Antisemitism is no new phenomenon. It has prevailed for centuries and remains a scourge in today’s world. It must be recognised that the Shoah did not start from concentration camp, gas chambers and crematoria. Rather it started with thoughts, books, speeches, with cinematics. It concluded with crematoria – its origins lay in ideas. Today, antisemitism increasingly manifests itself in our universities, political parties and in local government. Recent years have been difficult for British Jews, with antisemitism on the march across Britain and the continent. Jewish families who have lived for generations are leaving. Summoning their inner courage, to tell us: we fear for our safety.
There are no words. None. That can be used to illustrate the sheer horror of the Shoah: the attempt to systematically exterminate Jews and others from across the world. The collapse of civilisation and return to barbarism begins in people’s minds. Thoughts and words decay the rampart of conscience, and acculturate us to accept, and listen to words that we should reject. We must look reality square in the eyes. In Britain today, the mental deceit and fragility that racism and antisemitism is rife. They morph into new contours, form new masks and exercise evermore clandestine language. The fight today echoes that of the last century.
We will fight together against the new antisemitism. Beyond the new mask lies the face of old, the same vein-rooted antisemitism. We must not give into antisemitism, nor to anti-Zionism – a rebranding of the hate of old. We remember Britain’s heritage in providing shelter for refugee children. When Britain rejected the fascism that had infected Europe in the 1930s. By 1940, Europe was occupied by the Nazi regime, America had not entered the war. And yet Britain and the Commonwealth were left standing – fanning the flames of liberty and freedom in pursuit of śānti (peace) for the entire world.
In this seventy-fifth year after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenhau, we pay homage to the Jewish victims of the Shoah. Listening to survivors of the Holocaust and visiting Auschwitz is a life-changing encounter. Nothing can prepare you for what you see and hear. Looking back on my two visits to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, one thing reverberates first and foremost: the unbounded and cataclysmic devastation of the Shoah has eclipsed lives infinitesimally. It was moving to see the risks of the Righteous Among the Nations: non-Jews who had taken upon themselves the greatest risks to protect and rescue Jews amid those darkest days of the twentieth century.
I pay particular tribute to Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawagar, a mahā́púruṣa (a great personality), then high ruler of British India’s princely state of Nawanagar. Upon Hitler’s invasion of the USSR in 1941, the Soviet Union declared an amnesty of Poles in its labour camps. A ship with 1000 orphaned children – Jewish and Catholic – made its way across the seas. General Władysław Sikorski, Prime Minister of then Polish Government in Exile wrote to Churchill to protect the young children to no avail. The ship set sail from Siberia in 1942, being denied entry at ports on the way to arrive in Bombay where the Maharaja (who was aware of the events of the Shoah) established a camp near to Jamnagar city to protect those who sought refuge from the devastation at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Let us pledge to join and fight against antisemitism and hate in all its forms. Our commitment must not wither. And with unflailing spirit and determination: we must unroot this venous venom.
Oseh shalom bimromav. Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu. V’al kolYisrael V’imru: amen.
ॐ शान्ति: शान्ति: शान्ति: ||
Representative of Youth Development