The social gospel is giving water to a thirsty man who will die. The Christian gospel is giving the water of life.

It was a blisteringly hot summer day and a cattle car stood at the siding. It’s destination was Mauthausen.

The car rolled past the garrison barracks and came to the siding where a string of cattle cars stood. Oskar could tell, by the haze hanging above the cars and blending with and wavering in the heat rebounding from the roofs, that they were full. Even above the sound of the engine, you could hear the mourning from inside, the pleas for water. Oskar braked his car and listened. This was
permitted him, in view of the splendid multi-zloty saddle in the trunk. Amon
smiled indulgently at his sentimental friend. They’re partly Plaszow people, said Amon, and people from the work camp at Szebnie. And Poles and Jews from Montelupich. They’re going to Mauthausen, Amon said whimsically. They’re complaining now? They don’t know what complaint is.

The roofs of the cars were bronzed with heat. You have no objection, said Oskar, if I call out your fire brigade? Amon gave a What-will-you-think-of-next? sort of laugh. He implied that he wouldn’t let anyone else summon the firemen, but he’d tolerate Oskar because Oskar was such a character and the whole business would make a good dinner-party anecdote. But as Oskar sent Ukrainian guards to ring the bell for the Jewish firemen, Amon was bemused.
He knew that Oskar knew what Mauthausen meant. If you hosed the cars for people, you were making them promises about a future. And would not such
promises constitute, in anyone’s code, a true cruelty? So disbelief mingled with
tolerant amusement in Amon as the hoses were run out and jets of water fell hissing on the scalding cartops. Neuschel also came down from the office to shake his head and smile as the people inside the cars moaned and roared with
gratitude. Grun, Amon’s bodyguard, stood chatting with Untersturmfuhrer John and clapped his side and hooted as the water rained down. Even at full extension the hoses reached only halfway down the line of cars. Next, Oskar was asking Amon for the loan of a truck or wagon and of a few Ukrainians to drive into Zablocie and fetch the fire hoses from DEF. They were 200-meter hoses, Oskar said. Amon, for some reason, found that sidesplitting. “Of course I’ll authorize a truck,” said Amon. Amon was willing to do anything for the sake of the comedy of life. Oskar gave the Ukrainians a note for Bankier and Garde. While they were gone, Amon was so willing to enter the spirit of the event that he permitted the doors of the cars to be opened and buckets of water to be passed in and the dead, with their pink, swollen faces, to be lifted out. And
still, all around the railway siding stood amused SS officers and NCO’S. “What does he think he’s saving them from?”

When the large hoses from DEF arrived and all the cars had been drenched, the joke took on new dimensions. Oskar, in his note to Bankier, had instructed that the manager also go into Oskar’s own apartment and fill a hamper with liquor and cigarettes, some good cheeses and sausages, and so on. Oskar now handed the hamper to the NCO at the rear of the train. It was an open transaction, and the man seemed a little embarrassed at the largesse, shoving it quickly into the rear van in case one of the officers of KL Plaszow reported him. Yet Oskar seemed to be in such curious favor with the Commandant that the NCO listened to him respectfully. “When you stop near stations,” said Oskar, “will you open the car doors?” Years later, two survivors of the transport, Doctors Rubinstein and Feldstein, would let Oskar know that the NCO had frequently ordered the doors opened and the water buckets regularly filled on the tedious journey to Mauthausen. For most of the transport, of course, that was no more than a comfort before dying. As Oskar moves along the string of cars, accompanied by the laughter of the SS, bringing a mercy which is in large part futile, it can be seen that he’s not so much reckless anymore but possessed. Even Amon can tell that his friend has shifted into a new gear. All this frenzy about getting the hoses as far as the farthest car, then bribing an SS man in full view of the SS personnel—it would take just a shift in degree or so in the laughter of Scheidt or John or Hujar to bring about a mass denunciation of Oskar, a piece of information the Gestapo could not ignore. And then Oskar would go into Montelupich and, in view of previous racial charges against him, probably on to Auschwitz. So Amon was horrified by the way Oskar insisted on treating those dead as if they were poor relations traveling third class but bound for a genuine destination. Some time after two, a locomotive hauled the whole miserable string of cattle cars away toward the main line, and all the hoses could again be wound up. Schindler delivered Amon and his saddle to the Goeth villa.

Schindler’s Ark, Thomas Keneally, p.288-290

It’s good to give water to those who are thirsty. But if we do not address their ultimate fate it is no more than ‘comfort for the dying’. That is what the social gospel is.

The social gospel is giving water to a thirsty man who will die. The Christian gospel is giving the water of life.

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