Today is Yom HaShoah in Israel. The day we remember six million Jews who were murdered, but not before they were rounded up like cattle, chased, hunted, beaten, starved, gassed, shot into mass graves, exhausted to death by work, by marches, by cruelty, separated from their loved ones, from everything they knew and loved, stripped of their individuality, of their humanity, and treated like animals. Their only crime: being born to a Jewish parent or even grandparent.
There is an international holocaust memorial day, and that day is dedicated not just to the six million Jews who were brutally murdered, but also to the memory of the thousands of Romani, of homosexuals, of disabled people, who were murdered simply because they were different, because they were ‘others’. From this we can and should learn a great deal, for the future of humanity we *must* look to the past. But today, today is the day we remember the six million Jewish lives that were taken, by hideous cruelty, ignorance, prejudice, cowardice, and beyond all, blind hatred, spread by propaganda and ‘fake news’, a phenomenon all too familiar today.
And I am ok with focusing on the Jewish story today, letting it just be about the Jews just for this one day. Because don’t let the numbers dissolve into obscurity; that is six million individual people, just like your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your child, your grandparent, your aunt, your uncle, your friend, your neighbour, your teacher, your student, hunted like animals, only fear for the future, dragged into the street, away from every comfort they might have known, crammed on to a cattle truck with way too many people, stripped of their freedom, and taken to a fate more horrific than you or I can ever imagine. Whether they were gassed immediately after being separated from their children or parents, or if they were starved to death over a period of a few years, or marched to death, or shot into mass graves, and all for their one crime: being a Jew. I am the last person to bang on about the victimhood of the Jewish people, but on this day, we must remember the victims persecuted because if their peoplehood. When people think Jews should ‘get over it already’, or ‘stop banging on about the holocaust’, let me remind you that this was only 75 years ago. This is all of our histories. And this is human cruelty coordinated and planned on a mass scale, counting on the fact that people need to blame someone or something for their problems, and will believe whatever a good orator says, and then pointing a finger at that group of outsiders yet who managed so well to integrate and contribute and become a part of society… The Jews.
Yes, there are countless lessons we need and should learn from this terrible stain on our modern human history. And yes there are lessons it seems we have still not learnt, and mistakes that have been repeated since. But today, let us just remember those individual human beings, just like you and me, whose lives were turned upside down just 75 or so years ago, because they were Jewish. Hunted and killed because they were born Jewish. Try today to read or watch a survivors testimony, or read an extract from Anne Frank’s diary, and just try, for one moment, to put yourself in their shoes. Maybe, just maybe, if we can muster real empathy, I will say that again, real empathy, for those who perished and for those who survived, we can learn something for the future, ensuring a better, kinder, more tolerant humanity.