07 June 2020
World War II and the Holocaust ended
75 years ago and must be remembered
The Covid-19 pandemic ‘lockdown’ is being lifted gradually, and some people are now holding out hopes for a short getaway at the end of this summer or rebooking their holidays into next year.
Earlier this year, before the pandemic took its grip on Europe, I managed to spend a few days in Valencia in Spain and had two visits to London for USPG meetings and interfaith work.
However, a planned visit to the Anglican Church in Myanmar on behalf of USPG was the first trip that was cancelled. This was followed by cancelling a short personal retreat in Lichfield, abandoning plans for Greek Orthodox Easter in Crete, and the cancellation of the General Synod in Dublin in May.
These disappointments were followed by the cancellation of visits to Italy, Poland, and Greece. I particularly wanted to see Warsaw and visit the site of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Jewish uprising near the end of World War II.
This is the second time circumstances have cancelled a planned visit to Warsaw. Now I am wondering whether I am going to get beyond Limerick or Dublin for the rest of this year.
I never took up playing golf – it is a bit wearisome now to joke that I am too young to play golf – and so quick, short city breaks, thanks to cheap flights with Ryanair, are my alternative to golf, and they have provided many topics for this column in the Church Review.
In my own way, I have compensated myself by occasional blog postings that offer ‘virtual tours’ of a dozen sites, such as the churches of Athens, Cambridge, Lichfield, Rome, Tuscany and Venice, the churches, monasteries and restaurants of Crete, or Sephardic synagogues across Europe.
On a much more sober note, I have also been blogging about the commemorations of the 75th anniversaries of the end of World II and the end of the Holocaust in 1945.
In a way that is typical of the worst sort of bias, the Daily Mail allowed its ‘Brexit’ prejudices to overcome historical accuracy and impartial journalism when one souvenir offer referred to VE Day on 8 May as ‘Britain’s Victory over Europe Day.’ There was almost no discussion in newspapers of this sort of the end of the Holocaust.
In recent years, I have visited the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Sachsenhausen, the Holocaust memorials in Berlin, and the former Jewish ghettoes in many European cities. In addition, I found that telling the stories of the concentration camps at Theresienstadt and Ravensbrück involved telling the stories of members – albeit very distant members – of the Comerford family.
I began this year with a visit to the House of Lords for the launch of resources by the Council of Christians and Jews to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Over the following weeks, the 75th anniversary commemorations included the liberation of the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau (27 January), Buchenwald (11 April), Bergen-Belsen (15 April), Sachsenhausen (22 April), Dachau (29 April), Ravensbrück (30 April) and Mauthausen (5 May).
A series of memorials in a variety of languages in Birkenau commemorates the victims of the Holocaust who were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz and Birkenau. Over 20 languages appear on separate plaques, representing the languages and nationalities of the victims.
Although there is no plaque in Irish, it would be wrong to think that the Holocaust was something that did not affect Ireland, for the Nazis were planning to extend their genocide to Ireland too. During a visit to Auschwitz, I was chilled by one exhibit that shows how the Nazis plan to exterminate 11 million Jews in Europe included 4,000 Jews in Ireland.
Four Irish citizens, Ettie Steinberg and her son Leon, and Ephraim and Lena Sacks from Dublin were murdered in Auschwitz, and Isaac Shishi from Dublin and his family were murdered by the Nazis in Lithuania.
Esther, or Ettie, was one of the seven children of Aaron Hirsh Steinberg and his wife Bertha Roth. She grew up at 28 Raymond Terrace, in ‘Little Jerusalem’ off the South Circular Road in Dublin. Ettie went to school at Saint Catherine’s School, the Church of Ireland parish school on Donore Avenue, and she married Vogtjeck Gluck in the Greenville Hall Synagogue on the South Circular Road, Dublin, in 1937.
She was 22 and he was 24, and they moved to France.
