JEWS and Christians worshipped side by side in Westminster Abbey
on Sunday, at a solemn service to commemorate the 70th anniversary
of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Built in 1940, near the Polish town of Oświęcim,
Auschwitz-Birkenau became the largest Nazi killing centre,
resulting in the murder of one million Jewish men, women, and
children, 75,000 Poles, 21,000 Sinti and Roma, and 15,000 Soviet
prisoners of war.
In a brief historical note at the front of the order of service,
the education officer at the Holocaust Educational Trust, Martin
Winstone, points out that the Soviet troops who liberated the camp
on 27 January 1945 found "around 7000 emaciated prisoners" - people
who were too weak to join the 120,000 prisoners who had been sent
to other death camps in cattle trucks and marches as the Red Army
The service at Westminster Abbey was organised with the West
London and Belsize Square synagogues; and contained readings,
prayers, and hymns in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish,
including music composed by victims of Auschwitz.
"We had music by Viktor Ullmann, who wrote a lot of music at
Theresienstadt before he was moved to Auschwitz, where he died," Dr
Benjamin Wolf, musical director at Belsize Square Synagogue, said.
"We also had music by Martin Rosenberg, who ran a secret choir at
Sachsenhausen. The third significant composer was Szymon Laks, who
conducted the orchestra at Auschwitz II, and who survived the camp
because of this position."
The music in Hebrew included the version of the haunting Jewish
prayer of remembrance, El Malei Rachamim, written for
victims of the Holocaust, chanted by Cantor Paul Heller from
Belsize Square Synagogue.
New material included the poem "Finis", written - and
recited - by former the Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion for the
"At a time of political uncertainty, and a time when
anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise, it seemed very important
that Christians and Jews were able to collaborate and, in
particular, that they were able to do so in remembrance - and
rejection - of a time when hostility and prejudice formed part of
the European political landscape," Dr Wolf said.
"It is good that the national Church is so welcoming to those of
other faiths. I know that our congregants have been overwhelmed to
hear their own music being performed in such an ancient and
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, said that the
service was not only a time to "reflect . . . on the cruel
suffering and terrible death" endured by victims of the Holocaust;
but also to "recognise with pride the courage of so many who
withstood the terror and tended the sick and dying".