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Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet Headshot

Why Holocaust Memorial Day Should Never Have Happened

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Back in October 2000 I was summoned to the office Britain's Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks. He was in the final stages of initiating a Holocaust Memorial Day that would be commemorated throughout the country each year on Jan. 27 -- the day of liberation from Auschwitz. My summons was prompted by a phone call he received from the Home Office regarding an article I wrote in the London Times in which I challenged the wisdom of introducing such a day. The concern raised by her Majesty's government was that they were of the impression that a Holocaust Memorial Day was supported across the religious spectrum. Yet here was a rabbi, one of the Chief Rabbi's own no less, who was publically opposing it.

My primary concern was that we already have a Yom Hashoah, a Holocaust Memorial Day, which unfortunately passes all too often without proper recognition, and, as I wrote, "it would make more sense to develop what we have already into a truly meaningful day instead of turning it into more formal ceremonies and speeches on a national scale. Our true pain and agony are private and personal and not something to be flaunted in the public arena." My point was simply that introducing a national Holocaust Memorial Day ran the risk of diminishing the uniqueness of the tragedy and thus debase the memory of all those who perished.

I repeated the theme in different words in the Daily Mail, arguing more explicitly that if we take the commemorations national we enable others with their own agenda to use it as a political football. Many took serious objection to both articles yet in no time the Armenian community protested the establishment of such a day when, they felt it ignored the reality of a genocide endured by their own people. The Muslim Council of Britain also boycotted on several occasions, because they felt such a day totally excludes and ignores the ongoing genocide and violation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

When I cited such examples in order to vindicate myself, some argued that such reactions were to be expected and would lessen with the passage of time. Alas the opposite has proven to be the case. David Ward, a Liberal Democrat MP, shortly after signing the Holocaust Memorial Trust's book of remembrance last week, blogged the following: "Having visited Auschwitz twice -- once with my family and once with local schools ... I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new state of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza."

To add insult to injury, the Sunday Times published a cartoon today depicting a large-nosed Jew, hunched over a wall, building with the blood of Palestinians as they writhe in pain within it. Stereotypical blood-libel Anti-Semitism intended deliberately to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Holocaust strikes at the very core of my heart as a Jew and as a human being. My mother, one of the "hidden children," miraculously survived along with her parents and siblings. Three pairs of my great-grandparents and most other family members perished. The establishment of a Holocaust Memorial Day has essentially enabled others with whatever agendas to dance on the graves of my family along with another 6 million and countless others besides.

As the commentator put it today: "Holocaust Memorial Day is transfiguring into a day that 'the Jews' or 'Israel' (for they will use these terms interchangeably), are to be attacked or set up, completely leaving behind the idea that the country came into existence in the wake of the greatest single crime in history."

Twelve years later they're acknowledging what I warned about since the inception of this day. I wonder if the Chief Rabbi remembers that initial meeting. I wonder what he's thinking now.