As we look towards to 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rabbi Lord Sacks reflects on the effects of the Shoah on the Jewish community.
At the end of the book of Genesis, which was read in synagogues earlier this month, Joseph makes one deeply poignant request. Though I die in exile, God will bring you back to the land, and when he does so, vehaalitem et atzmotai mizeh, “Carry my bones” (Gen. 50: 25) with you.
And so it has been throughout Jewish history. We carry with us all the fragments of our people’s past, the broken lives, the anguished deaths. For we refuse to let their deaths be in vain. They, our past, live on in us as we continue the Jewish journey to the future, to hope, and to life.
And so it is with the victims of the Shoah, the lost lives, the broken communities, synagogues desecrated and set on fire, the sacred scrolls burned and turned to ash, the children, a million and a half of them, an entire murdered generation. What our enemies killed we keep alive in the only way we can, in our minds, our memories and our memorial prayers.
There are cultures that forget the past and there are cultures that are held captive by the past. The Jewish faith does neither. We carry the past with us as we will carry the memory of the Shoah with us for as long as the Jewish people exists, as Moses carried the bones of Joseph, and as the Levites carried the fragments of the shattered tablets of stone.
Those fragments of memory help make us who we are. We live for what they died for, when we walk tall as Jews, showing we are not afraid, refusing to be intimidated by the antisemitism that has returned to Europe, or by the sustained assault on Israel, the one place on earth where Jews have ever been able to defend themselves instead of relying on friends who stayed silent, passive, when our ancestors needed them most.
So as we approach Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of history’s greatest crime of man against man, we say to the souls of those our people lost in Europe’s dark night: we will never forget you, we will never cease to mourn you, we will not let you down, until Jews can walk the world without fear, witnesses against those who choose death, to the God of life who told us: “Choose life.”
To read more from Rabbi Lord Sacks or to subscribe to his mailing list, please visit www.rabbisacks.org or follow him on Twitter @RabbiSacks.