New Monklands Church

Holocaust Memorial Day

This from Bill...

“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’
And while they were in the field,
Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?
‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”
Genesis 4:8-9.

Every year on the 27th January the British nation is invited to observe National Holocaust Memorial Day. This date is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration-camp by the Soviet Army on 27th. January, 1945, seventy-five years ago this year, which is well within the length of a single lifetime. Many Jewish people prefer to use the word Sho’ah to describe the horrific murder of the Jews and other “so called” minorities during the Second World War. The word Sho’ah is deeply powerful and simply means desolation, destruction or catastrophe.  During the Second World War it’s estimated that six million Jews were murdered. Millions more Gypsies, Slavs, Russian POW’s, the physically and mentally disabled, Gay people and others in “minority groups” also perished - all for being just who they were. This was a crime against humanity which began with hateful words - how soon we forget the lessons of the past!

We had hoped that the end of the 20th. Century had seen the end of such atrocities but National Holocaust Memorial Day also acknowledges and commemorates the repeated occurrences of genocide in our own time in such places as Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and, most recently against the Rohingya people of Myanmar. National Holocaust Memorial Day also calls us to renew the commitment of the British people to combat racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia - never more needed than this very day!

On this day we pray for those who died when madness ruled the world and evil prevailed on earth because, if we forget, the way is prepared for yet more holocausts, yet more Sho'ah – therefore we must never forget! Sometimes we think and we act as if we were given our power of speech primarily to speak for ourselves, to express our feelings or to reveal our personalities, as it were. But what if speech were really given us so that we could speak out of a sense of solidarity and community? What if the great miracle of speech were really given us so that we could speak on behalf of the neighbour and on behalf of the stranger. National Holocaust Memorial Day, puts that question to us very seriously and very earnestly. We are invited to think about the words of the German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoeller, who was, initially, a supporter of Adolf Hitler, but who, when he saw the light and protested, was thrown in prison, and then a concentration camp, for eight and a half years, and who wrote;
“First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out - because I was not a Communist.
Then 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 out for me.”

National Holocaust Memorial Day brings back to our minds the appalling consequences of a situation where people don’t speak out for the neighbour and don’t speak out for the stranger when madness and evil walk the earth... It speaks about a situation where people are concerned only about their own safety and security - and their own comfort zones. When we look back on the tragic history of the 1930’s and ‘40’s one of the things that prevent it from being a totally dark night is the presence of some of those who were willing to speak for strangers and to take risks alongside strangers. Even the slightest difference in the middle of such a catastrophic situation is of the greatest importance, it’s a sign of grace, a sign of God.

So as we commemorate National Holocaust Memorial Day we are encouraged to challenge ourselves by asking “Who do we speak for?” Are we willing to speak for the neighbour and for the stranger, for people like us and for people who are not like us? Are we willing to take risks alongside one another? I very much hope and pray that our witness will be part of what we take forward into the next generation - a generation where these issues will certainly not be stale and will not be academic. Our words may not be very loud, they may not instantly change everything - but they will change something - they will change us; They will change at least one neighbour - and we will make some strangers into neighbours and that is profoundly and eternally worth doing.

The language of love is spoken by God for the poor and the suffering and the marginalised and the oppressed in every place at every time. God came into the reality of the world, to change it, not to give us an escape from it! And God’s language of love is exclusive. It requires us to forget other languages of hatred, tribalism, rivalry, political advantage, materialism, pride, greed, and so many more. God’s language of love is not mere mushy sentiment; in the Bible we can see the richness of its vocabulary speaking out to us today! And God’s language of love encompasses every aspect of living, and every aspect of knowing God.

Jesus the adult spoke God’s language of love perfectly because, by His mere existence, He is the Word of God made flesh to us. The piercing light of God, shining through His Son Jesus, which will never be extinguished, reminds us of a resilience of faith which is beyond our understanding. 

The unequivocal lesson of history is that we must all stand together against hatred and division and the scapegoating of others and work hard together to support the most vulnerable and marginal in our society.

And our remembrance of victims of violence and hatred past and present, should, God willing, inspire us to build relationships of understanding and respect between communities, nations and peoples and to cooperate together to repair the world. Division and hatred must be confronted and challenged wherever it is found in our societies. We all have a responsibility in our generation to leave behind a better world and a better Scotland for those who come after us. We will all have to look our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the eye in five, ten, fifteen years time and tell them what we did to challenge prejudice and hate head-on. Finding the new way is a challenge because the paths we know are so often those of fear and suspicion of those who are “other”.  That is why, again and again, we create victims out of those who simply are who they are! 

But we do remember - and that in itself is the beginning of hope. We can at least today thank God that we have been given the strength not to bury the shame and the suffering, but to constantly call it to mind, to remind us what human beings are capable of when evil walks the earth.  And we pass that remembering on to a new generation, saying, “Whatever else you forget, you must remember this: for this is how it was!  And remember not for bitterness, not for guilt, not for vengeance, which belongs to God as the scriptures say, but remember for the truth’s sake.  Because if you “remember” what happened in the past perhaps you will also “recognise” where the same casual racism and shame and suffering are to be found now and in your own day.

Today we seek to stand in the truth, to say yet again - and say with and for a new generation - that we are called away from the paths we have known, from a world where every stranger is a threat and every threat must be met with violent rejection. Standing in the truth is knowing and owning the fear in our hearts and yet being able to hear God saying, “Fear not, I am with you, I have called you by name”.  And as we hear our name called, we remember that God has called every human being, man, woman and child by name, and, once and for all, has made them unique and uniquely precious.  If we can hear that, we can at last let ourselves be led into the new paths that are promised, the paths of peace. So, the purpose of National Holocaust Memorial Day is about more than just remembering victims of man’s “inhumanity to man” and human cruelty, whether it be in Nazi-occupied Europe or any other place where genocide has occurred. This day strives to remind us that we are all capable of believing in stereotypes and demonstrating prejudice, which are the first malignant steps towards the victimisation and oppression of others.

The fact that other genocides have taken place in our world since the liberation of Auschwitz reminds is that the lessons have not been learned. But, as well as having the capacity to destroy, human beings, thank God, can also choose to plant for the future and encourage growth and hope and celebrate diversity.

As the celebrated Israeli historian, Professor Yehuda Bauer put it,
“Thou shalt not be a victim,
thou shalt not be a perpetrator,
but, above all,
thou shalt not be a bystander.”

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The answer to that question on National Holocaust Memorial Day, must be;

Yes, we are!