I beg to move,
That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day 2021.
It is a privilege to open this important debate to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, which took place yesterday, 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which remains one of the most dark and horrific crime scenes of world history. I would like to thank in particular the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for co-sponsoring this debate.
Over the past 20 years, Holocaust Memorial Day has become an important part of our national life, with the numbers of events growing every year. That is largely down to the incredible work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and the Holocaust Educational Trust, which both work tirelessly to ensure that the collective memory of the holocaust is renewed and strengthened with every passing year. The pandemic has meant that this memorial day has been marked in different ways, but nevertheless thousands of activities have taken place across the country, using resources that the HMDT developed to support online commemorations.
Normally, Members from across the House would have had the opportunity to sign a book of commitment organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust, in which we remember the victims of the holocaust, and pledge to fight against hatred, racism and antisemitism, wherever we see it. Last night we were all able, wherever we were in the UK, to participate in the first fully digital national holocaust commemorative ceremony.
Holocaust Memorial Day is when we remember the millions of people murdered under Nazi persecution, and in the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. The theme this year is “Be the light in the darkness”, and at the close of the ceremony last night we lit candles. Those candles symbolised the lives of those who were murdered in the death camps and subsequent genocides, as well as the lives of the survivors who still live and walk among us, and those who have passed away.
The candles also represented hope—the hope that comes from a collective determination never to allow such atrocities to take place again; the hope that comes from standing together against antisemitism and all forms of prejudice. As the years pass by, the number of men and women who witnessed and survived the holocaust sadly gets smaller, and it is an incredible privilege to meet those survivors and hear their extraordinary testimonies. They are stories of courage, survival, hope, and forgiveness, in the face of unthinkable horror and suffering.
A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting Lily Ebert, now aged 97, who survived Auschwitz. Lily is a remarkable woman, a true survivor. Just last week she went for her first walk, having recovered from covid-19. Susan Pollack moved many of us to tears at the Conservative conference in 2018, by recounting her experiences as a young girl in both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Many have said this before, and it is so true, that meeting these survivors is an unforgettable experience. I am always left stunned and humbled by their capacity for forgiveness, and the choice to love those who showed them only hate and violence. That is light in darkness.
I pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which enables young people to understand the past, and empowers them to stand up against antisemitism and prejudice in all its forms. In March last year, due to the pandemic it was forced to suspend its overseas projects and in-person educational programmes, but the trust has quickly adapted to ensure that its work is continued at an impressive scale online, with survivors using video calls to share their testimonies. The responses shared on social media afterwards show how strikingly powerful those sessions are, especially for young people.
Holocaust Memorial Day is about remembrance, but it should also be a moment that moves us to consider the darkness still around us today. I am talking about the cancer of antisemitism that even now eats away inside some of our institutions, and that spawns and thrives on social media, and casts dark shadows across our own society and those of some of our closest neighbours.
Take, for example, the Halle synagogue attack in Germany in October 2019. The synagogue was targeted in an antisemitic attack, and the armed attacker unsuccessfully tried to enter the synagogue, before fatally shooting two non-Jewish victims and injuring two others. The perpetrator espoused radical far-right views. He was an antisemite and holocaust denier. He livestreamed his actions so that they could be celebrated in dark places online.
Even closer to home, we could look at what is happening in our universities. I am sure that some colleagues will want to raise that this afternoon. How can it be that Jewish students in this country do not feel protected by our institutions, places of openness and learning turned into dark corners where Jewish young people experience fear? The adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance modern definition of antisemitism should merely be the first step in tackling rising levels of antisemitism, yet even that is seen as too much to ask for from some universities, whose academics spuriously claim that the definition would shut down legitimate debate about Israeli Government policies.
We must not shy away from the reality that modern antisemitism invariably morphs into anti-Zionism and the demonisation of Israel itself. The late Rabbi Lord Sacks, a man of extraordinary wisdom and kindness, once said:
“One of the enduring facts of history is that most anti-Semites do not think of themselves as anti-Semites. ‘We don’t hate Jews’, they said in the Middle Ages, ‘just their religion’. ‘We don’t hate Jews’, they said in the 19th century, ‘just their race’. ‘We don’t hate Jews’, they say now, ‘just their nation state’.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 September 2018; Vol. 792, c. 2413.]
I have had the privilege of visiting Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust memorial, on numerous occasions, and I find each experience deeply moving. On leaving the museum, visitors walk out on to a balcony overlooking a vista of Jerusalem, and it is impossible not to reflect on the place of sanctuary and refuge that the nation state of Israel continues to provide for Jews still fleeing persecution today.
Holocaust Memorial Day is also about remembering the other genocides the world has witnessed. I think about the people I met in 1998 in the Bosnian town of Foča, a town described by Human Rights Watch as a “closed, dark place”, which saw the systematic removal of its Muslim population by Serb forces in a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing. It saw forced detention, rape, expulsions, murder on a horrific scale, and destruction of historic mosques and other cultural sites.
I think too of the victims and the survivors of the Rwandan genocide, which happened right under the noses of the international community in 1994. I, along with numerous colleagues in my party, used to spend part of my summer recess in Rwanda with Project Umubano, which was founded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). On each of those visits, we would visit the genocide memorial in Kigali, where we would lay a wreath. We had the opportunity to hear the testimonies of survivors—people such as the wonderful Freddy Mutanguha, who was one of the 95,000 children and teenagers in Rwanda orphaned during those terrible three months between April and July ’94. In Rwanda, the dark places of genocide were the beautiful green hillsides, the churches, the sports grounds.
