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Holocaust Memorial Day: The Fragility of Freedom

An address given by Bishop Patrick on Saturday 27th January in Nottingham City Centre

Saturday, January 27, 2024
Right Reverend Patrick McKinney

A few words on the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day: The Fragility of Freedom, Nottingham, 2024

We seem to find ourselves at a time in world history where our freedoms have never been so fragile, where, without intending to be dramatic or lacking in hope, we seem to be experiencing the possible beginnings of a third world war, albeit in in piecemeal, and where the absolute value and dignity of the human person is not only being obscured, but once more is being trampled on and destroyed. In light of this, today’s Holocaust Commemoration, or the anniversary of the unspeakable cruelty of humanity as Pope Francis has called it, takes on a deeper and wider significance.

Of course, we must first look back. We must look back with sorrow and shame that the slow erosion of the freedoms of our Jewish brothers and sisters, and that of other victims of the Holocaust, and of subsequent genocides, often happened within the passive plain sight of, or even with the assent of, fellow citizens. I’m not sure what to call this – let’s call it fear or indifference. A consequence of this fear or indifference, this avoidance or turning the other way, as basic freedoms were curtailed, was the slaughter of millions of people. Our remembrance of this today must serve again as a warning to us of the danger of looking away, the inherent danger in being fearful or indifferent when other people’s freedoms are being curtailed or destroyed. As Elie Wiesel reminds us, ‘”what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.” So, as we rightly look back with sorrow, we must also be prepared to learn from our past. Today, gathered together here, it is of course correct that we, with those who will be gathered in similar Holocaust Memorial Events elsewhere, renew with hope and courage our commitment, ‘never again must this happen in our time, on our watch’. Because in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’

Yet, as we look with clarity at the world around us at this time, as we witness so many contemporary conflicts, genocides, barbarity and affronts to fundamental freedoms, we must admit, we collectively seem to have a very short memory when it comes to learning from the horrors of the past. Pope Francis, in a fairly recent book against war, reminds us of the vital importance of memory, of holding, as a precious treasure, the memories of those who suffered the trauma of the Holocaust and of subsequent genocides, and of those suffering the contemporary atrocities. He says, ‘…if we have memory, we would remember what our grandparents and parents told us, and we would feel the need for peace just as our lungs need oxygen’ and, as we feel the need for peace, we would come to understand that peace is not possible without a recognition of the immeasurable dignity of human life, of every human life, and the respect and care we owe human life’. Speaking in 2020 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust, he said, ‘The importance of today’s commemoration, of the testimonies we hear, is to keep those memories alive so that we may help to safeguard our future, for ‘if we lose our memory, we risk destroying our future’. …

I invite you, if you wish to, to join me now in a few moments of silent prayer or silent reflection.

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