Yom ha-Shoa – Holocaust Memorial Day

Yom ha-Shoa – Holocaust Memorial Day

Submitted by Fr Stephen Giles mhm

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, ended at sunset today, Thursday. Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the 'Travelling Rabbi', a Member of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies with pastoral care of Jewish communities and solitary Jews in Sub-Saharan Africa including the island of Mauritius, gave this address in Mauritius at the service commemorating Yom Hashoah.

Stephen Giles mhm

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

These are the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller,

a prominent Protestant preacher, who became an outspoken public foe of the Nazi murderer, Adolf Hitler, and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps in Germany.

We are gathered here at a fitting place to commemorate the Nazis’ brutal annihilation of six million Jews during the Second World War.

We are near the Beau Bassin prison, where the Jews, who managed to escape Hitler’s evil hand, were nonetheless subjected to unbearable conditions in the prison, under the auspices of the British, who would not let them settle in what was then Palestine (now Israel).

Jews who died during that terrible period – from illnesses, including malaria and dysentery, being unused to the tropical conditions on Mauritius – are buried in this St Martin’s Cemetery. Thankfully, today the survivors are remembered.

Also on this unique property is the Jewish Museum of Mauritius which houses all the information during the wartime period and other relevant documents pertaining to our history.

To return to Pastor Niemoller – his words have special significance for the survivors and families of the Holocaust. Today, they can take on even greater meaning, when we are witness to many genocides and murders around the world.

The content of his quote refers to diverse groups besides the Jews – such as Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Trade Unions and Socialists.

Today they can apply to the 800 000 slain in Rwanda, the two million in Cambodia and the thousands of ongoing murders perpetrated by ISIS, who are killing Christians and other Muslims through their fanatical beliefs.

Niemoller was one of the earliest Germans to acknowledge anti-Semitism and talk publicly about broader complicity in the Holocaust and guilt for what had happened to the Jew, Gypsies and gays.

He said, “….Whenever I chance to meet a Jew known to me, I cannot but tell him: “Dear Friend, I stand in front of you, but we cannot get together, for there is guilt between us. I have sinned and my people have sinned against thy people and against thyself.”

Niemoller died in 1984, leaving behind this unforgettable legacy.

There is another wonderful hero of the Holocaust, Dr Janusz Korczak, whose memorial statute is erected in Warsaw.

In 1911, he founded an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw. It became so successful that he was asked to create one for Catholic children as well, which he did.

He believed that in each child there burned a moral flame that if nurtured could defeat the darkness at the core of human nature. When the time came for the children under his care to leave, he used to say this to them:

“I cannot give you love of man, for there is no love without forgiveness, and forgiving is something everyone must learn to do on his own. I can give you one thing only: a longing for a better life, a life of truth and justice.

Even though it may not exist now, it may come tomorrow if you long for it enough.”

In 1940 he and the orphanage were driven into the Warsaw ghetto. In 1942 the order came to transport them to Treblinka. Korczak was offered the chance to escape, but he refused, and in one of the most poignant moments of those years, he walked with his 200 orphans through the streets of Warsaw to the train that took them to the gates of death, inseparable from them to the end.

Janusz Korczak’s actions were not unique; there are many inspirational and tragic stories of similar bravery and determination in the face of such adversity.

What draws me to Korczak’s story is that it was about children.

The Nazis were determined to not just wipe out the Jews of their generations, but to exterminate the Jewish future.
I am a great believer in the teachings of Rabbi Jonathan, Lord Sacks, the immediate past Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth.

In one of his regular BBC Radio programmes, he broadcast the following. And I quote:

“The Nazis deliberately timed some of their worst programmes of mass murder to take place on Jewish festivals, as a way of killing not only Jews but also the Jewish faith.

So they planned to liquidate the ghetto and murder all its inhabitants on Passover 1943, to prove on the Jewish festival of freedom that the God of freedom did not exist.

“Somehow Jews within the ghetto heard about this in advance, and though they were weakened by starvation and disease, and had only a handful of weapons, they were determined on a collective act of defiance.

They knew that, surrounded by the German army, they couldn’t win, but they held out for a month, and sporadic fighting continued for another three weeks. It was a turning point in Jewish history.

“Great rabbis in the ghetto supported the Uprising.

They said: this persecution is different from any other in Jewish history. In the past, Jews were persecuted by people who wanted them to convert. So Jews were willing to go to their deaths as martyrs rather than betray their faith. But the Nazis did not want Jews to convert. They wanted them to die. So, said the rabbis, we must defy them by refusing to die, by fighting for the right to live.

“They knew that almost all of them would die anyway, but they wanted to make a protest in the name of life, and they did so with immense courage.

“The Holocaust, Jews, and much of the world, vowed, NEVER AGAIN!! Yet in the last few years anti-Semitism has returned to Europe, from Greece in the south to Norway in the north, from France in the west to Russia in the east.

Nothing like what it was in the past, yet enough to make Jews fear what the future may bring.

“Anti-Semitism matters not because it is an assault on Jews but because it is an assault on humanity.

Jews were hated because they were a minority and because they were different. But we’re all different, and any group may one day find itself a minority.

It wasn’t Jews alone who suffered under Hitler.

“Which is why we must learn to fight hate together.

We owe the heroes of the Warsaw ghetto no less.”

So now, my friends on this Day of Remembrance, I call on each and every one of you to fight hatred and discrimination.

Our Creator made us in His image – but every human being is different.

Look around today and you will see this phenomenon – look around everywhere and it is visible.

“Love” is a word used loosely but we should all understand its meaning.

In Jewish teachings, Hillel, one of our famous sages, was asked by a student how he could be taught these teachings standing on one leg.

He replied: “Love your neighbour as yourself – the rest is commentary.”

After the abominations of the Holocaust and other genocides, this is a lesson we can all take home with us.

Love your neighbour, love your brother, love your sister.

Because we are all God’s children.

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