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Yom Hashoa Commemoration Evening - Speech by John Searle

Yom Hashoa Commemoration Evening - Speech by John Searle

01 May 2011

Every year we come together to commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. We have been doing this as a community for over 60 years. All around the world, Jewish communities will come together, heads bowed and trying to make some sense of the holocaust, of the killing machine that was the Nazi empire. The world had never before seen such an attempt to wipe out an entire people.

What is it that brings us together to commemorate, to console one another?

Is it the loss of loved ones; mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, fellow Jews not even known to one another and yet becoming bound together through torture, mutilation and ultimately death. There were grandparents, many, like my grandmother who never got to see their grandchildren and whom we never even knew. We mourn their loss and the loss of all the offspring who never had the chance to see the light of day, to be born and to live as Jews and to make a contribution to this world.

Is it the way they were all taken from us, murdered and slaughtered in a most horrific way? Is it the loss of whole communities and the desecration of our synagogues? Is it the way in which shtetls were wiped out while the world stood idly by?

What must it have been like to live as a Jew in those years? To hear the rumors, the stories of what was happening in other towns, just like yours. To cling to the belief that it won’t be so bad. They are a civilized people. It is just a stage. It will pass and then things will return to normal.

And then posters are put up, the knock at the door; you must assemble with your family; bring no more than one suitcase. Perhaps you were then rounded up and put into a ghetto where you just waited, virtually starving and not knowing your fate. There were those that had to wear the yellow star, suffering abuse, assault, torture from people who had been their neighbors, their friends, their schoolyard buddies. Ultimately they were all herded like cattle onto trains. They did not know where they were going. They did not know why they were spending days on a train with nothing to eat, no sanitation and no rest. Even when they arrived at their destination they did not know where they were or what fate awaited them. Always clinging to the hope that it will be all right, it will pass and then things will return to normal.

As they walked through those gates, they may have noticed that sign above ''Arbeit Macht Frei'' - Work Brings Freedom. Perhaps they clung to the hope that they were in fact at a labor camp and when it was all over they would return to their homes. They did not understand why SS troops waved prisoners one way to the work camp, while others, the elderly, the women, the young or the sick were sent in another direction.

Little did they know that they were being sent to the gas chambers.  My own father did not know why his mother, brothers and sisters were sent in that other direction. He was not to learn for months what had become of most of his family.

There is no doubt that the Holocaust represents absolute evil.

So, we come to console one another and we are reminded that throughout Europe, an entire country was mobilised to extinguish the Jewish people.

Last year my daughter went to Auschwitz.  What she did not at that time realize was that where she stood to read a testimony to my father’s family was the exact spot on the platform where his family had been torn apart forever.

As she walked through Aushwitz, she thought of her great grandmother and great uncles and aunties and the lives they never had. She thought of the large family she may have had but which was taken from her.  As she saw piles of shoes & human hair, pictures of starving people who looked little more than skeletons she thought of her grandfather, of what he must of endured and wondered how can he ever smile?   We are reminded that every one who was murdered had a life with a future, a family and generations destined to follow them. All this was lost.

And so we come to mourn, to remember and to console one another.

We know what was lost in the Holocaust. But what is the legacy?

My personal legacy is that I grew up without 1 of my grandmothers, without uncles and aunties, without the possibility of ever having cousins because so much of my immediate family whom I never had the opportunity to meet were slaughtered in the gas chambers.

The legacy that we as a community carry is that the survivors, and there are still many amongst us live each day of their life in the shadow of the horrors they endured and with the memory of the loved ones taken from them.

We as a community collectively bear the sorrow and collectively mourn for the losses we suffered.

We also have to contend with those who deny that the holocaust ever occurred; those who say it is a myth, an exaggeration or worse still, an outright lie. It cannot be easy for the survivors to hear this but as a community we must meet it head on and take steps to ensure that the fact of the holocaust is never forgotten and that lessons are learned to ensure that such an occurrence never happens again, not anywhere to anyone.

We must instill within our own children a strong sense of their Jewish identity so that they remain proud of who they are, where they have come from and remain committed to the ongoing survival of the Jewish people.

Yet it seems the world has not yet learned. Look at the genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur.

Look at the threat from Iran to develop nuclear weapons and then wipe Israel off the face of the earth.

In 1933, Hitler began his rule as Chancellor by dictating that the population should not buy from Jews. Sadly, today, we see this being repeated in the odious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign where the message is loud and clear, just substituting the Jewish state for the Jewish people. An enduring legacy of the shoah is for the world to stand up against this campaign and say no, never again.

It is up to us to play our part in ensuring that another holocaust never occurs. Be it attacks against Jews, blacks, homosexuals or political rivals, we must be ever vigilant in bringing the message to the world – never again! We must educate our children; help them to understand that we cannot turn a blind eye, not to racism, not to stereotyping, not to suffering, not to prejudice of any form, not ever. We must send the message, that racism and prejudice in all its evil forms will not be tolerated.

Never again! That is our legacy.

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