20 January 2020

An afternoon marking
the 75th anniversary of
the end of the Holocaust

The fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I have spent this afternoon at a reception in the House of Lords to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust.

In Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and in Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry, yesterday [19 January 2020], we joined in the preparations for Holocaust Memorial Day, displaying hand-made posters with the hashtag #WeRemember, the campaign for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Earlier this morning, on another site, I posted preaching and liturgical resources for next Sunday [26 January 2020], the day before Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Gospel reading next Sunday recalls how ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues’ (Matthew 4: 23). This sharp reminder that Jesus was a practicing Jew, worshipping regularly in synagogues, comes a day before Holocaust Memorial Day.

Holocaust Memorial Day takes place each year on 27 January and is a time to remember the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution and in the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. To paraphrase the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading next Sunday, the people who walked in darkness needed to see a great light.

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) 2020 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It also marks the 25th anniversary of the Genocide in Bosnia.

The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau is a landmark anniversary. The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘Stand Together.’ Community groups are being encouraged to create their own Memorial Flame to respond to this day.

The National Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration takes place in Dublin every year on the Sunday nearest to 27 January, in the Round Room at the Mansion House, and takes place this year on Sunday next, 26 January. It is organised under the auspices of Holocaust Education Trust Ireland in association with The Department of Justice and Equality and Dublin City Council.

The Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration cherishes the memory of all who perished in the Holocaust. It recalls six million Jewish men, women and children and millions of others who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis because of their ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, political affiliations or their religious beliefs. The ceremony includes readings, survivors’ recollections, candle-lighting and music. It is attended by people from all walks of life and is a moving and dignified event.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a time to learn the lessons of the past and recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own – it is a steady process that can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. We are fortunate here in Ireland; we are not at immediate risk of genocide.

However, discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion. There is still much to do to create a safer future and HMD is an opportunity to start this process. The lessons of the past can inform our lives today and ensure that everyone works together to create a safer, better future.

Each year, thousands of activities take place on HMD, bringing people from all backgrounds together to learn lessons from the past in creative, reflective and inspiring ways. From schools to libraries, workplaces to local authorities, HMD activities offer a real opportunity to honour the experiences of people affected by the Holocaust and genocide, and challenge ourselves to work for a safer, better future.

The BBC is marking Holocaust Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau with a special televised Holocaust Memorial Day event, as well as a range of content across TV and radio.

Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, says: ‘At a time when identity-based prejudice and hostility is worryingly prevalent in the UK and internationally, HMD is an opportunity to learn about the consequences of hatred when it is allowed to exist unchecked. At this important moment, 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we are asking people to Stand Together against prejudice, and in memory of those who were murdered during the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution and in genocides which have taken place since.’

‘Don’t be content in your life just to do no wrong, be prepared every day to try and do some good.’ – Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from Nazi-occupied Europe.

Preparing to remember Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, yesterday

A prayer for Holocaust Memorial Day:

God of the past, present, and future, we remember today, 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, the millions of other victims of Nazi persecution, and all those who have been targeted and killed in subsequent genocides.

We remember those who, having survived genocide, share their stories with us:
We give thanks to You for the lessons of human stories, both in their suffering and in their joy.

We remember those who stood up against injustice and saved lives:
We give thanks to You for their example.

Together we acknowledge the sacrifice of those that stood together with those who suffered during the Holocaust and other genocides.
And we affirm that every life is loved by You and sacred.

Yet, during the Holocaust too many failed to stand together with their neighbours. Oppression stains Your world and contradicts Your love.

So we pray that You will inspire us now as we stand together on this day in the love that we know of God in Christ Jesus.

Let us commit to remembering:

And glorify God in our words and actions.

We make these prayers in the name of Christ Jesus who, through His life, death, and resurrection, journeys with us into the eternal hope of Your truth and light.

An opening prayer:

God of all people everywhere,

You reveal yourself in myriad ways, speaking through different voices to enlighten our world and enrich our lives.

All are created in your image but, in the face of prejudice and persecution, too often we fail to stand together.

So we gather today in memory:

We remember the lives of those who were murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

We give thanks for those who have courageously shared their stories.

We recommit ourselves to transform the world through your love.


A Prayer of Confession:

For too long:
We walked different ways.
For too long:
We let what separates us define us.
For too long:
We turned a blind eye.
For far too long.

When it mattered so much, we did not stand with you.

We did not see the sights you saw, hear the sounds you heard, or feel the pain you felt, through persecution and hardship and unprecedented levels of brutal inhumanity.

But now we have listened:

We have come to walk more closely,
And we commit to a new relationship.

We are here to remember.

We recall the longed-for liberation, and now we seek justice and truth.

We did not walk with you into those dark places but we walk together now, we stand together now.

For it matters still.

We will stand together.

Jesus calls us to Stand Together: A Litany

In the face of the classification of people as ‘other’,
Jesus calls us to stand together

In the face of people being singled out by labels,
Jesus calls us to stand together

In the face of discrimination,
Jesus calls us to stand together

In the face of human beings being treated as less than human,
Jesus calls us to stand together

In the face of extremism,
Jesus calls us to stand together

In the face of the polarisation of cultures with the intention of creating opposition,
Jesus calls us to stand together

In the face of incitement to hatred,
Jesus calls us to stand together

In the face of persecution,
Jesus calls us to stand together

In the face of genocide,
Jesus calls us to stand together

In the face of denial of such atrocities as the Holocaust,
Jesus calls us to stand together

We stand together with Jesus, who came into the world so that everyone might have life in all its fullness.


