Today, as I write, it’s Holocaust Memorial Day.
It was on this day, January 27, 1945 that Allied troops marched into the Auschwitz death camps to discover the full horror of Hitler’s Final Solution as he attempted to exterminate the Jews.
Admittedly, others were sent to die in the hundreds of labour camps – the disabled, people with learning difficulties, gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christians and political dissidents – but overwhelmingly it was the Jews who perished, six million of them, in the tragedy we call the Holocaust.
The camps at Auschwitz have been preserved as a museum and memorial and I, for one, am glad, because it would be impossible to believe it could have happened, or to comprehend the scale of genocide, were it not for the evidence of one’s own eyes. I’ve been to Auschwitz, seen the mountains of empty suitcases each bearing the name of a victim; seen the mounds of hair shaved from bodies of unsuspecting arrivals, the tangled mass of spectacles wrested from frightened faces and the heaps of surgical appliances removed from the disabled.
And I’ve seen the piles of empty Zyklon B canisters, the poison gas which rained down on naked innocents expecting a refreshing shower; I’ve stood in front of the crematorium ovens where skeletal remains were reduced to ashes to be used as fertiliser in the surrounding fields.
You can’t see these remains without being amazed and ashamed at the horrors perpetrated by civilised people like us, while others equally civilised, turned a blind eye, kept quiet and did nothing.
People ask, “Where was God in the Holocaust?”
But a better question might be,”Where was Man?”
In the aftermath of 1945, the cry went up, “Never again! Never again will we allow such a thing to happen!”
Yet such things have continued to happen in places like Rwanda, Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq – whole communities wiped out because they come from a different tribe or ethnic background or follow a different religion.
Such atrocities remind us of the depths of depravity to which human nature can sink.
But don’t words like abortion, euthanasia and human cloning carry echoes of those same dehumanising tendencies?
I believe Jesus’ heart must break when He sees human life treated so casually.
It’s made me determined to treat every person with respect and dignity.
Never to stand idly by when people are treated unjustly; never to look down on or dismiss people because of physical disability or mental handicap; never to consider people useless because they come from a different race, follow a different religion or have a different colour skin.
If we all lived like that, “Never again” might begin to have some meaning.