I beg to move, That this House has considered the matter of Holocaust memorial day.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) for suggesting this important and timely debate. His long-standing commitment to countering racism and intolerance is well known to those of us who have known him for many years. I am also grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House for allowing the subject to be chosen today.
The Government’s commitment to promoting the aims and objectives of Holocaust memorial day is shared by hon. Members of all parties, and I commend that. Today’s debate is a valuable opportunity to demonstrate our strong and enduring commitment to holocaust remembrance. The lessons of the holocaust continue to be relevant to British society.
I am sure that the Minister agrees that the events held in the House—I went to two—and those in our constituencies, which are becoming more frequent, are valuable, have growing support and are increasingly effective in communicating the message about learning the lessons of what was done in the past, which we hope, pray and work to ensure will not happen in future.
I entirely agree, and I will shortly speak about not only national and international events, but the increase in local events, which is largely due to the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. It does an excellent job.
The holocaust is one of the most tragic events in human history. Its lessons are of universal relevance and have implications for us all. People of all faiths, cultures and races were victims of the Nazis. I strongly believe that the holocaust must have a permanent place in our collective memory. It is essential that we continue to hear the voices of survivors not only for now but for the benefit of future generations.
I have had the great privilege of sharing platforms with several holocaust survivors. Sadly, their numbers are dwindling; age is catching up with all of them. The Minister is right to say that their voices must continue to be heard. What might the Government be able to do in future when no one is left who has first-hand experience of the horror of the second world war?
The hon. Gentleman is right. In the past decade, it was therefore especially important to make the holocaust part of the curriculum at key stage 3. I hope that that work with the Department for Children, Schools and Families will make a difference in the longer term. The lessons that are passed down and the stories that are told at events such as the one in Liverpool at the weekend are also vital.
The Under-Secretary talks about lessons being learned. Does he accept that events in the world show that lessons have not been learned? The raison d’être of Holocaust memorial day is learning lessons about genocide, yet actions are taking place throughout the world, such as in Burma, against ethnic groups. Does he believe that the international community, including this country and the United Nations, should lead the world in tackling the repression and genocide that continue to happen?
The purpose of Holocaust memorial day is to learn and embed those lessons to make a difference for the future. As the hon. Gentleman says, we should learn the lessons for the future from man’s inhumanity to man.
With that in mind, the UK joined the Swedish and United States Governments in 1998 in establishing the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. In January 2000, 44 Governments from around the world attended the Stockholm international forum on holocaust education, remembrance and research. All those present signed the Stockholm declaration. The principles agreed that day have since been adapted to form the statement of commitment that underpins our own Holocaust memorial day commemoration.
This is probably an appropriate time for me to pay tribute to the work done by our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to ensure that Holocaust memorial day happened and to make the long-term commitment to it. He not only helped to bring in the commemoration, but made a commitment to ensure that it would last into the future.
Will my hon. Friend pay a resounding tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust? It takes young people from our schools on a year-by-year basis to Auschwitz and Birkenau, so that they can see the tyranny of evil that was perpetrated by the Nazi regime. The trust is a tremendous organisation that works assiduously to ensure that the young people in our communities know and do not forget.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Many of us in the House will have had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz with children from our local schools. I know that such visits have made a huge difference to the children around the country who have had the opportunity to see at first hand what happened in such places. The work of the trust is incredibly important, which is why we are backing it to the tune of about £1.5 million.
The date for this important commemoration, 27 January, was chosen because it is the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is a powerful symbol of the horrors of the holocaust. We promote the UK Holocaust memorial day at international and national levels and increasingly, as the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said, at local level.
Through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we work closely with our European and international partners to promote holocaust education and research. My Department, the Department for Communities and Local Government, provides £500,000 of annual core funding for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. This supports not only the holding of an annual national commemoration, but many of the local community activities. Five hundred local events have been held, and 23,000 people have already lit the virtual candle on the trust’s website. Many hundreds of us, if not more, were in Hope street in Liverpool to light a candle on Sunday as well. The importance of actively engaging young people has already been pointed out, and as I have said, the Government provide £1.5 million of annual funding for the Holocaust Educational Trust to support the participation of two pupils from every school and college in visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
I want to touch on last Sunday’s national commemoration in Liverpool, which I had the privilege to attend, and which rightly included the experiences of those who had suffered persecution more recently, in the conflicts in Rwanda, Darfur and the former Yugoslavia. In addition to the national commemoration, the Liverpool organisers also succeeded in running an important series of events during the preceding fortnight. Those activities were hosted by local communities originating from as far afield as Chad, the Czech Republic, Darfur, Kosovo and Rwanda. I am sure that I have the backing of the whole House in commending Liverpool—the European city of culture—and, indeed, all the other cities and towns across the UK for their commitment to actively engaging their local communities and schools in marking this year’s Holocaust memorial day. That is what Holocaust memorial day is, and should be, all about.
In Liverpool, on Sunday, I had the privilege of sitting next to a gentleman whom I had never met before. His name was Martin Stern, and he had an extraordinary story to tell. He was born in the Netherlands in 1938. His father was a Jewish architect, whom his non-Jewish mother had married despite the Nazi Nuremberg laws. During the Nazi occupation of Holland, his father had hidden with the Dutch resistance. His father was captured, however, and sent first to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald, where he was killed. By this time, Martin was about five years old. He had a younger sister, but after she was born, his mother died from a hospital infection.
Martin Stern was taken in by a young Dutch couple, but they were soon arrested because Martin and his sister had been born of a Jewish parent. As a result, he was sent to the transit camp at Westerbork in the Netherlands and, later, with his one-year-old sister, to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. He and his sister—a five-year-old and a one-year-old—were among the 150 children at the camp. I learned from Martin at the weekend that about 15,000 children entered concentration camps during the second world war. He is one of about 100 who survived that experience.
Martin Stern and his younger sister were protected by a young woman in the concentration camp. She became like a mother to them, although when they were released, she was not allowed to look after them. He was reunited with her in the 1980s, and saw her before she passed away.
The time that I spent talking to Martin before the commemoration provided me with the beginning of an understanding of what it must have been like to have experienced the horrors of the holocaust. Despite having had that experience, Martin had the resolve to make a new life in this country, and to become an eminent doctor here. His story, and those of others like him, must never be forgotten.