When the Vichy regime began rounding up Jews in France, Ettie’s family back in Dublin secured visas that would allow them to travel to Northern Ireland. But when the visas arrived in Toulouse, it was too late: Ettie, Vogtjeck and Leon had been arrested the day before.
As they were being transported to the death camps, Ettie wrote a final postcard to her family and threw it out a train window. A passer-by found the postcard and it eventually reached Dublin. The family arrived in Auschwitz on 4 September 1942. It is assumed that they were put to death immediately.
Isaac Shishi, Ephraim Saks and his sister Lena, were all born in Ireland, but their families moved to Europe when they were children.
Isaac was born in Dublin on 29 January 1891, when his family was living at 36 St Alban’s Road, off the South Circular Road. Isaac, his wife Chana and their daughter Sheine were murdered by the Nazis in Vieksniai in Lithuania in 1941.
Ephraim and Lena Sacks were born in Dublin on 19 April 1915 and 2 February 1918. Ephraim was 27 when he was murdered in Auschwitz on 24 August 1942; Lena was about 24 when she was murdered there in 1942 or 1943.
The Holocaust touched every family in Europe. We should not think that there was a family that did not lose cousins, neighbours, friends, work colleagues or school friends.
In my own family, a very, very distant family member, Hedwige Marie Renée Lannes de Montebello (1881-1944), was born in Paris but was a descendant of the Comerford family of Wexford.
She was involved in the French resistance and was captured, and on 7 April 1944. She was sent to the women’s concentration camp in Ravensbrück, where her unique number was 47135. She died in Ravensbrück on 19 November 1944.
Her husband, Louis d’Ax de Vaudricourt (1879-1945), died in the concentration camp in Dachau two months later in January 1945.
The children of Terezín
Theresienstadt or Terezín was both a concentration camp and a ghetto established by the SS in World War II in the fortress town of Terezín, 70 km north of Prague. It was both a waystation to the extermination camps, and a ‘retirement settlement’ for elderly and prominent Jews to mislead their communities about the Nazi plan for genocide. The conditions were created deliberately to hasten the death of the prisoners, but the ghetto also served a propaganda role, most notably during Red Cross visits and in making propaganda films.
The children’s opera Brundibár was composed in 1938 by the composers Hans Krása and Adolf Hoffmeister for the Children’s Orphanage of Prague. It was first performed at Theresienstadt on 23 September 1943, and was performed 55 times, or about once a week, until the transports of autumn 1944.
The opera tells the story of a brother and sister who stand up to a bully in order to afford milk to save their sick mother. It was meant to teach the children how to deal with a bully and how to remain positive in difficult situations.
Brundibár was performed 55 times in the camp for inspectors from organisations including the Red Cross. Many of the performers were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most of them died.
Hoffmeister’s final verse was: ‘Who likes mummy and daddy and our native home is our friend and can play with us.’ Erik Saudek changed this to: ‘Who likes the law, stands by it and is not afraid of anything …’ This final verse became something of an anthem in Terezín. Actors and viewers alike knew very well the meaning of these words in combination with the innocent children’s fight with the evil Brundibár.
At the end of Brundibár, the chorus sings:
We’ve won a victory over the tyrant mean.
Sound trumpets, beat your drum,
and show us your esteem.
We’ve won a victory because we were not fearful, because we were not tearful. Because we marched along singing our happy song,
bright joyful and cheerful.
The Red Cross took over the administration of Terezín and removed the SS flag on 2 May 1945. The SS fled on 5-6 May. On 8 May 1945, V-E Day, Red Army troops skirmished with German forces outside the ghetto and liberated it at 9 pm.
Only 20 of the 400 performers of Brundibár survived until their liberation. Brundibár was not performed outside Terezín until 1986, when Radio Prague recorded its international debut.
Why we must remember
Rebecca Comerford, a professional singer and actor, is now bringing Brundibár and the story of Terezín to American audiences, including synagogues, in a deliberate decision taken in the light of the present political climate.
