From time to time we are privileged to participate in very special events which mark the changing history of the Jewish people. Such an event was the Service for the Interment of the six Kedoshim at Bushey New Cemetery on January 20th 2019 corresponding to 14 Shevat 5779. With the wonderful co-operation of the Imperial War Museum, where the remains of six victims of the Holocaust had lain in the archives for decades, they were brought to the cemetery and witnessed by an estimated one to two thousand members of the Community and friends, were laid to rest with dignity and heartfelt thoughts. We stood silently and with deep respect as a small coffin containing the ashes and bone fragments of six victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau,and escorted by Holocaust survivors was wheeled into the prayer hall. The gathering included many who had come to pay tribute as well as remember, the Lord Lieutenant representing HM The Queen, Government ministers, MPs, Rabbis and the Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nicholls – to whom we spoke briefly of our times in Birmingham.
The service which was held in one packed prayer hall and relayed to a similarly packed second prayer hall and with many standing outside was led by Rabbi Nicky Liss, Chair of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue with support from Dayanim Gelley and Binstock who read the traditional Psalm 16 and a specially prepared elegy for the “Six of our Millions”.
The Hazkaraor address given by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was listened to in total silence with many showing outwardly their emotions and personal memories. His moving words as he covered the sheer hell of the Shoah, of how grateful we were to those Righteous Gentiles who had made personal sacrifices as well condemnation of those who individually and as nations stood by and did not lift a finger to help. “We were alone” said the Chief Rabbi and referring to the presence of the Israel Ambassador, he spoke of how, never again would there be no place for Jews to find a home with the establishment in 1948 of the State of Israel – perhaps just a few years too late to save so many. He told us that in the small coffin were the remains of five adults and one child. Five adults representing the 5 million adults who had perished and with words trembling with emotion, one child representing the 1 million children whose childhood and future, the entitled joy and hope, had been snatched away by the Nazi killing machine. We did not know the names of those being buried, whether they were male or female, religious or not, how they lived or made a living except for one thing, they were all Jewish. But in that coffin lay the memories of every survivor, perhaps a mother or grandmother, father or grandfather, a sister, brother or a child.
There followed the procession, up to two thousand fellow Jews and friends from outside the community, walking as quietly as any gathering of Jews can be, towards the final resting place for the “unknown six”. It was just possible in this huge crowd to hear that daunting thud as the soil fell on this small coffin, shovelled first by survivors. The ceremony ended with the entire gathering joining together with the Chief Rabbi to recite Kaddish. The grave and matevah, memorial stone will be the foundation of a new Holocaust memorial to be built at Bushey.
So what of our thoughts as we left this unique event in our history. We reflected on those survivors we know so well in our midst and our respect for their courage and fortitude. We remembered our life-changing participation in last year’s March of the Living and then were jolted into our lives today, most of us in the comfort of a mainly tolerant country which had given a home and hope to our parents and grandparents. We left with the words of the Chief Rabbi ringing in our ears, never ever to forget the price paid by those who had perished, to continue to ensure that the Jewish people lived on and on and to fight anti-Semitism and racism wherever their ugly heads rose and to continue to act and pray for peace in our world.
Perhaps the words from the elegy read by Dayan Binstock best capture our feelings and thoughts. “And now remnants of our ashes have come to us, six out of the millions of our holy ones. Whose ashes are they ? From where have you come ? After seventy years you have come to rest – perhaps your place can begin to comfort us…….. Remove wickedness from our world and plant peace in all our places”.