Remembering for the Sake of the Future
by Marcus Braybrooke
After the inauguration of the Interreligious Association for Peace and Development in Vienna last month, I visited the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Beside the horror of human evil and the sufferings of the victims, it made me aware once again, how impoverished our world has been by the destruction of so many people. Each person, in their unique creativity, would have enriched our world. The same is true for the millions of people who are refugees today. The loss of their contribution to the world due to the limitations imposed on them by this status is a tragic loss to the human family. Maha Ghosananda, the Buddhist leader often called the “Cambodian Gandhi,” said, during the murderous Pol Pot regime, that “our temples must now be the refugee camps.” Perhaps, like the concerts that are sometimes arranged in refugee camps, some peace conferences should also be held there.
Indeed, in the haunting poem ‘For I am Dead’, we hear the voice of a seven year old saying:
All that I ask is that for peace
You fight today
So that the children of this world
May live and grow and laugh and pray.
Prejudice is like weeds in the garden. You dig them up, go away on holiday for two weeks, and the weeds are back. This is why we need to be vigilant.
Just before visiting Mauthausen, I came upon a little booklet prepared for Holocaust Memorial Day. It outlines ten stages of developing genocide. We need to listen for these warning signs.
- The division of ‘us’ and ‘them’ by stereotyping or excluding those thought to be different. There are voices saying, ‘Asylum seekers don’t belong here.’ Religions too often sharply divide believers and non-believers – think for example of the problems mixed-faith couples often have to find someone to bless their marriage. At Communion services, I always invite “all who love the Lord Jesus” to the table to share the bread and wine – and quite a number of people who belong to other faiths come up to partake of Communion.
- Making people wear different clothing. The Nazis made Jews wear yellow stars. Today, it is often the other way around: forbidding people to wear what they believe their religion requires.
- Discrimination. For example, unlike Uganda where migrants are encouraged to work, in Britain asylum seekers are not allowed to have a job whilst their case in being considered, which can take two years or more.
- Dehumanisation. During the genocide in Rwanda, Tutsis were referred to ‘cockroaches.’ You have only to look at the darker regions of the web to see the ugly demonization of Muslims or Jews – or of people for their sexuality.
- Training people to kill. ISIS is an extreme example; but in most countries young men and women in the armed services are taught the most effective way to kill; it is no wonder so many suffer from post-traumatic distress. I can still remember how I shuddered with horror when during my years in the national service I had to practice using a bayonet on a sack of hay. I thank God that I never had to use one. Today, those who launch missiles often never actually see those they have maimed or killed. Only pictures are required, so they can report ‘Mission accomplished.’
- Propaganda abounds. Don’t dismiss this as ‘Fake News.’ We need to encourage people to question what they read in the press or hear from the pulpit.
- Preparation. The use of euphemisms such as ‘ethnic cleansing’ come to mind as an example.
- Persecution. Death lists are drawn up or people are segregated or driven out of their homes; the Yazidis and Rohingya peoples are two recent examples.
- Extermination – the killing begins. The UN Convention on Genocide requires the international community to act to prevent genocide, but then nations quibble about what constitutes ‘genocide’ while innocent civilians are massacred or a superpower exercises its veto. Reform of the United Nations is urgent, and I hope IAPD will campaign for this.
- Denial. The perpetrators hide the evidence. But it is important that we do not blame future generations and allow the evil to overshadow the future.
The situation in many parts of the world is dangerous, and we need vigilance and need people to be aware of the issues. We also urgently need to address the divisions within and between religions and recognise that there is One God who loves all his/her children equally.
More than 600 years ago, Dante, perhaps Europe’s greatest poet, wrote The Divine Comedy, his journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven. As he approached the Tenth Heaven, he wrote, “By now you see the height, you see the breadth of the Eternal Goodness: It has made so many mirrors, which divides Its light, but as before, Its own Self still is one.” (Paradiso, xxix, 29)
As we gaze into our own chosen religious mirrors, may we see the light of the One God reflected in every single member of one family under God.
I hesitated when I was asked to say a prayer at Mauthausen. But I remembered the words of my friend Rabbi Hugo Gryn, who, as a teenager was imprisoned at Bergen-Belsen: “When people ask, ‘Where was God?,’ I ask them, ‘Where was humanity?’”
This was my prayer:
God, Our Father and Our Mother, we believe your love is unfailing – but in this place of dark memories of torture, murder, and evil, it is hard to believe in humanity, whose actions blot out your light.
We confess the failure of the nations and the churches to hear the cry of the victims – and we confess our failure to hear the appeal of help for the refugees, the screams of the victims of war or of torture, and the cry of those dying from lack of food or water.
May your love warm our old hearts so that we become channels of love and hope and help in a troubled world.’
At the end of the 1893 World Parliament of Religions, Charles Bonney – its President at the time – said, “It is time for the religions and nations of the world to make war not on each other, but on the giant evils that afflict humanity.”
Sadly, it is still the time.
Header Photo: Max Pixel