Speaking in Etz Chaim Synagogue in Biddeford, Maine, she recalled how her company chose Brundibár as part of their programme because of ‘the current political climate, and the rise of fascism across the globe, and the pervasive rise of intolerance, not just nationally, but on a macro level, too.’
‘We decided that this would be really timely and relevant in terms of our mission, and said let’s do this outreach component, too. We’ll really discuss the messages. How do we deal with a bully? What does that mean to our children? And why do they need to know this story, so history doesn’t repeat itself again?’ Rebecca Comerford said.
‘It’s our obligation as a human family to share the story,’ Rebecca told her audience in Etz Chaim.
A recent visit to Sachsenhausen reminded me that as well 6 million Jews, the victims of the Nazis during the Holocaust included Gypsies, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses, conscientious objectors, people with disabilities, and people who joined the Resistance throughout Europe.
Some of the people I mention are distant – very distant – branches on a very extended family tree. But we have to cherish the memory of everyone who died in the Holocaust. We must refuse to distance ourselves from them, to classify these victims as ‘them.’
Contrary to the thinking in the Daily Mail, however briefly, VE Day was not ‘Britain’s victory over Europe.’ It was the victory of the Allies in Europe, the end of the Holocaust, and the end of a conflict that finally united most of the world in the struggle against fascism, and the beginning of the European project. ‘It’s our obligation as a human family to share the story.’
This feature was published in the June 2020 edition of the ‘Church Review’, the Dublin and Glendalough diocesan magazine
Sunday intercessions on
Trinity Sunday, 7 June 2020
These intercessions were prepared for Trinity Sunday, 7 June 2020, in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. However, the churches have been closed temporarily because of the Covid-19 pandemic:
Let us pray on this Trinity Sunday:
May ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of’ us
(II Corinthians 13: 13):
how glorious is your name in all the world (Psalm 8: 1).
Comfort all who are victims of racism;
challenge us when we become too comfortable.
Comfort those who are isolated and alone;
sustain and protect frontline workers;
Give hope to schools and places of education,
give wisdom to our government,
guide all who make difficult decisions,
help us to protect our communities and ourselves.
Give wisdom to people in America
crying for justice,
Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.
Lord Jesus Christ:
you call us to bring your love into all the world,
regardless of differences,
without discrimination (Matthew 28: 19):
We pray for the Church,
that we may share that life generously and in abundance.
We pray for churches that are closed this morning,
that the hearts of the people may remain open
to the love of God, and to the love of others.
In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, we pray this week
for La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico
and Most Revd Francisco Moreno,
Presiding Bishop and Bishop of Northern Mexico.
In the Church of Ireland, we pray this month for
the Diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh,
and for Bishop Ferran Glenfield.
We pray for our Bishop Kenneth;
In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer,
we pray for the vulnerable and anxious in our dioceses.
Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.
you are the breath of all creation and all life (Genesis 1: 2):
We pray for ourselves and for our needs,
for healing, restoration and health,
in body, mind and spirit.
We give thanks for new life …
We give thanks for the birth of Verity Rebecca …
and ask for your blessings on her parents, Amy and Damien …
her grandparents, Jennifer and Niall …
her great-grandmother, Ruby …
We pray for one another,
for those who are alone and lonely …
for those who are sick, at home or in hospital …
Alan ... Ajay … Charles … Tom …
Lorraine … James … Terry …
Niall … Linda ... Basil … Simon …
We pray for those who have broken hearts …
for those who live with disappointment …
We pray for all who are to be baptised,
We pray for all preparing to be married,
We pray for those who are about to die …
We pray for those who mourn and grieve…
for Michelle, Ian, and the Shorten and O’Riordan families …
for Lynn and the O’Gorman, Hodge and Latchford families …
for those who mourn PJ and who mourn Sherry …
for the Doyle family and those who mourn Margaret …
may their memories be a blessing …
We pray for those who have asked for our prayers …
and for those we have offered to pray for …
Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.
