In dealing with the problem of evil in the world, we run into many problems like this one. Could God have prevented the Holocaust? Yes, He could have. He could also have prevented Stalin’s massacres in the U.S.S.R., the Spanish Inquisition’s torture of dissidents, and Nero’s reign of terror. In each case, God allowed evil men to exercise a certain amount of power for a short period of time.
Ultimately, we do not know the reasons for what God allows. His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). His sovereign plan takes in the whole scope of history, past, present, and future, encompassing every possible course of action, every cause and effect, every potentiality, and every contingency. There is no way we could possibly fathom the intricacies of His design. By faith, we trust that His plan is the best plan possible for restoring fallen humanity and a cursed world to righteousness and blessing.
But we can understand this: God’s permission is not the same as His approval. God allowed Adam to eat of the forbidden tree, but He did not approve of the action. In the same way, God’s allowing the Holocaust in no way suggests His approval of it. God is grieved by the sinfulness of man and the hardness of his heart (Genesis 6:6; Mark 3:5).
We also know that God has done everything possible to redeem us from the sin which would destroy us. He gave His only Son, who sacrificed His life for our sin and took our penalty. All who turn to Jesus Christ in faith are saved. The sin in this world, and horrors such as the Holocaust, are a direct result of mankind’s continued rebellion against God.
While nothing can justify the Holocaust, we do see at least one good thing which came from World War II: Israel now exists as a nation. The Holocaust was a primary reason the White Paper of 1939 was rescinded, freeing Jews to immigrate to Israel. The fact that, as of 1948, the Jews have a restored national identity helps to fulfill such biblical prophecies as Ezekiel 37 and Matthew 24. Defeating Nazism and giving the land of Israel back to the Jews is a classic example of God’s thwarting Satan’s plan and bringing about good in spite of the evil.
In all of His doings, God is just (Psalm 145:17). The blame for the Holocaust lies squarely on the shoulders of sinful humanity. The Holocaust was the product of sinful choices made by sinful men in rebellion against a holy God. If the Holocaust proves anything, it is the utter depravity of man. Just fourteen years after "the war to end all wars" (World War I), Hitler rose to power. What is even more shocking is that millions followed him, enabling his horrific policies and pursuing a path to national destruction.
And while Nazism took hold in Germany, where were the European churches? Some, it is true, stood fast against the evil in their midst, and some churchmen, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, paid the ultimate price for dissenting. But they were the minority. Most churches of the era acquiesced to Nazi Party rules and remained silent while the Jews were slaughtered. Where were the world leaders? Other than England’s Winston Churchill, the world’s politicos took the route of isolation or appeasement. Neither worked. Where were the good, decent people? Edmund Burke is often quoted as saying, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph in the world is for enough good men to do nothing." Although there were a few Germans and other Europeans such as Oscar Schindler and Corrie ten Boom and her family, who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews from annihilation, most remained silent and the Holocaust ensued. The question is not so much "Why did God allow the Holocaust?" but "Why did we?"
God gives mankind freedom of choice. We can choose to follow Him and take a stand for righteousness, or we can rebel against Him and pursue evil. The problem resides in the heart of man. "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Until man’s heart turns to God, the world will continue to witness "ethnic cleansings," genocides, and atrocities such as the Holocaust.