Principal Marc Light looks at the camera, he is wearing a grey suit and smiling. The King David School's logo is behind him, silver on a wood background.

The importance of bearing witness

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” These words by Nobel Laureate, Eli Wiesel, capture the essence of memorialisation of the Shoah. 

This week we commemorated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. In moving t’kasim (ceremonies) we honoured the victims and heard powerful testimony from a Holocaust survivor.

In the introduction to the Magid Campus tekes our student leaders said the following: “We remember our six million fellow Jews who were murdered under the Nazi regime, acknowledge the brave people who risked their lives to save the lives of others, and reflect on the fatal consequences that hateful ideologies have on society. Our families and our families’ friends were not persecuted for their actions – they were persecuted for their religion, their culture and their nationality. Let us ensure that no victim is forgotten, with each name representing an entire life – a unique world of hopes, aspirations, likes, dislikes and passions. May we never forget.”

This beautifully encapsulates the first component of Wiesel’s directive. We must bear witness for the dead. This involves trying to move beyond the weight of statistics and numbers and to remember that each victim was an entire world. 

Every year on Yom HaShoah we display a treasured book in the lobby of Magid Campus. It is called And Every Single One Was Someone. The book is entirely made up by repetition of the word “Jew” 6 million times. In miniscule writing we see the word 4800 times on each page. This carries on for some 1250 pages.  

The power of this book is that it forces us to reduce the abstraction of the headline total number and instead compels us to understand it, not as a group, but as six million separate tragedies.

The second aspect we draw from Wiesel is to bear witness for the living. With this in mind it was an incredible privilege and honour to hear the testimony of Dr Henry Buch. Dr Buch was born in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941. He believes that he was the youngest survivor from the Ghetto. He told his harrowing story of survival that involved being hidden behind a false wall with his mouth taped shut so that his crying would not expose him. He detailed being separated from his family and being hidden in various locations until Europe was liberated.  

He described the dilemma that his father faced deciding whether Dr Buch should be circumcised. He felt that his father’s decision to do so was a near death sentence for him as it made it difficult for him to be passed off as a non-Jewish baby.

Dr Buch honoured the courage of those that enabled his survival, and particularly his uncle, and described with pride the life that he was able to build upon arriving in Australia. 

Following Dr Buch’s testimony we were able to hear from siblings, Livia (Year 12) and Sam (Year 10) who described the powerful experience of attending March of the Living as a family in 2023. Livia and Sam reflected on the moving moments of encountering their family’s heritage, of honouring their lost ancestors and of the imperative that they feel to take pride in their Jewish identity and to fight antisemitism and intolerance wherever it is found.

In my view this is the other side of the importance of bearing witness. It is indeed necessary to remember what occurred to us. It is vital for us to honour those lost. It is also vital for us to use the lessons from the Shoah to inspire us to be better people. We honour the living by insisting on fair treatment for all citizens and by challenging the erosion of human rights when this occurs. We do so in finding the courage to address antisemitism, racism, bigotry and homophobia. We do so in always striving to find ways to recognise and celebrate the humanity of the other.

Shabbat Shalom,
Marc Light