Holocaust Memorial Day 2021
Posted: Thu, 21 Jan 2021 14:18
A reflection for Holocaust Memorial Day, and an invitation to join the UK ceremony, which is being live streamed at 7pm on the evening of Wednesday 27 January by the Holocaust Memorial Trust in the UK. The link for this is at the end of the article. The theme for HMD 2021 is 'Be the light in the darkness'. Photo: Tina Witherspoon on Unsplash.
On 27 January, the world marks Holocaust Memorial Day, and I invite you to join the ceremony online and to light a candle if you can, so that we can never forget those millions who were killed as a result of lies, racism and bitter narcissism. On this Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember and pray for those who died when madness ruled the world and evil prevailed on earth; if we forget, the way is prepared for yet more holocausts, yet more Shoah. Therefore we must never forget.
For a traveller to Poland, there is, in my opinion, a danger in just visiting Krakow and ignoring the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps; you must move out of your comfort zone and face the reality and horror of hatred. What you see is the original Auschwitz 1 camp where people like St Maximilian Kolbe died. It is now a museum to the effects of the Nazi 'final solution'; you see the shoes, glasses and hair torn from victims as they were instructed to have a shower, which became their death chamber. Idiots like the man wearing a 'Camp Auschwitz' sweatshirt in the recent riots and insurrection in the Capitol Building need to visit this place and see the reality of Hitler's hateful rhetoric. He needs to drive across to the remains of the Birkenau camps and see how millions were tortured, maimed and killed. Racism needs to be called out as unacceptable in a civilised and educated society; politicians and leaders must be so careful in their use of words that can lead to catastrophic actions. The actions we witnessed on Epiphany Day in the centre of one of the world's greatest democracies can never be forgotten; words and actions spoken both in and outside the Capitol are seen as helping to incite this insurrection.
Our language and words do matter—to this day Auschwitz stands as an eternal symbol to hateful rhetoric. It does not matter what role you play in life, racist words and incitement is wrong. The scenes of hate, on a feast dedicated to sharing the love and light of Jesus, smear the institution of democracy that Capitol Hill stands for. We watched in horror as this terrorist attack was beamed live into our lockdown sitting rooms—how could this happen in 2021?
We are all created by God to share and to care for our planet; we are not made better by the colour of our skin or the faith we profess. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate, Elie Wiesel reflects:
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw
transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith for ever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live
as long as God Himself.
Never Shall I Forget
If you ever get the chance to visit the Holy Land, I urge you to visit Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem.
Like Auschwitz, it will be a sobering visit and will force you to re-think your own prejudices. I always break down when I visit the Children's Memorial: candles and mirrors are placed strategically around the space, giving the impression of infinity. In this very space, the name of each child murdered by the Nazis is read out—it makes the madness of Holocaust even more real. In Yad Vashem you can visit the Garden of the Righteous Gentiles', a sacred space dedicated to those who helped and saw beyond the division of faith and risked So much to stand up to the Nazi menace. In this garden you can remember the Salesian Fr Michael Kubacki SDB of Warsaw who hid a Jewish child and forged documents to ensure her escape to freedom; he was not content to sit back and accept the evil—he did what he could to save life.
I am glad to see whole generations of young people visiting these museums—they are not filled with dusty artefacts, rather they tell the true story of millions taken from us. The poet Barbara Sonek writes:
We played, we laughed, we were loved.
We were ripped from the arms of our
parents and thrown into the fire.
We were nothing more than children.
We had a future. We were going to be lawyers, rabbis, wives, teachers, mothers. We had dreams, then we had no hope.
We were taken away in the dead of night like cattle in cars, no air to breathe smothering, crying, starving, dying. Separated from the world to be no more. From the ashes, hear our plea.
This atrocity to mankind can not happen again. Remember us, for we were the children whose dreams and lives were stolen away.
We might not discriminate against another on the basis of creed or ethnicity, but we might dislike another for no real reason. Are we jealous of their success or their popularity? Do we dislike their care or generosity? Do we simply hate another? The service on the night of Holocaust Memorial Day is a challenge to each of us to ensure that such wicked hatred never happens again.
As we look back, it's a time of painful memories and a time for which the Church, among others, has had to ask for forgiveness from God and from those who suffered as a result of the atrocities. If we only look back, we position God as only the God of the past, and not the God of the present and the future. We can look forward from the time of the Shoah we can be encouraged that. despite all the darkness, God's light did not go out.
However dark it seemed, there was always hope—there always is, and there always will be. This message is one we also need to hear in these pandemic times—we have wonderful memories of times pre-lockdown and those times will return. However painful the experience and the memories of the past, there can always be healing, wholeness and forgiveness in the present and the future.
As Christians, we rely fully on our Jewish heritage—a heritage that Jesus lived to the full. All who turned to Him found wholeness, healing and restoration. In his ministry of reconciliation, Jesus shows us that healing is possible whatever scars and burdens the past had left on people's lives. Scars and burdens which sometimes run deep for us all. Scars which sometimes take many years to be healed, burdens which sometimes take time to be lifted. Scars which Jesus heals, burdens which Jesus lifts: for the wholeness and restoration that Jesus offers is for all, each one of us, not just for some privileged race. It is for all, even those on the 'other side of the Jordan' as the Bible puts it, perhaps very aptly for our times. In Him, we have the hope of new life, a new beginning, a covenant relationship restored.
Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us of dark times, when even bare survival was not possible for so many. It also reminds us of the piercing light of God, shining through His Son Jesus, which will never be extinguished. It reminds us of the eternal hope we have in Jesus. Above all, it reminds us of the strength of our faith, which we have come to rely on to see us through difficulties and problems.
Loving God, we come to you with heavy hearts, remembering the six million Jewish souls murdered during the Holocaust.
In the horrors of that history, when so many groups were targeted because of their identity, and in genocides which followed, we recognise destructive prejudices that drive people apart.
Forgive us when we give space to fear, negativity and hatred of others, simply because they are different from us.
In the light of God, we see everyone as equally precious manifestations of the Divine, and can know the courage to face the darkness.
Through our prayers and actions, help us to stand together with those who are suffering, so that light may banish all darkness, love will prevail over hate and good will triumph over evil.
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
More information about the online ceremony on the link below.