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The Chief Rabbi at Holocaust Memorial Day 2017

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On Holocaust Memorial Day, the Chief Rabbi joined 200 survivors and more than 1,000 guests at the UK Commemorative Ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day Trust 2017.

In his address, the Chief Rabbi emphasised the example set by our survivors who responded to the Holocaust by taking ‘action’, and that we must honour their legacy by doing likewise. Watch and read his full address below.


At the very dawn of creation, within the first family on earth, tragedy struck when Cain killed Able. For their parents, Adam and Eve, this was the ultimate trauma – one child murdered, the other a murderer.

How do they respond? The Bible does not record a single word that they uttered, it tells us about what they did. They summoned the strength to go on, they had another child. And so, mankind, throughout all of the ages, has been a product of their action.

Victor Frankel, survived Auschwitz and Dachau, to discover that his family had perished. He summoned the strength to go on. He fathered the School of Logotherapy and millions have benefited from his teachings and writings.

Thomas Bergenthal was taken into Auschwitz at the age of ten. He was one of only three child survivors of a death march. He summoned the strength to go on. He became a judge at the International Court of Human Rights.

Ben Helfgot, lost his father, his mother and his youngest sister. He endured the horrors of Buchenwald and Theresienstadt, he summoned the strength to go on. He represented Britain at the Olympics and he continues to be a source of great inspiration to us all.

In my own family, my great uncle Motyl, Rabbi Motyl Katz, who was one of the heads of the famous Telshe Yeshiva, Lithuania, lost his wife, his ten children and all of his students. He summoned the strength to go on. He rebuilt his life and he rebuilt his Yeshiva in America.

Like Adam and Eve before him, thousands of heroic Holocaust survivors did not always have much that they wanted to talk about, but they all did an incredible amount. Their response to the Holocaust was action and our response to them must be action.

Action to prevent it ever happening again. Action, to initiate acts of education. To inspire. To legislate. Action, to be there for the victims of contemporary genocide. Action to accept the International Holocaust’s Remembrance Alliances definition of Antisemitism. Action to create a world-class, national Holocaust museum and learning center in London, for the UK.

If we genuinely want to guarantee that the legacy of our outstanding and wonderful survivors will be kept, we need to mindful of the teachings of the Talmud, which says, Lo Hamidrash Haikar Elah Hama’aseh, ‘It’s not what you think and say that counts, rather what you will do, to change the world’.