One of the lessons of those visits is that genocides do not happen by accident. They follow a pattern. They require planning. It requires powerful people to deliberate and take calculated decisions to persecute and, ultimately, visit death upon entire communities. Weapons and implements of torture and murder need to be bought, acquired, constructed. Genocides require ideologies to flourish that focus on differences between people and groups—ideologies that glorify strength and superiority, that systematically dehumanise minorities. Those ideologies infect school rooms, universities, bars and individual homes. They are ideologies that create those dark places where the unthinkable somehow becomes justifiable and even normal.
It requires methods of mass communication and propaganda—radio, television and, in our own age, the unregulated channels of social media—to turn communities against each other. Most of all, genocides require people to turn a blind eye—neighbours, work colleagues, friends, even family members. Genocides require people to turn away. They require good people to do nothing.
I believe that darkness threatens every new generation. Old hatreds resurface time and again. Maybe they never fully go away and are just waiting for vehicles to emerge to legitimise and breathe new life into them at opportune moments. Being light in darkness means staying vigilant against that, it means having the clarity to identify it, and it means having the courage to confront it and push back wherever possible—in our national institutions, in our own political parties, on social media, in our own constituencies. None of those is an easy thing to do, but on Holocaust Memorial Day we take renewed strength from being able to stand together, reflect on the events of the past and pledge to honour the memory of those whose lives were taken, by doing more—by doing what we can—to stand up against prejudice, antisemitism and hatred in all its forms.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on his very good contribution. It seems incomprehensible that so many people were complicit by their action or inaction in the uniquely horrific extermination of 6 million Jews, yet the holocaust is not an isolated genocide. Today, Uyghurs and Rohingyas are living through the nightmare of persecution, segregation, imprisonment and murder. Only by acting together, confronting prejudice and hate and being the light in the darkness can we conquer this evil.
I recently read my grandfather’s diaries, written when he escaped to Britain from Austria. Old and ill, he was interned in Huyton because he was deemed an enemy alien. His diaries reveal the trauma, the constant worry about relatives and the challenges faced by refugees. An eternal optimist, his diaries also describe the talent imprisoned with him—musicians, artists and academics—and that made me realise how many brilliant philosophers, musicians and scientists were lost because they were murdered by the Nazis.
As holocaust survivors inevitably die, it falls to us to keep the knowledge of what happened alive. My grandmother’s letter, written nine days before she was killed, in which she says twice, “Don’t forget me completely”, sealed my determination to fight racism and antisemitism wherever and whenever I meet it.
When I was first an MP, I was a Labour MP who happened to be Jewish, but when antisemitism moved to the mainstream of my party, I became a Jewish Labour MP—my identity interwoven with my work. The last five years have been difficult, long and lonely. I did enjoy support from the brave activists in the Jewish Labour Movement and from those colleagues who did call out antisemitism, and I will never forget the friendship and support between the four Jewish Labour women: Louise Ellman, Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger and myself. It was the women who stood together, worked together and simply would not give up. The tragedy is that they are no longer MPs. I salute their brave contribution, and I miss them.
A year has made a huge difference. By his actions, our party’s new leader is demonstrating zero tolerance of Jew hate, not just suspending and expelling individuals but transforming our culture and re-establishing trust with the Jewish community, who were hurt and genuinely frightened. As a party, we are finally focused on eliminating antisemitism, responding to the shameful findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and restoring our core values.
The history of the Jews and our knowledge of present day genocides tells us that if we ignore prejudice and hate, it can deepen and destroy. I came into politics to fight racism, so I will always do all I can to nurture the light and conquer the darkness.
I bow in respect to the first two speeches, and I expect they will be matched by those that follow.
“We remember those who were murdered for who they were. We stand against prejudice, hostility and division in the world today. We learn from the tragedies and horrors of the past. We work towards a better future.”
Those were the words put out with the photograph of the candle we lit last night. Had I been born in the Dutch Jewish line of my family, I could have died at Bergen-Belsen with many of the other 113 members of grandfather’s extended family.
The purpose of the holocaust memorial and education centre is for us to know, to care and to act, whatever our heritage. It may be that the Secretary of State will announce that if the proposed national heritage memorial and learning centre is built—whether it is built in Victoria Tower Gardens or not—then entry will be free. We have always assumed it would be free, but the Government were not able to say that. What the Government did say through its agency is that the bulk of the money should be spent on education, not on construction.
The proposal in September 2015 was that the centre should be completed by 2020, a year ago, that it should have the support of the local authority wherever it was to be built, and that it could be built anywhere within 3 miles of London on a suitable site. Page 10 of the publication showed that and included: west of Regent’s park; Spitalfields; most of Southwark, including the Imperial War Museum—
The Secretary of State may shake his head. He will have his chance to speak. I want him at the moment to listen, if I may. I respect him and I respect what he tries to do, but I ask him to publish the analysis done before 2016 of the sites at the Imperial War Museum and Victoria Tower Gardens. I will publish what I know. He will need to consider what he is putting forward and his deputy needs to say whether he can seriously make a decision on the Secretary of State’s behalf when the Government are so implicated in an inappropriate scheme in an inappropriate place, with a design not accepted in Ottawa.
I would like to pay tribute to all the Members who secured this debate. We really should have an annual debate to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
The indications are, and the figures back this up, that antisemitism is on the rise not just in Britain but across Europe and perhaps elsewhere. For many of us, our own personal experiences, for example those just recounted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), back that up. Our personal experiences support the notion that antisemitism is on the rise in this country and elsewhere. The question is why is that?
I suspect that the reason is at least partly because the events of the holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s, and of world war two, are slipping from memory and into history. I am thinking of all the Holocaust survivors who spent their lives touring schools and colleges, writing and speaking, such as Leon Greenman, who lived most of his life in Ilford, close to my constituency. After world war two, Leon spent his life writing and talking about the holocaust. That generation is passing into history.
