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Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day Service –
talk by Roni Mechanic, 27hJanuary, 2019
Then They Came For Me
I recall that during the late 1990’s my wife Elisheva, children and I were traveling by train across Germany on the way to Hamburg on route to Denmark. We were waiting for a connecting train at Osnabruck. It was a sleepy countryside station – we were sitting in the station café on the platform. We awaited our ‘transport’ to arrive. Our son was three years old, and our two daughters were in their teens. A German lady also sitting there showed an interest in our family group and we got chatting.
In my imagination a very different scenario was being played out – we were not waiting for our connection to Hamburg, but rather “transport” to one of the death camps in the east: Bregen-Belsen or Ravensbruck. You may think, “what a shocking and even vile thought?” But nonetheless it is was a horrible possibility if it were some 50 years earlier, from we had enough Jewish ancestry in our heritage to have included my family and I in Hitler’s Final Solution. Anyone up to one quarter Jewish was designated libel to extermination. None of the pleasant conversation with our fellow German traveller, but only Nazi SS guards, herding those waiting like cattle being sent to the abattoir for slaughter.
First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out
— Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out
— Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me
- and there was no one left to speak for me.
Niemöller’s earliest speeches, written in 1946, lists the Communists, incurable patients, Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and civilians in countries occupied by Nazi Germany. In all versions, the impact is carefully built up, by going from the “smallest, most distant” group to the largest, Jewish, group, and then finally to himself as a by then outspoken critic of Nazism. Niemöller made the cardinal “who cares about them” clear in his speech for the Confessing Church in Frankfurt on 6 January 1946, of which this is a partial translation.
[The best-known versions of the speech are the poems that began circulating by the 1950s. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum quotes the following text as one of the many poetic versions of the speech: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came_…#cite_note-quotation-1%5D
Jewish suffering and persecution
Jewish suffering and persecution go back millennia, but reached its horrific climax in the Holocaust, when over six million Jewish people perished under Nazi Germany’s Final Solutionto the Jewish question/ problem. Hitler and his cohorts and numerous collaborators did not either perceive of or design the Holocaust upon a sudden whim, but it was the culmination of systematic hatred of the Jewish people in Europe. Though no one else can be blamed for Hitler’s heinous crimes, other than those who participate in it, yet centuries of bad Christian theology about the Jewish people did contribute to the final outcome. Accusations of Decide – “Christ killers,” was only finally revoked at Vatican II in the 1960’s. Negative attitudes, alas result in negative and destructive outcomes. Martin Luther’s tract On the Jews and Their Lies* is a pernicious piece of filth penned by an aged Luther. He may have been the great reformer of the Church, but this blight upon his record, remains a reality. Luther was by no means alone in his anti-Judaism and the denigration of the Jewish people and the Jewish religion.
My objective is not to induce a deep sense of guilt, but to give a stark warning to all of us that the progression from anti-Judaism, quickly develops into anti-Semitism and this is all too often followed by anti-Zionism. This is sometimes referred to as the new face of anti-Semitism. With the desire for justice for the Palestinians, it must equally be coupled with an equal desire for justice for the Jews, not only in Israel, but throughout the world.Martin Luther King gives expression to this desire in his speech “I HAVE A DREAM,” AUGUST 28 1963:
However, together with Dr Martin Luther King Jr., I too have a dream: “When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics,will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
“Free at last! Free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). In its original context Dr King was expressing his dream to witness the end of racial segregation in the United States of America and particularly for its black citizens – nonetheless, he equally acknowledges that freedom from racial oppression for one, is freedom for all. In this he included Jewish people.
Why do strangers kill strangers?
You may ask: “Why do strangers kill strangers?” Equally, “Why do neighbours kill neighbours? Think of the Greeks and Turks; Rwanda; Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, when Serbian, Croatian and Moslem turned on each other. Where communities and families that had lived together for centuries suddenly go insane, murdering each other? While we commemorate the victims of genocides, we need to ask, but do we do so with understanding? These questions are asked by Timothy Snyder in his book Black Earth.
[To order Black Earth for £20 go to bookshop.theguardian.com].
In Simon Reeves documentary series on the Tropic of Capricorn he interviewed a Herero historian on a visit to Namibia. She said, that the Germans have practiced [genocide] on the Herero people before they did that to the Jewish people. Between 65000 and 80000 Hereros were destroyed by the Germans around 1908. Then there was the Armenian genocide by the Turks from 1910 -1918 when a million and a half died.Though the most heinous Jewish and Gypsy genocide under the Nazis, from 1939 – 1945 has become part of the history of the mid-twentieth century, yet still other acts of genocides have followed. The Soviet and Chinese mass murder of its own citizens under Stalin and Mao, plus, Biafra, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina,Syria, Darfur, Democratic Republic of the Congo, North Korea, and Rohingya Moslems, and so the list goes on.
