Yom HaShoah 5777

Rabbi René Pfertzel, 23 April 2017


What can we say, what can we write more than seventy years after the end of the Second World War, which has been the stage for the worst genocide that mankind had witnessed ? Isn’t silence the best answer? Historians have tried to explain the forces at play that led to the annihilation of European Jewry. Philosophers, theologians, and other thinkers have tried to give an acceptable explanation of this monstrosity. Everybody exclaimed: “Never again!” as they did after the previous war. “We shall never see atrocities again; no nation shall raise its sword against another nation, no man a weapon against another man”. And yet, if we keep silent, others will speak out, trying to rewrite History, to claim “this has never happened; it is an international conspiracy framed by the Jews”. A recent movie, Denial, features Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, sued by Holocaust denier David Irving for libel. She dared calling him for what he was, a so-called scholar who denied that Jews were targeted and killed precisely because they were Jews. She eventually won against her opponent, but she had to prove that the Shoah actually happened. More recently, Marine Le Pen, candidate to the French presidential elections in France, in an attempt to rewrite History, claimed that France was not responsible for the Vel d’Hiv Roundup in July 1942 (more than 11,000 Jews were rounded up by the French police, and after agonising weeks in several transit camps, were sent to Auschwitz. Very few survived). Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, the Shoah remains a highly sensitive matter in European History. Isn’t it amazing to witness all these efforts made to deny the reality? The last survivors are now slowly leaving our world, and less and less first-hand witnesses can testify about the atrocities they had to face. It is more important than ever to carry on and testify on their behalf. We are the people of memory, and we will never forget our loved ones who perished during the war.

The Progressive communities in France have started in the 1970’ a special way of commemoration of Yom HaShoah. On the 27th day of the month of Nissan, which has been chosen in 1953 by the Israeli Knesset to mark the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, people read the names of the people sent on convoys to the death camp in Poland. Between 27 March 1942 and 31 July 1944, 75 convoys left France (mainly from Drancy) to Auschwitz. 75 721 Jews, including almost 11 000 children, were deported. 2 566 came back, 3% of the total. Their names have been collected and published in 1976 by Serge Klarsfeld by lists of convoys in Le Mémorial de la déportation des Juifs de France. Every year, these names are read during 24 hours, so they are not forgotten. It is estimated that at least half of the victims’ names have been lost, particularly in Eastern Europe, and the figure of 6 million, given by the Nazis in Nuremberg during the trials, is most likely below the actual number of victims. The number of people shot during the mass killings in Eastern Europe has probably been underestimated.

Each dead is an unfinished story, each death a tragedy, and an unfulfilled potential. It is our duty to call them by their names, to remember the tragedy. The German born philosopher Emil Fackenheim created a concept, which he called “The 614th commandment”. In his book, To Mend the World (1982), Fackenheim writes: “We are, first, commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. We are commanded, secondly, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish. We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with him or with belief in him, lest Judaism perish. We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted. To abandon any of these imperatives, in response to Hitler’s victory in Auschwitz, would be to hand him yet other, posthumous victories” (p. 213).

In a few weeks time, Liberal Judaism will hold a “Day of Celebration” in Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue. We will explore the political dimension of Judaism, with amazing speakers and inspiring workshops. Despite our enemies, despite those who try to deny our right to be part of humanity, we will continue our mission and promote the positive values of Prophetic Judaism towards a humanity in which every single soul has a place and a role.

To find out more about the LJ Day of Celebration and register click here.

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