I thank the Minister for giving way. May I point out to him that my constituency is Warley? The old constituency of Warley, West was merged. He has spoken movingly of the testimony of survivors, but many of them are now passing away. Will he pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, and tell us what the Government can do to ensure that those testimonies are captured and kept so that future generations can understand the horrors of the holocaust?
My right hon. Friend makes an exceedingly good point. I join him in paying tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, as well as to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. They are doing a great deal of work in collecting information and stories. The day itself provided a great opportunity, and those of us who were in Liverpool learned a great deal from some of those personal testimonies. There must be opportunities for young people to visit not only Auschwitz but places such as Srebrenica, as some have as part of these trips, and to see the historical context and the stories associated with it. I hope that such visits will provide lasting memories that can be passed down the generations, because we must never forget the lessons of man’s inhumanity to man.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar) on the part that he has played in ensuring that this topical debate could take place today. I should also like to say that the Minister’s opening speech struck exactly the right note. Parts of it—the ending, in particular—were extremely moving.
I have a personal interest in this debate, in a way, in that my family background is Jewish, although it is not the religion that I, in a flawed and faltering way, try to practise. I was not in Liverpool on Sunday, but my colleague, Baroness Warsi, the shadow Minister for Community Cohesion, was, as was my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who I see in his place; he was representing the leader of the Conservative party. I have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau and I have read some of the standard works on the holocaust. Although my family did not lose any of its members during the holocaust, I remember my father telling me when I was a child that his father bought a gun in the early part of the war—they were easier to get hold of then than they are now—with the intention of shooting the entire family if the Germans landed. I reflect that if things had been different, I might not be here today, although that consideration is not unique to me, as it applies to other hon. Members.
Reflecting on the holocaust, it is hard to comprehend—I am sure that hon. Members will share this view—the sheer scale of what happened. It was the worst act of state terrorism that has ever taken place in western Europe. It is also hard to grasp that this act took place in Europe. Those of us who are Europeans—all of us present today are Europeans—find it extremely difficult to grasp that this happened in our continent, which we like to think of as one of the centres of civilisation. It is the continent of Goethe, Mozart and Kant.
I am also very moved by what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. Is it not precisely because of the point he makes that we must encourage organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust to continue their work? It was only when I went to Auschwitz that I started to comprehend the industrial nature of what happened. The young people I was with were silent for virtually the whole trip home, as they sought to comprehend what they had seen. That is exactly why we must encourage the Government to support the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The hon. Lady makes an absolutely key point. She is now the third Member in the debate to highlight some of the difficulties of educating young people who are growing up today about what happened in Europe on such a vast scale 50 and more years ago. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie) made the same point earlier. He and the hon. Lady are absolutely right.
If I understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, he said that it is difficult to comprehend how these events could have happened in Europe. He was not speaking about this particular period, but would he accept that sustained anti-Semitism has been dominant in Europe for centuries and that it would have been virtually impossible for the Nazis to do what they did if the Jews had not been attacked and persecuted over such a long period? Although Jews have perhaps had more security in this country than in most others since the 17th century, we need to remember that this country was the first in Europe to expel Jews. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the proclamation was made in July 1290, and the actual expulsion was in November—it was much the same as the expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. My point was that, as Europeans, we need to remember our common history and understand the roots of what happened. It is significant than in the 50 and more years since the war, the Churches—I am thinking particularly of the Roman Catholic Church—have changed key parts of their teaching and message to repudiate some of the inheritance of anti-Semitism that was present in that and other similar institutions. The hon. Gentleman is taking me where I want to go, as I now want to talk about the future as well as the past and to explain why this debate is so topical.
The Minister was quite right to intimate that the Jews were not the only victims of the holocaust; there were other groups such as Gypsies and, indeed, gay people. Crimes against humanity have taken place recently and are taking place elsewhere—in Rwanda, Darfur and Kosovo, for example. I understand from what the Minister said that those crimes were alluded to in the event in Liverpool on Sunday, which is obviously right and proper. Coming back to the present, however, it is a sober fact that anti-Semitism still, sadly, exists in Europe, perhaps particularly in eastern Europe and, indeed, in the UK.
In addition to commending the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, I would like to commend that of the Community Security Trust—the Minister will be familiar with it—and the all-party group on anti-Semitism. I see in their places the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and others associated with that group.
Would the hon. Gentleman care to add to the list of organisations that do such marvellous work in this area the Anne Frank Educational Trust, which has a touring exhibition throughout Britain, which has been going for many years? It draws everyone’s attention, including that of schools and communities across the country, to the horrors of the holocaust.
I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust. It has already been mentioned that two people from each constituency are invited to go on a trip to Auschwitz each year. What has not been mentioned is that MPs are also invited, and I would hope that every Member would encourage as many other Members as possible to participate in that trip. I was fortunate enough to go in October last year with more than 200 Scottish school pupils. It was a most memorable trip, and I would like to pay particular tribute to Rebecca Clark of Lawside academy in Dundee who recorded everyone’s views about it for the academy’s radio programme. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that more hon. Members should participate in these trips?
Yes, and in saying so I am half making a commitment to go myself. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point.
When I was growing up, it was recognised that the main political source of anti-Semitism in the UK was neo-Nazi groups, but the picture today is slightly different. The neo-Nazi groups are still there, but there are others who express extreme views and who believe, for example, that Jews are the enemy of Islam. That is a subject of some interest to me as the Conservative MP with the largest number of Muslim constituents. I always find that view puzzling. My constituents are often keen to point out to me that Jews and Christians are “Ahl al-Kitab”—people of the book—who are recognised in Islam as fellow believers in one God. The extremist views that I referred to are certainly not those of mainstream Muslims.
On that particular point, is the hon. Gentleman aware that a malicious rumour has been circulating that holocaust teaching is not permitted and is being reduced in certain schools with large numbers of Muslim pupils? Speaking as a Member who represents a constituency with many such schools, may I absolutely reassure him that that is not the case? Indeed, schools in my constituency have participated in the Holocaust Educational Trust activities and I have sometimes joined them. There is a strong emphasis on holocaust teaching, which crosses all the faith communities. I would like to see all-party condemnation of that rumour.
