I had less than 24 hours notice to deliver a statement at Milton Keynes' Holocaust Memorial Day on behalf of the Council of Faiths. The brief was: 3-4 minutes about your organisation and how it relates to the theme of the year. This is my attempt:
On the 27th January 1945, the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz- Berkenau was liberated by soviet troups. There and in many other locations across
Europe, horrors were revealed which shocked the world or confirmed the worst fears of many. As we look back on the holocaust it is right that we are stunned into silence as we remember those whose futures were cut short simply because they were different.
We know that these horrors were possible because ordinary people like you and I were unable to see their brothers and sisters as human beings. We know that murder on an industrial scale was possible because ordinary people like you and I chose not to see what was going on. We know that entire groups of society could be sent away into the darkness because ordinary people like you and I were divided from the ordinary people who lived alongside them.
Nazi propaganda promoted a vision of society in which there was only one group that mattered, one group that could be seen, one group that had a right to exist. The consequences of this vision were truly awful and it is right that we gather in many different places to remember this.
Rabbi Hugo Gryn was one of the holocaust survivors and he said: “When I think about the summer of 1945, when through a chance I cannot fathom, I was free and still in life...why, I was sure that never again would there be anti-semitism or race-hatreds of any kind...The sad truth is that tyranny and race-hatred did not end when the Second World War ended, as we then hoped and believed but the vision for peace did not die.”
Milton Keynes we would like to think, I am sure, that we are different. Surely the horrors of the past remain in the past. Surely we can concentrate on the memory of what has been and those who suffered so long ago.
The truth is, of course, that Rabbi Gryn was right. Tyranny and race-hatred did not end with the Second World War. Fresh horrors are still committed against ordinary people – by ordinary people just like you and I.
And so we are called to hope, but this hope is not blind or vain. It is hope grounded in reality and rooted in action. We know what ordinary people are capable of and we know what happens when we stop seeing others as human beings. We know that we need to grow together and to learn about each other – because this is how we build peace rather than suspicion.
I represent the Council of Faiths in
Milton Keynes and this is one body which exists to do just this, but there are others. Sometimes these groups are dismissed as unnecessary, bureaucratic or simply a waste of time – people who like meetings, attending meetings about meetings - but I think they have an important role to play. When we meet together we see each other as people. When we spend time together we learn what makes us tick – and why we say or do those strange things that we do from time to time. When we work together with a common aim, we are united in purpose, not just in location.
We meet today in hope. Hope inspires us – and will not disappoint us – even as we face fresh cruelties, indignities and the evidence of hate. As ordinary people we meet. As ordinary people we share. As ordinary people we will change the world.