Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: Unimaginable horrors, unbelievable heroes

In his latest ‘Thought for the Day’ offering on BBC Radio 4, the Chief Rabbi reflects on his recent visit to Bergen Belsen with the Queen and the humbling heroism of Sir Nicholas Winton z”l, the saviour of 699 Jewish children who sadly passed away this week.  Transcription below.

” “It’s difficult to imagine”.

This was the thoughtful parting sentiment expressed by Her Majesty The Queen a week ago as she left Bergen-Belsen, the former Nazi Concentration Camp in Northern Germany, where tens of thousands of innocent people were mercilessly murdered during the Holocaust.

“In the wake of the Holocaust, humanity made a pledge that it would never again let hatred take such a grip on the world”

I was privileged to join her for part of the visit and anyone who has ever visited Bergen-Belsen will understand precisely what she meant. The harrowing testimony of survivors and liberators feels incongruous in the midst of the beauty of the Lower Saxony countryside.

In the wake of the Holocaust, humanity made a pledge that it would never again let hatred take such a grip on the world – that we would learn from our mistakes and be more vigilant. Yet, it has never been clearer how far behind we have fallen in fulfilling this pledge.

At the very moment when The Queen was laying her wreath at the Memorial in the camp, news was spreading about a beheading in France, a suicide bombing in Kuwait and the brutal murders which devastated the serenity of a beach in Tunisia which we will mark with a minute’s silence at midday today. And, so soon after Her Majesty’s significant gesture of solidarity with the victims and survivors of Belsen, tomorrow, in London, there will be a neo-Nazi rally protesting about the ‘Jewification’ of the city where there is a stated intention to burn pages from the Talmud.

“Sir Nicholas was a gentleman of unfailing old-world courtesy, with a warm heart and deep humility”

Barely 70 years since the Holocaust – it’s difficult to imagine.

But, it’s also difficult to imagine how Sir Nicholas Winton, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 106, found the courage to risk his life in order to save 669 vulnerable children from the clutches of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.
For 50 years details of his actions lay in a dusty scrapbook in his attic, while he kept his silence.

I knew Sir Nicholas to be a gentleman of unfailing old-world courtesy, with a warm heart and deep humility. He genuinely regarded what he had done as nothing more than any decent human being would have undertaken in the circumstances.

“If we can emulate his virtues, a much better world will not be difficult to imagine”

Our Scriptures declare in Deuteronomy, “Choose life”. Whereas innocent holiday-makers on a beach were murdered in cold blood by merciless terrorists, Nicholas Winton risked his own life to save people he didn’t know, only because he valued the life of every single human being.

Few people deserve the moniker of ‘hero’ – Sir Nicholas Winton certainly did. He is the role-model for all of our society to follow. If we can emulate his virtues, a much better world will not be difficult to imagine.”

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