We know that historically racism often starts with the Jewish community and then spreads to other communities. Even in the middle ages, the crusades started by massacring Jewish communities across Europe before they started their genocidal mayhem against Muslims in the Holy Land. We also know that holocaust denial, or perhaps not so much holocaust denial but a tendency to say, “Well, there are a number of interpretations you can make of the holocaust,” is a sort of academic approach to moral relativism. There is a tendency, which is more widespread now than it was a few years ago, to put forward that pseudo-academic view. The question is: is that acceptable? The answer is no, it is not acceptable. The fact is that the holocaust was about one thing: the attempt to wipe an entire race off the face of the planet. It was not about anything else. It was simply that: genocide on a scale that has not been seen before or since. The crucial thing is that every time someone takes a moral relativist approach to the holocaust and its memory, it chips away at its historical integrity and undermines the beliefs of people such as those speaking today who want to remember how it really was.
I pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust and its work in widening and deepening the knowledge of the holocaust. We all have a duty to widen that knowledge and to make sure that in the hearts and minds of future generations that collective memory is carried forward.
Like the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), I am a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which, as we have heard, is responsible for putting together Holocaust Memorial Day. I hope that Members logged on for last night’s ceremony and the national moment. If they did not, they are in a minority, because people logged on in their tens of thousands. I hope that, like me, they found it a very moving and emotional experience.
Last year, which marked 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, I was asked to remember one person in particular who was a victim of Nazi persecution. I decided not to do that. Putting on a yarmulke, I decided to remember all 6 million victims of Nazi persecution, and I remember them all today.
The horror of this genocide has been repeated subsequently. What brought it home to me was when I visited the concentration camp just outside the Polish town of Lublin, and saw an enormous number of plants and flowers growing. They grow so magnificently there because they are all growing on the ashes of human burials. Just think about that: all that beauty coming out of such a tragic and momentously horrific situation.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn and I wrote an article for the Daily Mirror online yesterday, in which we said:
“Speaking as a Christian and a Muslim, respectively, we both know that marking Holocaust Memorial Day is more important than ever. Commemorating the millions of people who were murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution and in the genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur is vital for us to learn where persecution based on faith and identity can lead.”
As the Chief Rabbi said last night:
“If we are all the light in the darkness, think of what a wonderful world we can achieve.”
Let us, in participating in this debate, aim to be that light in the darkness.
I begin by thanking my honourable colleagues and co-sponsors of this vital debate, all honourable colleagues who are speaking today, those who have been marking Holocaust Memorial Day, and of course the Backbench Business Committee. Thanks must also go to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for its inspirational work; to the Holocaust Educational Trust, led by Karen Pollock, for teaching future generations; to the Community Security Trust; and to Danny Stone and the Antisemitism Policy Trust.
It is crucial that, in remembrance, we do not picture atrocities of genocide perpetrated during the Holocaust as historical events. It is important to reflect on the reality that the seeds of antisemitic distrust, prejudice and hatred were spread years prior to armbands being worn, ghettos being built, trains being loaded and gas chambers being filled.
A recent briefing from the Antisemitism Policy Trust found that throughout history Jewish people have been blamed for diseases and pandemics. Indeed, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, these age-old tropes have re-emerged in updated forms, on our social media channels and popular antisemitic online forums, such as 4chan and Gab. It did not take long for the virus to be named “the Jew flu”—part of a Zionist agenda to start world war three—or for antisemites online to encourage people deliberately to try to infect Jewish people, as part of the “holocough”.
In its latest report, the Community Security Trust recorded 789 antisemitic incidents that took place across the UK in the first six months of 2020. It would be easy to dismiss the instances outlined as the actions of a deluded fringe, but that would also be foolish and could be deadly. An article published in The Guardian last April found that referrals to prevent online radicalisation had fallen by 50% since the start of lockdown, which has created ideal conditions for online predators and trolls to spread hate and lies.
We must do more to stamp out antisemitism on online platforms, call on the social media giants to do more to police such content, and introduce more stringent barriers in the forthcoming online safety Bill. We disrespect the memory of millions who died in the holocaust if we fail to take action to stamp out the recurring lies that culminated in such widespread destruction of life 80 years ago. We are, indeed, arrogant to presume that stereotypes of the past can find no audience in the future. We would therefore do well to live out the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day—light the darkness—in our approach to antisemitism going forward.
Three years ago, I stood with the wonderful Susan Pollack, the Auschwitz survivor, at the Kigali memorial site in Rwanda, the largest burial ground in the world. We were mourning the million who were slaughtered in a 90-day frenzy of killing and brutality in Rwanda. Most of those who took part have been brought to justice, through either the Arusha international tribunal or the Gacaca courts, which have processed hundreds of thousands who have returned to Rwanda from the hills of the Kivus because they see that the process is decent and fair.
The death penalty in Rwanda has been abolished and most countries—including the United States, Canada, Belgium, Sweden and others—have extradited people back to Rwanda. As John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things”. Living free in Britain today are five alleged Rwandan genocide perpetrators: three were senior Government officials in the 1994 genocidal regime and one of those was allegedly heavily involved in the notorious massacre of 45,000 Tutsis at Murambi—the worst massacre since the second world war.
On 14 September 2006, the British and Rwandan Governments agreed a memorandum of understanding; I first raised this matter in the House on 5 December 2006. Extradition warrants were signed the same month. In 2015, a British district judge ruled that even though there was a prima facie case of genocide made out against the five individuals, it could breach their human rights to send them back to Rwanda, and that ruling was upheld on appeal. The Rwandan judicial authorities have given up on British justice and extradition and requested that Britain undertake prosecution here. The authorities indicated that the collection of evidence already laid out in the court papers and filed in the UK via the war crimes unit would take up to 10 years to process.