I am sure that the hon. Lady is right. I was going to ask the Minister about that. According to my research, a document produced by the Department for Children, Schools and Families referred to one teacher in a school in northern England who had allegedly backed off from teaching the holocaust because of the reaction that, rightly or wrongly, they thought they would get from Muslim pupils. Perhaps the Minister can clear that up later.
While discussing Holocaust memorial day, I wanted to make passing reference to the Muslim Council of Britain, of which both the Government and, for the Conservatives, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones have in some respects been critical. The MCB this year decided to attend Holocaust memorial day, having boycotted it for many years. It is right to give credit where it is due—it has finally decided to attend.
In relation to keeping Holocaust memorial day alive, I want to press the Minister a little on anti-Semitism in Britain today in universities and schools. It is a sobering thought that the Government are paying capital costs for school security in, I believe, 12 local authority areas. That is a reminder that the terrible legacy of anti-Semitism, demonstrated in the holocaust, is not, I am afraid, entirely gone.
I want to ask the Minister three questions. First, the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government have a hate crime taskforce, which is reviewing evidence of campus anti-Semitism. Has that taskforce had an opportunity to report? If not, when will it do so? Secondly, there is a long-standing difficulty about British citizens, or at least people living in Britain, contributing to USA-based anti-Semitic websites. I understand that a prosecution may be due. If the Minister can give any news on that, I think the House would be grateful.
Thirdly, the Government are committed to recording different hate crimes. In a Westminster Hall debate—initiated, I think, by the all-party group—a Minister gave that commitment, but apparently only one in 10 recent anti-Semitic hate crimes has led to prosecution. That is a low proportion. Will the Minister comment on what the Government can do to raise the success rate?
In closing, I looked to the account of what happened in Liverpool and found what seemed to be an apposite quote from Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, which marries up the points about past and future that many hon. Members have made today:
“We can’t change the past. But each of us, by challenging prejudice and intolerance, can change the future.”
That is an entirely appropriate thought with which to end my contribution to this topical debate on Holocaust memorial day.
Order. This might be the appropriate point at which to remind Back-Bench Members that there is no time limit on their speeches, but I suspect that, unless they confine themselves to reasonably concise remarks, I shall not be able to call every Member. I hope that there will be a degree of co-operation across the House.
We have only one hour for this debate. Those on the Front Benches have been very generous in taking interventions. I will not take interventions, simply so that I can sit down as soon as I can. Please wave a yellow or a red card at me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I go over more than four or five minutes.
This is an important debate and I am glad that the Government have found time for it. Like other Members, I have visited Auschwitz. I was there on the 60th anniversary of the liberation, but I have taken my children on private visits to Poland—to Madjenek—to try to explain to them exactly what the holocaust was. It was unique; it was not another genocide, another extermination. History is littered with those. As the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) said, we face them today, perhaps in Darfur. What is being unleashed in Kenya might also be going in that horrible direction. We hope not.
The holocaust was four years of calmly organised, purposeful integration of transport, science, engineering and construction work to put millions of Jews, Sinti and Gypsies to death. We are now finding that the death toll may be higher. I want to report to the House the remarkable work of Father Desbois, a Paris-based priest who has spent the past two or three years touring sites in Ukraine that are not recorded, discovering graves containing the remains of Jews put to death by SS and Wehrmacht Einsatzgruppen after the invasion of Ukraine.
The holocaust figures may have to be increased a little, which is why we have to say to ourselves that there is no comparison between the holocaust and other horrible moments of European, or indeed world, history—expulsions, ethnic cleansing, population transfers, massacres at the end of the Ottoman empire and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians leaving their homes in the wars of 1947 and 1948.
Nor can we class the holocaust as just a matter of history. As hon. Members have said, the holocaust was rooted in an ideology—not in hate, race or religious hate, much as those were part of it, but in an ideology called anti-Semitism. It has been said that anti-Semitism is a light sleeper. As chairman of the all-party commission of inquiry into anti-Semitism in this country, let me report to the House the fact that this is a light sleeper that is reawakening. Anti-Semitism is one of the ideological driving forces for violence, hate and terror around the world. It is international and coherent; it involves theoreticians and practitioners; its involves men of huge violence while at its soft end it involves a joke around the dinner table, or perhaps a brick hurled through a synagogue window.
We have to place on record some apostles of contemporary anti-Semitism as the best way of giving witness to our concern about and horror at what happened in the holocaust. Take, for example, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who says:
“An Israeli woman is not like women in our societies, because she is a soldier.”
He goes on:
“I consider this type of martyrdom operation”—
blowing up Jews in Israel—
“as an evidence of God’s justice.”
All this was said on the BBC, not hidden away on obscure websites. He also said:
“Allah Almighty is just; through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak a weapon the strong do not have and that is their ability to turn their bodies into bombs as Palestinians do”.
This man is an open advocate of Jew killing and of holocaust activities as they have been modernised in contemporary world history.
A few years back, Mr. Abd al-Rahman al-Sudayyis, imam at the al-Haram mosque in Mecca, said:
“Read history and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today…the scum of the human race ‘whom Allah turned into apes and pigs’”.
In March 2003, a more senior state figure, President Bashar al-Assad, said:
“Even if the peace process succeeds, it is impossible that Israel should be a legitimate state”.
Returning home, Mr. David Irving, talking late last year to The Guardian, said that the Jews were responsible for what happened to them in the second world war and that the “Jewish problem” was responsible for nearly all the wars of the past 100 years:
“The Jews are the architects of their own misfortune”,
At about the same time, Muhammad Cherif Abbas, Algeria’s Minister of War Veterans, said of President Nicolas Sarkozy:
“You know the origins of the French president and those who put him into power. Do you know that the Israelis printed a stamp with Nicolas Sarkozy on it during the election campaign?...Why has Bernard Kouchner…”—
the French Foreign Minister, who is a non-believing Jew—
“decided to cross the floor? It’s the result of a movement that reflects the views of the real architects of Sarkozy’s arrival in power—the Jewish lobby.”
There we have it again—references to the “Jewish lobby”, the cabal. The Saudi Government are publishing translations of the protocols of the elders of Zion and circulating them as contemporary historical material.
My final remarks—I shall sit down soon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and thank you for that glance—relate to material published by Policy Exchange in a report produced by Professor Denis MacEoin of Newcastle university at the end of last year. The information in question is in circulation in the King Fahad school in west London. It says that the Jews are responsible for trying to
“immerse nations in vice and the spread of fornication.”
