Holocaust Memorial Day
27th January is the day for everyone to remember the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and the millions of people killed under Nazi Persecution, and in the genocides, which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.
27th January marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.
The Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) encourages Christian communities—churches, clergy, individual practicing Christians—to observe Holocaust Memorial Day. This is for two reasons. Firstly, there is the historical and the theological. A Christian in a post-Holocaust world cannot ignore the Holocaust. The reality that 6 million Jews were murdered by people who were mostly baptised Christians, and who lived in Christian societies, has an unavoidable impact on the Christian’s personal faith. Secondly, there is the personal and the political. There is a Christian duty to hear and give space to human story— the experience of Holocaust victims and survivors should be a large part of that—and because of the related Christian duty to reshape the world in love for all people. The fact that we remember subsequent genocides as well is a reminder that people of faith are called to witness in the world as it is, and to work to prevent the onset of hatred which tears people from homes.
On this day people all over the world gather to remember what many of us have never experienced or seen. But we have heard that millions were torn from home, removed from all that was familiar, and relocated with an orchestrated cruelty that stretches the mind. We have seen the evidence. We have heard the witness. Today, we remember, and share the silence of remembering together: We who dwell in security cannot imagine the horror of being uprooted in uncertainty. We who enjoy comfort cannot comprehend the depths of pain. We who seek to know still struggle to understand how it came to be: that humanity could become so inhuman. Millions of Jews and others were torn from their home, uprooted. But they will not be torn from our memory. Today, they have a home in the silence of our shared remembering.
Alec Ward survived ghettos in Poland, escaped, and was recaptured, and survived slave labor in Skarzysko Kamienna, Chestochowa, Buchenwald, and Flossberg, and the death march to Mauthausen Concentration Camp before liberation.
Having escaped from the Kozenice Ghetto: We walked back to Magnuszew and lived in the forest and fields for three months. Our former Christian neighbours gave us some food occasionally but begged us not to come back again as they were frightened that someone will betray them to the Germans. We avoided sleeping in the same barn or haystack for two nights running in case we were discovered by the farmers and given away to the Germans. This fear was with us constantly while roaming about for three months. The town looked absolutely dead, devoid of any life. Before the war there was a small but vibrant Jewish community, with Jewish shops, Jewish merchants and artisans. A synagogue which acted as a house of prayer and a place where to meet, Jewish children playing in the streets and a very good relationship with the non-Jewish population.
On arrival in the UK following liberation: In 1945 Britain offered sanctuary to 1000 young survivors of Hitler’s Holocaust, but such had been the scale of the slaughter no more than 732 could be found. I was one of those 732 young survivors.
The national theme for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is “Be the light in the darkness”. The theme aims to encourages people to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.
It’s a time to think about the darkness of the levels humanity can sink to, remembering how many times genocide started with dividing people into ‘us’ and a subhuman ‘them’, making it all too possible to treat them as valueless. Think about the darkest of emotions – hatred, and fear.
But there have always been those who resisted and were lights in the darkness, rescuers whose courage still shines bright in the darkness, campaigners shedding light to reveal and challenge the truth hidden in the darkness, and carers lighting the way during or after persecution.
None of this is forgettable history. We still know darkness. The times we’re living in show both the very best that humanity is capable of, but also denial, division and disinformation, conspiracy theories, and people who feel the fear of being helpless and insignificant. For the international community, there’s still the need to shine a light where people are persecuted and hold those responsible to account. All of us can be lights in the darkness and tackle prejudice, discrimination and intolerance wherever we encounter them.