I have enormous admiration for Archbishop Rowan Williams. He is the thoughtful, insightful, and profoundly spiritual, if frequently embattled, Archbishop of Canterbury. But today I wish I had the opportunity to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury a question that unsettles me.

I did not come up with this question myself. It was posed by Georgette Bennett, the President and Founder of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/georgette-bennett-phd/writing-jews-out-of-histo_b_1240636.html

Last Friday, 27 January 2012, on Holocaust Remembrance Day Archbishop Williams gave a moving three minute videotaped “Message for Holocaust Memorial Day 2012”.  http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/

It is a powerful address in which the Archbishop calls upon all people to give voice to the voiceless. He suggests the possibility that speech may have been given us, not merely so that we can express ourselves individually but

so that we could speak out of a sense of solidarity and community.

The Archbishop warns of

the appalling consequences of a situation where people don’t speak for the neighbour and don’t speak for the stranger, when people are concerned about their own security, their own comfort zones.

And yet, Georgette Bennett points out, Archbishop Williams managed to get through  his entire three minute Holocaust Remembrance Day address while only once using the word “Jew” and even then only indirectly by commending the work of the Council of Christians and Jews in the U.K.

So, Bennett wants to know,

How does one commemorate the Holocaust and fail to mention the major group that was singled out for obliteration?

It seems to me to be a reasonable question.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is an enormously thoughtful man. He does not I am sure make decisions lightly. He weighs his words carefully and is conscious I am sure, from long and painful experience, that his words will be heard and examined by a wide variety of people.

The omission of mention of the Jews until the end of his address, and then only as an off-hand reference cannot have been a mere oversight.

So, I want to know, what are the implications of speaking on Holocaust Remembrance Day without mentioning the single most commonly identified group that is being commemorated on that day.

No one seriously denies that there were people other than Jews in Europe who suffered grievously in the years between 1933 and 1945. The Sinti and Roma peoples suffered. Homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, people with physical and mental disabilities, all suffered horrifically under Nazi reign.

Is the Archbishop concerned that, to single out one group who suffered at the hands of the Nazis is to diminish all others? Is he worried that giving voice to one persecuted peoples’ is to silence other equally afflicted communities?

Is it possible that the failure to name Jewish suffering is to fail to pay heed to the warning Georgette Bennett offers?

Failing to acknowledge the unique targeting of the Jews in the Holocaust effectively does what the Nazis failed to do. It eradicates the Jews by writing them out of history.

The Archbishop’s choice to omit reference to the Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day underlines the difficult question of what exactly it is we mean when we use the word “Holocaust”?

It is a question that is poignantly raised in a recent Huffpost article, “History And Meaning Of The Word ‘Holocaust’: Are We Still Comfortable With This Term?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/the-word-holocaust-history-and-meaning_n_1229043.html?ref=religion

Language is difficult. The meanings and connotations of words are constantly shifting. But, the fact that “Holocaust” Remembrance Day is observed on January 27, the day Soviet forces entered Auschwitz-Birkenau and began to uncover the horrors the world had refused to see, should surely at least give us pause to join Georgette Bennett in examining the implications of speaking of this day without mentioning the Jewish people.

The Archbishop ends his address asking,

Who do we speak for? Are we willing to speak for the neighbour, for the stranger?

I want to ask him who his silence speaks for? Are there neighbours and  strangers we risk losing in the space of the Archbishop’s silence?