Rabbi Barry Marcus, MBE The Central Synagogue
Some years ago, Yad Vashem initiated a campaign called ‘Guardian of the Memory’ in an attempt to ensure victims of the Shoah should never be forgotten.
The wider community was encouraged to ‘adopt’ a Holocaust victim and light a candle on Holocaust Memorial Day in his or her memory.
A modest and simple publication was distributed as part of the campaign, which included a brief yet poignant excerpt from the last letter of David Berger written before his murder by the Nazis in Vilna in 1941: “I should like someone to remember that there once lived a person named David Berger.”
David’s desperate and simple plea, written under the most perilous of conditions, resonates with us because it so succinctly expresses one of our greatest conscious and subconscious fears and anxieties – that of being forgotten.
As the 70-year anniversary of the end of the Shoah draws closer, it is a most appropriate opportunity to focus on how to deal with this dark chapter in our history and that of humanity.
Questions and issues, such as what place the Shoah should hold in our lives and in the future, and how we deal with issues of memory and remembrance, are but a few of those that need to be addressed.
The reality is, of course, that survivors and many in the field of Holocaust education are constantly preoccupied with these very challenges.
When one speaks and interacts with survivors – with all their many tortuous memories and traumas – one almost always senses that the fear of being forgotten is ever present, even if unspoken.
As a people, we are not defined by the Shoah, but we need to find a most befitting and effective way of responding to and locating a dignified locus in our consciousness for it.
The many remarkable and dedicated individuals and organisations involved in the Shoah, and specifically with keeping its memory alive, are all dreading the time when there are no survivors and living witnesses around.
We have all been inspired by their personal dignity and humbled by their absence of bitterness and a desire for revenge.
When we have had sadly to contend with the perversion called Holocaust denial, attempts to obfuscate, trivialise and dilute the Shoah, when politicians, the media and others who should know better use insulting and insensitive Nazi terms and insignia, we are fortified by the presence and voices of these extraordinary survivors at our side.
Our concern at a future without survivors is matched only by our consternation at the rise of anti-Semitic incidents both in the UK and in Europe, especially in France of late. Anti-Semitism mutates and appears in different guises.
In the Middle Ages, we were persecuted for our faith; then, in the 20th century, for our race.
Today, that same hatred is aimed at the Jewish state, at Israel, the only country among the 193 that make up the United Nations whose right to exist is routinely challenged and in many quarters denied.
Many of the recent anti-Semitic incidents and the targets of terror in Europe have all too often not been Israeli government offices, but synagogues, Jewish schools, cemeteries and museums – places not of Israeli policy-making, but of ordinary local Jewish life.
We all hoped some of the recent scenes of the kind witnessed in France and elsewhere had been consigned to history; the fact that they weren’t behoves us all to redouble our efforts to make sure our world will not be blighted again by the horrors of the Shoah.
We need to try to reach as many people as possible and educate as many as possible to the dangers that come with silence and inactivity and to encourage as many as possible to hear the pleas of the voiceless innocent millions, such as David Berger.
I have accompanied almost all the Holocaust Educational Trust’s visits to Poland as part of its Lessons from Auschwitz project, which have allowed thousands of young people to bear witness to man’s inhumanity, but our work is not done.
On this 70th anniversary of the Shoah, it is essential to pay homage to its victims and salute the decreasing number of survivors.
But also to reflect on our need to display courage and resolve in standing up against anti-Semitism, hatred and prejudice in all their forms – for our sake and that of all humanity.