Britain’s Chief rabbi knew of the Holocaust

November 8, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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Rabbi Ben Elton has told the NSW Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women that Britain’s rabbonim were aware of the tragic murder of Europe’s Jews during WWII but were unable to help stop the slaughter.

The spiritual head of Sydney’s The Great Synagogue was guest speaker at the NAJEX Communal Wreath Laying and Remembrance Day Service held at Sydney’s Jewish Museum.

He spoke following the wreath-laying ceremony.

NAJEX president Charles Aronson lays a wreath

NAJEX president Charles Aronson lays a wreath

Rabbi Elton, who was born in Manchester in the U.K. told the gathering that his great-grandfather had been a recruiting sergeant in the WWI and had served in the Boer War. He added that his great-uncle had served in the first tank battle in WWI and his grandfather had served in the parachute regiment and another great-uncle had fought Rommel in North Africa.

He spoke of WWI Victoria Cross winner Jack White who married into Rabbi Elton’s family. He told the gathering:m “He was on a raft being towed across a river under enemy fire. The rope was broken and he dived into the water took fold of the rope and pulled the raft to safety under extraordinary enemy fire saving the lives of all the men aboard that raft.”

He said that Anglo-Jewry “faced a myriad of challenges” in both wars. He said that in WWI “many Jews in England were nor sure as what side they should be fighting on.” He said that many Jews living in England at the outbreak of WWI ‘had fled from Russian persecution” adding that Germany was much more tolerant towards its Jewish inhabitants than Russia was. He said: “Russian Jews found themselves in a country which was fighting with the Russians against Germany.” Rabbi Elton said that ultimately the Jews of Britain had to show their loyalty to Britain and support them against the Germans.

Rabbi Ben Elton

Rabbi Ben Elton

Conscription did not start until towards the end of WWI so it was important to the Jewish leadership that :Jews should be seen to be volunteering in large numbers”. Rabbi Elton that one of his predecessors at The Great, Rabbi Cohen, from the pulpit regularly encouraged young men to sign up for military service. During WWI a Jewish regiment was established in the U.K.

Rabbi Elton said that “even before WWII broke out, there was enormous effort to help the Jews on the Continent whose situation was getting more and more desperate and dire”. He spoke of the Kindertransport which saved hundreds of European Jews from the Nazis conveying them to safety in the U.K.  He said the rescue journeys were stopped by the outbreak of war in 1939.

Rabbi Ben Elton said that in Britain “the Chief Rabbi and others made huge efforts to draw attention to Nazi atrocities all the way through the war. It is sometimes suggested that communities outside of those affected were not entirely aware of what was going on during the Holocaust…or the governments of Allied nations were not fully aware. But if you pay attention to the sermons, the broadcasts, the appeals, the calls for days of fasting and prayer for the misery of European Jewry it becomes clear that the religious and lay leaders of Anglo Jewry were drawing very sharp attention to the fate of European Jewry.”

He added: “The action was not taken to bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz…that was a conscious decision and not merely a matter of ignorance.”

NAJEX president Charles Aronson presented the Sydney Jewish Museum’s CEO Norman Seligman with the medals, correspondence and documents of Gunner Mervyn Abraham Fader. Aronson said that he looked forward to the extension of the military section of the museum so that more of their archives could be seen by the public.

Rabbi Mendel Kastel recited the Memorial prayer and Kaddish was said by Mark Braham.

Once again, “The Last Post”, “Reveille”, “Hatikvah” and “Advance Australia Fair” were soulfully played by Louis Orner.

All photos Henry Benjamin/J-Wire © 2015

 

 

 

 

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