Preparing to remember Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 in Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry, yesterday

A prayer for use with young people:

God of justice and of peace,
You call your people to stand together, in solidarity with those who suffer;
We remember before you in sorrow:
all who perished in the horror of the Holocaust,
all who were persecuted, and all whose suffering continues;
Turn the hearts of all who persecute and oppress,
and of all who seek to divide;
Open our own hearts and minds,
when they are closed in fear and hatred,
So that all your peoples may stand together and reflect your image

Notes for an all-age address:

The theme of standing together offers a potential action as well as an attitude of the heart. An all age context invites us to start with acknowledging what the congregation has in common despite its variety. What does the unity of a church community look like and what does it mean?

One aspect of the variety may be their different experience and knowledge of persecution, hostility, and divisions within a community. Some will know about the Holocaust and some may know next to nothing. All, however, will know the feelings of being excluded or isolated, and the power of standing together (physically and symbolically).

Focus on what those feelings are – both when you are the victim and when you are the perpetrator – and encourage the congregation to own the darkness in all our hearts.

There are numerous stories of Jesus siding with the excluded (those with leprosy, tax collectors, the poor, for example) and of course being the excluded Himself, in lonely death on the cross. Share true stories about the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. Use these stories to grow empathy and see the Christian imperative to stand together.

You might return to the examples of isolating others and being isolated, and ask ‘what would Jesus do?’ Explore what practical steps a Christian might be called to take in such situations.

Further resources for Holocaust Memorial Day, produced by the Council for Christian and Jews, are available HERE.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 on 27 January 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On the way through Dublin Airport
as it celebrates its 80th birthday

Early morning at Dublin Airport … celebrating 80 years of flights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Dublin Airport this morning on my way to London for a quick overnight visit, including a reception in the House of Lords to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and a planned visit to the Bevis Marks Synagogue.

On my way through Dublin Airport this morning it is interesting to note the celebratory mood and decorations. Dublin is celebrating its 80th birthday, having opened 80 years ago yesterday, on 19 January 1940.

As I pass by the old terminal building on the way to the Ryanair Departure Gates, I am reminded how novel Dublin Airport was for our parents’ generation. How many of us remember a visit to the airport as a day out in itself, brought there to see the planes landing and taking off and ending up playing on the escalators.

Going to the airport for dinner was still the height of glamour in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Pubs in the area around the airport, such as the Coachman’s Inn and the Cate and Cage, developed a particular relationship because of their proximity, and pubs and hotels with names like the Viscount and the Airport were seen as being very fashionable and modern.

Around the airport this morning, images recall celebrated arrivals and departures over the past eight decades, including John F Kennedy’s visit, the Beatles’ arrival for two concerts at the Adelphi Cinema, and the return of the Ireland team after Italia 90.

Dublin Airport opened at 9 a.m. on Friday 19 January 1940, when the first commercial flight, an Aer Lingus Lockheed 14 aircraft, left for Liverpool.

Development work on a terminal building and grass runways began at the site in Collinstown in the late 1930s. The architect of the new terminal building was Desmond FitzGerald, an elder brother of the former Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald.

The curved building with its tiered floors was designed to echo the lines of a great ocean liner and won many architectural awards for its design. This original terminal building was designed to cater for just 100,000 passengers a year.

The airport opened with just one flight a day to Liverpool and it was effectively mothballed during World War II, as Aer Lingus operated a twice-weekly service to Liverpool. Aer Lingus resumed its London service to Croydon in November 1945.

By 1947, flights departing from Dublin had ventured as far as Continental Europe, with Dutch airline KLM beginning the first European service to Dublin. New concrete runways were completed in 1948, and in 1950 – after 10 years in operation – the airport had been used by a total of 920,000 passengers.

By the late 1950s, the original terminal was incapable of handling growing passenger numbers, so the new North Terminal was opened in June 1959. Originally it was planned that this building would handle all US and European flights, but instead it became the arrivals area for all passengers. By the 1960s, new departure gate piers were added beside the old terminal to cope with larger aircraft.

The Airport Church, with its concrete bell tower and landscaped courtyard, was designed by the Limerick-born architect Andrew Devane of Robinson, Keeffe & Devane (now RKD) of Dublin. It was built in 1964, and was one of the first modernist churches in Dublin.

Meanwhile, it soon became apparent that the original terminal building could no longer cope with passenger demand. Work began in 1971 on a new terminal building designed to cater for an expected six million passengers a year. The new £10 million terminal opened in June 1972.

Terminal 2 opened ten years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The airport has greatly expanded since then with the addition of a new terminal, new departure gate piers, an extension to the 1971 terminal building, a new runway and taxiways.

Terminal 2 and its connected boarding gate pier opened in November 2010. Today, Dublin Airport handles more than 31.5 million passengers, with more than 233,000 flights a year, including flights to almost 200 destinations in 43 countries, operated by 53 airlines.

It is the 11th busiest airport in the EU, and is one of Ireland’s key economic assets, generating or facilitating 117,300 jobs and €8.3 billion worth of economic activity.

More than 400 million passengers have travelled through Dublin Airport since that first flight took off in 1940. The old terminal, which is a listed building, is still partially used for daily passenger operations and many of the internal design features of the building have been retained as a reminder of those early days.

● A calendar with a series of photos from the past 80 years can be bought for €10 in Dublin Airport. All proceeds go to Dublin Airport’s charity partners: Debra Ireland, Gary Kelly Cancer Support Centre and Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus.

Early morning at Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)