These are the facts. Living in this country today, free and at large for more than 14 years now, are five people accused of the most heinous of crimes: genocide participation—crimes against humanity. Four out of five are living at the taxpayer’s expense and more than £3 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent on meeting their legal fees. Is it any wonder that in Africa, and in the UK, too, people accuse the British establishment of hypocrisy? To them, it looks suspiciously as if crimes against white Europeans are taken more seriously than those perpetrated against black Africans.
I call upon all those who care about the holocaust, genocide and justice to take up this cause. The souls of the slaughtered Tutsis cry out for justice, but Britain has turned a deaf ear. We should all be ashamed.
It is nearly 76 years since the end of the second world war in Europe, but the lessons that the world needs to learn from the events that culminated in the holocaust remain as relevant today as they were then. The holocaust did not begin and end with Auschwitz and the other extermination camps; its roots lay in the falsehoods and hatred that festered for centuries before and continue to exist today.
In the 1920s and 1930s, that hate and antisemitism was whipped up at rallies, and pamphlets were published that transformed Germany from an advanced liberal democracy into a vicious dictatorship. Today, that poison and those lies have not gone away. We rarely see the mass rallies and events, but the battle has moved online, where hate speech and holocaust denial can be found at a disturbing level. There are those who hide behind the idea that somehow this should be allowed, under some perverse idea that it is free speech.
The other night, I re-watched the excellent David Baddiel documentary in which he made contact with holocaust deniers. I was particularly struck by his concerns about what he termed to be “soft” holocaust denial—the idea that, yes, something may have gone on, but that it has been exaggerated and somehow blame lies on all sides. This is extremely dangerous. We see today populist Governments in Poland and Hungary seeking to rewrite history, to airbrush out the involvement of their countrymen and women in terrible crimes.
I believe that the holocaust is not just a terrible one-off event that happened in our history, carried out by a madman and his thugs. The truth is very different. Before the establishment of mechanised extermination in death camps, Einsatzgruppen squads followed the German advance into eastern Europe and Russia, shooting over 2 million men, women and children. These groups were led not by so-called thugs but by a university lecturer, a theologian, a doctor. These should be warnings to us about how this can take over.
History teaches us the events of the past, but it is also a warning for our future. The holocaust is a fact. There are no alternative facts, and we should never allow that to be said.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for selecting this timely debate. It is important that we as politicians learn as much as we can about what happens when politics goes wrong, as they did in Germany in the late 1930s and early ’40s under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.
I have joined students from my South East Cornwall constituency on a visit to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust. There cannot be a starker reminder of the terrible atrocities man can visit upon man. The new museum displays prisoners’ mugshots and substantial amounts of hair, suitcases and shoes taken from murdered prisoners. It is an educational journey I will never forget, and I know the impact it had on the visiting students.
I have also visited Israel with the Conservative Friends of Israel, as declared in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Along with colleagues, I visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust memorial. It was an incredibly moving visit. I found the hall of names particularly poignant. The ceiling of the hall displays 600 photographs and fragments of pages of testimony. Over 2 million of these pages are stored around the hall, a room for the 6 million men, women and children from the diverse Jewish world who were murdered by the Nazis. On the same visit, I attended the national ceremony of Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day.
I have also visited the holocaust exhibition in our own Imperial War Museum, with my husband Bob. The photograph displays and artefacts show dramatically the mass executions carried out as part of the Nazi final solution policy.
At this time of the pandemic, when we cannot travel and should stay at home, it is important that we continue to remember and that we ensure that people can still learn about this terrible time, so that it does not happen again. The Holocaust Educational Trust has a lot of resources on its website—het.org.uk—and I recommend this important resource.
The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is:
“Be the light in the darkness”.
It challenges this generation to shine a light whenever we encounter darkness, whether we encounter it internationally in Xinjiang or when we hear the chants of antisemitism in the street, community or workplace. In the fullness of time—[Inaudible.]—it is easy to assume that we would never see the horror of a country actively seeking to destroy and wipe out any trace of the Jewish community ever again. “Never again”, we were told, but each time we have conspiracy theories on the internet around Jews, we take a step back towards the hatred that brought the Nazis to power in the 1930s. Therefore, it is vital that we continue to tell the stories of those who survived the unimaginable cruelty and horror of the holocaust.
Today, I want to tell the House the story of one of the amazing individuals who showed courage and acted as a light in the darkness, and who I hope will be an example to this generation. It is the story of Manfred Goldberg and his teacher Herr Bacher. Manfred and his family were transported to the Riga ghetto. When they arrived, Manfred found that his primary school teacher Herr Bacher was also there. As Manfred’s father had escaped to England, Herr Bacher prepared Manfred for his bar mitzvah. Miraculously, a scroll was found. Manfred said:
“On the Saturday of which I speak a prayer service was held in a private room. I was not aware of any prayer services before that week, nor did I experience any subsequently during my three and a half years in various camps. My teacher had somehow organised the required quorum of ten men, and I read the portion he had so kindly taught me. Organising the quorum was a major achievement, as practically everyone had to do slave labour daily, seven days a week.”
For Herr Bacher to ensure Manfred had his bar mitzvah, even during all the chaos and upheaval in their lives, is a simple but hugely powerful form of resistance.
