As Israel leads the Jewish world in the commemoration of Yom Hashoah, we pause to honour the memory of so many of our relatives and forbears who were murdered with the complicity of a society who decided the Jewish nation was evil and dispensible.
Whilst we normally do not favour complete reposts onto this blog, the stirring words of the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Sir Jonathan Sacks, are a timely reminder of the timeless lessons of this important day in our calendar:
One who isn’t in my image is still in G-d’s image.
Address by Chief Rabbi Holocaust Memorial day â€“ Belfast 27 January 2004
In the beginning, we read: “And God formed man from the dust of the earth, and breathed into him the breath of life” – to teach us that when we do good, we are little lower than the angels. But when we do evil, we are dust, lower than the beasts.Tonight we have remembered two dark nights of evil, when humanity descended into the depths of hell. Which of us will forget 9/11 when 3000 people were murdered on a single day? During the Holocaust, on average, 3000 people were murdered every day, 365 days of the year, for five and a half years. And in Rwanda, in the spring of 1994, three times as many, for 100 days.How do we begin to imagine evil on such a scale? The only answer is to think of individuals. Each of the victims was a human being like you and me, with hopes for the future, fears, dreams. Every one of them was like us. And evil happens when we forget that other people — whose faith or way of life is different from ours – are still people like us. And their deaths are no less evil because they happened long ago or far away.Three things connect Rwanda and the Holocaust. Those who died were killed not because they did anything but simply because they were born into the wrong religion, the wrong tribe, because they were different, because someone said, they’re not like us. Secondly, in both cases genocide became possible because for years, people were taught to see other people as less than human. The Jews were vermin. The Tutsis were inyenzi, cockroaches. They weren’t just demonized; they were dehumanized; so that people could believe that killing was a kind of decontamination. And thirdly, people knew in advance what was going to happen. In 1939 Hitler had been in power for six years, making no secret of his plans. In Rwanda months, years beforehand, people had been warning of the bloodshed to come. And the world wasn’t listening.People sometimes ask me: where was G-d in the holocaust? But the real question is: where was humanity? G-d was in a voice that has been speaking since man first walked on earth. In the words, Thou shalt not kill. In the words, Do not oppress a stranger. In the words, Your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground.G-d wasn’t silent in the Holocaust. G-d wasn’t silent in Rwanda. But when G-d speaks and we don’t listen, even G-d can’t save us from ourselves. And still we aren’t listening. Throughout the world today preachers of hate are still pouring out their poison, demonizing their opponents, inciting their followers to violence. Even today the world is silent while the viruses of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia mutate and claim victims one by one.Which is why we must never forget what happened if we are to prevent it happening again. How? By telling the story, as we’ve done tonight.By remembering heroic individuals – people like Raoul Wallenberg and Nicholas Winton – who saved lives and showed us how in the dark a single candle can give light. By remembering how people like Mary Blewitt have worked with the survivors, helping them rebuild their shattered lives.
Above all by teaching our children that it doesn’t have to be this way. That one who isn’t in my image is still in G-d’s image. That humanity lives in the face of a stranger. That difference doesn’t threaten, but enlarges our world. Our children are capable of great courage; every act of courage gives birth to hope; and hope has the power to defeat hate. Let us honour the memory of those who died by teaching our children to honour life and never forget that the people who are not like us, are still people, like us.