Some anniversaries need to be marked, not as celebrations, but as reminders of the inhumanity that humankind is capable of.

A photo of the brick buildings of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, surrounded by high barbed wire fencing.
Auschwtiz-Birkenau, Poland
Credit: Jean Carlo Emer on Unsplash

I was at a congregation’s anniversary service last Sunday. It was a happy occasion with good preaching and special music during worship, and a turkey dinner the night before. It is good to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. It is good to remember all that we are grateful for in the life of a community or an individual.

Some anniversaries need to be marked, not as celebrations, but as reminders of the inhumanity that humankind is capable of.

This week marked 75 years since the liberation of the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. World leaders, including Canada’s Governor General, gathered in Jerusalem to mark the occasion, and to remember something that must never be forgotten.

I found myself remembering our visit to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, on a trip to Jerusalem a few years ago. Our guide, knowing that we were a church group, made a point of telling us about some of the Nazis responsible for the death camps who professed to be Christians. I am still haunted by that, unable to make any sense of it.

The horrible anniversary was also marked this week by visits to the former camp at Auschwitz by some of those who were prisoners there. Those still living were children at the time, children who were separated from their families, children who somehow survived when their parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins—in many cases their whole families—died. Some died through mass executions, some from starvation, others from disease. Media coverage of some of the survivors who are Canadians showed elderly hands holding long preserved pictures of murdered family members, and numbers tattooed on fragile forearms.

One article I read, by the child of Holocaust survivors, told of how they never spoke of their experiences. Ever. Life continued on, and new lives were built, yet some level of disquiet—of fear—was always there, and is still there for the next generation.

In hearing of such things, I know that I can never fully comprehend the experiences and the pain. What I can do is accept the need to honour the suffering, and all suffering that has been and still is, wrought by human beings against one another.

Facing things so terrible and confusing, I share these words of hope from A Song of Faith:

We place our hope in God.
We sing of a life beyond life
and a future good beyond imagining:
a new heaven and a new earth,
the end of sorrow, pain, and tears…



 — Nora Sanders is General Secretary of The United Church of Canada. 

This message was originally sent to subscribers to the General Secretary's letter, "Note from Nora." Subscribe here.

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