I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of Holocaust Memorial Day.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House for selecting this subject for debate. Holocaust memorial day is a commemoration that enjoys support from all parts of the House. It is right that hon. Members make time to discuss these issues, which have such enduring significance, and it is right that we stand together as one to send a clear message to those who minimise, dispute or even deny the relevance of these issues today. As someone who has visited the Majdanek death camp, I feel repulsed by some of those individuals.
I am confident that hon. Members will join me in ensuring that the message from the House today is not just to condemn the atrocities of the past, but to affirm their ability to speak to us now. When speaking of the Holocaust, there is a constant risk. To many of us, the sheer scale of the horror is too much to take in.
The Minister mentioned Majdanek, which I had the great honour of visiting with him and other parliamentarians. Will he join me in paying tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which does such great work in informing and educating parliamentarians, as well as schools up and down the land, about the holocaust?
Absolutely; the Holocaust Educational Trust, its chief executive, Karen Pollock, and its chair, Lord Janner, do an amazing job. That is why I am very pleased that between 2006 and 2011 this Government will have invested a total of some £9 million, which has already led to about 4,500 pupils and 1,000 teachers being able to go out there and really experience it.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, as I know he has limited time. May I add to what was said in the previous intervention? The Holocaust Educational Trust tells us of the sheer industrial scale of the evil of man to man. I went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where so much evil was perpetrated in such a dreadful fashion. We must always remember that, and that is why it is important that this debate is taking place.
The hon. Gentleman is obviously correct. These are issues that we cannot just talk about in a historical context, because, sadly and tragically, they are as relevant today as they were all those years ago.
As I was saying, when speaking of the holocaust, there is a constant risk. To many of us, the sheer scale of the horror, to which hon. Members have alluded, is too much to take in. We cannot describe the enormity of what we have read about or witnessed on visits to death camps. We cannot begin to relate to the hatred that motivated people to act so barbarically. We cannot understand how people abandoned their own humanity to participate in such horrors. Many others before us have looked at the holocaust and said, “Never again”; but appallingly the Shoah, even if unparalleled in scale, was not the horror that ended all horrors.
I have great sympathy and support for my hon. Friend’s remarks. Is he aware that the all-party group on Gypsy and Traveller law reform will today hold a meeting at which we will mark the estimated 220,000 Gypsies who died in the holocaust? Does he agree how important it is to remember what happened to the Gypsies and to all the other people who died in the holocaust?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At least 200,000 Roma and Sinti people were killed. It is right that we acknowledge the suffering of all those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis: some 11 million in total—a conservative figure—and 6 million of them because they were Jewish.
Nearly 50 years after the second world war, it is estimated that nearly 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda; we should remember that. When the Home Affairs Committee went on a visit to Russia and Ukraine, we paid our respects—I suggested that it should be so and my colleagues readily agreed—at Babi Yar, just outside Kiev, where in September 1941 30,000 men, women and children were murdered simply because they were of Jewish origin, and nothing to do with religion or anything else; and that was before the death camps, of course.
My hon. Friend, who takes a keen interest in these issues, is absolutely correct. As I have said on several occasions, and we will all say during this debate, the scale of the horrors is very hard to comprehend and imagine. All the interventions that we have heard so far have come from people who have been touched by having made an effort to go out there and understand the issues more closely.
I have not been to Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Holocaust Educational Trust, but I have attended the debriefing that young people get following their visits, which is extremely salutary. Does the Minister agree that the real genius of the trust is its ability to trace the development of anti-Semitism in Germany and to impress upon young people that this happened not simply in isolation but, disturbingly and disquietingly, has parallels with the way that we live our lives today? That brings it home to young people that such things could happen again, and, one hopes, helps us to guard against that. That is the real message of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. That is the power of the work of the trust. It ensures that people understand the relevance of that historical genocide and holocaust in today’s world, and understand how something so evil that it is completely unimaginable could start from something that was perceived in some ways to be relatively benign.
On this continent alone, we have seen thousands killed in Bosnia. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, we have witnessed 1 million people dying in Rwanda; and hundreds of thousands have died in Darfur. In Cambodia, well over 1 million people died. These figures are surely incomprehensible. Yet it is not the numbers alone that speak of the evil of genocide—it is the mentality of those who committed the acts, systematically dehumanising people on account of their race, their religion or their ethnicity; treating them worse than livestock. The inhumanity is not the victims’ but the perpetrators’. A phrase used by the Khmer Rouge brutally sums up this inhumanity: “To spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss.”
Perhaps the degree of evil allows us some hope. The fact that we feel such discomfort in the face of horror allows us to reassure ourselves that this could never happen in our lifetime. But I hope that hon. Members agree that this hope would be misplaced. We cannot simply say, “Never again.” Only if we act on our hope—if we determine that we will learn history’s lessons—will we have honoured the memory of those who suffered and perished in the genocides.
I am sure that the Minister will agree that Holocaust memorial day provides a salutary reminder not only of the gravity of the evil of which humanity is capable but of the fact that so many people stood by and let it happen; that is one of the most disturbing things that I have always drawn from these commemoration days. It is also worth remembering, however, that not everyone did that, and that some people stood up for those who were being persecuted. In that respect, it is particularly important to remember those who supported the Kindertransport, which saved so many Jewish children.
The hon. Lady is absolutely correct. Edmund Burke reminds us that, for evil to prevail, all that is required is that good people do nothing. She is also right to highlight the importance of recognising the efforts, in some cases courageous efforts, of those who did so much, often at personal risk to themselves. That is why, in April last year, the Prime Minister announced that we would commemorate those holocaust heroes—something that we are hoping to do very shortly.
As some hon. Members will be aware, I am proud to be a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust; I am also a patron of the Wiener Library. Yesterday marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which has become a byword for the evils of the holocaust. The theme of that day was “The Legacy of Hope”. I attended the national day in London, while tens of thousands of people gathered at hundreds of local events.
I have been to Auschwitz, which is horrendous for anybody who goes there. I am glad that the Government, through their education policies, are encouraging schoolchildren to go from Britain to visit that place, because going there and seeing the photographs of young women—looking into their eyes, they seem to be pleading—is horrendous and has quite an effect. I urge the Government to encourage a lot more of those visits.
My hon. Friend is obviously right. It may sound perverse, but for those of us who have had the privilege to go there, it has been truly life-transforming. That is why the work of the trust is so important.
