As the whole world observed Holocaust Remembrance Day through various events and services over the past week, it's a moment for the Adventist community to also pause and reflect on one of history's darkest periods. Marked internationally on January 27th, the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, and serves as a sombre reminder of the six million Jews and millions of others who suffered under Nazi persecution and in subsequent genocides across the globe. In solidarity with our friends in the Jewish community, Jewish Adventist Friendship (JAF-UK) supporters in the South England Conference have participated in a number of in-person and online memorial events over the last few days.
Another term used in the context of Holocaust remembrance that is less familiar but goes deeper in explaining what happened during World War II is “Shoah”. This term is preferred by Hebrew speakers and those within the Jewish community because it refers specifically to the catastrophe that befell the Jewish people during World War II. Unlike the term "Holocaust," which is derived from a Greek word meaning "a burnt sacrifice offered whole”, Shoah lacks religious connotations and more accurately encapsulates the targeted annihilation of the Jews simply because of who they were by birth not by choice. By using "Shoah," we acknowledge the distinct nature of the Jewish suffering and reaffirm our commitment to remember and honour their specific story within the broader tapestry of World War II atrocities.
The narrative of the Shoah is a stark testament to the dangers of complicity and indifference in the face of escalating hatred and bigotry. The Nazis' rise to power and their systematic execution of genocide were not only facilitated by their own malevolence but also by the silent acquiescence of ordinary individuals. The Aryan Paragraph, the Nuremberg Laws, and other instruments of institutionalised discrimination were met with minimal resistance, illustrating the perilous consequences of societal passivity. Holocaust survivors remind us of the profound betrayal felt when neighbours, friends, and acquaintances turned a blind eye or, worse, colluded with the oppressors. This painful history implores us to recognise the potency of silence and the critical need for vigilance and action in confronting injustice.
As Seventh-day Adventist Christians we are called to learn from the past. No one is immune to propaganda and anyone can become part of the problem while finding a justification for fostering evil with the best of intentions. Saul of Tarsus comes to mind as someone who did just that. Similarly, no one is immune to the highly-contagious virus of silence in the face of injustice and evil actions. The crowd on Mount Carmel and the countless crowds listening to Jesus but not taking action in the moments when it was necessary come to mind as having done just that. The Holocaust's scale of human tragedy and the systematic destruction it wrought on individuals, families, and communities must compel us to adopt a proactive stance and to uphold the sanctity of all human life.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is, therefore, not just a day to revisit the past but also a call to action today. It urges us to educate ourselves about the horrors of the genocide of World War II and about subsequent genocides in other parts of the world such as Cambodia, in Rwanda, in Bosnia, or Darfur. It opens our eyes to see the numerous warning signs on the dangerous paths that led to such atrocities. It also challenges us to actively counteract antisemitism, racism, and all forms of discrimination in our communities and to foster a culture of empathy, respect, and understanding.
Let us remember that we are called to take concrete steps to contribute to a more just and compassionate society in the time left until the Messiah will come to restore the Earth to God’s plan. May our actions reflect the divine imperative to love our neighbour and to stand resolutely against all forms of hatred and prejudice. As we look forward to the Messiah's return and the restoration of God's kingdom, let our lives bear witness every moment to the transformative power of God's love, justice, and peace.