The story of Manfred is a story of resistance to the efforts of the Nazi party to eradicate Jewish presence, culture, and communities. People strove to celebrate their faith, observe their culture, continue to educate their children and form communities. Each of these acts was a way of claiming agency over the way they lived their lives in the face of the darkest of situations. The holocaust reshaped our understanding of global responsibility, the meaning of human rights and fundamentally altered our view of democracy. Holocaust Memorial Day gives us all an opportunity to remember our responsibility to work for a better and safer future for everyone, regardless of geography, race, religion, or sexuality.
I want to highlight the words of the Holocaust survivor, Dorit Oliver-Wolff, as she implores us to “put politics aside” and recognise the atrocities that are ongoing in Xinjiang. In her words, “this is a genocide” and:
“It is inhuman and it was equally inhuman”—
“all my family was killed”.
Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us to do all we can to prevent human rights abuses such as the forced labour, the religious persecution and the forced sterilisation that the Uyghur population in China are being subjected to. It is imperative that we act as quickly—[Interruption.]
In last year’s debate, I spoke about the only concentration camp on British soil, on the island of Alderney. Lager Sylt and Lager Norderney contained Russian and Polish prisoners-of-war, as well as Jewish slave labourers. I raised the issue of undisclosed and unrecorded burial sites of murdered inmates and told the House:
“Rabbinic law dictates that the grave sites of Jewish people should not be disturbed.”
However, I expressed my personal view that
“unmarked graves, mass graves and locations of bodies hidden by their murderers are not proper graves in themselves, and I believe that it is appropriate for the identification of bodies to be undertaken”—[Official Report, 23 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 492.]
Some people took my words as advocating a full exhumation of the Channel Islands, but that is not necessary or even desirable. The burial site on Alderney was designated and formally marked by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as an official war grave, but it was deaccessioned by the CWGC in 1961.
Back in July 2019, my right hon. Friend Lord Pickles, head of the UK delegation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, along with the deputy head, Sally Sealey, and Dr Gilly Carr, a member of the UK delegation, visited Alderney. The purpose of the trip was to make an assessment of the island’s holocaust-related heritage sites after the revelation of new geophysical evidence and the potential presence of further bodies in a mass grave on Longis Common on Alderney.
Putting aside the religious issues, it has been stressed to me that opening mass graves is not as revealing as one might imagine that and that gains in knowledge are slight compared with the moral and spiritual costs of disturbance. Knowledge already exists about the sites, and the combination of non-intrusive means of investigation, world war two aerial imagery and research of the records should be sufficient to tell us, with some certitude, what lies beneath Longis Common. I have been advised that a considerable amount is already known about what lies beneath that ground. That is because the British Government are still sitting on embargoed files that detail what they found at the cemetery after the war and their own excavations at the cemetery. Today, I am calling on the Government to find the missing records of the 1961 exhumation, and the detailed records that the UK made of each set of remains by the British excavation in Alderney. We have a duty to ensure that no one is left behind. I ask the Government to play their part and do the right thing by releasing all information and documents in their possession.
Yesterday, my friend Paula Sherriff—a much missed former Member of this House—tweeted a quote that read:
“If we held a moment of silence for every victim of the Holocaust we would be silent for eleven and a half years.”
It is often easy to feel disconnected from the figures and statistics that are read out in this place. Six million people. Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Most of us will struggle to imagine a number too huge to picture in our minds. It is easier, then, for us to imagine what it might feel like in our own lives if overnight the family living next door to us were to disappear, if several of our classmates and teachers did not turn up for school one day, and if there were noticeably fewer people around—emptier shops, cafés, gyms and school playgrounds—just as there has been during lockdown.
But 6 million people did not catch an infectious respiratory virus; they were forced out of their homes, rounded up, robbed, starved, humiliated, branded, tortured, experimented on and killed because of their race and religion. One deranged bully devised and built a murderous plan to wipe out an entire race of people. Of course he could not do this alone, so he tapped into some of our most complicated human flaws—weakness, fear, vulnerability, ignorance—and harnessed them to produce mass inhumanity. Despotic bullies disarm us by yelling their hatred and spite. We all fear becoming their next target. The safest option is to run and hide, to be compliant and complicit. Our instinct is to protect ourselves and those closest to us. But some chose not to.
The people in this place are all here because we chose, one way or another, not to be bystanders. The political arena is not for the faint-hearted, and, sadly, despite what we all now know about the atrocities enacted by the leaders of the Nazi regime, the world has not learnt to stop electing bullies who use their positions of power to make the lives of some intolerable, and they do so in plain sight. Some shout about building walls, inciting hatred, fuelling division, legitimising racism and even encouraging violence. Others arrange to have their political opponents or critics assassinated and poisoned, try to rig elections, and refuse to relinquish power or recognise democracy.
Right now, we know that there are groups of people being persecuted, imprisoned, rounded up, robbed, tortured and branded because of their race and religion. And what are we doing to stop it? We have to find ways to make sure that we are not being mere bystanders. Let us all be braver, like those who resisted. As Edmund Burke said:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Every year we mark Holocaust Memorial Day here in this House and around the world, and remember the unprecedented and unmatched evil of the holocaust. Yesterday marked the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Every year, the number of living holocaust survivors and those living righteous among the nations dwindles further, and as the holocaust slips out of living memory, the task of educating people about it and combating holocaust denial becomes more and more pressing. It is our duty as a society to educate the next generation. I pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which keep that memory alive.
When we see antisemitism in our own country, we have a duty to call it out. When we see antisemitism in other countries, and being tolerated or adopted by their regimes, again, we have a duty to call that out. Our commitment to human rights in our foreign policy and trade policy must reflect that. Seventy-six years ago, the world said, “Never again.” Every year on this day, we say, “Never again.” But the truth is that it has happened again and is happening again. It happened again in Rwanda, and in Cambodia, and Bosnia. It happened more recently to the Yazidis and the Rohingya. It is happening to the Christian minority in northern Nigeria, too: Open Doors’ “World Watch List 2021” report highlighted the escalating violence against that community, with more than 3,000 Christians killed last year.