The inspiration for Holocaust memorial day was the “Secret Archive of Oneg Shabbat”. The archive is a compendium of testimonies and histories of various residents from the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, which were written down and buried in milk churns. The historian who led that process, Emanuel Ringelblum, understood well that the Nazis were not just trying to contain some Jews. They were trying to eliminate the Jews—to extinguish their presence, their existence and their history, and to cut off their hope and remove their voice.
That is why Ringelblum made sure that the histories were buried. Although the Nazis did not find the histories, other people uncovered them some years later. For that reason, the victims are not forgotten. Their voices speak today, and their legacy is one that gives us hope. If we are prepared to listen, it gives us hope that their suffering is our cause for action.
The Minister has mentioned hope a number of times, and I do not want to go against that, but does he share my opinion that this is a long-running issue? In 1290, the Jews were expelled from this country, and we cannot be over-optimistic that that will not recur in the future.
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there is no room for complacency, he is, of course, right. History is supposed to teach us, and it teaches us that such things happen again and again, but it might not teach us well enough that we learn. That is the challenge for us: to learn from history to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We are much better placed today than we have ever been, but there is no room for complacency whatever.
I am most grateful to the Minister; he is being generous in taking so many interventions. One of the most chilling lessons that I learned from visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau was that, to those who conducted the mass killings, these were not wild, emotional and uncontrolled murders, but dispassionate, calculated, organised and justified. Meticulous records of the killings were kept. Does the Minister agree that we must learn that lesson and be aware of that aspect if we are to ensure that such things never happen again?
It is profoundly chilling to consider that there was an era where so many people could believe that it was right to do what they did, in the way that they did it.
Survivors, too, give us hope. I know that many in this Chamber will have met survivors of the holocaust, and any hon. Members who have had the privilege of speaking to them will agree that it is a deeply humbling and profoundly moving experience. The histories on the written page may record some of the horror, but they cannot properly capture the triumph of the survivors. I understand that that is an odd word to use in this context, because all the survivors will have endured unimaginable suffering and the loss of loved ones. But their spirit and dignity in the face of what happened is a triumph, and I pay tribute to them.
A number of survivors spoke yesterday, and others had their testimonies read out by young people. Those present witnessed the force of the survivors’ stories. We were then challenged to become part of the legacy of hope. I can do little better than read the invitation from the day’s organisers:
“Our responsibility is to remember those who were persecuted and murdered, because their lives were wasted. Our challenge is to make the experience and words of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides a meaningful part of our future…It is their example that can inspire us to greater action.”
My commitment to the legacy of hope is not just as an elected representative or as a Minister, but as one who shares humanity with those who died. My aim is to do all that I can to ensure that the evils of racism and hatred are challenged and rooted out. Hon. Members know that the Government have worked hard to promote the UK Holocaust memorial day—obviously with cross-party support. We give a sizeable grant to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to help it to do what it does. We also support the Holocaust Educational Trust, as I said earlier, which does outstanding work to raise awareness of the holocaust among young people and others.
As the Minister comes to the conclusion of his speech, would he acknowledge that today is a chance for us to think positively about forgiveness and redemption? For instance, the German Government have given moneys for a proper facility at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
It is true that those countries found wanting at that time—and it was not just Germany—have learned much and are incredibly progressive. It is also true, however, that there are still elements in those countries who, not so far behind the scenes, are not so disappointed with that past. That is why we have no room for complacency whatever.
I pay tribute again to the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Karen Pollock, and to its chair, Lord Janner. I pay tribute to them for the work that they have done with all political parties and for the way in which they have captured the imagination of young people throughout the country through their work. I pay special tribute to Stephen Smith, the former chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, who has gone on to be chief executive of the Shoah Foundation in the USA. That is just recognition of the exceptional skill and commitment he brought to bear in raising awareness of the holocaust, through the trust and elsewhere, in a way that is meaningful to our lives today. The money from the Government has been magnified many times over through his dedication and that of other colleagues.
On the subject of survivors, Eva Schloss, the stepsister of Anne Frank, was in my constituency. Often, when we are fighting the far right, we equate them with Nazis and it does not quite work. In this case, when one of the kids in my constituency asked her, “What do you think about the BNP?” she said, “I think they’re no better than Nazis.” That was so powerful, and it had an impact in a way that our literature could never achieve.
On that note, I look forward to hearing the views of right hon. and hon. Members on a subject that rightly commands the support of the whole House.
I am sure the whole House will be in accord with the Minister, both in the content of his speech on this important topic and in the manner in which he made it. Occasionally, he and I have our differences, but on this issue he, I and everyone else in this House are entirely united. We are all grateful for the opportunity to debate this important topic.
The Minister is right to recognise the importance of Holocaust memorial day and right, too, to recognise the tremendous work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. Many of us will have come into contact with it, and we have found our experience, and our knowledge of this subject, enriched—if that is the appropriate word for so dreadful a topic—by its work. It is right that everyone has the chance to understand the horrors of what happened, so I endorse entirely everything that the Minister said.
I, too, am sure that those of us who have had the privilege of meeting holocaust survivors will have been profoundly moved by their testimony. As the generation who suffered in the holocaust leaves us, it is all the more important that their memories are kept alive and that the lessons are learned. I was particularly struck by the comments of Members who have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. My hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) and for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) and I have visited it with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Not only was it a deeply moving experience, but two things about it particularly struck me.
First, it might seem trite, but it is worth restating the sheer banality of the circumstances that gave rise to such horror, and the ordinariness of what had been a run-of-the-mill army barracks but was suddenly turned into an industrial machine for the mass murder of human beings. We were standing in an office that could have been something like a 1930s local government office, but in fact millions of people were consigned to their deaths there. That brings home the fragility of what we take to be civilisation and sophistication in an advanced western society.
May I add to the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the banality of Auschwitz-Birkenau? When we visited, we saw the pictures of a band welcoming people who had come there. That was one of the saddest deceits that could have been made against people who were ultimately, or sometimes immediately, going to their death.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and we must learn the lesson from the way in which Germany, which had been a democratic state, was perverted, taken over and turned into a fascist dictatorship. We must learn just how easily that can happen, even in an educated and sophisticated society, and how the models of everyday life can be twisted and perverted to evil ends. That strikes us hugely strongly.
