Guy Brandon, 27 January 2015
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the concentration camp in Poland where more than a million Jews were exterminated during the Second World War.
Six million of Europe’s 11 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. When the scale of the atrocities became apparent, the world vowed that such a genocide should never be allowed to happen again.
70 years later, anti-Semitism is arguably more alive than at any point in recent decades. The Charlie Hebdo killings earlier this month exposed stories of routine persecution of Jews in France. As the Wall Street Journal comments, ‘Jews are leaving. A survey in 2013 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights showed that almost a third of Europe’s Jews have considered emigrating because of anti-Semitism, with numbers as high as 46% in France and 48% in Hungary. Quietly, many Jews are asking whether they have a future in Europe.’
Following Joshua’s death, the Bible records, ‘After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.’ (Judges 2:10) The period of the Judges followed, with its cycle of sin and restoration.
Remembering was fundamental to the Israelites’ identity. The annual festivals were a chance to get together, to be taught and to remember their shared history. Time after time, the Israelites are commanded to ‘remember’: ‘Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery.’ (Exodus 13:3) ‘Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, “Assemble the people to me, that I may let them hear my words so they may learn to fear me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.”’ (Deuteronomy 4:10) ‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you.’ (Deuteronomy 15:15) Like the Holocaust, the Exodus is still a key event for modern Jews’ identity, despite the fact it happened more than 3,000 years earlier.
Seventy years is within living memory, but only just. At the outbreak of the Great Financial Crisis, critics raised the idea that it had happened because the lessons of the Great Depression, which ended roughly 70 years earlier, had been forgotten – paving the way for us to repeat our mistakes again. The same may be true of anti-Semitism. Perhaps fuelled by tensions in the Middle East and economic troubles at home, Europe appears to be sliding back into habits it promised itself it had left behind forever.
Christians today have the same responsibility as the Israelites. Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is full of encouragements to remember. We gain our identity and direction as Christians by remembering the resurrection and God’s grace. Whether it is the Great Depression, the Holocaust or other major events in our more recent history, we have a duty to remember the past, and be prophetic voices in our present culture.