Right now, it is happening to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. We have all seen it happening there. We have seen the videos of people loaded on to trains bound for camps. According to Human Rights Watch, 1.3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims have suffered under the Chinese regime’s actions. We have heard the chilling reports of what goes on in those camps, where many people have been sent for expressing their ethnic identity or practising their religion. We have testimonies from survivors. Our Government’s actions to prevent imports associated with the camps from entering this country, by strengthening the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to allow fines for companies that do not comply with transparency obligations, are welcome, but we should always consider ways to exert more pressure on these regimes, such as Magnitsky-style sanctions against listed persons who are complicit in human rights abuses.
Nothing past or present compares to the holocaust for its inhumanity, but we live in a world where there is still antisemitism and genocide. It is now more important than ever that we are able to keep that flame alight and say “Never again”.
I thank everyone who made this debate possible. Holocaust Memorial Day stands as a reminder of where racism and the dehumanisation of others can lead. Many years ago, I travelled to Auschwitz-Birkenau with children from my constituency, on a visit organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust. No one who has made that visit will ever forget the experience. The industrial mass killing, the meticulous gathering of clothing and goods—not random acts of chaotic violence but the most organised programme of killing in history.
We recoil and say “Never again”, but since the holocaust there have been further atrocities in the world fuelled by racial hatred and the desire to demonise people because of their faith or because they are a minority of one kind or another. The lessons for today still matter. We should never engage in the conferring of collective guilt, we should openly reject conspiracy theories about dual loyalties or international cabals influencing world events, and we should reject the world view that results in a hierarchy of victimhood where some cannot accept that Jewish people could really be the victims of racism.
It is sadly the case that antisemitism still exists in our society, and indeed became more prominent in recent years, including in my own party. It never represented the Labour tradition, which at its best is a politics open to people of all faiths and none and which seeks to break down barriers, not reinforce them, yet still antisemitic views found a home in some of the darker corners of the left, as well as the far right. I am glad and relieved that, under new leadership, we have firmly turned a page on that era. To do so fully and completely, we must not only reject antisemitism but the worldview that gives rise to it, the conspiracy theories that go along with it and the hierarchy of victimhood that is blind to it.
The experience of remembering the holocaust should also inform the ways that we think about refugees today. The UK can be proud of the role we played not only during the war, in liberating the world from tyranny, but before the war, in making a new home for around 10,000 children through the Kindertransport programme. Each one of those children was given a new life and a new chance. Today, when child refugees are still trying to reach our shores, we should remember how precious that chance of a new life can be, and what an amazing contribution to our country can be made by those who are given a chance.
The lessons of Holocaust Memorial Day are not only those from history; they live with us every day. The greatest of all is that we share much more through our common humanity than anything that could drive us apart.
It is an honour to take part in this debate today. It was disappointing early on in this debate, however, to hear a Member once again using this debate for their own personal campaign against the location of the UK holocaust memorial. It was, in my opinion, inappropriate and offensive.
I want to begin with the name of Hilel Gruzin. His name was provided to me with the Yellow Candle I received for Yom HaShoah earlier this year. Hilel was one of the victims of the holocaust, dying at the age of just 21 in 1944 in Latvia, and I hope we can remember his name today. His memory is a blessing.
I want to thank Brigg Town Council for the memorial day ceremony we undertook on Sunday. We were unable, of course, to meet in person this year, but I thank the town council for organising what was anyway a very moving memorial day. I also pay particular tribute to Rabbi Thomas Salamon from my synagogue, who provided some words to us on that day, particularly recounting his story—of his family and of growing up as the son of a mother who was interned in one of the camps.
I want briefly to talk about the work of the APPG against antisemitism, of which I am proud to be co-chair. The work we have been doing this year has largely focused on online antisemitism, which we know is a growing problem in this country. It is something we have to get a grip on, and get a grip on quickly, given the prevalence of social media and the growth of it.
We hear a lot about Facebook, and a lot about Twitter and TikTok, but one platform we have heard less about is Amazon, a company that many of us would herald for helping get us through these past few months—it has many strings to its bow—but, sadly, one that has taken a very long time to remove antisemitic content. Only recently, 92 books were removed from its platform because of holocaust denial material. At the end of last year, my co-chair and I had to write to Amazon about antisemitic responses that came in the form of Alexa—quite appalling responses—and we have had to write to it again regarding the content it has on its site from the notorious conspiracy theorist and antisemite David Icke, which although provided by a third party, is accessed via Amazon.
In the final seconds I have, my plea to all these platforms is to act responsibly. They cannot contract out their responsibility in regard to antisemitism. This is an area that, sadly, is growing, and they have to do more. I hope that the online harms Bill will provide an opportunity for us to ensure they do more.
It is an honour to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I was privileged to join the online commemorative ceremony to mark Holocaust Memorial Day yesterday to honour those who were murdered for who they were and to stand against prejudice and hatred today.
Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us that there are fewer people around the world with direct lived experience of that hellish extermination. It is crucial to hear the deeply moving testimonies of the remaining survivors, because the message of suffering, pain, trauma and human cruelty must never ever be forgotten. Those testimonies remind us of the impact of the holocaust: the lives cut short, the families ripped apart, and the courage and bravery of those who survived who seek to ensure that their suffering informs a better future for every one of us. The theme of the Holocaust Memorial Day this year is “Be the light in the darkness”. It encourages everyone to reflect on the depths that humanity can sink to, but also the ways in which individuals and communities resisted that darkness to be the light before, during and after the genocide.
