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Stand up to hatred (Thought for the Day)

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Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Its theme is Stand up to Hatred. On Sunday we held the national ceremony, this time in Coventry. And it was there, seeing the ruins of the cathedral destroyed by bombs in the Second World War, and remembering how Coventry has since become an international centre for peace and reconciliation, that I felt the place, the message and the moment come together in a momentous affirmation, that somehow in the most devastated landscape we can plant seeds of hope that will one day flower and bring an unexpected beauty back into this hate scarred world.

What struck me most of all, as it has done every year since Holocaust Memorial Day began eight years ago, was the way young people in Britain seem immediately to understand what the story means to them. They know it means taking a stand against bullying at school, against racial abuse and physical attacks. They know, without having to be told, that tolerance is a fragile thing, and that prejudice is all too easy.

Most of the schools I visit nowadays, on behalf of the Holocaust Educational Trust, have an astonishing mix of ethnicities, religions and cultures. And somehow once a year, remembering the Holocaust gives them and all of us pause for thought in how we handle, in our daily lives, the fear of strangers, the dislike of the unlike, that is at the root of prejudice. In fact I was told on Sunday about how some teenagers who’d been guilty of racist attacks had been taken to Auschwitz, to see where that road can lead, and it had been for some of them a life-changing experience.

Last November the Archbishop of Canterbury and I travelled to Auschwitz together with leaders of all the faiths in Britain, because it seemed important to all of us that we should deepen the bond between us in these turbulent times. And as we stood together at the end of the trip, at the end of the railway lines that carried more than a million victims to be gassed, burned and turned to ash, as we stood in that dark, cold night, lighting candles and praying together, I felt, too, that we were planting a seed for the sake of future generations. Because although none of us can change the past, by remembering the past we can change the future. And though we cannot bring the dead back to life, by taking a stand against hatred we can help ensure that they did not die in vain.