“I didn’t feel like I had a home after the genocide because everything was destroyed. I had no home at all. I had nothing.”
(Marie Chantal Uwamahoro, survivor of the Genocide in Rwanda)
See below for hymns appropriate to Holocaust Memorial Day.
Torn from Home is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2019. Resources and suggestions prepared this year by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) explore the idea of home from different perspectives. They ask what happens when individuals, families and communities are driven out of, or wrenched from, their homes because of persecution or the threat of genocide, alongside the continuing difficulties survivors face as they try to find and build new homes when the genocide is over.
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.
One event especially in our minds this year will be the Kindertransport rescue programme, which got underway 80 years ago last December. Approximately 10,000 children, the majority of whom were Jewish, were sent from their homes and families in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to Great Britain. The first Kindertransport departed on 1 December 1938 from Berlin and, nine days later, from Vienna.
A range of resources is available on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website. You may also find helpful our article Refugees and the Bible – readings to explore, and its Refugee Week companion piece, A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.
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, as last year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme (“The Power of Words”) reminded us, 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).
Our 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 – 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.