Holocaust Memorial Day is also a day for us to recognise and remember other atrocities that have taken place since that time, including in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and, most recently, the genocide of Yazidis by the evil that is known as ISIS. In the summer of 2014, as ISIS rampaged and rolled into Sinjar, the international community was still asleep and the Yazidis defenceless. ISIS perpetrated the unthinkable. Thousands of boys and men were slaughtered, while women and girls were enslaved and raped, with hundreds of thousands put on display, all because they believed in something different. Another genocide happened on our watch.
Thousands of Yazidis still languish in camps with the hope of returning home one day. Six years later, with ISIS defeated militarily and global recognition of ISIS’s atrocities accepted, efforts have failed to see Yazidis return in large numbers. Recognition of the genocide of Yazidis has not ended their pain and suffering. Thousands are still unable to return home and feel safer in the camps in which they live. They live in fear of ISIS resurging and constant Turkish airstrikes. What Yazidis want is accountability, justice and the reunification of families. Thousands of children and women are still missing, either enslaved or murdered.
Justice and peace go hand in hand, but bringing to justice those who committed these evil acts will dissuade future perpetrators while also breaking the cycle of violence by demonstrating that justice systems can work. The crisis for Yazidis is not over. Justice means more than perpetrators being tried for terrorism against the Iraqi state; it means, where possible, convicting ISIS members for crimes committed against Yazidis, for torture, kidnapping, enslavement, rape and murder. The crisis is not over if human rights of the Yazidis in Iraq are not respected in law and policy and by all members of society. Yazidis need more than remembrance—
For many of us, as we contemplate the inhumanity, brutality and sheer scale of the holocaust, one uncomfortable question sits in our minds: how could ordinary people like ourselves collude with, acquiesce in, or support a regime that behaved in such a barbaric way and, perhaps even more uncomfortably, do the factors exist in our contemporary world that could allow it to happen again.
In national socialism, nationalism was the dominant partner in the marriage. National socialism regarded itself as a seismic political shift, which recognised a new and glorious image of humanity. Yet this world view was accompanied and counterbalanced by a systematic, ideological dehumanisation of other groups of people: those who oppose the regime, political activists, Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, Christians, religious objectors and, of course, the Jews.
Incrementally, but steadily over time, national socialist propaganda dripped poison into German society. The distortion and then the strangulation of democracy, the suppression of the press and the Church brought about this position inch by inch and step by step. Yet from Cambodia to Srebrenica to Syria, the horrors of extreme nationalism continue to ricochet through our recent history. Today’s attempts at ethnic cleansing, including China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, are part of this terrible continuum.
The basic template of extreme nationalism, a deeply distorted sense of identity and self-worth combined with the exaggeration of perceived slights and the identification of a suitable scapegoat, is still in play. Across the world, many of these stereotypical ideas are being played out again with varying degrees of sophistication and brutality. The dehumanising of opponents, internally and externally, is a timeless theme in the book of extreme nationalism. It is the beast that stalks its prey of plurality, decency and civility. Decades separate us now from the holocaust, but human behaviour still holds flaws and dangers. We must confront dangerous ideologies whenever and wherever they take root. Today of all days, we remember that we have been warned.
Let me add my thanks to everybody who has helped to sponsor and organise this debate. I, too, pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for helping to ensure that the debate is so well organised and so well informed. Seventy-six years on, we still do not look out on a world where we have banished genocide. We cannot yet look out on a world where we have banished antisemitism. Until that moment comes, we need debates like this to remember with contrition and humility, as well as determination, how much further we still have to go.
I want to offer two lessons today that I have reflected on in the run-up to this important day. One is a lesson not from Britain but from Denmark: it is the story of the Danish resistance. Those of us have been to Yad Vashem will know that in the Avenue of the Righteous there is only one memorial to an entire national movement, and that is the memorial to the Danish resistance. This movement came together in 1940 after Hitler invaded Denmark. Together, it organised the extraordinary evacuation of 7,200 Jews, along with 700 of their relatives, in October 1943 after Hitler had given the order to arrest the Jews, with extermination in mind.
This was an exercise in good people coming together—people like Sven Teisen, a member of the Danish resistance, who lost his life in the course of 1943, and Oliver Sandberg, who gave over their house next to the Øresund, over which Jews were ferried to safety in Sweden. Sven Teisen was the uncle that I never knew. Oliver Sandberg was his cousin. They were among thousands of ordinary Danes who came together inspired by one simple idea: that ordinary people can make a difference in standing up to hate.
I am so grateful that our schools are now teaching this lesson to our children. They are schools like Rockwood Academy in Alum Rock my constituency. This is a gold standard Holocaust Educational Trust school that has brought alive the testimony of Mady Gerrard. It has named its new building after Mady, and its lights now shine up like a light in the darkness to help light up the January skies here in Birmingham. I want our region to become a region of sanctuary for refugees in the years to come.
I want us to listen to the lessons of Sofia Darr, the headteacher, who I heard from this morning. She said that she has just seen the most extraordinary emotional journey of her children. She wants us to reflect on how we help them to connect at a human level, and on how we recognise their pledges by bringing them together and putting them on a national stage, giving our young people, through their leadership, the chance to genuinely spark a movement for change against hate.
It is an honour to contribute to such a powerful debate with heartfelt contributions from colleagues across the House.
Today, as we reflect on Holocaust Memorial Day, I want to share the powerful words of the holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the centre of the universe.”
Elie’s words keep me focused on ensuring that I do all I can, as an MP, both to share the horrors of the holocaust and ensure that history does not repeat itself.
