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.