It also says that the Jews are
“spreading immoral pornographic literature…Cheating, bribing, stealing and conning.”
It goes on to say:
“The Jews are a people who were moulded with treachery and backstabbing throughout the centuries and they do not keep their word nor honour their promise.”
Finally, let me quote Nick Griffin of the British National party, who is currently obsessed with Polish workers. A few years ago it was Asian workers, but the man has always been obsessed with Jews. He wrote a book called “Who Are The Mindbenders?”, which lists Jews who work in the media and do not use their real names. Mr. Griffin denounced the former Labour Member of Parliament for York, Alex Lyon, as
“this bloody Jew... whose only claim to fame is that two of his parents died in the Holocaust.”
In a book published in 1988, Mr. Griffin wrote:
“the Jews… shifted the alleged sites of the mass gassings from the no-longer believable German camps such as Dachau and Belsen to the sites in Communist Poland such as Auschwitz and Treblinka.”
I put those quotes on the record so that people who read the debate can understand that what we are dealing with is not history. What we are dealing with is not what happened in the past; it is alive, awake and organising. It involves British citizens. It involves many people from different countries and different faiths. We must combat anti-Semitism today with the dedication with which we so singularly failed to combat anti-Semitism and Nazism before 1939.
Although I am not Jewish, my family’s history was changed for ever by the momentous and destructive events that engulfed the continent of Europe 65 years ago. The imperative for my parents to flee Estonia under threat of persecution and probable death is the reason I am here. The United Kingdom’s generosity and compassion at the time saved my family, and for that I, like so many others, am for ever in this country’s debt.
It is my family’s history, and my strong sense of association with humanity as a common community, that made me agree to agree to work with the Holocaust Educational Trust to promote the issues that Holocaust memorial day exists to commemorate. I pay particular tribute to Karen Pollock, head of the trust, who—ceaselessly, courageously and with extraordinary poise and elegance—has raised its effectiveness to the level that we see today. We all owe her a great debt of gratitude.
I want to say a little about the Lessons from Auschwitz project, which enables sixth-form students to make one-day visits to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. It gives them a unique insight into the catastrophe that can result when anti-Semitism and other prejudice spiral out of control. Most participants return not just with a deeper understanding of the past, but with a real sense of mission to ensure that such events are never allowed to happen again.
Last year the Government provided £1.5 million to support that flagship project. It was hard fought for, but the HET is immeasurably grateful for the Government’s generous contribution, which has enabled it to expand the project dramatically and take it nationwide. The aim is to make it available to sixth-formers at every secondary school and further education college in the United Kingdom. I hope that this year representatives of all six secondary schools in my constituency will be able to act as ambassadors, and will report their findings to their schools.
One of the primary aims of the visits is to enhance participants’ sense of civic responsibility and encourage them to be active in standing up to all forms of racism and discrimination, not just anti-Semitism. It is mandatory for them to share their experiences and disseminate the lessons that they have learned in their schools and communities on their return. Many of the students who went last year chose to make it a Holocaust memorial day commemorative event, and as a result there has been a considerable increase in the number of young people participating on the day.
All Members of Parliament are invited to join students from their constituencies on the visits and become involved in their follow-up activities, and I encourage all Members to take advantage of that opportunity. Their involvement helps to inspire young people to become more politically aware and active, as well as underlining the importance of lessons that we, as parliamentarians, are duty bound to promote.
I took part in a memorial event at the Soviet war memorial in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, just over the bridge. One of the benefits of such events is that people come from all sorts of backgrounds. We saw not only diplomats from the Russian and other former Soviet embassies, but holocaust survivors and young people of, probably, 30 nationalities. They were able to meet and to realise that we are all part of the same human race, with the same rights and the same dignity.
My hon. Friend is right. Such events serve to remind us that the holocaust is not the only example of mass murder committed by the human race since 1945. Millions have died in circumstances comparable to what happened during world war two.
Auschwitz is a lesson in what went wrong in the past because human beings allowed it to occur. We should remember that those things went wrong in a highly educated, civilised, first-world country, which was not so different from the United Kingdom before it descended into the barbarism that is commemorated on Holocaust memorial day. Although we should recognise that other events have taken place around the world, the holocaust in Germany stands ignominiously as the worst of them all. I hope that all of us, including our colleagues who are not present today, will agree that the only thing that we really must regard as intolerable is intolerance itself. That, in my judgment, is the strongest insurance: the best way in which to make certain that human history’s darkest hour is never repeated.
I welcome the debate. I shall try to be brief, as others wish to speak.
Earlier in the Session I tabled early-day motion 648 to commemorate Holocaust memorial day. I thank all 169 Members in all parts of the House who showed their support by signing it.
This year’s Holocaust memorial day theme was “Imagine, remember, reflect and react”. On Sunday I attended a local memorial service in Brigg, organised by Brigg town council. The council has an annual ceremony and a permanent memorial in the Angel courtyard, in the council buildings in the market place. This year’s event was led by our first-class mayor Mike Doherty and his wife Pat, and was organised by our excellent town clerk, Jeanette Woollard. The ceremony was short, moving and effective, involving people of all ages and different religions. It was an honour and a privilege to participate in it. Along with the mayor and eight schoolchildren, I placed 10 stones around the permanent memorial to commemorate the 10 million people who died at the hands of the Nazis.
Keeping the memory alive is important, hence the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust, which is 20 years old this year. They have championed holocaust education in schools, and it has been on the curriculum since 1991. It has been claimed that it will be diminished or removed from the curriculum, and I have seen—as, I am sure, have many Members—some of the e-mails that were sent as part of a campaign to prevent any such move. Their purpose seemed to be to send an anti-Muslim message, attacking Muslims for being somehow responsible.
Those e-mails, which served as a chilling reminder of how quickly prejudice can spread, ended up in America, in a world so insular that people thought “UK” stood for “University of Kentucky”. Representatives of the university had to issue a press statement making it clear that it was nothing to do with them. Indeed, as far as I can see it was nothing to do with anything at all, but it would be good if the Minister reiterated that holocaust education will remain on the curriculum.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) mentioned the Lessons from Auschwitz project and the £1.5 million grant that the Government provided last year, which has allowed the project to expand so that all schools can participate. I hope the Minister will also confirm that such funding will continue.
