Reflections for Holocaust Memorial Day

Written by Rabbi Hannah Kingston — 30 January 2020

At the exit to Yad VaShem, the world Holocaust remembrance centre in Jerusalem, are written the words of the Baal Shem Tov:
“Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption.”

Our Judaism is strongly centred around the preservation of memory. At every festival we retell stories of the exodus from Egypt, or our receiving of the commandments, or how we harvested the crops.

And in every synagogue service we also remember. We think of the people who died at this time in years gone by. Our yearly mention of their names in Shul gives families a moment to remember the impact this person had on their lives, to reminisce about their interactions and to honour their memory.

It is the act of remembering, remembering our narrative and our people, that has enabled our Judaism to continue and to strive.

Yet there are so many people whose stories have not been told, who were deliberately stripped of their identities and of their humanity. Today, we mark Holocaust Memorial Day, a day to remember the millions murdered during the Shoah under Nazi Persecution. On this day we seek to learn the lessons of the past and to recognise that genocide does not happen suddenly, but through a steady process that can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not kept in check, or better still, prevented.

An act of genocide is defined as the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular race, religion or ethnicity. In their attempt to eradicate Jews from history, Nazis deliberately destroyed people’s personal records, erasing them from living history. In many cases it has been impossible to retell people’s stories, as many people died who have never been identified. We must not forget these people, for each of them was unique, with their own interests, friends and family.

This year Holocaust Memorial Day marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is a day to remember our statement of commitment, to make sure that future generations understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect upon its impacts, through education and collective memory.

The theme of this years Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘stand together’. It explores how genocidal regimes throughout history have deliberately fractured societies by marginalising certain groups, and how these tactics can be challenged by individuals standing together with their neighbours and speaking out against oppression. At a time of increased division amongst communities in the UK and the world we need to stand together and stop division in our society.

We must continue to remember the victims of the Shoah, both those in our own families, and those with no family left to remember them.

Placed on each chair at the UK Commemorative Ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day, which Rabbi Josh and I have just attended, was the name of a Holocaust victim for us to remember. In the same way, this year, thousands of people are using their social media accounts for good by remembering the unique individuals who were murdered. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust has created an online project, #StandTogether where thousands of people have taken to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to share information about a Holocaust victim.

Today I am remembering a boy named was Jozsef Stricher. He was born in 1929 in Russia. He was just 10 years old when the war broke out. We do not know where he ended up, all we know is that he did not survive, sent to his fate for being Jewish.

At Alyth, too, we remember those we lost in the Shoah. We tell their stories through our Shoah Book of Remembrance, in which people have written the tales of their loved ones who died under Nazi persecution. This book is a living account, one that can be added to with new stories, so that we continue our commitment to remember those who died. We invite anyone who is remembering someone to add your names to our book.

Each of us is Jewish renewal and redemption. We must continue to think about our responsibilities as a Jew, to remember the stories and people on whose shoulders we stand. This Holocaust Memorial Day we must speak out against oppression and stand with our neighbours. We must share the stories of the victims of hatred and genocide. We must teach them to our children, speak of them around our dinner tables, and share them publicly through our platforms. We must never forget.