Should we be confident that a holocaust is behind us? Just because some of these killings are not officially recorded as ‘genocide,’ that does not diminish the reality of state sponsored mass killing that took place. Take for example the nearly 1000 infant mortality caused by the Apartheid forced removal of the black population of Grahamstown, Easter Cape, South Africa to Dimbaza a wasteland that is 40 miles away from Grahamstown – though this was not a deliberate act of genocide, nonetheless, this does not diminish the seriousness of the Apartheid government policy that resulted in the death of these children, partly due to no access to medical care.
There is no place for complacency
There is no room for complacency, because this world in which we live is a dangerous place. It is changing and reviving fears that were familiar in Hitler’s time and to which Hitler responded in the way that he did. He exploited the defeat and humiliation of the German nation after WWI. The Treaty of Versailles, brought German to its knees with not only its military defeat, but crippling economic retribution that was exacted upon it by the Allies. The history of the Holocaust is not over, for its precedent/ significance is eternal, and alas, its lessons have not yet been learned.
A history of the Holocaust must be contemporary, says Timothy Snyder, due to the fact that humankind is prone to forget. Equally, memory can be very selective, as we choose to recall and remember only those things that fit in with our world-view. The Holocaust is not only about history, it is equally a warning, says Snyder. It is not enough to say, “Never again!” – particularly when we live in such a dangerous age. There are ominous storm clouds building in the East and West. Xi’s China, Putin’s Russian and Trump’s America. Not forgetting the Middle-East theatre of engagement were proxy wars are being played out: Russia, America, NATO, UN, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, and Israel. PYPM – the Push Me Pull Yougame is being enacted by the major global players.
Our Guilty Silence
Dare we sit silently and not speak out against all forms of racial hatred and xenophobia? Wherever it raises its ugly head, we need to expose it and speak up and speak out against it. I grew up in Apartheid South Africa and as a privileged white person, I know that I could have done more than I did. Equally today, while we think of the death of the 6 million Jewish people, let us not forget the other genocides that have taken place in the last 100 years –a million and a half Gypsies, the physically and mentally disabled, homosexuals, and a multitude of Poles and Slavs also perished during WWII. Then there is the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks that has never been acknowledged. Even while we sit here in peace and security, there are other acts of cruelty being carried out in various parts of the world. A new partnership is being forged: The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism is a growing alliance of people all over the world speaking up, and standing against anti-Semitic hatred and acts of violence. I encourage everyone who loves God, to equally love his people the Jews and stand with them in this hour of opportunity and equally face the challenges that lay ahead. https://antisemitism.uk/introduction/
The Race Is Not to the Swift nor the Battle to the Strong
Let us draw some comfort from the Scripture that indicates to us “that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” (Eccl. 9:11.) Time and again the Scriptures indicate that those who endures to the end, they shall be delivered. The race of life is not a sprint, it is not the 100-meter dash, nor is it really a middle-distance run. It’s a marathon run. It’s a long-distance run. In the race of life, at times it is hard. It begins early. I was confronted by my first experience of anti-Semitism at the age of 9 when a fellow pupil in my class in Johannesburg, South Africa abused me for being a Jew. Even 61 years later people I can recall that difficult experience at primary school. We remember what it felt like, perhaps, that the race was hard because you were too short or too skinny or you had to wear glasses or braces, or because you are from a different ethnic background or religion?
All of those things can either have negative or positive outcomes. Don’t let them define you or torment your soul. As you went and go through difficult times remember that the God of Israel is there and he neither slumbers or sleeps – He is the Shepherd of Israel. In these tests of life, none of us are promised that it will be an easy race. However, from the Book of Hebrews, the writer says, as you run the race of life: “And let us run with patience the race that is set before us” …So if the race sometimes seems difficult, this is what helps to build character. It puts steel into your soul. Don’t let it crush you, but “we shall overcome, some day.” Wherever you are currently, this is God’s appointed time for each one of us to run the race of life this day. The race is not too difficult; nor are the obstacles too hard to surmount. Remember, the God of Jacob is with us and Jacobs beloved son Joseph the patriarch did come forth from prison to sit up the thorn on high. From a Christian perspective, so too, Jesus of Nazareth, did arise as the redeemer and Lord of all. Some may say, if Jesus is redeemer, then where is the universal peace that is meant to be part of the messianic reign? Isaiah the prophet of Israel does testify of the Servant of the Lord, who will suffer for humanity and be their sin bearer.
My blog: www.hotrodronisblog.com: for Shalom Radio UK.
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