Just over a year ago, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the morning, we visited Auschwitz, which was bizarre as it looked like a film set. It is a former barracks, and it was quite smart and well built, and I could imagine a film being made there. It was the afternoon visit to Birkenau that really hit home. Birkenau is on a different scale and it is purpose-built: it is enormous and it is designed to kill efficiently—to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. It is a chilling experience, and I believe that the memory of Birkenau will live with anybody who visits it.
I remember standing on the platform by the railway track, where there is a large photograph of literally thousands of Jewish people going through the infamous separation, with a doctor holding his arm out to direct those who have to go the way that leads straight to death. There is a large shed in the background of the photograph, and after a few moments visitors realise that that shed is still there and that they are standing in exactly the place where those events happened.
The hon. Gentleman is speaking very movingly about his visit, and it is important that people see this terrible place. It is also important to hear from people who actually experienced the holocaust—the survivors. As those survivors are growing older and increasingly frail, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to keep alive their testimony through DVDs and other recordings and that every effort should be made to circulate such recordings to future generations?
I entirely agree. In fact, the Holocaust Educational Trust made a DVD on such recollections and won a BAFTA for it. That is another of its great achievements, and I am sure it will help in future holocaust education.
It takes hours to tour all of Birkenau, and we finished with a memorial service around the ruins of one of the crematoriums. Afterwards, it was dark and we walked along what is probably the most infamous railway track in the world. It is impossible not to be affected. On the coach journey back to the airport, I spoke to some young people, and what they said was revealing. They had done holocaust education at school—in fact, they had done extra holocaust education as they had attended a seminar prior to the visit—but nothing had hit home as much as the visit itself. That is why I hope that the Government will ensure that that is funded in future.
Some people ask me, “Why the holocaust? There have been many other atrocities, both before and since.” Indeed, there have, but the holocaust was so awful and so huge. Two out of three European Jews, and millions from other minority groups, were killed. It happened during a conflict we were involved in, it happened in countries not far away and, in historical terms, it happened not long ago.
I believe that if we are not vigilant it could happen again. That is why we all must follow the theme of this year’s Holocaust memorial day: imagine, remember, reflect, react. If we do, the chances of there being another holocaust will be greatly diminished and the world will be a better place.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. My grandmother was killed at Auschwitz. I was partly brought up by an aunt who survived it, after having actually been in a gas chamber more than once, and I have an uncle, happily still alive, who survived two other concentration camps. So the holocaust has had a direct and terrible effect on my family.
I have, of course, visited Auschwitz. One of the most chilling exhibits—of the many, many chilling exhibits—is the map that was prepared for the 1943 Wannsee conference. It depicts the countries of Europe, and beside each country is the number of Jews whom the Nazis expected to take and kill. The map includes England, and there is a number attached to it.
I am glad that this debate is being held because, as all Members have said, we must never forget, and I echo the tributes that have been paid to the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for their excellent work. We must also never forget that Jews were not the only group who were devastated by this unprecedented and unique horror.
I do not propose to attempt to describe the horrors that occurred on our continent just over 60 years ago; they are well documented. I want to make a different point. The holocaust saw the deepest degradation of the human spirit that we have ever witnessed, but it also gave rise to some outstanding acts of heroism both by Jews, such as those that occurred in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and by non-Jews. Many of those acts have been researched and recognised by the Yad Vashem UK Foundation, which also does much to keep memories of the holocaust alive, and I would like to cite just one example.
On the eve of the German occupation of Warsaw, the director of the Warsaw zoo was a man called Dr. Zabinski. The Germans appointed him superintendent of the city’s public parks as well. Availing himself of the opportunity to visit the Warsaw ghetto, ostensibly to inspect the state of the flora within the ghetto walls, Dr. Zabinski maintained contact with pre-war Jewish colleagues and friends and helped them escape to, and find shelter on, the so-called “Aryan” side of the city. Many cages in the zoo had been emptied of animals during the September 1939 air assault on Warsaw, and Dr. Zabinski decided to use them as hiding places for fleeing Jews. Over the course of three years, hundreds of Jews found temporary shelter in those abandoned animal cells, located on the western bank of the River Vistula, until they were able to relocate to permanent places of refuge elsewhere. In addition, close to a dozen Jews were sheltered in Dr. Zabinski’s two-storey private home in the zoo’s grounds. In this extraordinarily dangerous undertaking, he was assisted by his wife, Antonina, a recognised author, and their young son, Ryszard, who nourished, and looked after the needs of, the many distraught Jews in their care.
At first, Dr. Zabinski paid from his own funds to subsidise the maintenance costs, and later money was received through the Jewish Committee. He was an active member of the Polish underground army, and he took part in the Warsaw uprising of August and September 1944. When it was suppressed, he was taken as a prisoner to Germany, but his wife continued his work, looking after the needs of some of the Jews left behind in the ruins of the city.
I believe that that is a truly extraordinary story, and it illustrates, as do so many other stories, that while the holocaust saw the human spirit sink to depths of degradation previously unplumbed, it also saw the human spirit soar to extraordinary heights of heroism and self-sacrifice.
Perhaps—this point might be a little more controversial—there is a lesson here for us Members. We are legislators. We make laws that seek to frame, to regulate and to modify the conduct of our fellow citizens, but the extremes of human conduct—for bad and for good—that we saw during the holocaust, and that we continue to see on a smaller scale today, are in many ways beyond our reach, and the ability we have to influence them by passing laws is limited.
I am nearing the end of the period during which I have had the enormous privilege of serving in this House, and as I reflect on the lessons we legislators in particular can learn from the events of six decades ago I believe that a sense of humility should come very high on the list. It is not an easy lesson to learn—I certainly cannot claim to be one of its best pupils—but we should all do our best to take it to heart.
It is a privilege to follow such a moving speech from the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Ten years ago, as a new Member of Parliament, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Holocaust Educational Trust. I pay tribute to Rabbi Barry Marcus, who was a stalwart of that visit and has been one ever since. As all hon. Members have mentioned, it was a moving experience. We all bring back our own memories. The trigger, for me, was seeing a great mound of shoes. None of the shoes had laces—that was what brought home to me the industrial nature of the holocaust; some poor slave labourers had had to go round taking all the laces out.