The other thing that struck me at Auschwitz-Birkenau came from looking at many photographs, which I also had the chance to do when I visited the holocaust museum in Israel. I thought back to the photographs that I saw of my parents as young people and my grandparents at about the same time, in the 1930s and ’40s. Those in the photographs that I saw were the same type of people, from every rank of society and dressed in much the same fashions of the time. In a sense, it could have been my parents and grandparents. It is hugely important to bring that home to people. It echoes the words of Pastor Niemöller that he did not speak up for others when people came for them, and in the end no one was left to speak up for him. That is a hugely important part of the work.
I commend what my hon. Friend is saying. The message that came across to me and the students from my constituency who went to Auschwitz-Birkenau two years ago, which I was reminded of yesterday, was that the holocaust was not just about the huge scale, numbers and evil consequences but about the individual lives lost and the effect on families and communities. Future generations of families were lost, and that message certainly came home yesterday.
I commend the Holocaust Educational Trust for its ongoing work, not just for what happened yesterday. I was appreciative to hear that in my school, holocaust educators do work throughout the curriculum throughout the year to bring the message home.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend’s sentiments. In fact, I will turn in a moment to some of that work.
The final thing that I was going to say about my visit and the lessons of it was on a point of irony. The evening when we came back from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the leader of the British National party was on “Question Time”, which seemed to me a particularly obscene juxtaposition and perhaps reinforced my point about the need for vigilance. Even in societies that we think are sophisticated and democratic, that can be undermined. We must always be alert to that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—evil is evil however it is dressed, and we need to restate that continuously. I was struck by an interesting article in The Times by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who made the interesting and historically justified point that anti-Semitism is a virus that mutates. The hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason) mentioned the expulsion of the Jews from this country in mediaeval times, and my hon. Friend pointed out in his article that over the years, the rationalisation for anti-Semitism has changed and been twisted. Initially it was perhaps on the basis of religion, the blood libel and so on, and then it was twisted almost in Nietzschean terms to a scientific, race selection reason. Even today, we have to be alert to the fact that it mutates again into a denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and a homeland.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the Community Security Trust, in its meticulous collection of data, has shown that there has been a record rise in attacks on Jewish people? Is that not a stain on our society?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I have been greatly impressed by the impeccable work of the CST. I have come across a number of its organisers and volunteers, and it is right to remember that they do great work. It should be a matter of the deepest concern to all Members that such attacks can continue and that external factors are often perverted to give rise to the increase in anti-Semitism, which I am sure we all condemn.
I agree with that. Saturday will be an unhappy anniversary, because it will be 77 years to the day since Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg. Returning to the domestic scene, which the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) mentioned, does the hon. Gentleman accept that although immigration is a perfectly legitimate subject for debate—no one is suggesting otherwise, certainly not myself—there should be particular care in the coming general election about how the debate is conducted? It must be very far from the BNP. If we are talking about discrimination and the persecution of Jews, we must bear in mind that as we saw in Stoke last Saturday, there are also other groups in this country who are subject to racist thugs who will use any sort of lie against the Muslim community.
The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why it is important first that the mainstream democratic parties are not afraid to address these issues, but also that we set a lead in the tone and responsibility with which we do so. That is hugely important. He is quite right that issues are sometimes hijacked by extremists—we have seen the operations of the English Defence League as well as the BNP, and it is right that we are vigilant against extremism of all kinds.
I mentioned the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which many hon. Members have referred to. I am glad that we are able to do so. It was a Conservative Government who had holocaust education introduced into the national curriculum in 1991, and I am glad that the current Government have enabled that work to expand and continue. My party will always continue to support it, as I am sure all responsible and democratic parties will. It is important that holocaust education remains a part of the core history curriculum. As other hon. Members have said, I hope that other opportunities are taken to bring the topic forward within the curriculum as well. Some local education authorities ensure that it is addressed in religious studies, citizenship and other appropriate areas. It is important that every opportunity is sensibly and sensitively used, and I am sure that we all want funding for such schemes to be supported and continued, because education is crucial to all of us in dealing with these matters.
The Holocaust Educational Trust’s outreach programme is crucial and central to its work. I have had the privilege of witnessing in some schools the profound impact that a survivor or someone with direct experience makes. The “Think Equal” scheme has been devised specifically for schools in areas of racial tension and it therefore deals to some extent with the issues that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) rightly raised. We should not limit the education to being about only one community. The scheme works with staff and educators to enable students to focus on the dangers of racism across the board, taking the holocaust as an experience that leads to general application. Surely that, too, is commendable. The scheme also provides training for trainee teachers. It is hugely important that teachers are alert to the subject. Holocaust memorial day is therefore the visible part of a much wider, more significant and very valuable programme.
I hope that the good work that is done in schools will be reflected in some of our institutions of higher education. I greatly hope that we will continue to make the case to the university sector for adopting the EUMC—European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia—definition of anti-Semitism and to deal appropriately with speakers who transgress.
There are still things that we can do practically to take the survivors’ legacy forward. The students from Bullers Wood school in my constituency, with whom I had the privilege of travelling, were bright, intelligent young people and the experience played on their minds. One could tell that from talking to them on the plane coming back. That is why the programme is important and I am glad to say that more students from schools in my constituency and many others throughout the country will go this year.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) represented the official Opposition at the national commemoration yesterday. We are united in recognising the importance of Holocaust memorial day, and I echo my right hon. Friend’s words that it is
“vital that we teach generations today and in the future”
about what happened and the lessons to be learned. I am sure that all parties in the House wish to continue to support the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and that we all appreciate the importance of Holocaust memorial day.
I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House accepted my request for the debate, which has become an annual institution. Yesterday was the 10th national Holocaust memorial day commemoration. I take pride in the fact that I devised the parliamentary strategy that led to its being established. I do not take credit for the idea behind it, but for focusing the campaign to make it happen. That occurred after a visit I paid to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust and the personal impact it made on me.
We all have our memories of a visit to Auschwitz and it is always something little that suddenly strikes us. What struck me, from the industrial scale of what I saw, were the piles of shoes and boots, from which every single shoelace had been removed by some poor slave labourer. That brings home the industrial nature of what happened.
I pay particular tribute to Rabbi Barry Marcus for his work. On the plane back from the visit, I thought, “What can I do as an individual to stop this happening again?” Having the privileged position of being a Member of Parliament meant that I had access to the private Member’s Bill process and parliamentary questions to push forward the idea of a memorial day on a cross-party basis.
The motivation was not just to draw attention to the visits to Auschwitz, but to reflect on what I picked up from my constituency. I have the biggest Jewish constituency in the country—one in five people are Jewish. The holocaust is in many ways a living thing in that community. Many debates, discussions and arguments about its implications for modern society go on. However, those discussions are introverted and go on among Jewish people, and I took the view that we needed to try to turn them outward to engage society as a whole. If there were another holocaust—please God, there will not be—it would not come from within the Jewish community, who would be the victims, but from wider society, as happened in Germany. It would come from people from my sort of background—an ordinary small town in Yorkshire or wherever, where there are not many Jewish people. That is why it is important to turn the debate outwards.
The idea was not to rival Yom HaShoah, the Jewish community’s own commemorative day. There were arguments in the Jewish community about whether it was a good idea and what day it should be. The purpose was to educate and inform about the lessons of the holocaust, not just on one day, but to use that day as a focus for schools and communities throughout the country. Consequently, events happen throughout the country, including in my borough of Barnet, though, for the first time, I was not invited this year, which I found distressing. We see a lot on broadcast media. Wonderful documentaries have been made and there is good news coverage. Of course, tribute has been paid to the Holocaust Educational Trust, and I am pleased that the visits to Auschwitz are supported by grants from our Government.
As has been said, the holocaust was not about just the Jews, but the Roma and Sinti, gay people, disabled people and political opponents. I have had the opportunity of meeting holocaust survivors at the Holocaust Survivors Centre, which is part of Jewish Care and is based in my constituency. An estimated 5,000 survivors of the camps or refugees live in the UK now, but they are, inevitably, a dwindling band. Indeed, I spoke to the chap sitting in front of me, who was a holocaust survivor, at the ceremony yesterday and he told me that seven of his friends had died in the previous year.
I pay tribute to Judith Hassan, Jewish Care’s director of services for holocaust survivors and refugees, and her staff for the work of the Holocaust Survivors Centre. It provides a social centre for survivors, practical advice, befriending and, most important, a recording of testimonies. As survivors age, it is vital that their legacy is recorded. The imaginative legacy of hope means that those testimonies must live on.
We have all heard the moving stories of many prominent holocaust survivors—Ben Helfgott, Gena Turgel and others, who do such magnificent job going around schools—but talking to those who perhaps do not have the same confidence or are less prominent, such as the chap to whom I spoke yesterday, also sends out the message.
Like my hon. Friend the Minister, I visited Poland with the Holocaust Educational Trust and the all-party group on anti-Semitism. We went to Warsaw and Majdanek. As my hon. Friend said, in Warsaw, we saw the effort not just to eliminate the Jews, but to obliterate all memory of them. The first thing we saw were tram tracks going nowhere in the middle of a wasteland. Our guide said, “Before the war, this was the Warsaw equivalent of Oxford street.” It had been completely obliterated. We have heard of the ghetto uprising—the first civilian uprising against the Nazis. The Jews were outnumbered 1,000 to one, and the Germans’ technological advantages were enormous, but they held out for nearly a month—27 days in 1943—to make the point that there were people who were prepared to resist.
My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned Oneg Shabbat, the extraordinary archive—the secret archive, which was inspired by Emmanuel Ringelblum, a holocaust victim, to ensure that the memory of the Jewish community lasted. Those people had no way of knowing whether the milk churns would be found, or whether they would be found by the Germans and destroyed, but that was their legacy of hope. In Emmanuel Ringelblum’s words:
“It must all be recorded with not a single fact omitted. And when the time comes—as it surely will—let the world read and know what the murderers have done.”
I also had the opportunity of meeting Elie Wiesel when he came to receive his honorary knighthood. He said that
“hope without memory is like memory without hope.”
On our visit to Poland, we went to villages where all traces of the substantial majority Jewish population have been eliminated—completely wiped out. In one village, we found the synagogue down a back street, locked up and now used as a store room. The grave stones had been dug up and used to pave the roads. Some had been recovered and turned into a moving and poignant memorial in the forest some distance away from the village.
As my hon. Friend the Minister said, we visited Majdanek on the outskirts of Lublin. The Polish people must have known what was going on there; they were pretty powerless to do anything about it. We visited the Parliament in Warsaw, and what brought matters home to me there was the memorial to hundreds of Polish Members of Parliament who had been murdered by the Nazis. Those who had not been murdered by the Nazis were killed by Stalin. That brings it home that if it had happened here, none of us would have survived because the intention was to eliminate the leadership of the country.
It was interesting to talk to the Chief Rabbi in Poland—an American rabbi who had gone to live there—and hear how children of the holocaust who had been adopted by Polish families and become Catholics, because that was predominant religion in Poland, were now rediscovering their Jewish heritage and looking into their backgrounds and families.
I pay tribute to the Yad Vashem “The Guardian of the Memory” scheme, which I launched in Parliament two years ago on 23 January 2008. The idea behind it is for us all to take on the responsibility of remembering a victim of the holocaust and light a candle on Yom HaShoah. I asked Yad Vashem whether it could identify victims of the holocaust who were MPs, and it came up with 12 names, whom we paired with living MPs. I chose Itzhak Seiakis who was a Greek MP—the whole House knows that I am quite interested in Greek affairs and speak Greek. Seventy-seven thousand Jews lived in Greece before the holocaust; 60,000 were murdered. All we knew about Itzhak was that he was born in 1882 in Larissa and died in 1942 in Auschwitz. Rather than just light a candle, I felt it was incumbent on me to find out more about him and to turn him into a person, as it were, in memory.
Using my connections in Greece, I was able to establish that his family in Larissa were merchant tailors, originally from the island of Khios. He had been educated to a high level, probably in either Athens or Istanbul. He moved to Thessaloniki, where he became a Member of Parliament and director of the community charity organisations of the city. He was arrested along with the rest of the panel of the directorate on 14 April 1941 only six days after the Germans invaded. After a few weeks in prison in that city, he was deported to Auschwitz, where he died in 1942.
My researches enabled me to identify a living relative, Alberto, who was living in an old people’s home in Thessaloniki. He did not speak any English, so I had to try to make contact with him in Greek, but unfortunately he died weeks before I was able to do so. I regretted that I had not been able to find Alberto Seiakis’s legacy of hope and hear his story, and fill in the gaps about Itzhak.
For me, that was about trying to build on that legacy of hope—learning about people whom it is difficult to find out about. We can easily find out about prominent people, but the people who are not easy to find out about make up the 6 million Jews and the 11 million victims. Every single one was a real living person. When we talk about the telephone numbers of people who died, it is easy to forget that each was an individual person with their own family, hopes and aspirations, all of which were snuffed out by the Nazi holocaust.
Have we achieved very much? There are still many outstanding issues from the holocaust—holocaust restitution, for example. Only last year, Parliament unanimously passed the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009, which I introduced as a private Member’s Bill. It will come into force in a few days’ time so that we can close yet another chapter in the holocaust and enable people to reclaim their looted works of art.
Has Holocaust memorial day achieved the objective we originally set out for it 10 years ago? There is no doubt that there is a much wider knowledge of the holocaust now than 10 years ago; that the holocaust features in our school curricula much more than it ever did; that Holocaust memorial day has provided a focus for communities to come together to talk about the holocaust; and that it has provided an opportunity to confront those Holocaust deniers such as the British National party, as we saw with Nick Griffin on “Question Time” .
Holocaust memorial day has also, indirectly, brought alive the holocaust for the Armenians, although they are not commemorated as part of the process. However, it has not prevented the genocide in Darfur. We remember Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, East Timor and all the other genocides that have taken place since 1945, but genocide is still with us. We must remember, through Holocaust memorial day, that there is still an awful lot more for us to do if we are ever to eliminate genocide from our planet.
I join the whole House in marking this day and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) for his personal effort over many years to ensure that the House and Parliament mark this important day.
The Minister and the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) mentioned the BNP, and I add my condemnation of those Nazis. What I find particularly distasteful is its use of the Union flag to promote its vile and outrageous policies. The House and the whole country acknowledges that. My father fought in the war, in the Royal Air Force, and my mother was a nurse in the war. For all who fought Nazism in Germany, Italy and other parts of the world, I find the BNP’s parading of the Union flag in that way quite repugnant. We should be concerned about that.
We have Holocaust memorial day for two reasons, the first of which is to remember. We remember those 11 million people and 6 million Jews, the intellectuals, Gypsies, liberals and communists—people whose only crime was an accident of their birth or their views. They were not combatants or soldiers and they were not fighting a war; they were innocent men, women and children. As has already been described, they were slaughtered in an industrial way—it was not a frenzied killing or a knee-jerk reaction, but a cold calculated, brutal act of genocide.
It marks—I suppose—the low point in human existence, because the people who did it were led by an elected Government and people who were in other ways intelligent, sensible and rational. Yet because of their hatred for certain sectors of society, they were able to perpetrate that crime. We should never forget the basic fact that it was done in our world, in our continent.
The second reason why we should mark Holocaust memorial day was given by George Santayana:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Sadly, as colleagues have already said, the holocaust that occurred in Nazi Germany, though bigger than almost any we have ever seen, was not the last. We have seen genocides in East Timor, Cambodia, Tibet, Burma, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Darfur—the list is very long—and we must never forget that we have an ongoing role in our lives, in our Parliament and in our communities to ensure that people remember what has happened and that they do not let it be repeated.
For that reason, I too congratulate the Holocaust Educational Trust, Karen Pollock and Lord Janner on the magnificent job they have done in getting the importance of listening and understanding across to young people, who perhaps do not have the same connection that some hon. Members have with those who fought in the war or who remember directly. I have not been on one of the trips to which hon. Members have referred, even though I have been invited on a number of occasions. I would like to go—even if saying that I would “like” to go sounds crazy. Sincerely, it is obvious that those who have been have found great strength. Children from my constituency have been on the trips, and it has brought home to them what happened.
I pay tribute to those from this country who tried to do something—the Kindertransport has been mentioned. We should not forget the people in this country who tried to do something before the outbreak and in early stages of war. The British Committee for the Jews of Germany and the Movement for the Care of Children in Germany pushed through the idea that children from Germany and the occupied territories of Austria and the Czech lands should be able to come to this country. The first transport arrived on 2 December 1938 and the last left Germany in September 1939, just before the outbreak of war. Indeed, the last transport from the Netherlands to this country left on 14 May 1940, the very day that the Netherlands surrendered.
Between 9,000 and 10,000 children came to these shores, 7,500 of whom were Jewish. It was people such as Sir Nicholas Winton who organised and facilitated that. Ordinary families from all over the United Kingdom took those children in. Those children made huge contributions to our society, and we should not forget them or the people who looked after them.
It is almost impossible to say anything new about the holocaust. The spirit to which the Minister referred led to so much good writing and eloquence, which, frankly, none of us in this House can match. I conclude by remembering the words of Pastor Niemöller. As a German in 1946, he reflected on the fact that he and others did not come and raise their issues and concerns. In 6 January 1946, he said:
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out.”
Today, in this Chamber, we are marking the fact that we remember. We should not let it happen again.
It is a pleasure, if that is the right word, to speak in this debate in this place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) suggested, we have had a role in these events through history, however small. Let me just point out to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch)—I had a row with Michael Heseltine about this once—that the Nazis were not elected. They never secured a majority. It was the foolishness of the Deutsche Zentrumspartei and the German Conservative party—no partisan point intended—that allowed Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei into power. They were never elected. That may be a small point, but I make it.
It is instructive, too, to look back in Hansard and read the 1937-38 debates on the emergency in Europe that led to the Kindertransport initiative. Many strong speeches were made saying that we must do something, but there were also those who asked what it had to do with us. Let us remember that this was at a time when the Prime Minister of the day, Neville Chamberlain, wrote—I do not have the exact quotation, but I cited it on the 70th anniversary of the Kindertransport—that the Jew, although rather shifty was not terribly unpleasant and we should probably do something to help them. That was the Prime Minister in 1937-38.
When my hon. Friend asks whether national Holocaust memorial day has been successful, my answer is that that is debatable. I recently did a question time with others at a synagogue in my constituency, and some of the questions asked revolved around the issue of whether it was safe for British Jewry to remain in Britain. The answer is profoundly yes, with qualifications, but if people have to ask that, we have some way to go. Why do we remember? It is for two reasons. First, we must never forget, but secondly, we must never repeat. The two go hand in hand.
Why do we remember the Shoah, the holocaust, more than any other historic event? It is because of its banality, its normality and its extraordinary ordinariness. It is because of the mechanised, industrial scale on which a state’s decision to eradicate a race was carried out. We should not equivocate in comparing atrocities, but that mechanistic and industrial nature is unprecedented, and that is why we remember it and should continue to remember it. As the survivors fade away, we have all the more reason to remember. That is why I endorse what everyone has said about the Holocaust Educational Trust. I went to Auschwitz-Birkenau with my hon. Friend in 1998 or 1999, as he said, but as even Kindertransport survivors fade away, we should remember all the more. That is why this debate is important.
The main point that I wish to make is that you cannot equivocate on this issue. You cannot say that you are doing all you can to avoid a subsequent holocaust if you let things slide or pass. I say that not as a partisan point: I genuinely mean it. You cannot indulge Kaminski, given his past. You cannot indulge people who dabble with the history of the Latvian Waffen SS and claim, “That’s okay, we don’t really mean it and we’ll gloss over their history.” You cannot do that and mean it when you say, “Never again.” The lesson of national Holocaust memorial day must be that you cannot be just a little bit anti-Semitic. You cannot be just a little bit of a holocaust denier, and you cannot be just a little bit in support of terrorism.
The hon. Lady misses the point: it was not a partisan remark. I simply say that she should look at the history. I repeat my point: if Holocaust memorial day is supposed to be about “never again” as well as remembering, we cannot equivocate.
It is a disgrace that at any stage since the inception of national Holocaust memorial day the Muslim Council of Britain has boycotted it. I have said that to its members’ faces, so I am not saying anything here that I would not say to them. It is very disappointing that Dr. Abdul Bari decided that Davos was more important than attending the commemorations. That is a matter of profound regret, given the nature and sensitivity of the day. Someone else from MCB attended in a personal capacity, whatever that means, and a rather junior person attended in Dr. Bari’s stead. That is a matter for regret for MCB, as well as for the unity that we all seek.
We cannot say “never again” and then indulge Ahmadinejad, the holocaust denier, or others. During the demonstration in London last summer—I was not on it, but I passed it—I saw genuinely sincere people holding banners saying, “We are all Hezbollah now”. That made me weep when I saw it. But the leader of that movement thinks that all Jews are the grandsons and granddaughters of pigs and monkeys, he is a holocaust denier and he wants to push Israel into the sea. That is not to say that Israel is above criticism, but that is a different matter. We cannot as a Government or a country equivocate on those points. You cannot be a little in favour of terrorism and fully support national Holocaust memorial day. You cannot, as al-Qaradawi has done, condemn 7/7 here but then say that our little children bombers in the west bank and Gaza will take on Israel because it is a war state and there is no such thing as an Israeli civilian. You cannot equivocate on such matters: you have to condemn, and you have to condemn harshly.
When I talked to the British Board of Deputies early in the consideration of my hon. Friend’s Bill to introduce a national Holocaust memorial day, I said that part of the purpose was to remind people that “never again” meant exactly that. As other hon. Members have said far more eloquently than I could, we have not held to that. If we slip and indulge other people and their ideologies simply because that makes things easier for us, we will fail in ensuring that it never happens again. We should, of course, engage with all communities, including the Muslim Council of Britain, but we should do it in terms that leave people in no doubt about our collective values. That includes condemning anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. If we slip on that just a little or if we tell people what they want to hear rather than what they should hear, we fail. We fail not only as a Government, but as a nation and as parliamentarians.
The substantive point behind national Holocaust memorial day was, of course, never to forget, but—and this is where we have our failings—it is also about ensuring that it is never, ever repeated in any form, but certainly in that mechanised, racist and ethnocentric form. We are in better shape now than we were, but we are being a tad complacent if we think that somehow, 10 years on from the first national Holocaust memorial day, we have done the business and there will never be another holocaust of any description. I hope that that is right, but that legacy of hope is what we build on and hope that it is not formed of eggshells.
Let me start by paying tribute to Karen Pollock and the Holocaust Educational Trust for the work that it does under her inspirational leadership, not only in our schools, but on the trips to Auschwitz. Over a number of years I have visited Babi Yar, just outside Kiev in Ukraine, to which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred earlier, and Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic, as it now is, but in all honesty I had always put off visiting Auschwitz. I had been invited by the Holocaust Educational Trust on many occasions and had chosen to find a reason, which comes from my history. If my grandparents on both sides had not decided to come to this wonderful country, they would have perished in the holocaust and my parents would not have been born, and I certainly would not have been born.
I went to Auschwitz on a quite cold Thursday morning with a plane full of wonderful young people, who will be our future. No matter how hard I tried, I was not prepared for what I experienced. I did not think I would react in the way that I did, and probably not a day has gone by since October, which is when I went, when it has not played on my mind. Of course I knew what happened in the holocaust. Like the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), I have a very large Jewish community in my constituency. We can dispute who has the largest—[Interruption.] We will dispute that on another occasion; none the less, I have a large Jewish community and I am Jewish myself, so I was fully aware of what happened in the holocaust. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and the work he has done, and also to my good friend Lord Janner.
Like others, when I got to Auschwitz, it was the little things that affected me. For me, it was seeing the children’s shoes at the start. The last time I had cried before then was on the birth of my daughter, who is now 21, but I am not ashamed to say that it was the first time I had cried since then. The experience had an effect that I cannot really put into words. We went round Auschwitz and saw the crematorium, and as we were above the railway lines where evil people decided who should live and who should die and that children should be dragged away from their parents and murdered, I was honoured to be asked to read a poem. However, I did not make it through the poem. I cried for a second time on that visit, and at one point I could not stop myself. Was it because I felt that, but for a quirk of fate, it could have been not me, but my grandparents standing on those railway lines? I am really not sure.
As we walked round with the young people, they asked me, “What can we do to stop this happening? How can we make a difference?” I said to them, “It’s happening today. There are people out there who would do exactly the same today, whether to Jews, Muslims or any other minority group, because hatred is a terrible thing, and hatred without even knowing why you hate someone is even worse.” After I was elected to this House, I received a phone call at my home from someone who said, “You dirty Jew. We’re going to burn you to death.” I obviously cannot tell the House who it was from—because I do not know—but hatred has not gone away.
We owe it to ourselves never to forget. That is why I pay tribute to the work that the Holocaust Educational Trust and others do. If we are so honoured in the coming months, I would like my party—I say this from the Back Benches, but I have asked this of my party directly—to extend the programme, so that more and more young people can go and see what happened, because out there the years go by and people do not grasp the enormity of what happened.
I should like to pay tribute to a few people in my area. Yesterday morning we stood in a quite cold holocaust memorial park, which we have built in my borough of Redbridge. I commend Councillor Alan Weinberg, who was one of the movers behind that, and Leon Schaller, who, along with others, contributed funds for the park. As Rabbi Sufrin said prayers, we stood with children from King Solomon high school and people from all different communities and religions, and we remembered. We also heard from a holocaust survivor—there are obviously fewer and fewer survivors as the years go by. I was again moved, as I am every day on Holocaust memorial day.
It is a strange thing to describe, but when somebody says, “You went to Auschwitz. What was it like?” I have to say that I was very disturbed. I want to finish with what disturbed me the most. There were TV screens as we came in after landing at Luton airport. “Question Time” was on, and that vile man Mr. Griffin was on TV. The things he comes out with—yes, they will be dressed up to be just the right side of the law and yes, he will not actually say what he truly means—are there to divide us. I just hope that this wonderful country that we live in—and it is a wonderful country—will realise that.
My hon. Friend has just described what disturbed him most. What disturbed me the most—he will have seen this for himself at Auschwitz—was how the whole thing was justified by the Nazis to themselves. They convinced themselves that they were not doing anything wrong. He will have seen the accommodation for the officers who ran Auschwitz—it was where their wives and children also lived—which was no more than a stone’s throw from where the prisoners were kept. The people living there could not possibly have not known what was going on, so there must have been a mindset behind it all that convinced them it was justified and that they were not doing anything wrong. That was the most dangerous thing.
Yes, that is perfectly correct. The commandant and the other staff lived in close proximity to where people were being gassed. There is no way that their families did not know what was happening, but my hon. Friend is right: they convinced themselves that it was okay.
I return to my previous point: I hope that the people in our wonderful country will realise that, whatever they choose to do, the gentleman whom I have mentioned and what he represents are not the way to go.
As I said earlier, I went to Auschwitz about 20 years ago. People can read about it or see films and documentaries about it, but it is only when they go there and see for themselves the horrendous thing that happened in Europe in the run-up to and during the second world war that they understand. We should also pay tribute to those who took on the Mosleyites on the streets of London in the ’30s, because they were courageous people as well.
Again, that is absolutely correct.
Many more people want to speak in the short time we have left, so I would like to finish by again thanking the Holocaust Educational Trust for the privilege of that experience. Even though it disturbed me and even though I think about it every day, it is right to do so, because if we do not think about it, history can repeat itself, whatever group it might be. We are duty bound to ensure that that never happens again.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, let me remind the House that we have approximately 20 minutes left in this debate. Three hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so perhaps all three will bear that in mind when making their remarks.
It is encouraging to see how Holocaust memorial day—set up 10 years ago following the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) with all-party support—has become so much a part of the calendar and the life of this country. However, it was never intended that Holocaust memorial day should be the sole way in which the holocaust should be remembered. Indeed, its remit was not only to commemorate the unique evil of the holocaust, but to learn lessons from that for other genocides and the prejudice and hatred in the whole of our society. It is because remembering the holocaust and learning the lessons from it need action all year round that the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which was founded by Lord Janner and the late Lord Merlyn-Rees and of which I am a council member, is so important.
Last week I was privileged to take part in the Merlyn-Rees memorial lecture, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust. There were three aspects of that event that underline the importance of holocaust education in its broadest sense throughout the year. Students from the “Lessons from Auschwitz” programme participated in that event, and talked about how their personal experience of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau had greatly affected them and, even more importantly, led them to bring back the message about what had happened there to younger people, so that they too could learn the lessons. A reminder of the current pervasiveness of anti-Semitism was brought home very clearly by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), and I commend his excellent work in this regard, which takes place all year round.
We also listened to a presentation by Efraim Zuroff, from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. He spoke of the importance of bringing Nazi war criminals to trial. It is important to do that to ensure not only that such people are brought to justice, but that young people today can be educated about what happened in the past. It is chilling to discover that, even now, countries such as Austria and Lithuania resist bringing war criminals to trial despite solid evidence of their complicity in mass murder. That should not be allowed to continue.
We should also look at what is happening in the United Kingdom today. The excellent work of the Community Security Trust has revealed record levels of attacks on British Jews. More than 609 incidents were recorded in the first six months of 2009, and increasing numbers of such incidents are linked with events in the middle east. There is an uneasiness across the Jewish community in this country that has not been felt for generations, and that should be a matter not only for that community but for the whole of our society. British Jews are loyal citizens of this country. They participate in and contribute to all walks of life, yet they feel increasingly uneasy and threatened in their own country.
We should also be concerned about the messages of hate that emanate from various sources, including the internet. We are familiar with the messages of anti-Semitic hate from organisations such as the British National party. We are all aware of those, and we are rightly ready to condemn what those organisations are doing. But are we as ready to condemn the anti-Semitic messages of hate that come from Islamist jihadist sources? They are present in our society, on our university campuses and on the internet.
Are we willing to condemn internet sites such as Hamas’s al-Fateh website, which are preaching to British children at this moment messages such as the one in a column entitled “Stories of Uncle Izz al-Din”? The column depicts the Jews
“as if they are wolves whose eyes blaze with evil, evil fills their hearts…They are indeed the murderers of the prophets”.
Should we allow such a website, with its cartoon headed “Criminal Jews” that depicts a person who is half Israeli soldier, brandishing a gun and with teeth bared, and half stereotyped diaspora Jew, with a skull cap and a big nose, grasping for money? Is it right, as we commemorate Holocaust memorial day, that that internet site should be able to broadcast such messages of hate to children in this country and elsewhere in the world? I am told by the Home Office that it is considering whether there are grounds to stop the website on a voluntary basis. It should make its mind up quickly about that. If we are serious about stopping these messages of hate, we must think not only about the BNP but about Islamist jihadist sources of hate as well. That website is one of them.
Holocaust memorial day has never been only about what happened in the past, however horrendous and uniquely evil that was. It has always been about the present and the future as well. It is about learning the lessons of the past for present and future generations. When we talk about the Holocaust memorial day and remember that yesterday’s commemorations focused on the message “The Legacy of Hope”, we should renew our determination to fight hatred, prejudice and bigotry wherever we find them, so that we can create a society that is happy, acceptable and fit for everyone.
The Holocaust Educational Trust makes it clear that the people who suffered during the holocaust included gays, blacks and Roma Gypsies as well as, overwhelmingly, Jews. I must admit that I did not know much about the trust until I was invited to go last September to Auschwitz-Birkenau with a group of Glasgow pupils, along with the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and some journalists. It has already been observed that these journeys involve a day of preparation before the visit itself, and a debriefing and school projects afterwards.
Different things affect different people individually on these visits. For one of the journalists, what struck him was the shoes. He told us that he had a little girl, and he realised that some of those shoes would have fitted her. I was challenged in a number of ways. One related to the position of the Roma Gypsies in our society today. They are a group that some people really despise and would not want living next to them. The visit brought it home to me that those feelings are continuing today and are real.
The physical aspect of the visit that struck me was the railway. Some Members will know that I am a fan of railways and that I like travelling by train. Clearly, railways are used sometimes for good things and sometimes for bad things, but to see the railway in the Birkenau camp, which had been specifically built to kill people, struck me as particularly awful. It was built to get the Hungarian Jews into the camps as quickly as possible, quite late in the war. The last thing I did that day was to walk right along the track back to the famous gate.
I have visited other sites that I have found moving, including Terezin, near Prague. It was meant to be a transit camp, but 33,000 people died there, including prisoners of war, which should not have happened. In Israel, I visited Yad Vashem. The children’s memorial there is a dark place with mirrors and a few lights, and the names of the children who died in the holocaust are read out. I found that quite overwhelming. It is also possible to visit ghettos and synagogues in other towns.
The Jews were not the sole victims of the holocaust, but they were largely so. The Holocaust Educational Trust is very good at reminding us that we should oppose all discrimination against all minorities and promote understanding and good relationships. It was a good by-product of our visit to see the children from some very well-off private schools in Glasgow mixing with children from ordinary state schools and, hopefully, understanding each other.
The Jews have suffered a lot, historically. Back in biblical times, they were treated as slaves in Egypt. They were expelled from Rome during the Roman empire. In 1290, England became the first European country to expel the Jews, and that lasted until 1656. Clearly, I am not a fan of Edward I, for a number of reasons. It was interesting that he expelled the Jews, largely for financial reasons, and that Cromwell brought them back for similar reasons. They were expelled from Spain in 1492, and from Portugal in 1497. It has been said that Scotland is the only European country not to have exercised state persecution of Jews, although there was not a large Jewish population there in the past. Also, I went to the cinema recently with a Jewish friend, and youngsters in the cinema were making anti-Jewish comments, so none of us is exempt from that kind of thing.
As time is limited I shall not go into great detail, but I want to raise the question of why the Jews are the subject of so much hatred historically. There are some superficial reasons such as that the Jews killed Jesus, but, fairly obviously, Jesus was Jewish, all Jesus’s early followers were Jewish, and the whole early Christian Church was Jewish. One can say that gentiles such as me who follow the Christian faith are the second-rate believers, and the Jewish ones are the first-rate believers.
What are the lessons to be learned from the holocaust? One is that we need to be peacemakers, not just peacekeepers. As previous speakers have mentioned, it is difficult to separate the Jews from Israel. Clearly, some Jews are opposed to the current existence of Israel, and many are opposed to particular policies of the Israeli Government. I fear that for some people being anti-Israel on the surface is a cover for being anti-Jewish underneath. Among committed Christians, there are those who are pro-Arab, pro-Palestine and anti-Israel, and others who are strongly pro-Israel and seem blind to its failings.
Another Member wishes to speak, so I will have to carry on.
On the home front, we need to learn how to treat minorities—including the Jewish one—and the poor. That is a measure of a civilised country. The Equality Bill is important in that regard, and I welcome its protection of the disabled, of gay people and of other groups. However, it is necessary to be careful about how the Bill addresses religious matters. On the foreign front, the lesson to be learned is how to deal with the middle east. It is easy to be a strident supporter of one side or the other, but surely one role for this country is to be a peacemaker in the middle east.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. In that context, I want to place on record all our thanks for the work of Elliot Conway, who has just moved on to greater and better things, having been for a number of years an effective director of the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism. In the past year, I have also chaired the international parliamentary coalition against anti-Semitism. Yesterday, Italy commenced a comparable inquiry to that held by the House on a cross-party basis three years ago, and Canada has also held a cross-party inquiry throughout this week. The cross-party nature of the work and some of the successes achieved have been demonstrated by today’s debate. I trust that all parties will ensure that, whatever decisions are made on budgets, such essential work is red-circled at a minimum, in each and every year of the next Parliament.
I also urge those on the Front Benches to consider how they can assist the excellent work of Beth Shalom, the only bespoke holocaust centre in this country, which has sadly had to make some staff redundant in recent times. Local authorities have been unwilling to pay what I would deem an appropriate charge to participate in such educational activities. Engagement by Government and Opposition with James Smith and the team at that centre would be beneficial. In these times of austerity, it is important that such work is not cut back but expanded. There is a role for temporary Government assistance to keep that good work going at the same strength.
I echo the sentiments and thanks expressed to the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Community Security Trust, Stephen Smith and his team, and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust committee. I congratulate both sides of the House on the cross-party alliance on the matter during this Parliament. It has been a model for other Parliaments across the world to take forward such work. I want to suggest some other ways in which we can take the work forward.
In 2012, Olympic year, we should do something, whether in connection with Holocaust memorial day or in some other way, to look at the contribution of Britain in 1948, why Britain was chosen to host the Olympics, and how racism and the holocaust link to the history of the Olympics. There is a British angle, not least in relation to holocaust survivors in this country who became Olympians, that is a worthy subject for education. I suggest that to the Government and Opposition parties as an agenda item for the next two years.
Just before the Olympics, the Euro 2012 championship will take place in Poland and Ukraine. I do not have the necessary time to go into some of the issues in eastern Europe and the rewriting of history led by academics in particular—the rebalancing of history, as some of them call it—but it is fundamentally worrying. If possible, on a cross-party basis, we should engage their Parliaments on the issue. That football championship, in which all four home countries aspire to participate if they are successful in qualifying—doubtless some will, not least England—gives an opportunity for such engagement. It is vital that we take that opportunity.
We also need to engage the European Union as an institution in holocaust education. Given some of the progress of the past 10 years, since the initiatives of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), backed by others, we have something to sing about. We can do more at the European level. We should engage the European Union, the new European Parliament and Commission, and Britain should take a lead in the Council of Ministers in getting proper resource and thought and more research at a European level and across nations. That will allow holocaust education and the lessons of the holocaust to permeate a wider range of countries. That is our responsibility as British parliamentarians as well as good Europeans, and I recommend that to those on both Front Benches.
On days such as yesterday, we reflect on the past—
One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 24A).
Sitting suspended (Standing Order No. 20).