A Reflection for Holocaust Memorial Day
Marlborough College Morning Chapel
This coming Sunday is Holocaust Memorial Day, and the theme this year is ‘torn from home’. It gives us an opportunity not just to remember all the people killed in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, but also to reflect on how we, how you, can make a difference.
I wonder, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘home’? Is it the smell of the home-made lasagne that awaits you when you return for a weekend or longer break? Is it a particular place: your own bedroom with your books, posters and photos? Or maybe the first thing you think of is people: your siblings, parents or friends; or maybe your first thought are your pets, who are always happy to see you when you return.
We all have different associations when we hear the word ‘home’. But I guess for most of us, it is a place where we feel safe and are loved. A place that is and feels familiar. A place where we can be who we are, where we can relax, and indeed literally, feel at home.
Being here at a boarding school, you all know the feeling of not being home. For some, your boarding house may have felt like a home very quickly, whereas for others, it still doesn’t really. You also all know that it can be hard to be away from home, especially when there are special occasions: when it’s your birthday, or your sibling’s birthday and you’re not there. Or when you’re not feeling well, and the only thing you want is to be in your own bed and be surrounded by familiar faces. They are all experiences we can relate to, somehow.
But even if we’re not at home now, for most if not all of us, there is the reassurance that there is a place that we call home. Whether that is nearby, or far away. Whether we go there almost every weekend, or only during the longer holidays: there is a place we can bring to mind, and that in itself can be a real comfort already.
Now I’d like you to imagine, just for a moment, what it would feel like if that place no longer existed. Your home: gone. The place you felt safe, or the people you loved: you cannot return to them anymore. It’s hard even to think about it.
Someone who lost her home herself described it by saying: ‘I was numb when I saw there was nothing left … Someone had even planted corn on my land and they were harvesting it.’ Or, as another person put it: “I missed my brothers and sisters, always, to this very day. When the holidays came and people celebrated, or the families sat together, that was when this inner thing, this nervous strain came. That was very hard.”
It is hard to imagine the pain these people feel, and possibly that is a good thing. But it’s still a reality for so many people in this world. You are the next generation of people who will not only make decisions that affect yourself, but most likely they will affect many others too. And so I would like to urge you to think about the things that are important to you, and remember that they are things that are important to others too.
Nobody in this world should be forced to live without a home. So let us commit to trying to make that a reality, or at least more of a reality than it is now. And, as with all these things, the best way to start is here and now. By making sure that this place is as much of a home as it can be, both for yourself and for others.
WH Auden’s Refugee Blues expresses this feeling of not having a home particularly well:
Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.
Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.
In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.
The consul banged the table and said,
“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.
Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?
Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.
Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, “They must die”:
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.
Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.
Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.
Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.
Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.
Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.