Like everyone else, I was moved. On the plane home I asked myself what I could do, as an individual, to ensure that the holocaust never happens again. In those days, there was no Holocaust memorial day. The idea of one had been floating around, but nobody had done much to bring it about. I thought I would make it my big campaign in Parliament to achieve that, so I introduced a ten-minute Bill, raised the matter with the then Prime Minister and enlisted his support. I am pleased to say that that ultimately led to the first Holocaust memorial day in January 2001. I am pleased about the great consensus in the country as a whole that it was a good idea, but I must point out that it was controversial at the time. Indeed, I was described in the Daily Mail as a “holocaust bore” because of my efforts to bring it about.
Quentin Letts in fact.
There was much debate and argument about the holocaust day both within and outside the Jewish community. I was going around advocating the cause in synagogues and debating it with Jewish people. I spoke before the Board of Deputies of British Jews, where there was even one vote against; one can never get unanimity in the Board of Deputies. Ultimately, there was great support for my proposal, because the purpose of a Holocaust memorial day, as I, and I believe everybody else, envisaged it by the time that the debate had finished, was that it was different from Yom Ha-Shoah, when Jewish people remember their own loss. The purpose of the Holocaust memorial day was to engage the wider community in the debates, arguments and discussions that the Jewish people had had among themselves for a long time, to try to spread the word about what had happened and to ensure that as a result it never happened again. Of course, it is not only Holocaust memorial day itself that arose from this process. Holocaust memorial day is a focus for events and activities throughout the year in schools, communities and, in particular, among young people. I am pleased about the support that the Government have given for that.
My next visit to Auschwitz was made with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) for the 60th anniversary commemorations of the liberation. The Duke of York, the Lord Chancellor and Lord Janner, who is a huge advocate for the cause, were also present. If anything brought home to me the experience, it was that occasion. It was not just the fact that so many people were gathered, or that so many survivors were still able to return, but the intense, freezing cold. We were wrapped up in I do not know how many layers, with big boots and hats on—the works—and chilled to the marrow, yet they were the conditions that the people who were liberated from Auschwitz had been able to survive in those thin striped prison uniforms.
We must remember the scale of the holocaust, its unique evil and the deaths of millions. As has been said, it was not only Jews who were killed, but political prisoners, gays, Roma and the disabled. In remembering them by the millions, we forget that each was a real person. That is why I also pay tribute to the efforts of Yad Vashem.
Last week, I was pleased to host the launch in Parliament of the “Guardian of the Memory” scheme. Yad Vashem held 3 million names, identifying Jewish victims, half of whom were children. Under the scheme, each will be remembered by a living person, whose commitment is to light a candle once a year on their behalf and to wear the Yad Vashem emblem while doing so. I asked Yad Vashem whether it could identify victims by occupation, and it went out of its way to do so. We identified 12 Members of Parliament—people like us here today—who had been killed in the holocaust. I asked 12 Members of Parliament, on a cross-party basis, to adopt their memory for the future. I think it is a wonderful scheme, and it has cross-party support.
My pledge is to commemorate the memory of Yitzkhak Sciaky, a Greek Member of Parliament who was killed in Auschwitz in 1942. Those who know me well, know that I have a Greek connection. Mr. Speaker has given me permission to tell the House that he, too, is participating by remembering the memory of Shaklina Shapiro, a metalworker from Poland. Mr. Speaker was keen to have somebody more akin to his trade union roots. The Foreign Secretary is participating, as is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who has adopted the memory of Sabina Shpilrein, a psychoanalyst whose rather colourful history was cut short in 1942. The Prime Minister has also expressed his support, and I urge other hon. Members to participate too. I am pleased that the Muslim Council of Britain has ended its boycott, and I hope that many more Muslim people will join the Holocaust Educational Trust on visits.
Some unfinished issues arise too, such as the Armenians’ campaign for recognition. Some 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottomans in 1915. When Hitler invaded Poland, he said:
“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
We do not do so, officially, probably because of pressure from Turkey, where it remains a criminal offence to talk about the Armenians, despite the well documented historical facts of what occurred, including in this House’s contemporary records. I was pleased that the Armenian ambassador came to speak to our local commemoration in Barnet last Sunday, which was the biggest outside the national commemoration. It is a disgrace that on last Sunday’s Holocaust memorial day, the Armenian genocide memorial in Wales was desecrated, and I urge hon. Members to sign early-day motion 797 to express their condemnation of that.
I am not putting the case for the Armenian genocide to become the new start date, as it were, for Holocaust memorial day. Holocaust memorial day is about the holocaust, that defining event of the 20th century, and subsequent genocides. However, it is incumbent on us, if we are serious about examining the issues of genocide, to recognise officially what happened to the Armenians, as has been done in France, Germany and elsewhere.
I ask myself whether Holocaust memorial day, despite the original controversies, has served the purpose and objectives that we then set for it. Many more people are aware of what happened and why. The discussions and the debate are healthy in exploring the issues and making it far less likely that the holocaust would ever happen again in Europe. The very controversy over Holocaust memorial day, whether through the Muslims or over the Armenians, helps to raise those very important issues. On the fundamental question of whether it has prevented genocide, the answer is, regrettably, no. One has only to look at Darfur to see that. We still have a long way to go to achieve the humanity that Holocaust memorial day aims to achieve.
I welcome the opportunity to make a short contribution to this debate. I am not Jewish. I am making this contribution as a consequence of once having been an historian. About 30 years ago, I was asked to write a book on the Waffen SS, the military wing of the SS. That involved a considerable amount of research, at the centre of which was the aim of trying to understand the racial motivation. It is frequently sidelined in many histories of the Nazi party and of Nazi Germany, but is the core element of the holocaust, which the national socialist state eventually referred to as the “final solution”—it meant just that. Many people suffered in the second world war at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborator—national groups such as the Poles and the Greeks; political parties, such as the communists, social democrats and Christian democrats; resisters; and members of the Special Operations Executive—but if one seriously wanted to get killed, one was Jewish. One was at the bottom of the pit. In a concentration camp someone might just have survived in any other category, but it was almost impossible for a Jewish person to do so. We saw that such camps became industrial complexes.