A prayer on Trinity Sunday,
in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG,
United Society Partners in the Gospel:
Let us give thanks for the perfect model of partnership
we have in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Merciful Father, …
Justice and the end of
ethnic discrimination are
the work of the Holy Trinity
Sunday, 7 June 2020,
The Readings: Genesis 1: 1 to 2: 4a; Psalm 8; II Corinthians 13: 11-13; Matthew 28: 16-20.
There is a link to the readings HERE.
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
This is Trinity Sunday, and our readings reflect key Trinitarian teachings. In the Old Testament reading, we hear of God using the plural form to express God’s joy in creating the whole of creations: ‘Let us make Adam in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion ... So God created Adam in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1: 26-27).
The Orthodox theologian Thomas Hopko argues that if God were not Trinity, God could not have loved prior to creating other beings on whom to bestow God’s love.
This love or communion of God as Trinity, which is extended to us in the communion of the Church, is the climax to Saint Paul’s message to the Church in Corinth in our Epistle reading (II Corinthians 13: 13). It is not just the Trinitarian faith into which we are baptised, but the love or fellowship of the Trinity (Matthew 28: 19-20).
Yet many clergy tell me they are afraid of preaching on Trinity Sunday, wondering how they can talk about the Trinity as a doctrine or dogmas, and yet relate it to the needs of today’s world, in its joys and its sufferings, in its beauty and with all its injustice.
A ‘Father-only’ image of God is in danger of reflecting power-lust and a need to dominate on the right, reducing God to an idol or mere totem; or, on the left, of reducing God to a mere metaphor for goodness, however one decides to define ‘goodness.’
Similarly, ‘Jesus-only’ images lead to moralistic action by Christians on the theological left or individualistic pietism on the theological right.
A ‘Spirit-only’ emphasis brings real dangers of either introspective escapism or charismatic excesses.
Yet these images are real throughout the Church, because the concept of the Trinity often appears irrelevant, due to poor teaching in our churches and a prevailing anti-intellectual climate.
Those who do preach on the Trinity on Trinity Sunday are often reduced to explaining away the Trinity as a ‘mystery’ that they expect ‘mere’ lay people not to grapple with.
Worship then becomes a transaction between an external deity and an autonomous worshipper. And it is not possible for a collection of separated and disconnected individuals to become the community of faith, to enter into the life of the Trinity.
We can only be human through our relationships. We can only have self-respect when we know what it is to respect others.
The Church is primarily communion, a set of relationships, exactly as we find in the Trinitarian God. Christianity is not a private religion for individuals; personal piety is only truly pious and personal when it relates to others and to creation.
In our first reading (Genesis 1: 1 to 2: 4a), we have a poetic description of God’s creation, reaching its climax or fulfilment in God’s creation of humanity and God’s relationship with us.
At first, there was chaos, ‘an empty, formless void’ (verse 2). However, the life-giving power of God, the ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ or Spirit ‘from God’ sweeps over this chaos. The creation story is then told in the form of a poem or hymn, with a refrain, ‘And God saw that it was good’ (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 20, 25).
As the story unfolds, light overcomes darkness, and at each stage God sees that this creation is good: from the sky and the waters, to the trees and plants, the fruit and vegetables, the Sun and the Moon, the creatures sea, air and land.
Then God says, ‘Let us’ (26), invoking a royal we. The creation of humanity is the climax of the creation story. We are made in God’s image – the Hebrew word used here implies an exact copy or reproduction. God gives his human creation dominion over the earth, acting as God’s regents, which means taking responsibility for a just rule in and care for the creation.
And we are told that not only that ‘God saw that it was good’ – as on the other days of creation – but, ‘indeed, it was very good’ (verse 31).
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that, set against the grandeur of the narrative, what stands out is the smallness yet uniqueness of us humans, vulnerable but also undeniably set apart from all other beings.
Rav Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, says any intelligent person should know that Genesis 1: 28, ‘does not mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and servants merely to fulfil his personal whim and desire, according to the crookedness of his heart.’
