Jun 2004 Journal

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Remembering the past, shaping the future

Edited version of address given on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, at the Logan Hall commemoration ceremony

Didn't the Jews of Europe believe that their troubles were behind them, that after all they had suffered for 1,000 years, at last they were safe and free? Now at last there was an age of enlightenment, rationality, high culture, liberty and equality. At the very height of those hopes came the nightmare, a hell-on-earth our imagination still struggles to begin to understand.

Two and a half years ago our world was changed by 9/11, in which 3,000 people were killed on a single day. During the Shoah, an average of 3,000 Jews were killed a day, every day of every week of every month for five-and-a-half years. The Jews of Europe loved Europe, had lived in it for 1,000 years - in some places, 2,000 years. They loved its languages, literature and landscapes and enriched every aspect of its life. They helped make the Europe of modern times. But that love was betrayed.

As long as there are Jews on the face of the earth, we will remember the young, the old, the weak, the frail, the children, one-and-a-half million of them, whose only crime was to be born with a Jewish grandparent. We will remember the righteous gentiles, who showed that evil is not inevitable. This year, the sixtieth anniversary of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry, we remember especially Raoul Wallenberg, the hero who saved thousands - perhaps tens of thousands - of lives among the Jews of Budapest. The hero without a grave.

And we will remember the survivors, every one of whom is a hero. Not only did they have the courage to survive, they had the courage to tell the story so that the world would not forget, and the greater courage to do so not in anger, rage or desire for revenge, but in the name of life and humanity and tolerance and peace.

Now we must turn our eyes to the future and the next generation must shoulder responsibility. Those like me, born after the Shoah, believed the world when it said 'Never again'. After the greatest crime of man against man, people would learn and antisemitism itself would die. It hasn't. Today throughout Europe, synagogues are vandalised, Jewish cemeteries are desecrated, Jewish schools set on fire. Terror still seeks Jewish victims, Jews die, antisemitism lives.

People say we exaggerate. We don't. We do not say that today is 1944 or 1933 over again, but we do say that a terrible hate is being born - and let it not be said of us that we saw it as a tiny flame and did nothing until it became a raging fire. People say it is not antisemitism, it is anti-Zionism, criticism of Israel, and different from the antisemitism of the past. No new hate is exactly like the old - the scapegoating, blaming the troubles of the world on a convenient target - and Jews, whether in the Diaspora or in Israel, as individuals or as a nation, are always a convenient target, because we are small, vulnerable, because we are different.

Those who died in the Shoah have left us a sacred responsibility. What they died for, we must live for: the right to be Jews without fear. We will fight this battle in three ways. First, we will fight hatred in all its forms, whoever preaches it and whoever it is directed against. Second, we will seek allies, among Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, among people of conscience, whatever their colour, whatever their creed. Let me say: Jews must not be left to fight antisemitism alone. The victim cannot cure the crime. It is not the one who is hated, but the one who hates, who needs to change. Third, we will fight in the name of the sanctity of human life, in the name of the one thing in the universe on which God has set his image, humanity itself.

We say to all those who practise terror in the name of God, who call for murder and martyrdom, who take hate and call it holy, that is not the God of Abraham, the God Jews, Christians and Muslims worship, the God whose name is peace, the God who commands us to love the stranger, the God who shed tears when his children shed blood in his name.

And we say to you, the survivors, we will not let you down. We will not rest until your message is heard, until the flames of hate are extinguished, until your candle of memory lights the way to a world that honours life. May the God of life give us the strength to sanctify, dignify and cherish life.
Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks

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