Archbishop of Canterbury condemns abuse of Holocaust memory and anti-Semitism

By staff writers
January 29, 2007

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, has denounced the political manipulation of the Nazi Holocaust for current political ends, and has called for a renewed struggle against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms.

The remarks came in a statement issued last week to prepare for Holocaust Memorial Day, which was marked by thousands of events and services across the country on 27 and 28 January 2007.

Dr Williams drew attention to what he called “two contrasting events of the last quarter of 2006” which “[i]n different ways each highlighted very clearly why we shall continue to need an annual national Holocaust Memorial Day for the foreseeable future and why all British citizens should mark it.”

The first was an honorary knighthood conferred on Professor Elie Wiesel. “a survivor, not of some mythical event, nor of an episode of history now vague and opaque to us, but … of a real, recent and well documented series of events.”

Paying tribute to Wiesel, the Archbishop declared: “Through his life’s work he has enabled vast numbers of people to understand and appreciate something of the horror of what happened. We are indebted to him for the way in which he has honoured the memory of those who did not survive, by ensuring that they can be remembered. To use his own image, he has collected the tears of a whole generation.”

The second event, said Dr Williams, was “a sad and shocking contrast” – the conference in Teheran sponsored by the by the Institute for Political and International Studies at the request of Iranian President Ahmadinejad and announced as a “reconsideration of the evidence for the Holocaust”.

Dr Williams said: “The clear implication was that if it had happened at all, it had been greatly exaggerated from motives to do with Zionism and a European guilt complex.”

He declared: “It cannot be acceptable to treat the systematic murder of six million Jews and others as a propaganda issue for a particular cause.”

Some Muslims refuse to acknowledge Holocaust Memorial Day, accusing it of being associated with Zionist propaganda. Others have suggested that the Shoah makes all criticism of Israel inadmissible because implicitly anti-Semitic.

The Archbishop, who has recently criticised both Israeli policies towards the Palestinians and Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, continued: “It does only harm to the cause it purports to support and it brings disgrace upon those who abuse it [the memory of the Holocaust] in this way.”

He went on: “This most appalling of crimes, contradicting all principles of human dignity, compassion and justice, must be approached as a surgeon approaches a terrible wound on the human body: with extreme sensitivity, with the greatest skill and with a motivation that is rooted in a desire for healing.”

Referring to the Tehran meet specifically Dr Williams noted: “None of these were in evidence in the conference.”

The Archbishop concluded: “On this Holocaust Memorial Day in 2007 we need to be reminded by survivors such as Sir Elie Wiesel of the reality of the events that they survived. We need also to ensure that, when in future we have no survivors physically amongst us, the evidence that has been so painstakingly collected by organisations such as the Yad Vashem Foundation continues to be available to all who wish to approach and study it with the respect that is due.”

He said: “May 2007 be the year in which we resolve in every local setting to combat anti-Semitic language and behaviour with new vigour.”

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.