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Thought for the Day: Holocaust Memorial Day 2020

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The brightest flame casts the darkest shadow

When Germany invaded Holland in 1940, the country was home to a vibrant community of 160,000 Jews. By the end of the Holocaust, more than three quarters of them had been brutally murdered.

 When I was in Amsterdam a few years ago, I visited The Cheder, a small Jewish school for children aged 3 to 18, with only 118 pupils in total. The Rabbi there told me that, after the school was founded, the Jewish community applied for state aid. However, the application was turned down on the grounds that it was Government policy to only assist schools which had more than 400 pupils.

The school governors then sent a letter appealing the decision. They wrote, “In every classroom, alongside the children who sit at their desks, there are shadows. These are the shadows of the children who should have been here with us, but whose souls were taken before their time. It is not our fault that there are so few children in our school.”

When the Dutch education authorities received that heartrending appeal, they agreed to make an exception. The Cheder now continues to be the only small school in Holland which receives Government aid. 

The American novelist, George R R Martin, wrote, “The brightest flame casts the darkest shadow.” Today, as we mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, we reflect on the extraordinary light that preceded the Holocaust. To this day, the dark shadows of six million precious souls continue to be with us wherever we go.

The Jewish approach to memorial, called Yizkor, is not just about memory – it is a call to use that memory to inspire positive change in our lives. Given the unfathomable enormity of the crime and the depths of human suffering that ensued, one would have imagined that humankind would have learnt the lessons of the Holocaust: to show zero tolerance to Antisemitism and its perpetrators; to confront racism and to diagnose the hallmarks of a society becoming consumed by hatred.

But, tragically, on this Holocaust Memorial Day, we stand in the darkness of millions more shadows cast by the victims of genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.  

Dehumanization is now becoming an accepted part of the celebrity and political landscape. Deplorable invective is the new normal. Hate speech is on the increase and hate crime is only ever one step behind.

How many more shadows do we need to bring us to our senses?