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REV’d JONATHAN EVANS
Good morning, everyone.
My name is Jonathan, Jonathan Evans. I’m part of the team from Christchurch Priory and it’s my great privilege to welcome you all here this morning to this Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration event. And really that welcome comes not just from us the Christian community at the Priory, but also on behalf of Rabbi Michaels and Rabbi Jesna and the entire Jewish community.
It is so important that we come together on this day each year from all faiths and none, to remember the events of the Holocaust and, sadly and tragically, the genocides that have happened since that time also. So I’d like to welcome all of you who’ve come today, and thank you for coming. In particular, George Farquhar, the vice chairman of the new BCP council, Councillor Lesley Dedman, the Mayor of Christchurch, representing their organisations. Those of you who’ve come representing the uniformed services and associations, those of you who’ve come representing other community groups or indeed as individuals. And then lastly, but I think perhaps most importantly, the younger people who’ve come from our local schools.
My understanding of the work of the Holocaust Memorial organisation is that its primary objective is to ensure that we never, ever forget what happened under the Nazi regime to the Jewish people. And as time goes on and people die, there’s a risk that memories are lost. And so thank you to you younger people for coming. Thank you to the staff who made it possible for them to be here to keep memories alive.
Now the theme, the slogan if you like, for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is standing together, and we see some of this on some of the pictures that we’ve got on the slides there. And I think that is a really well-chosen phrase, because we do stand together. All of us who have come today stand together in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters across time, those who lost their lives, those who still bear the scars and the memories: that is why we’re here. It’s a solemn and serious day, but it’s also a day when we hope we will learn something. And after the events, here in this room, those who are able will go together outside to lay a wreath, and that will be a very visible and physical standing together at the permanent memorial there.
So now is my joy and pleasure to invite Rabbi Michaels to come and share some thoughts with us.
Good morning, and thank you, Rev’d Jonathan, for inviting me today, and also BCP Council, and generally for all of you who’ve come along to share with us this occasion.
It’s particularly important this year because Holocaust Memorial Day today celebrates the seventy fifth anniversary of the liberation of the death camp at Auschwitz.
But also Holocaust Memorial Day was set up to establish a commemoration of genocide generally. And so we also remember now the 25th anniversary of the end of the genocide in Srebrenica. And it’s a year for anniversaries because it’s also the 20th anniversary of the Stockholm Declaration, when representatives from 46 governments around the world met in Stockholm to discuss Holocaust education, remembrance and research. And at the end of that meeting, all the attendees signed a declaration committing themselves and their countries to preserve the memory of those who had been murdered in the Holocaust. That declaration became the statement of commitment, which is still used as a basis for Holocaust Memorial Day activities today. At the first such event in this country in 2001, held in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, one of the congregants of my synagogue in London, Esther Brunstein (sp?), who is a survivor of the Lodz Ghetto and the death camp in Theresienstadt, was one of the speakers. She had been going around speaking for years at schools and universities and was honoured to be welcomed on that first HMD, that first Holocaust Memorial Day event, in the UK. And each year since then, the organisers have chosen a theme which is you’ve heard this year is stand together.
Let me tell you something about Martin Niemöller. He was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, and he was incarcerated by the Nazis because he spoke out against Hitler. Initially, he supported National Socialism because he thought it would bring about a national revival in Germany, but he changed his mind when Hitler insisted on the supremacy of the state over religion. After his release by the Allies in 1945, he continued his work, and on the 6th of January 1946 he made a confessional speech, which included a recognition that he had done nothing to support those who had been persecuted by the Nazis after they acceded to power in 1933. Now, several versions of a poem based on that prose confession have been made and used even by Pastor Niemöller himself in subsequent speeches.
This is probably as close to what the original was intended to be, based on his later writings. He said, ‘First they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. And then they came for me. But there was no one left to speak out for me.’
