It's the verse I've heard my Pastor refer to when the subject came up.

frankbeswick on 02/04/2015

Thanks, I believe that we should follow the truth where it leads us, even if it challenges our beliefs. If you go to John 9:1 there is a discussion that might indicate that the disciples were talking about reincarnation, and Jesus neither affirms nor denies the belief. There was a strong Christian reincarnation tradition until 553, when the emperor Justinian, who did not believe in it, rigged a church council [having kidnapped the Pope to suppress dissent] and in a minor session of this council reincarnation was implicitly discarded. Yet as a Catholic I am horrified at the imprisonment of a pope and political interference in religious matters, and therefore I like many others reject that council [Constantinople 2] as invalid.

dustytoes on 02/04/2015

Well Frank, this is certainly a very interesting assessment of the book about reincarnated Holocaust victims. I have never really believed in reincarnation, being brought up Protestant, but I like to believe I am open-minded. When someone like Rabbi Gorshom does such a serious, in-depth study and finds so many who make this claim, I can only wonder. It does sound like a most interesting book to read. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

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