Holocaust Memorial Day 2024

That is when the trouble started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees."

(Anne Frank, writing in June1942, recalling the arrival of the Germans in the Netherlands in May 1940)

See below for hymns appropriate to Holocaust Memorial Days.

gettyimages-1203394477Fragility of Freedom is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2024.

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD), 27 January, is set aside to  remember and to learn about the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and the genocides that have followed over the years since. This year, HMD marks the 30th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda:

"Forty-nine years after the Holocaust ended, 19 years after the genocide in Cambodia, the world stood by as Hutu extremists shattered the fragile freedom in Rwanda, following decades of tension and violence, culminating in the murder of over one million Tutsis in just one hundred days."

The 2024 theme, 'Fragility of Freedom' reinforces the reality that freedom cannot be taken for granted. It means different things to different people. However, "what is clear is that in every genocide that has taken place, those who are targeted for persecution have had their freedom restricted and removed, before many of them are murdered. This is often a subtle, slow process. The ten stages of genocide, as identified by Professor Gregory Stanton, demonstrate that genocide never just happens." 

anne-frank-statue-2The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) suggests a number of resources worth exploring, including Ann Frank's diary, and a number of other books. (Picture, left: Anne Frank statue outside Westerkerk, Amsterdam.)

Also consider reading The Oppermanns by Lion Feuchtwanger (various editions, including here) or viewing writer and comedian David Baddiel's  documentary, based on his book, Jews Don't Count (Channel 4). 

Download a copy of the full HMDT Theme Vision in English; or in Welsh.

Each year, the HMDT theme is relevant to the Holocaust, Nazi persecutions and to each subsequent genocide.

We are reminded that not only were diverse groups persecuted at the time of the Holocaust (The Porrajmos, ‘Asocials’, Black people, Disabled people, Freemasons, Gay people and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as Jews) but that, in the years following, in many parts of the world other groups, tribes and people have turned on one another to horrifying effect. So on Holocaust Memorial Day, we also recall peoples of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Hymns appropriate to Holocaust Memorial Day

The question is: are there any hymns appropriate to holocaust Memorial Day? “How shall I sing to God”, asks hymn writer Brian Wren, “when life is filled with bleakness, empty and chill, breaking my will?” 

auschwitz-entrance-croppedFor sure, we may wish to begin in silence, with no words. But then, as the 2017 Holocaust Memorial Day theme ("The Power of Words") reminded us, words can – indeed, must – be used for good. Andrew Pratt picked up on this reality in his 2023 hymn for Holocaust Memorial Day, "When words are spent and grief destroys compassion". He writes: "memory fades, to leave just words revealing a horror far beyond all human cost". (Full text below – to be sung with the familiar tune, Intercessor, H&P 411.)

Alan Luff's hymn God grant us words to speak when words are all we bear (StF 647) also reflects on words and lack of words:

Grant us words to weave
an armour of the mind,
to keep us sane within the hurts
that torment humankind.

Alan’s hymn can be found in the Reconciliation, Healing and Wholeness section of Singing the Faith (hymns #646-657), alongside other hymns – or parts of hymns – that are wholly realistic about the dark experiences we encounter in our world. At the same time, writers like Fred Kaan (God! When human bonds are broken, StF 649) and William Cowper (Heal us, Immanuel! Hear our prayer, StF 650) support us in the Christian endeavour of reconciling those same dark experiences with the hope we find within the love of God.

Maggi Dawn’s Advent hymn Into the darkness of this world (StF 173), prays for God’s light in “this broken place”. As we sing, we acknowledge that neither our form of faith, nor the intensity of our experiences, may be the same, say, as that of the Jewish people herded into Auschwitz; nevertheless it is our task to cry and hope with them and all who suffer “man’s inhumanity to man”. Compare Maggi’s words with Jodi Page Clark’s prayer for mercy: Look around you, can you see? (StF 525).

bonhoefferOur singing may also emphasise hope in the darkness (Jan Berry’s Deep in the darkness a starlight is gleaming, StF 625); or reconciliation through faith (We turn to God when we are sorely pressed, StF 640, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pictured left – himself murdered by the Nazis).

Or we may confess our culpability in looking away while others suffer (we can’t deny, for example, that anti-Semitism has been justified at times by Christian teachings).

But as we reflect on crimes against great numbers of people, we will endeavour to sing with understanding and with compassion:

How shall I sing to God when life is filled with bleakness,
empty and chill, breaking my will?
I’ll sing through my pain, angrily or aching, crying or complaining
This is my song, I’ll sing it with love.

Holocaust Memorial Day hymn by Andrew Pratt

When words are spent and grief destroys compassion,
or fear of war throws shadows like a cross,
God melt our hearts and fire imagination,
that we might sense the pain within each loss.

This loss can blind our eyes and freeze our feeling,
can numb for us the pain of holocaust,
for memory fades, to leave just words revealing
a horror far beyond all human cost.

God open in our present generation,
a depth of human empathy to feel
humanity that bridges every nation,
that only love and hope and grace can seal.

Words Andrew Pratt 10-1-23 © 2023 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.


Tune: Intercessor (H&P 411)

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