Be the Light in the Darkness
International Holocaust Memorial Day
Be the light in the darkness is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January 2021.
This year’s theme encourages everyone to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.
It encourages reflection on the actions and motives of those people – Jews and non-Jews – who sought to resist the Holocaust in the face of indifference or outright hostility. And, it provides opportunities to remember those who actively sought to protect or save others. These individuals and communities were a light for others during this dark period of the past.
The Holocaust Educational Trust has shared the following encouraging true stories of individuals who resisted the darkness and used their influence to bring hope and light.
WHAT MAKES A HERO: Nicholas Winton
Nicholas became increasingly worried about the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s. Members of his family came to Britain as refugees so he heard first-hand about the persecution of Jews in Germany. Nicholas believed that Britain should do more to help refugees and to stand up to Hitler. One of his friends, Martin Blake, went to Czechoslovakia to help refugees after Germany took over the Sudetenland. He invited Nicholas to join him in Prague during the Christmas holiday in 1938.
When Nicholas arrived in Prague, he saw that the organisations helping refugees could not cope with the numbers of people trying to escape. They were mainly helping political enemies of the Nazis and were not able to help many Jewish parents trying to send their children away. The Kindertransport had already started but was only for children from Germany and Austria at this time. Nicholas, therefore, offered to organise the rescue of children from Czechoslovakia.
Nicholas set up an office in Prague, where he met parents who wanted to send their children to Britain. After three weeks, he returned to London, where he organised the transports with a small team of volunteers, including his mother. They found foster parents for the children and also sponsors to pay £50 for each child – the British government would only let them in if this was paid. Nicholas also tried to persuade the government to accept more children. This became more urgent after Germany invaded the whole of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.
From London, Nicholas organised eight Kindertransport trains which brought children from Czechoslovakia to Britain up to the start of the war. A total of 669 children were saved.
Nicholas’s story was unknown for fifty years until the newspapers and the BBC found out about it 1988. In the years afterwards, he was often asked why he had not spoken publicly about it before. In a newspaper interview in 2011, he said, “What I did wasn’t heroic, because I was never in any danger. I took on a big task but did it from the safety of my London home in Hampstead… What I did in those nine months of 1939 was only a small part of my life.”
After Germany took over the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in September 1938, British charities encouraged people to help refugees to come to Britain. Trevor’s school decided to sponsor two boys – it paid for them to come to the UK and stay at the school. Shortly after Christmas 1938, Trevor and another teacher from the school set off for Prague to collect the boys. Their plan was to stay in Prague for a few days and to return to Britain with the boys.
Trevor was shocked by how many refugees there were in Prague. He persuaded his mother to sponsor a girl so that he could bring three children back instead of two. However, he wanted to do more. Whilst he was in Prague, he met Nicholas Winton and the two men agreed to work together to organise the Czech Kindertransport. After Trevor had taken the three children to Britain, he returned to Prague to begin work.
Just as Nicholas Winton made sure that child refugees could get into Britain, Trevor made sure that they could get out of Czechoslovakia. He met parents, chose which children to send to Britain, organised trains, and looked after the children at the station. After Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Trevor also had to deal with Nazi officials to make sure they would allow the trains to leave. On one occasion, the British Home Office failed to send documents the children needed in time. Trevor knew the Nazis would not let the train leave unless the children had the papers so he forged copies: the Nazi officials believed they were real and the train was allowed to leave.
Trevor left Prague in June 1939 because the situation was becoming too dangerous. In the time he was there, he organised five trains. He also helped to organise the three further trains which came to Britain after he left.
Trevor only spoke publicly about his story once, in a book about the Kindertransport. He wrote that when he first went to Prague, “we so often saw halls full of confused refugees and batches of lost children… I felt that I had to do more about it.” He concluded by saying that “I shall always have a feeling of shame that I didn’t get more out.”
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
- John 1:5
What does it mean for us, in our lives today: to be the light in the darkness?
We love these words from the Hillsong worship song "Let There Be Light."
There’s no darkness in Your eyes
There’s no question in Your mind
There’s no hiding from Your face
There’s no striving in Your grace
God of mercy
There’s no borders in Your love
No division in Your heart
There’s no taking back the cross
No regret in what it cost
God of freedom
God of heaven
Let there be light
Open the eyes of the blind
Purify our hearts in Your fire
Breathe in us we pray
Let there be light
Open our eyes to Your heart
Desperate just to know who You are
Shine in us we pray
Jesus have Your way
Good news embracing the poor
Comfort for all those who mourn
For the broken hearted
We sing louder
Release from prison and shame
Oppression turning to praise
For every captive
Restoring sight to the blind
Breaking the curse of the night
For all in darkness
Proclaiming freedom for all
This is the day of the Lord
Beauty for ashes
Let the light that shines above
Become the light that shines in us
There’s no darkness in Your way
So have Your way
Lord, have Your way