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) says the mandate to exercise dominion is limited by the requirement to serve and guard, as seen out in the next chapter (Genesis 2). There are limits to how we interact with the earth. When we do not treat creation according to God’s will, disaster can follow.
We see this today, Rabbi Sacks says, as scientists predict more intense and destructive storms, floods, and droughts due to human-induced changes in the atmosphere. If we do not take action now, we risk the very survival of civilisation.
Our Psalm (Psalm 8) recalls that creation story, and is a psalm of praise of God as creator and of humanity as the head of creation.
The word for mortals, ben’adam (בן־אדם), means ‘son of man.’ It is a title Jesus uses for himself, and the Greek expression (ὅ ὑιὸς τοῦ ἀνθρόπου) appears 81 times in the New Testament. It describes a righteous person or someone who does the right thing.
So, responsibility for creation is intimately linked with doing the right thing, ensuring justice in this creation. A just creation demands justice for humanity, and vice versa.
In the Gospel reading (Matthew 28: 16-20), we are with Christ before the Ascension, when he sends out the disciples in mission, when he sends them out in the name of the Trinity, to baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But he sends them out to all nations – the words used here for all nations (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, panta ta ethne, verse 19) means all ethnic groups.
In the love of the Holy Trinity, there can be no ethnic distinctions or differences. All are called, without discrimination, to obey everything that Christ has commanded. And what he commanded was to love God to love one another.
When we are created in the image of God, it is not just individually in the image of one God, but we are created collectively and communally in the image and likeness of God, who is one God in community as God in Trinity.
When we accept the old barriers of ethnic distinctions and discrimination, we are not only going against Christ’s great commission and commandments, but we become least like God, we deny being in God’s image and likeness.
When we remain silent in the face of one man’s death, when his breath is squeezed out of his life in an act of violence and racism as he cries out, ‘I can’t breathe,’ we deny God as Trinity:
● We deny the Father who has entrusted us with responsibility for justice throughout all this good creation
● We deny the Son who has commanded us in equal measure to love God and to love one another
● We deny the Spirit, the breath of God, which is the life and breath of all this good creation, and the breath and life of each individual person
Any President, any Governor, any politician, any human who tries to wriggle out of this is abdicating authority, and needs to be reminded of Christ’s words in this morning’s Gospel reading that ultimately ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given’ to Christ.
The Trinity means that as humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, then it is not just as individuals that we reflect God’s image, but that when we are a community we are most human and most God-like,
In the true community, each is valued, each takes account of the other, each has an equal place, contribution and voice. True community cannot concentrate sole authority, privilege and infallibility in one ethnic group, one gender alone, let alone one member.
All have received the breath of God, and all must be free to breathe.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
A modern icon in the style of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham
Matthew 28: 16-20 (NRSVA):
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Liturgical Colour: White (Trinity, Year A)
Father, you come to meet us when we return to you.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, you died on the cross for our sins.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Holy Spirit, you give us life and peace.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
The Collect of the Day:
Almighty and everlasting God,
you have given us your servants grace,
by the confession of a true faith,
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity
and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity:
Keep us steadfast in this faith,
that we may evermore be defended from all adversities;
for you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.
Introduction to the Peace:
Peace to you from God our heavenly Father.
Peace from his Son Jesus Christ who is our peace.
Peace from the Holy Spirit the Life-giver.
The peace of the Triune God be always with you.
And also with you.
You have revealed your glory
as the glory of your Son and of the Holy Spirit:
three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour,
yet one Lord, one God,
ever to be worshipped and adored:
The Post-Communion Prayer:
may we who have received this holy communion,
worship you with lips and lives
proclaiming your majesty
and finally see you in your eternal glory:
Holy and Eternal Trinity,
one God, now and for ever.
God the Holy Trinity
make you strong in faith and love,
defend you on every side,
and guide you in truth and peace:
An image of the Trinity presiding over Creation in Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece
3, God is love: let heaven adore him
36, We thank you, God our Father
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
456, Lord, you give the great commission
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.
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