Yom HaShoah, the day in the Jewish calendar set aside for Holocaust remembrance, began last evening at sundown.
I have benefitted greatly from the writings of the last Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. So in commemoration of this day, I share an excerpt from the address he gave marking this day in 2020 (the year he died).
The Holocaust has become more than a Jewish tragedy. It has become, for the West, a defining symbol of man’s inhumanity to man. …
The Holocaust was more than a Jewish tragedy. It was a human tragedy. Auschwitz did more than claim the lives of its victims. Something of the image of God that is humankind died there too. That’s why everyone must remember where the rail tracks of hatred end.
There is one mistake we must never make, namely to think that the victims of persecution are its cause. There was a time when Jews believed that they could cure antisemitism. Were they not hated because they were different? Well, then, they would make every effort to become the same. One by one they abandoned the distinctive features of Jewish life. They integrated, acculturated, assimilated. But antisemitism did not end. If anything, it grew.
Those who hate need no reason to hate. Jews were attacked because they were rich and because they were poor. They were condemned as capitalists and as communists. Voltaire accused them of being primitive and superstitious; others called them rootless cosmopolitans. Antisemitism was protean and logic-defying. It exists in countries where there are no Jews. That is why Holocaust remembrance must not be confined to Jews alone. The victim cannot cure the crime. That demands the rule of law, a respect for justice, and a constant effort of education.
The imperative of remembrance never ends. Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Chechnya, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East – all these and many others are our reminders that ethnic and religious conflict still scar our world.
Holocaust Remembrance Day does not imply that the Shoah was the only tragedy of modern history. To the contrary, it reminds us that, unchecked, hatred can take many forms and claim many kinds of victims.
Our best defence is not abstract principle but specific memory, the knowledge of what happened once and must never happen again.