If ever there was a case to be made of the mistake of not standing together when doing so might have made so much difference, then this surely was it. Of course, without going into a long historical survey, we can, with hindsight, see how the Nazis cleverly manipulated the minds of ordinary Germans by a series of laws and actions that effectively dehumanized their various victims who included the Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, Catholics and the physically or mentally disabled as well as those mentioned in the poem. Nevertheless, as Pastor Niemöller said in his confession, I ask myself again and again what would have happened if in the year 1933 or 1934, there must have been a possibility that fourteen thousand Protestant pastors and all Protestant communities in Germany had defended the truth until their deaths. If we had said back then, it is not right, when Hermann Goering simply puts a hundred thousand communists in the concentration camps in order to let them die, I can imagine that perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 Protestant Christians would have had their heads cut off. But I can also imagine that we would have rescued 30 to 40 million people because that is what it has cost us now.
Stand together. Sometimes that can be a big ask, with the potential danger to yourself, but also putting yourself outside your own group. Some years ago, I remember near where I lived in London, a group of Muslim teenagers heckled a much smaller group of Jews coming out of the synagogue. The following week it happened again. The week after, when the Jews left the synagogue, they found the imam and several leaders of the local mosque waiting for them, and they walked with them, showing the youngsters that their actions were not acceptable. This was a demonstration at a very local level of standing together.
Another example I recall near where I was working in London. The roof of the mosque fell in after a heavy storm and the local synagogue provided them with a room for Friday prayers for several weeks until the roof was repaired. Again, standing together in the face of adversity, demonstrating to society as a whole that the faith communities have much to offer each other, but also to everyone else in society.
I mentioned a series of anniversaries earlier. My personal anniversary is that I have been working in this field for fifty years. In 1970, I joined what was then called the Redbridge Community Relations Council and I became its treasurer. In those days, Redbridge, an outer London borough, was populated mostly by white Christians with a sizable Jewish community. But a smattering of black and Asian people were moving in, and the local authority thought it was important to ensure they were welcomed and provided with the type of support they required. So they set up the Community Relations Council and I was invited to represent my synagogue on it. This was long before I was a rabbi. I recall a wonderful Indian GP, Dr Roy. He was the chairman (that’s the word we used then), and together we appointed our first community relations officer. And since then, both before becoming a rabbi and after, I’ve made developing, nurturing and improving relationships with people of other faiths and race, a major element of my life’s work: standing together to work for the health and wellbeing of the community; standing together to improve educational standards; standing together to fight against poverty and homelessness; standing together to campaign for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers; standing together to increase awareness of climate change and its implications; standing together to support oppressed and persecuted people at home and abroad; standing together to ensure that politicians and the media are left under no illusions about the concerns of the general public. And over the past fifty years I have been utterly convinced that all of that to be effective can only be possible when we are standing together.
Yet despite all of the work that I’ve been involved with, for all of that time, I would have difficulty in saying that the world is now a better place. Perhaps all that it is possible to say is that it would probably have been a lot worse without the efforts of so many wonderful people with whom I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working. In 1945, after the end of the Second World War, and when the full horrors of the Holocaust became recognized, the United Nations established the Declaration of Human Rights, which was accepted by all the then countries of the world. Its stated objective was to ensure that such a crime against humanity should never reoccur. And yet we can think of past genocides, in Cambodia and Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, and the violent excesses of the Soviet occupation of much of Eastern Europe. And we have to ask, why didn’t we stand together to stop those atrocities? In current times, we see the Rohingya’s crisis in Myanmar, the Uighur indoctrination program in China, the millions displaced in and from Syria, and the Islamist persecution of Christians and their places of worship in North Africa and the Middle East.
And why aren’t we all standing together to call out those crimes, to put a stop to them and to punish those responsible? Of course, it’s relatively easy to say that all these examples I’ve given are happening overseas and we can’t hope to make much impact in the small way in which we might involve ourselves.
So let’s look at our own country. A few weeks ago, another German, Pastor Bitner, visited my synagogue here in Bournemouth after attending a rally against anti-Semitism in London. He expressed his disappointment that there had been so few non-Jews present at the rally. His comment was that unless Christians and Muslims and other faith groups rallied against the scourge of anti-Semitism, we were in danger of allowing the minority a victory, and it wouldn’t be long before those other groups were being targeted as well.
