“The words that we see and hear all around us today – in newspapers, online, in conversations – the words that we choose to use, all have an impact upon us and those around us.”
See below for hymns appropriate to Holocaust Memorial Day.
The Power of Words – for good and for evil – is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2018. Resources and suggestions prepared this year by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) explore how language has been used in the past, and how it is used in the present day, informing the conception and impact of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides – through propaganda used to incite, through slogans written in resistance, and through memoirs written to record and respond to what was going on.
“I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s in me. When I write I can shake off all my cares; my sorrow disappears; my spirits are revived.”
(Anne Frank, written in her diary, 5 April 1944)
Each year, the HMDT chooses a different theme to enable audiences on Holocaust Memorial Day to learn something new about the past. Every 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.
This year we will be mindful of the exodus from Myanmar of the Rohinya minority following what the UN said was ethnic cleansing by the army. We will recall, too, the recent conviction of Ratko Mladić of war crimes in Bosnia.
A range of resources is available on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website.
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?”
For sure, we may wish to begin in silence, with no words. But then, this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme reminds us that words can – indeed, must – be used for good.
Grant us words to weave
an armour of the mind,
to keep us sane within the hurts
that torment humankind.
Alan Luff’s hymn God grant us words to speak when words are all we bear (StF 647) can be found in the Reconciliation, Healing and Wholeness section of Singing the Faith (hymns #646-657), and here can be found 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).
Let us be mindful, too, of the power of words to influence our thinking and actions. Brian Wren again recognises this powerfully in his hymn Great God, your love has called us here (StF 499), in which he speaks of “self-inflicted pains” and the “social forces” by which we are swept along – forces fuelled for the most part by rhetoric and verbal argument.
Is this perhaps a moment for Christians, also, to reflect on our very particular emphasis on words and the Word – and the power we have always assigned to it? Think for example of Before the world began, one Word was there (StF 101), which draws upon the opening verses of the Gospel of John; as does George Wallace Briggs’s God has spoken – by his prophets (StF 157).
Our singing may 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 – himself murdered by the Nazis).
Or we may confess our culpability in looking away while others suffer (we can’t deny, for example, the 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.