“A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic”
This was said by Josef Stalin, who had personal knowledge of causing a million deaths.
But it is highly relevant as we reach the annual remembrance of the Holocaust.
Nobody’s imagination can cope with mass murder on this scale. What actually impinge on our minds are real human beings.
Let me give you two examples.
A few years ago, when I was Burials Officer of Guildford Synagogue, we were approached by a local bereaved family of whom we had previously been unaware. They asked us to bury their late husband and father, who was Jewish. We did so and a remarkable story emerged, as appears from his tombstone which shows not one but two sets of parents. The first were his birth parents. The second were their neighbours, to whom they had handed their three-month old son as they were sent off to be murdered at Auschwitz; they brought him up as their own and, when he was old enough, told him his story. The family rightly decided that they should be memorialised too.
The second was more personal. At about the same time my wife Lynda & I had a river cruise holiday, travelling from Budapest to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, we both visited the house of Anne Frank of diary fame. I couldn’t manage the steep stairs to the top where she hid during the Nazi occupation. Lynda came down in floods of tears. “She looked just like me at that age”, she gasped.
That’s why when Jewish communities run educational programmes about the Holocaust they focus on individuals, and we are particularly grateful to the Holocaust survivors amongst us for talking to schools about their own experiences.
This is even more important in an era in which the rise of nationalism, and the dreadful politics of emotion and identity, are again rearing their ugly heads, as they did in the 1930s. As Einstein sagely observed, “Nationalism is an infectious disease – like measles”. And, as he also said: “The definition of lunacy is doing the same thing a second time and expecting a different result.”
Philip Goldenberg (Jewish Faith)
Date: Monday 24th January 2022