Remembering the Holocaust 2015

Remembering the Holocaust
Thoughts on the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.

I have visited many European sites where millions were murdered during the Holocaust. For me, the site that, more than any other, sends a chill down my spine is the Wannsee Villa in Berlin.

It is an elegant country villa on the shore of a beautiful lake. At this picturesque spot, top Nazi officials planned how to wipe out the Jewish people. The official invitation to attend was sent by the Deputy Head of the SS. It read: The Chief of the Reich Main Security Office, Reinhard Heydrich, cordially invites you to a discussion about the Final Solution to the Jewish problem. Breakfast will be served at 9.00am.

Over a tasty meal, fifteen men sat down to determine the fate of the Jews. No one present questioned their mission or its justification. After cognac they began their work to annihilate my people.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. As we remember the fate of 6 million Jews and many other victims, we owe it to those who suffered to ask: Have the lessons of the Holocaust been learned?

The first essential lesson is the need for education lest people forget.

Our children need to know the truth in order to ensure that the brutality of the Holocaust will not stain the world again.

Secondly, we must teach compassion, kindness and selflessness. We must learn to practice loving acceptance of all people created in the Divine image, recognising that everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and expression.

Thirdly, open-mindedness will not suffice. Tolerance without boundaries – in particular tolerance of cruelty, falsehood and intolerance – has proved fatal to liberty.

A free society must respond courageously and emphatically when faced by forces of evil that seek to destroy our civilisation.

Since Holocaust Memorial Day last year antisemitic incidents have increased sharply in many parts of the world, including the UK. Recent events have shown the extent to which the civilised world today is threatened by the malign intentions of would-be mass murderers.

Our situation is not nearly as grave as the 1930’s but the lessons learned from then remain true today. Early signs of the breakdown of constructive co-existence must never go undetected. If they are ignored, disregard for human life, lust for power and self-righteous cruelty can simply spin out of control.

On this Holocaust Memorial Day, we must dedicate ourselves to education and develop the courage to protect our society from purveyors of hatred and terror.

Let us remember the past for the sake of a peaceful and secure future.

The words of Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. BBC Radio 4 broadcast, 27 January 2015.

“All Together Now” – Christmas Truce 1914

 

“All Together Now” a memorial by sculptor Andy Edwards erected in 2014 to commemorate a  handshake between an English and German soldier ahead of the Christmas truce on the Western Front in 1914. The  Christmas truce is used to describe a series of unofficial cessations of hostilities that occurred along the Western Front during Christmas 1914. Heavy fighting had been taking place for several months before German and allied soldiers stepped out of their trenches, shook hands and agreed an unofficial truce so that they could bury thier dead. The soldiers then began  to talk with one another, exchange gifts, sing Christmas carols and to play football. A Captain John Lew described the football match in a letter sent to his wife. Captain Lew is quoted as saying the truce was “nothing other than extraordinary”. Men who were now fraternising had been trying to kill each other the day before.

The sculpture is in temporary residence at Liverpool Cathedral, and before that was displayed at the bombed out church of St Lukes In Liverpool.

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