The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has urged people to resist a “post-truth” culture “at every level and in every conversation and debate”. He made his comments in a speech at a memorial service in Westminster, London, last night (Thursday) in advance of Holocaust Memorial Day. Each year on 27 January – the anniversary of the liberation of Birkenau-Auschwitz – the international community reflects on the holocaust and other genocides.
In his speech, Archbishop Welby said: “I have just returned from a visit to Auschwitz – Birkenau, with 60 clergy; its witness is to appalling human suffering caused by the terrible collusion of the silent majority.
“Whilst Jews and others were caricatured and vilified by unscrupulous politicians and venal newspapers, there was an unquestioning acceptance by ordinary people.
“Life goes amid a culture of alternative facts, of post truth, of collusion with deeds which sing the tunes of evil, a culture which needs to be challenged at every level and in every conversation and debate in this country, if it is indeed to be a place of safety and healing for those fleeing tyranny and cruelty, if indeed life is to go on, flourishing and fully.”
Afterwards, in an interview for BBC News, Archbishop Justin discussed his recent visit to Birkenau-Auschwitz, saying: “The most profound thing that struck me was the sheer mechanistic efficiency and the normality for those who did these terrible things: the accountants, the doctors, the architects: they just did their jobs and they never really focused on what those jobs were.
“It was absolute destruction of humanity – and their own humanity, although they didn’t know it.
“That was very powerfully seen; and I think that has to say to us we must be alert and we must speak out.”
In his speech, Archbishop Justin said: “Life goes on but the end of the killing does not mark the end of the suffering. Liberation for the survivors is a two-edged sword. It brings an end to appalling dehumanisation and suffering but starts the rest of a life, often marked by memories of what has happened, memories that circle the psyche, looking for moments to recapture the personality, and which torture and humiliate again and again.
“The restoration of individuals and communities is our responsibility as a society that rightly holds to biblical Judeo-Christian injunctions to welcome the stranger in our midst and to seek the flourishing of all within our land.”
Last night’s event, at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, opposite Westminster Abbey, was attended by the UK Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis; the British government minister with responsibility for communities, Sajid Javid; and opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn; as well as 200 survivors of the Holocaust and genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda.