Remembrance is hugely important in life. More than a century after the First World War armistice, the red poppy of Flanders Field is worn with pride and the 11th hour of 11th day of the 11th month is honoured, long after that generation of lost soldiers has gone.
In the past few days, the first Yahrzeit of the late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has widely been commemorated. His living memory is his contribution to Jewish literature and liturgy.
In our household, it has become part of Shabbat ritual to read his Sedra commentary from his last book, Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas. Not only do these essays on the Bible provide inspirational thoughts for the week ahead, but they display extraordinary scholarship.
Among his most important living testimonies are Sacks’ brilliant commentaries in the Koren Mahzor series which, as the annual cycle of festivals unfurls, bring fresh insight. That wisdom should be the former Chief Rabbi’s vibrant memory for generations to come, long after his former critics among the rigid Orthodox have been forgotten.
The six million Jews who perished in the Shoah, including my paternal grandparents Sandor and Fanya, uncles, aunts and many others who died at Auschwitz, live mainly in the memories of survivors and refugees. This includes the fading recollection of an uncle taken from forest work camps to the death pit at Babyn Yar, somehow managing to climb out of the unimaginable valley of death only to be murdered later on.
The newly-opened Holocaust Galleries at the Imperial War Museum, with their interactive displays, are a triumph thanks in part to the generosity of philanthropist and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. One worries, however, that except for those visitors with a special interest in the Shoah, it will always be ancillary to the displays of military hardware and the British narrative of the terrifying V2 rocket attacks in the Battle of Britain.
When my elderly cousin and aunt, survivors of Auschwitz and strong, wise and intelligent women now in their mid-nineties, speak of these dreadful events in reverential, lachrymose tones, one knows this testimony, with its telling detail, will be lost to future generations. Museums, galleries and even video recordings will serve future researchers, academics and generations of family members wanting to know more. But for the majority of citizens, and the countless millions of visitors to London, the six million lives of Jews, the Roma, homosexual and physically impaired people who died at the hands of the Nazis currently have no fitting memorial. This despite the fact that the British people, the Houses of Parliament and the UK’s armed forced stood firmly and bravely against the Nazi evil when much of the continent crumbled.
The delays to the fully-funded Holocaust memorial at Victoria Tower Gardens, adjacent to the mother of Parliaments, has been a national disgrace. Even now, after the £100 million project has been approved, the opponents will not be silenced.
Westminster is just a stone’s throw from St James Park and a short walk from Hyde Park. The green and pastoral spaces at the heart of London are unparalleled. The stark, moving, distinctive, comb-like copper architectural structure has just the kind of distinctiveness to make it a draw for visitors. There is also something wonderfully symmetrical that the subterranean gallery will be parallel to the nearby Churchill War Rooms, one of London’s most visited sites.
It is my dream that the memorial is completed in time for remaining survivors – fewer every day – to know that their suffering will never be forgotten. We owe it to them.