Pastor Bitner wasn’t aware of the theme for this Holocaust Memorial Day of stand together. But had he been, I have no doubt he would have regarded it as not just a great catchphrase, but also sound common sense. Stand together is a great catchphrase, but it requires commitment and courage, effort and perseverance to carry it out. Last Saturday, at my synagogue, we celebrated two men, Bill Burgmann and Walter Kammerling, Holocaust survivors who have recently been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen with British Empire Awards for their work over many years in educating young people and adults about the Holocaust. They have visited schools and colleges and spoken at many, many different venues locally and further afield. They have demonstrated the commitment and courage, the effort and the perseverance of which I have spoken. They are an example to us, and it is to their honour that I dedicate this.
REV’d JONATHAN EVANS
I’m sure I speak on behalf of all of us in saying a huge thank you to Rabbi Michaels for that talk, which gives us much to think about and challenges us in the way in which we live now in this country: much to think about. So now, on a more joyful note, I’d invite Councillor Dedman, the Mayor of Christchurch and Josephine to join me up at the front as we celebrate the contribution to our community life of some of our younger people, and we have some certificates to present to them.
So Josephine, would you like to explain what the certificates are for and who’s receiving them, and then we can organise the presentation.
JOSEPHINE JACKSON – from the Council of Christians and Jews in Bournemouth
A competition was held at local schools to submit poems and drawings representing the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day: standing together. There were sixty-one poems and stories and some of them were of an exceptionally high calibre, so it was very difficult to choose. But obviously we had to choose, and we’ve chosen three. There were also drawings, some of them you’ve seen here, and I have to say, it is very heartwarming to see the effort and the thought that have gone into these, and the special effort, because as Rabbi Michaels has said, we have to stand together. You young people are the ones who are going to keep this story going. But if you don’t stand together, what can happen? I haven’t got as long a history as Rabbi Michaels in Holocaust Memorial Day work – only twenty years. But I was asked by survivors to help keep the stories alive, but I can’t do it for all that much longer, so it’s up to you young people. I hope that I’m going to speak in some of your schools to remember what’s being said today and to remember what can happen when people don’t act, when they see something that in their hearts is not right.
So it is a great pleasure to present these certificates.
The awarding of certificates then took place, lasting around five minutes. This is not reported here, as it obviously mentioned the children’s names. However, well done to all of those who took part.
COUNCILLOR DEDMAN, AFTER THE PRESENTATION:
Thank you very, very much. That was really lovely, thank you.
REV’d JONATHAN EVANS
Thank you and well done to everyone who entered those competitions, and especially I really enjoyed seeing the paintings, the drawings up on the screen as we were getting ready.
So we’re going to bring this part of today’s commemoration to a close here in a moment by saying some prayers, and I’ll invite Rabbi Michaels to come up and say the first prayer and then I’ll close and then we’ll go straight from here, out to the memorial, out on the edge of the Quomps for the wreath-laying ceremony. So anyone who’s able is very welcome to join us out there, and the presentation of standards as well.
We pray that the all-merciful will shelter under the divine wings, the souls of all those who have been persecuted in life, who have lost those lives as a result of oppression and whose memory we hold so dear.
There are many prayers in Judaism which are said for the person after they’ve died and yet which don’t actually refer to death because we think of death as being the beginning of eternal life. And so we pray that those eternal lives will be much happier, and much more fulfilled than some of those earthly lives.
REV’d JONATHAN EVANS
Thank you. So I’m going to read a prayer that’s been prepared jointly by the Chief Rabbi, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the senior imams in this country.
Loving God, we come to you with heavy hearts, remembering the six million Jewish souls murdered during the Holocaust in the horrors of that history when so many groups were targeted because of their identity and in genocides which followed. We recognise destructive prejudices that drive people apart. Forgive us when we give space to fear, negativity and hatred of others simply because they are different from us. In the light of God we see everyone as equally precious manifestations of the divine and can know the courage to face the darkness. Through our prayers and our actions, help us to stand together with those who are suffering so that light may banish all darkness, love will prevail over hate and good will triumph over evil. Amen.
So once again, thank you all for coming to this commemoration on Holocaust Memorial Day, an annual event. You are all, of course, welcome to attend again next year.
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