Running with the Baton of Truth & Remembrance
For Holocaust Memorial Day 2024, Tim Collis looks back at the tragic history of the Jews in Britain and the ramifications, but also how ICEJ UK is seeking to honour the Jews of Lincoln with a special memorial.
If history has taught us anything, it is that the slaughter, and the attempted slaughter of an entire race is a cyclical shape-shifter, emerging all too regularly in its evil expressions of spiteful hatred and murderous slaughter. At its core are denial of truth and the creation of false narratives, designed to win the hearts and minds of generations to persuade them to engage in acts of murderous violence. Remembrance of such events is an innate and God-given trait to remember things past in order that we can reflect and prepare for a better future. We need to continue to remember the slaughter of six million Jews in the Holocaust and now the massacre of more than 1200 Jews on 7th October 2023.
To prepare our hearts and minds to resist such atrocities when they rise up and attempt to destroy, we need to pass down the baton of remembrance to future generations. If we had not remembered the Holocaust, how could we have responded to the massacres of Jews on October 7th 2023? We need to continually teach and remind generations to come that such evils should be resisted with all our strengths and abilities and at every opportunity.
The Bible is full of exhortations to remember, because remembrance is the most powerful antidote to expressions of the worst depravities of man’s fallen nature. Remembrance brings a sense of humanity to a narrative otherwise devoid of truth, repentance and hope for a better future. Without remembrance, bigotry and hatred continue unbridled, unchallenged and unabated in a swamp of ignorance.
The Blood Libel of 1255
Such was true of medieval England following the declaration and official sanction given to an obnoxious blood libel in 1255 in the city of Lincoln. Many Jews, who had gathered from all over England for a wedding, were accused of murdering a 10-year old boy and of using his blood in a Jewish ceremony. This blood libel was given powerful official ratification by both the Church and the Crown.
Moreover, the blood libel was glorified in an elaborate stone shrine dedicated to the boy allegedly murdered by Jews.
There followed the execution, without trial, of many Jews from across the nation and the resultant expulsion of Jews en-masse from England in 1290. They left destitute and dispossessed of everything, except the clothes they were wearing.
England thereafter wallowed in a cess pit of antisemitism and hatred of Jews for hundreds of years, portraying Jews as grotesque, sub-human child killers. This is not unlike modern-day false antisemitic narratives accusing Jews of being child killers. The events that took place at Lincoln were also glorified in the nation’s literature, such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prioress’ Tale. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice the portrayal of the Jew, Shylock, continued the national expression of hatred toward the Jews. This false narrative perverted the mindset of the entire nation for generations, and its effect was not restricted to the British Isles. Jews were not to return to England for hundreds of years until the mid 1600’s when the nation’s minds were being renewed by the availability of the Bible in England’s native language.
However, the blood libel – and other blood libels – had already spread abroad hundreds of years earlier and had helped form and prepare the mindset for the horrors of the Holocaust to come in Europe. Publications such as ‘Der Sturmer’ in Germany in the 1930’s echoed the blood libels and again portrayed the Jews as child killers. The May 1939 edition is illustrated with Jews draining the blood of an infant, with bodies of infants strewn around the floor. The German Nazi State and an almost silent German Lutheran Church once again won the hearts and minds of a nation to achieve ‘The Final Solution’. The Final Solution was the total eradication of Jews from the land and ultimately from the face of the earth. The parallel contemporary expression is ‘From the River to the Sea’. This chant is calling for the elimination of Jews from all of Israel.
The Lincoln Memorial
In England, a memorial glorifying antisemitism and the blood libel had been erected inside Lincoln Cathedral even becoming a place of pilgrimage. No memorial since that fateful time in 1255 had been built for the innocent Jews who had been murdered by edict of the Crown. This remained a painful void to Jews and a blot on the history of the city for hundreds of years. Many Jews refused to live in or visit Lincoln even though their right of return began in the 1600’s.
However, in January 2020 at an ICEJ prayer meeting for Israel held in Lincoln, a group of Christians in the city determined that now was the time for such a memorial. Without money or design, earnest prayer was sent heavenward. Whatever design the memorial would be, it was strongly felt that it would ‘cry out’ after more than seven centuries of silence. This was analogous to the stones that Jesus said would cry out in his triumphant entry to Jerusalem (Luke 19 verse 40).
There followed a sequence of events that could only be described as the choreography of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately resulting in January 2022 with a Lincolnshire quarry owner offering, not only to provide a block of stone free of charge for the memorial, but also for it to be carved to a design of choice. But what design?
The answer came after a tour to Israel in 2022 when excavations at Magdala were visited. Central to the excavations of a 1st Century synagogue close to the Sea of Galilee is the Magdala Stone. This is a solid block of stone carved with scenes on its top and four sides depicting images and articles of the second temple in Jerusalem. The original Magdala Stone was carved before the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in AD70. It presents rare and authentic images of the Temple, reminding Jews in the far away area of Galilee of the centrality and focus of Jewish faith, Jerusalem and the Temple itself. The words of Psalm 137: 5-6 flooded in, ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget it’s cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth; if I do prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.’
It was clear that this was the design that we had been waiting for and one that would cry out to both Jew and Christian alike. The design was presented to the quarry owner who, on seeing the complexity of the carvings on photographs of the Magdala Stone, instructed a workshop in Jaipur, India to source a stone and commence carving the memorial. The donor also said he would meet all costs including transportation.
The memorial, named The Lincoln Jewish Memorial Stone, modelled on the Magdala Stone, arrived in the UK in December 2023.
A private viewing took place shortly after its arrival with the leaders of both the Lincoln Jewish communities and ICEJ UK. The effect of seeing the Memorial Stone was immediate, emotional and tangible. All were overwhelmed by the Memorial Stone, as it was already seemingly crying out its message of remembrance, reconciliation, hope and comfort. A formal presentation and remembrance service is to take place later this year, after which the Memorial Stone will be available for viewing by the public.
It is our prayer that the memorial will be a cornerstone of remembrance in the city and UK, and will cry out its message of remembrance, reconciliation and hope to generations to come.
The same call going out is to us all, to be like those living stones the Bible tells us we are in 1 Peter 2:4-6, to remember, to not stay silent and to take our stand and cry out against all forms of antisemitism. As Psalm 135 reminds us, lack of remembrance causes us to be silent, our tongues incapacitated, whereas remembrance looses our tongues and empowers us to speak. Let us cry out by our words and actions, in the cities and nations God has placed us in.
Let us run with the baton of remembrance and truth passing it down to generations to come. Never forgetting and never remaining silent. ‘Never Again’ is now. Now is the time for ‘Never Again’.
Tim Collis lives in Lincoln with his family and is an ICEJ UK Regional Representative.
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