Receive weekly insights from the Chief Rabbi
Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: Holocaust Memorial Day

Share this article:

On Holocaust Memorial Day the Chief Rabbi recalls the stoicism of his great uncle – a Rabbi who escaped the Holocaust only to suffer devastating losses – to emphasise the importance of transmitting the past. The transcription of this ‘Thought for the Day’ is below. 

“Good morning.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is Journeys.

On this, as on every Holocaust Memorial Day, I recall a journey undertaken by my great uncle, Rabbi Motel Katz, one of the heads of the famous Rabbinic Seminary of Telz, in Lithuania.

In 1941, as the German army swept through Europe, the future of the Telz Jewish community hung in the balance. Rabbi Motel embarked on a daring, hazardous journey, travelling eastwards, through Asia to America. His plan was to arrange visas for the families and students of Telz, so they could escape Nazi persecution.

But, in June 1941, while Rabbi Motel was in New York, the Germans arrived in Telz. On 15th July all the Jewish men, including the Rabbis, teachers and students of the Seminary, were rounded up and mercilessly killed. On 30th August the women and children were similarly murdered.

After three years of anxious waiting, Rabbi Motel heard that his wife, 10 children, staff and all his students had perished in the Holocaust.

It’s almost impossible for us to imagine the mental torment and the trauma he endured.

He hardly ever spoke of it.

Instead, he founded a new Telz Seminary in Cleveland, Ohio, and dedicated the rest of his life to rebuilding Jewish life, to teaching our heritage and transmitting the eternal messages of peace, unity and harmony that are deeply rooted in Jewish Scripture and tradition.

Like Rabbi Motel, many Holocaust survivors have said little but have done much. Despite the deep emotional and physical scars they bear, quietly and stoically they have continued their journeys, rebuilding shattered lives, in the hope and belief that the only response to such unspeakable evil is to build a better and safer future.

Now, almost 69 years after the end of World War II, survivors of the Holocaust are making a desperate appeal to all of us: to ensure that as the number of eye witnesses dwindles with time, we continue to tell their stories as widely as possible.

It is a sad indictment of our post-War era that, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, genocide has continued to take place – in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and in Darfur. When such atrocities occur, we fail the memory of those who perished and we also fail those who survived.

They have placed their faith in us to work for a shared future of peace and understanding, to create hope and promise and above all, not to stand idly by. We owe it to them, to ourselves and to our children to continue their journeys and to make their journeys, like Rabbi Motel’s, part of our own journey.”