Wearing my historian’s hat, I want to mention four or five points that remain relevant to us today, not least as democratic politicians. The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) touched on my first point. Amazingly, we still live in an age of holocaust denial, although the evidence about what happened is overwhelming. I am talking not only about the physical remains, the contemporary sources and the war crime trials, but, not least, the scholarship. It ranges from some of the earlier scholars such as Raul Hilberg, who wrote “The Destruction of the European Jews”, to the more recent, outstanding and, in many ways, depressing work of Saul Friedländer, who has managed to pull together so much. The scholarship completely and utterly refutes what has been written by people such as David Irving.
The victims were Jews of all classes, backgrounds, ages and nationalities—assimilated and non-assimilated. They were, on the whole, innocent people. They were killed because of their race, not because of their politics, their religion or their social behaviour. That was what absolutely and totally motivated the perpetrators. We hear a great deal about functionaries of one kind or another, but there is no doubt that Hitler and the leading Nazis believed that there was a world Jewish conspiracy. They wound up the German war effort and made that policy its centre.
The sad thing is that without hundreds of thousands of people, not just in Germany but elsewhere in Europe—civil servants, soldiers, policemen, lawyers, doctors, academics, scientists and industrialists—it could not have happened. And, on the whole, those people were not reluctant functionaries. Then there were the collaborators, the European Nazis and anti-Semites. Again, the efficient removal of Jews from many countries would not have been achieved without the highly efficient civil servants and police in Holland, Vichy France and elsewhere.
Then we have the bystanders—the public, the neighbours, the democratic political parties, the Churches and, of course, the allies and the neutrals. I have often wondered what we would have done in the circumstances. I look at how many of us would behave at the prospect of our name appearing in the News of the World, if it were to e-mail us threatening to put us in one of its columns—[Interruption.] I am not making a flippant point: it was literally life and death for many Jewish people in the 1930s. If their neighbours helped them, they risked death too, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said. Many people passed by on the other side.
Then there were the resisters—individuals and groups, from many nations and motivated by moral repugnance, neighbourly behaviour, resistance to the Nazis and courage. Many of them were ambivalent. The life of Oskar Schindler, made famous by the film, is an obvious example.
Whom do we usually remember? We remember the victims and the perpetrators, but we politicians in a democratic Parliament should take note of the collaborators and the bystanders. There was no inevitability to the final solution and the holocaust. It was incremental, and incremental in a way that could happen again. It is not enough that good men and women do nothing.
I wish to pay tribute to the Smith brothers of north Nottinghamshire who have been crucial in the running and advancement of Holocaust memorial day over the years. They run the Beth Shalom holocaust centre in north Nottinghamshire, which every school, especially in the north of England, should aspire to visit as part of its educational programme.
I also wish to pay tribute to Lord Janner of Braunstone, who chairs the Holocaust Educational Trust. Among his many other major works on the issue, he has taken on the task of marking mass graves in the Baltic states, and I have had the privilege of assisting with that recently. It is a salutary lesson in history and in current events, because not every country in Europe—never mind in the world—marks Holocaust memorial day. Indeed, not every country is involved in advances in education on the holocaust. Many choose to opt out.
In Latvia, where mass graves are being marked and the work of Lord Janner is soon to be completed, the best-selling book this Christmas was by Andris Grutups, the co-founder of, and lawyer for, the ruling party of Latvia. He is a Member of the European Parliament and a historian. His book is an attempt to rewrite history in relation to the holocaust. His basic theory is best described as, “The Jews had it coming, because they were all communists.” He suggests that a balancing of history is required. Of course, Grutups—who is, let us not forget, a political leader—has a track record. He has published books on the blood libel and on the Dreyfus case, which were also from a strange historical perspective—not unique, but one which would not be shared by the vast majority of historians or, indeed, any reasonable person.
On 22 January, in Tallinn, Estonia, five MEPs from five different countries met to launch a group called Common Europe—Common History. It has the same theme—the need for an equal evaluation of history. It is just a traditional form of prejudice, rewritten in a modern context. In essence, it is trying to equate communism and Judaism as one conspiracy and rewrite history from a nationalist point of view. Those are elected MEPs.
I hope that the Minister and his Department will consider how we can make progress on these issues in the European Union. One good way to mark the huge success of Holocaust memorial day in Britain this year would be to convene a Council of Ministers meeting to consider anti-Semitism today in the European Union and how it should be tackled in all member states. That would begin to tease out some of the prejudices that exist.
My final proposal is in relation to the United Nations and its infamous so-called anti-racism conference in Durban. Under the chairmanship of Libya, it is now proposed to hold a Durban II. The first conference broke up because of issues of anti-Semitism. I suggest to the Minister that he should either copy the example of the Canadians, who have already announced that they will not participate in Durban II or—perhaps more constructively—suggest that if there is to be a major UN conference on anti-racism, holocaust education should be at its core. It could then examine how all countries could participate in holocaust education and commemorating the holocaust through Holocaust memorial days.
When the allies overran the concentration camps at the end of the second world war, a parliamentary delegation was sent to visit Buchenwald. So distressing were the sights that those MPs saw that one of them, a lady called Mavis Tate, subsequently committed suicide. The very idea, at that time or in the years immediately following the war, that there could arise a school of thought that could seriously attempt to deny what had happened in places such as Buchenwald would have seemed patently absurd.
It was not until the early 1970s that I first heard of a publication called “Did Six Million Really Die?” At that time, it seemed totally bizarre that anyone could suggest that the holocaust had not happened, yet by dint of assiduous embroidery, the peddling of lies and the dressing-up of propaganda and deceit under a false label of historiography, that thesis has moved into a different arena. Everyone has heard of it, and organisations such as the Oxford union debating society think it appropriate to offer the privilege of a platform to its most notorious advocate, David Irving.
I found myself caught up in that dispute because, by sheer coincidence, I had been invited to speak at the Union a few days before the Irving and Griffin visit was due to take place. As a result of the invitation made to those people, I tore up my membership card, having been a member of the organisation for 37 years. I must have put my case across poorly, because time after time I was told that it was an issue of free speech—as though anyone had suggested that Irving and Griffin should not have the right to say what they wanted, as long as they did not break the law. In fact, the question was about who should have one or two of the limited opportunities to speak at the Union that are available every term. A Labour colleague put it far more effectively than I have: “Even fascists have the right to eat—but that doesn’t mean you ought to invite them to dinner.”
