Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Shevat 5765 - February 2, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Marking the Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

A speech By Mr. Joe Lobenstein (formerly Mayor And Councilor of the London Borough Of Hackney) at a special ceremony held on 27th January 2005 at the Town Hall to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

This afternoon I will attend, on behalf of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, a very impressive Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at Westminster Hall which will be attended by HM the Queen, Prince Phillip, the Prime Minister, and other leading personalities.

This morning I am responding to an invitation which the Speaker of Hackney has extended to me, to speak for up to six minutes on my own experiences of life in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

When I received the invitation a week or so ago, I started jotting down a few notes and scrapped them again because I didn't know where to start and where to end.

How can I express in six minutes, my feelings about when on the 10th November 1938 (Kristallnacht) the doorbell of our flat in Hanover rang at 6 o'clock in the morning, when a group of half-drunk Nazi louts — not more than 18 or 20 years old — dragged my late father from our home and dispatched him to Buchenwald Concentration Camp?

I was then 11 years old and didn't even know the meaning of the words "Concentration Camp." In my youthful ignorance I thought it was a holiday camp, until I was informed differently.

How can I express in six minutes my feelings, about when the town's huge and most beautiful synagogue was razed to the ground, with hundreds of people — some of whom I thought were my friends — joyfully dancing around the burning house of prayer, which I always regarded as my second home because I visited it for prayer with my late father three times every day?

How can I express and relate in six minutes my feelings when my late mother took me to the municipal baths, and at our third visit we had to turn back because there was a notice on the door that "Jews are not wanted here"?

How can I explain in six minutes the feelings of an 11-year- old boy who was expelled from his school because he is a Jew?

That is what happened to me.

How can I relate in the few remaining minutes the feelings of my late father, a commercial traveler in textile goods whom I accompanied during the school holidays, when he was told by a longstanding, loyal and satisfied customer: "Please don't call on us again because our children belong to the Hitler Youth Movement and they will report us to the authorities for having contact with a Jew"?

Mr. Speaker, my six minutes are up and I have only managed to scratch the surface of what life was like in Hitler's Germany in the years which led up to the Holocaust when 6 million Jews were brutally murdered. In Auschwitz alone, 1.1 million Jews died, most of them in gas chambers. I do not wish to burden you with horror stories. I want to look into the future.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word "Holocaust" as "wholesale destruction" — and that is precisely what it was; and I hasten to add that although Jews bore the brunt of this wholesale destruction, I am mindful of the fact that millions of other people laid down their lives in defense of freedom so that future generations may live.

I am also mindful of the fact that millions of lives have been lost through tyrannies committed by other nations in postwar years.

So what is the lesson of this mindless wholesale destruction which we have come to commemorate today?

I could spend hours elaborating on this subject but will confine my thoughts to one or two sentences: It is incumbent upon schools, parents and youth leaders to imbue their charges with a sense of justice and kindness towards their neighbors; to be tolerant towards people of other backgrounds, other religious views, other nationalities, other lifestyles and beliefs, so that never again — I repeat never again — will bitter hatred and murderous intentions replace kindness and mutual respect which should always be the hallmark of the human race.


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