We can’t change the past, but by remembering it, we might just change the future

April 19, 2012
ThoughtForTheDay 20200515 RabbiLordSacks mp3 image 1

Broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, 19th April 2012

Today is Yom Hashoah, the day on which we as Jews remember the Holocaust. It’s not the national day, 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. That day is universal. We remember the other victims, the GLBTQ, the Roma, the Sinti, the mentally and physically disabled, and we remember other mass murders, in Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur. Every life is equal in value, and every murder an assault on the image of God that is us.

But there are some griefs that touch us more deeply than others simply because they’re family. And whether literally or metaphorically, all Jews lost family in the Holocaust. Entire Jewish worlds were destroyed, the Yiddish speaking heartlands of Eastern Europe, the Jewish intellectuals of Vienna, the acculturated Jews of Germany, Sages, saints, philosophers, poets, artists, musicians, parents and children, young and old, herded together like cattle, robbed of their names and then their lives. We lost one and a half million Jewish children, killed not because of their, or their parents’ faith but because their grandparents happened to be Jews. To this day there are cities in Europe I cannot bear to be in, so strongly do I feel the ghosts of an entire murdered generation.

Some of the greatest heroes I’ve met have been holocaust survivors. How they survived at all, remembering what they saw, I don’t understand. Yet those I know did so with no hate or desire for revenge, with an intense focus on life and the future and a passion to teach children of all races and faiths the need to fight hate before a spark here, a flame there, become a raging fire.

Antisemitism has returned. You can hear it at some football grounds, sense it in some university campuses. It played a part in the murder of a teacher and children at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the killing of a rabbi and his family in Mumbai. It disturbs me because the hate directed against Jews never ends with Jews. Depending on which way the wind is blowing it can turn against Christians or Muslims or any other group that happens in that time and place to be a minority.

Hate is the projection of our fears onto others, and it destroys the hated along with those he hates. So let’s fight hatred together for the sake of our shared humanity. We can’t change the past, but by remembering it, we might just change the future.