We will remember them…

On Monday this week, the world marked the 75th anniversary of the release of prisoners from Auschwitz, one of the death camps from the Holocaust of World War II. It is estimated that between 1.1 and 1.3 million people were exterminated in Auschwitz and about 6 million people, mainly of Jewish descent, were murdered as part of an ethnic cleansing programme in Nazi Germany. I visited Auschwitz with my wife in 2018 and I have a distinct recollection of the visit (change slide) – the sights from the main camp which included this photograph of a pile of shoes taken from people before they were killed and the sounds of Auschwitz Birkenau, the actual death camp with its gas chambers (change slide). At this second place, why the sound was important to me was because it was peaceful, with birds singing yet an eerie silence. And I wondered how the screams of 70 odd years ago could so quickly be replaced by the sounds of an idyllic countryside.

On that same trip, we went to Budapest where we encountered another memorial, also of shoes but this time shoes on the side of the river Danube. This is to remember the approximately 3500 people who were lined up on the river banks and then shot by Nazis, their bodies falling in to the water below.

I was reminded of these two personal experiences by a newsletter I read on Monday from an organisation called “Facing History and Ourselves” which spoke of the atrocities of the Holocaust in particular. One of the paragraphs from the article written by Roger Brooks said “As we’ve learned from history, it isn’t very hard for destructive forces to build a hateful army and to fabricate an enemy—too easily making a marginalized community or specific religion the “other,” deserving of condemnation or violence and even murder.”

He then quoted Samantha Power (who coined the term “upstander” which has obvious meaning) who said “Every day, almost all of us find ourselves weighing whether we can or should do something to help others. We decide on issues large and small, whether we will be bystanders or upstanders.”

Brooks goes on to say that we will not all be called to stand up to mass murder or large scale discrimination but we are all able to start small. We are able to stand up to racism, homophobia and sexism – simply by speaking up to the individual next to us who makes a joke. A joke that hurts or represents the same thing I spoke or earlier – discrimination of one person by another simply because of the colour of their skin, their gender, sexual orientation or the God to whom they pray.

Every year, at our annual Remembrance Day ceremony, I acknowledge all those who died for a cause. I close with the words “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them…” This is a promise never to forget the sacrifice made by those who fought as soldiers and our daily Last Post reminds us too. But let us also never forget those who were killed simply because they were different.

And so we use the lessons from the past to shape our thinking for the future. We learn from mistakes, big or small and realise that we too can make a difference.


Above all, we note that…

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

― Steve Maraboli,