Two weeks ago I returned from Yad Vashem where every year, at the International School of Holocaust Studies, CCJ leads a seminar for Christian clergy and church leaders. I am delighted that so many participants from 12 seminars over 11 years have been able to attend our commemoration this morning. In their communities around the UK, they are ambassadors for Holocaust education and stalwart campaigners in the fight against antisemitism.
During our seminar this year, we heard many reminders of the importance of this 80th anniversary. Whilst at Yad Vashem, on Shabbat on the 9th November, 80 years to the night since the November Pogrom, we were invited as guests to the Yedidya community. There was something deeply moving to have the privilege of sitting in a synagogue in Jerusalem, listening to prayers being said and psalms being sung, 80 years since that night of fire and anger and fear. 80 years on we as Christians – in the midst of our learning about the Holocaust – were humbled to share in the ritual of Shabbat as a sign of our willingness to acknowledge past errors and enter into an ever deepening friendship.
It was an experience that informs how we as Jewish and Christian communities in the UK mark this 80th anniversary. We both mourn the destruction which Kristallnacht set in motion and we celebrate the lives of those 10,000 children of the Kindertransport. We also are caused to stop still at the enormous complexity of history and the challenge of community still to this day.
Because there is a risk in marking anniversaries. As time draws on and the number of years we commemorate increases on each occasion, the risk is that some will suggest it is time to draw a line under our remembering. Some say it is time to move on, to do remembrance differently, to let the past lie still, safely still without it hindering the present.
But we know that the past can never lie still. That as time goes on the imperative to remember and to retell the truth is more necessary than ever.
In 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair said this:
‘We remember above all that the Holocaust did not start with a concentration camp. It started with a brick through the shop window of a Jewish business, the desecration of a synagogue, the shout of racist abuse on the street.’
Across the world and in our own country, glass is being broken and abuse is heard not just on the streets but even in political debate and posts online. Antisemitism is on the rise. Islamophobia is on the rise. Democracy is in crisis. And people of faith are called to respond.
When community is fragile and dialogue across difference is hard to come by, then the observance of anniversaries takes on an even greater meaning.
Today, names and figures and facts can and must be retold.
Today, storytelling – and the listening that stories require – are radical acts.
Today, shattered glass can be repaired, relationships can be rebuilt, and people who are different in every way possible work together for the common good.
As each CCJ seminar at Yad Vashem ends, every year, I ask our clergy participants to do at least—at least—one thing: to use their voices and the positions that they uphold in community to preach and to speak about what they have heard about the Holocaust.
So it is important and inspiring that over 100 leaders from the Jewish and Christian communities are able to meet on this historic site to remember the past and to reaffirm our shared moral commitment to the future.
On the 80th anniversaries of Kristallnacht and the Kindertransport, in our church or our synagogues, in a community hall or a palace like this, in the classroom or the corridors of power, on the streets or online, we are all witnesses to a special cause. That is to affirm to a troubled world an essential truth:
Listen to what the past has to tell us; learn the lessons it has to teach us, and we will live in ways that change our world for the better.
Speech delivered at Lambeth Palace, Monday 3rd December 2018
Rob Thompson, Senior Programme Manager