Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany and Holocaust Memorial Day.

 ’Judas said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”….. He went and hanged himself.’ From Matthew 27:1-10.

You couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that, but life went on.

Anne Frank, in her Diary, published after her death from typhus at the age of 15 in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day this year, marked on the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, is the Fragility of Freedom and some of what follows is testimony from those involved at the time. A purple flame is the symbol of the Holocaust Memorial Trust and so the actual words of survivors are written in purple. 

When the Nazis arrived in the Netherlands, Anne wrote in her diary:

That is when the trouble started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to use trams; Jews were forbidden to ride in cars, even their own; Jews were required to do their shopping between 3.00 and 5.00p.m; Jews were required to frequent only Jewish-owned barbershops and beauty salons; 

Jews were forbidden to be out on the streets between 8.00 p.m. and 6.00 a.m.; Jews were forbidden to go to theatres, cinemas or any other forms of entertainments; Jews were forbidden to use swimming pools, tennis courts, hockey fields or any other athletic fields; Jews were forbidden to go rowing; Jews were forbidden to take part in any athletic activity in public; Jews were forbidden to sit in their gardens or those of their friends after 8.00 p.m.; Jews were forbidden to visit Christians in their homes; Jews were required to attend Jewish schools, etc. You couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that, but life went on. 

Life went on, despite what was happening, just as it does today for those still enduring the consequences of persecution, racism and hatred as others look on or prefer not to acknowledge what is unfolding. Genocide not only erodes the freedom of those being targeted, but also the freedom of those around them yet there are also those who are willing to do what they can to enable freedom or escape. 

However, many of those who survived the war and the camps found, like Esther Brunstein, that they were not free despite their liberation: The first few days after liberation were joyous and yet sad, confusing and bewildering. I did not know how to cope with freedom after years of painful imprisonment.

When freed, many former prisoners were alone and unable to return home, having to live in a new country, learn a different language and rebuild their health and lives whilst living with terrible memories and the loss of families and friends. Many were physically free, but not psychologically, sometimes remaining stigmatised or traumatised for the rest of their life. Others, like Judas Iscariot after betraying Jesus, committed suicide as they were unable to live with the consequences of what had happened. 

With persecutions since in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Dafur, the ongoing wars between Israel and Gaza and elsewhere now mean that anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim attacks as well as other forms of prejudice and hatred are increasing once more. It may be tempting and understandable to seek revenge but as the son of a partisan who avenged his murdered family by killing Nazis after the war observed at a mass war grave in Belarus:

”The greatest revenge wasn’t killing Germans. The greatest revenge was building life.”

Joe Green, in ‘Revenge: Our dad the Nazi killer’, a BBC Storyville documentary.

In whatever we are battling to overcome, therein lies the challenge for us all.

With my prayers; pob bendith. 

Christine, Guardian.