Today, January 27th, is Holocaust Memorial Day. It was 65 years ago today that the allied troops liberated the prisoners at Auschwitz Birkenau. Many of you will know that I visited Auschwitz with the Lessons From Auschwitz Project in 2007 – you can read what I wrote upon my return here.
I still get a knot in my stomach every time I think about it. The Holocaust is so much more real to me because of it. I still get more angry than most would think is natural when people show an indifference or disregard towards it. It’s as though the need to defend the memory of it all is ingrained in me, like I have to, like it’s all down to me. I know that it isn’t but I’m trying to convey the weight of the burden the trip has left me with. It is a burden I carry gladly, but a burden all the same. It’s undoubtedly made a difference to who I am, my outlook on life and my theology.
We all know the facts and the numbers of the Holocaust but few of us know the stories. It’s the stories that make it real. It’s not the buildings that I remember most readily but the possessions and the photographs stolen/salvaged from the prisoner’s suitcases. Toothbrushes, prayer shawls, holiday pictures, families together, spectacles, smiling, shoes, laughing. I particularly remember the toothbrushes still, and a little red clog with a flower on the front which couldn’t have belonged to a little girl any more than six years old. It’s the stories that make it real, that make you realise how many were cut tragically short.
This is part of Esther Brunstein’s story:
She lost everyone and everything. The only survivor in her entire extended family was her brother. Imagine this story, replicated more than six million times over. And, she was one of the few fortunate to escape with her life.
The HMD Trust theme for this year is Legacy of Hope. We know, we have seen, what humans are capable of doing when they are filled with hatred or consumed by indifference. But the legacy that is left behind should be one of hope for a future that is different. Only if we can make the future different will we be honouring those who died.
Cynthia Oziek – an American Jewish writer – said,
“Indifference is not so much a gesture of looking away – of choosing to be passive – as it is an active disinclination to feel. Indifference shuts down the humane, and does it deliberately, with all the strength deliberateness demands. Indifference is as determined – and as forcefully muscular – as any blow.”
Esther finishes her story by saying:
There was murder in all of us who were liberated there, and it scared me. I remember praying silently, more fervently than I had ever prayed in all my life. I prayed that I would not forever be consumed nor destroyed by hatred. I would say that against all the odds, I have succeeded.
But not without scars.
May we not be consumed with hatred any longer or suffer from indifference, that there may be no more scars.