Holocaust Memorial Day in Waltham Forest included a contribution from local humanist member Ruth Kaufman who provided a non-religious perspective on this solemn occasion. Ruth spoke as follows:
“I am speaking as a non-religious person, because people with no belief in God also were murdered in the Holocaust, also mourn, and also must do all we can to prevent more of man’s inhumanity to man, during this one life we believe we have.
I will read excerpts from the writings of Primo Levi. Primo Levi was Italian, ethnically Jewish, and a non-believer. He was captured while fighting with the Italian Resistance, and spent 11 months in Auschwitz.
His book If this is a Man, begins with this poem
“You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find warm food
And friendly faces when you return home.
Consider if this is a man
Who works in mud,
Who knows no peace,
Who fights for a crust of bread,
Who dies by a yes or no.
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair, without name,
Without the strength to remember,
Empty are her eyes, cold her womb,
Like a frog in winter.
Never forget that this has happened.
Remember these words.
Engrave them in your hearts,
When at home or in the street,
When lying down, when getting up.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your houses be destroyed,
May illness strike you down,
May your offspring turn their faces from you.”
― Primo Levi, If this is a man
He also wrote
“Auschwitz is outside of us, but it is all around us, in the air. The plague has died away, but the infection still lingers and it would be foolish to deny it. Rejection of human solidarity, obtuse and cynical indifference to the suffering of others, abdication of the intellect and of moral sense to the principle of authority, and above all, at the root of everything, a sweeping tide of cowardice, a colossal cowardice which masks itself as warring virtue, love of country and faith in an idea.”
― Primo Levi, If This Is a Man • The Truce
“We must be listened to: … It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”