As a result of that little episode, which was widely reported, I received an e-mail from my cousin in Israel congratulating me on making that modest gesture. I was affected when I received that e-mail from my cousin Chana, because she was the only child from the village of Siemiatycze to survive the holocaust. She survived—she was about six at the time—because an extremely brave Polish farming family by the name of Krynski hid her, her parents and her grandmother in a bunker under a barn for more than a year and a half. If her family had been caught, they would have been annihilated and so would the Krynski family.
The Krynskis were very poor, and they saved my cousins because before the war my cousins had had a little shop on the market square, and sometimes the Krynskis did not have enough money to buy what they needed for the family. Without giving it a second thought, my cousins used to say, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Krynski. Take what you need; pay when you can.” Little did they think that that simple gesture of charity would one day save their lives. After the war, my cousin’s family moved to Canada and used to send parcels back to the Krynskis and do the best they could to support them in Poland. Later, they suggested that Mr. Krynski should go to Israel to be honoured for what he had done. It was a sad testimony to the state of post-war anti-Semitism in Poland that he decided, on the whole, that it would not be wise for him to be honoured in Israel for saving Jews and then to go back to live in that part of Poland.
On a brighter note, when I went to Siemiatycze for the first time in 2004 I saw the little shop—it is still there, although it is a flower shop now—and I met the young mother who lives in the little flat above it. I explained that I would like to have a look around, because my family had lived there. She asked whether my family intended to put in a claim to get the property back. I said, “No, that’s all history now.” “What a pity,” she said, “It’s a council flat. If you claimed it back, I might get a better offer!”
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) said, I was privileged to be invited to represent the leader of our party at the excellent event in Liverpool. It was gratifying to see the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi on the platform side by side, commemorating the holocaust. It was also excellent to see—and meet—the representative of the Muslim Council of Britain, who was attending the event for the first time. I said to him what I shall now say to the House: I look forward to the day when we see on that platform a high representative of the Muslim faith who is of similar rank to those who represent Christianity and Judaism. Then we will know that the Nazis really are on the run.
I shall be brief. I should declare an interest as a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust. I hope that that will not disqualify me from paying tribute to the excellent work of its dedicated and committed staff, in particular for their work among young people. I believe that there is no better way for young people to learn about the suffering that can take place in the world than through the unique horror of the holocaust.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) will not mind my saying that I found his speech very moving. He referred to the deepest degradation of the human spirit. Let us learn the lesson that that teaches us all. Let us give us full support to the Holocaust Educational Trust, Holocaust memorial day and every other possible way in which we can learn about that terrible horror and the lesson which it holds for us today.
I know that the time available is short, and it is difficult to respond to such a moving debate. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who moved me to get involved in politics in the past, moved me in a very different way today. I congratulate him on that.
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) talked about his roots and his family, like many other hon. Members—not least the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). The hon. Member for Wycombe also mentioned the fact that there were many victims from different backgrounds. Those victims included gay people, trade unionists and, as I learned on Sunday, well over 1 million Roma Gypsies, too. That point was well made. The hon. Gentleman talked about the wider work that needs to be done, as well as the work of the all-party inquiry, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and other hon. Members have been very involved.
A number of pieces of work are taking place across Government as part of a taskforce on anti-Semitism, including work to tackle some of the issues mentioned by the hon. Member for Wycombe about our campuses and about security in schools. We look forward to providing a positive response to the positive and good work of the all-party inquiry.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) mentioned David Irving, and Nick Griffin, too. I think that he was trying to get across the point that not only should we find their views repugnant, but we should tackle the problem. It is not merely about history; it is also about what we do collectively from here on in. That is why the work of the Holocaust Education Trust and the DVD, which has won a BAFTA, will be so important for the next generation, as they will ensure that we do not lose those crucial lessons from the past.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire talked about the impact that visits to Auschwitz have had on young people—and older ones too, I dare say—in his constituency. I was lucky enough to meet a group of young people from Oldham who had visited Auschwitz and Srebrenica. They were a real mixture of Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and it was obvious that their lives had been changed forever. The opportunity to go together, as a group, has changed their perceptions of other people, cultures, religions and races. That is an immensely powerful thing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) talked about local ceremonies in his constituency. He asked about the £1.5 million set aside for the Holocaust Educational Trust, and whether that commitment would be continued. I cannot make announcements of behalf of other Departments, but I can say that strong and effective representations have been made in the debate, and I am sure that my colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families will take them into account when making decisions in the future.
I have mentioned the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe already. He gave a very moving account of his own and his family’s experiences, and also an important lesson about humility. In this House we can pass legislation on religious and racial hatred, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman was right to remind us that the law is not always enough when it comes to the extremes of humanity and people who do the most extraordinary and devastating things. We must do a lot more, and that is why this debate has celebrated the good works of the Holocaust Educational Trust and all those involved in Holocaust memorial day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) told us about his involvement in helping to institute Holocaust memorial day. I congratulate him on being there from the beginning; I had not realised the scale of the battle that he took on when he toured the synagogues of London, and probably beyond.
The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) made a powerful point about bystanders. In life we can all be bystanders sometimes, but I hope that one result of the good work being done will be that in future, fewer of us will stand by when we see genocide, slaughter and ongoing destruction around the world.
I mentioned earlier the involvement of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw in the all-party inquiry; he also talked about the contribution that Beth Shalom is making in Nottinghamshire.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) described the powerful image from Sunday’s event in Liverpool, when the Archbishop of Canterbury stood alongside the Chief Rabbi. I agree with him that it was also good to see the Muslim Council of Britain represented at the event. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) set out his personal interest in these matters, and he deserves our congratulations.
The hon. Member for New Forest, East made the very good point that all religions and cultures need to be part of holocaust memorial day. So, in conclusion, let us never forget that the first person to contribute on the very first Holocaust memorial day was a Muslim who had been in a concentration camp in Bosnia.
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, the motion lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to the Temporary Standing Order (Topical debates).
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that it is in order for me to express my disappointment that, despite the quality of this debate, the Press Gallery has remained empty throughout, with the exception of the Press Association staff. I hope that the debate will be reported in a significant and positive manner, given the importance of the subject being discussed.