The world does not always like it, but we are obsessed with the Holocaust. In ancient days we were told, Zachor – “remember what Amalek did to you” – the message of today’s special Maftir – and in our generation we hear a similar call, Zachor – “remember the Holocaust”. On Pesach we eat the bitter herb that symbolises Egypt; in our generation the bitter herb of the Holocaust continues to consume us.
The urgency of the duty to remember becomes greater as the years go by, not only because the pain will not go away and because there arises a new generation that knew not the horror and agony but because by witnessing to what man’s inhumanity can do, we may yet save the world from self-destructing.
But with the duty to remember the destruction comes another insistent duty – to remember, record and celebrate the Jewish life that was wiped out in the evil years. European Jewry prior to 1939 was a rich kaleidoscope of culture, religion, learning and community life. Every part of the European continent – eastern, central, western, northern and southern – had made its proud contribution to the Jewish heritage.
While we still have time to record the memories of the living survivors of that civilisation we must undertake the task with love and energy. It is not that vanished communities can be replicated, but the future cannot be built without knowledge of and inspiration from the past. This must become our second modern Zachor.