By Rabbi Naftali Schiff
Last week’s survey by the Campaign Against Antisemitism claimed some 13 percent of Britons believe ‘Jews talk about the Holocaust too much in order to gain sympathy’.
How many times do we hear that we Jews should end our unhealthy obsession with the Holocaust and move on? I have had the privilege of interviewing tens of survivors who, this week 70 years ago were forced on ‘death marches’ through Poland and Germany.
These survivors endured the most horrific experience walking for miles each day, starving in the freezing cold. They knew that failure to keep up meant a bullet in the head or freezing to death by the wayside, so with superhuman strength they kept going.
I will go to any lengths to meet such people. We have immortalised many stories via our Legacy Live and “And you shall tell it to your children” film projects and would like to record many more.
Feel free to view the trailer of our survivor project at https://vimeo.com/94149807 At this point in the year in the Parshat Hashavua we read of another ‘Jewish obsession’; our slavery and subsequent exodus from ancient Egypt.
The exodus occupies a central place in Jewish observance, with many mitzvot being zecher li’yetziat Mitzrayim¸ a commemoration of the exodus from Egypt. Classical Hebrew does not have a word for ‘history’, such that modern Ivrit borrows the term historia. Rather the word that the Torah uses is ‘zikaron’’ – ‘memory’.
Seventy years on is a significant milestone. However, we must not mark it by over obsessing with either the statistics of the six million, current waves of anti-Semitism and a sense of paranoia. Living memory, zechira, is not an obsession with the past, rather constant awareness of something that forms the basis of our identity.
It is the realisation that the past has to impact on both the present and the future. The imperative to record and remember the past is just that. As a nation we were crushed, but not broken, demeaned, yet not vanquished. The Jewish people are currently enduring tough times.
The wounds from the recent terrorist attack in Paris are still fresh. We have to draw strength from those who were liberated from the horrors of Auschwitz and inspiration from those who went on to use their freedom to rebuild proud Jewish homes to create a brighter future for our people.
We are a nation of eternal optimists, whose continued existence is testimony to the commitment and resilience of previous generations. We have much to learn from them.
• Rabbi Naftali Schiff is executive director of JRoots, which inspires Jewish journeys