I recall listening to Radio 4’s live coverage of the commemoration held at Auschwitz on 27th January 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the camp by the Red Army. The message was crystal clear: with fewer and fewer survivors still alive, it was now incumbent on subsequent generations to remember what happened. Five years later, in 2000, the British government inaugurated National Holocaust Memorial Day to be marked each year on January 27th, and since that time, councils and schools up and down the country have held events and educational programmes.
An important aspect of these NHMD activities has been listening to the testimony of survivors – individuals like our own Rose Cannan, Margarete Mendelsohn, and Hans Levy. Both Rose and Margarete have written about their experiences of the early days of Nazi Germany, and Hans has been called upon to tell his story to various gatherings – including schoolchildren. We are honoured that they are prepared to share their memories with us.
In another 10 years or so, the last survivors of the Sho’ah will have passed away. How will we remember those days of terror and mayhem, when they are no longer around? Of course, we can read the survivor testimonies that have been published – and it is blessing for us that the stories of many survivors have been written down. Thanks to Steven Spielberg and others, thousands of hours of survivor testimony have also been recorded for posterity – and my own Uncle Jack, my father’s younger brother, thankfully, was interviewed before he died. In these different ways – through books, TV programmes, films, videos, and even YouTube recordings – those who did not have the privilege of meeting and listening to survivors, will have access to the accounts of their experiences.
But our responsibility to remember the Sho’ah, when those who bear the memory are no longer alive, extends beyond reminding ourselves of what happened then. We have a responsibility to re-member Jewish life; to do what we can to ensure that Jewish life thrives now. On Shabbat Shuvah each year, we remember the Jews of Frydek-Mistek, deported between Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur in 1942, as we read one of the congregation’s scrolls, entrusted to our care, and recall the names of those who were murdered. But we don’t just commemorate the Jews of Frydek-Mistek on our Czech Scroll Anniversary, we pay tribute to their memory whenever we gather ‘to meet, to study and to pray’, and conduct all the activities that go to make B&HPS a vibrant, dynamic, living Jewish community. 1,564 Czech scrolls were saved. Bearing the number 1,278, converted to Hebrew letters, our scroll spells Chai, Life (1+2+7+8 = 18; in Hebrew letters: Cheit – 8, Yud – 10). As we celebrate our 80th birthday in 2015, may we continue to renew the life of our precious congregation, and go from strength to strength!