The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is “Be the light in the darkness”, encouraging everyone to reflect on the depths that humanity can sink to, but also reminding us that we can all resist that darkness to be the light before, during and after genocide. I do not think there has been a call to action so powerful from the Holocaust Memorial Trust or the Board of Deputies of British Jews. So much focus this year has been on the plight of the Uyghurs, especially last night as they honoured as their guest speaker Rahima Mahmut, who has truly been the light in the darkness for the Uyghurs.
Most recently, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, wrote to the Prime Minister. I believe her words should be shared with all MPs:
“I know you understand that, as a community, we are always extremely hesitant to consider comparisons with the Holocaust…In my letter, I noted the similarities between what is ‘alleged to be happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago… Today we stand at another of these crucial junctures, and it is time to act to protect the Uyghurs.”
I hope that colleagues will join the Board of Deputies and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in supporting the genocide amendment. Let us put our words, “Never again”, into action.
Before entering this place, I was fortunate enough to visit the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau on a number of occasions—fortunate in the sense that I was able to see at first hand a place that had once, in our recent history, inflicted so much suffering, destruction and, ultimately, death; a place where human beings routinely slaughtered fellow human beings on account of nothing more than their ethnicity, religious beliefs, disabilities, sexual orientation and political activity; a place that is in every sense a living, breathing monument to all who were killed during the holocaust, a fixed reminder of the horrors of genocide and a warning to any society that wishes to dangerously flirt with intolerance and prejudice.
I am proud to represent such a diverse constituency in Liverpool, Wavertree. I know that many of my Jewish constituents will have been lighting a candle yesterday, paying tribute, remembering and reflecting on the lived experiences of the 6 million Jews and those who survived, as well as the other persecuted peoples who perished in those camps at the hands of the Nazis. It is on candles that I want to briefly focus. How poignant and moving was the “Thought for the Day” from the Chief Rabbi yesterday, in which he said:
“Even a tiny flame can conquer darkness.”
The symbol of Holocaust Memorial Day is, of course, that candle. No matter how small the flame—no matter how inconsequential our behaviours may seem at times—we can be that light in the darkness. It is undoubtedly a powerful call to responsibility in which we all must play a small part as citizens.
I saw that at first hand and was able to capture it in the freezing eastern European snow, as we placed a small row of candles on the remnants and decaying walls of Crematorium IV at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp during my visits. It was not the freezing cold temperatures that gave me chills as I stood there. It was, in fact, upon learning the story of 7 October 1944. For months, young Jewish women were smuggling small amounts of gunpowder from the munitions factory within the Auschwitz complex to the men and women of the camp’s resistance movement. A young Jewish woman, Roza Robota, passed it to her co-conspirators in the Sonderkommando, the special squad of prisoners forced to work in the camp’s crematoria.
While the uprising was ultimately unsuccessful and a brutal crackdown ensued, Crematorium IV was destroyed and never used again. Roza was hanged in January 1945 alongside three other women comrades. Defiant until the last, their heroic stand is remembered as one of the most courageous acts of Jewish women prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Their resilience and unrelenting insubordination in the face of adversity and death is a beacon of hope to us all. In that place, in that moment, they were that flame—that candle—and it is our duty, many decades later, to continue telling their stories.
I was born four years after the genocide of the holocaust ended, but I have been a witness to genocide. In 1992-93, I was the British UN commander in Bosnia, and the whole country was an example of genocide. I do not have much time, so let me concentrate on one incident on one day: the Ahmic house in Ahmići, on 22 April 1993.
I approached the house to discover that a man and a boy had been shot down in their doorway and their bodies burnt. The boy’s naked body had his fist up in the air. It was horrific. My soldiers told me to look round the back. I went into the cellar, and I could not believe what I saw. The first thing I got was, frankly, the smell; it was awful. Then my eyes focused on a mass of red and black, and I realised it was bodies. One body—I think it was an adult—was arched so far backwards, probably in agony, that it must have broken the back. There were four children there, too, but here is the point: as I looked at the head of what I thought was a woman, her eyes were still there. I was horrified. We went outside. We leant against the wall. My soldiers and I could say nothing. Later, as he was shovelling up the remains of people, a soldier turned to me and said, “Sir, this is Europe in 1993, not Europe in 1943.” We buried over 104 people—I think it was 104 people—in a mass grave nearby. It has affected me deeply. I may not look it, but deep down, I am deeply affected by the genocide I witnessed.
My mother went to Belsen at the end of the war. She was an officer of the Special Operations Executive. She never told me about it until I was stationed nearby. I said to her then, “Why, mum, have you not told me about this?” She said, “Robert, I was ashamed.” I said, “Mum, why were you ashamed? You were in uniform. You were fighting the Nazis. You had learned to parachute. You had learned to fight them.” She said, “I was ashamed, Robert, because this genocide occurred in my generation.”
Genocides have occurred since 1945. As I have said, I was a witness to one; it is burned into me. The purpose of this debate is to make sure that we try to stop it happening again.
I pay tribute to everyone who has spoken in this debate so far, not least the last very moving speech by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I would like to start my contribution by reading a couple of lines from the memoir of Gerda Weissmann Klein, who was 18 when she was sent to the first of several concentration camps, Bolkenhain. She wrote:
“Ilse, a childhood friend of mine, once found a raspberry in the concentration camp and carried it in her pocket all day to present to me that night on a leaf. Imagine a world in which your entire possession is one raspberry and you give it to your friend.”
For me, those words simultaneously drive home the holocaust horrors, while exemplifying the compassion and generosity that existed even in those most awful conditions. It shows us that Ilse Kleinzahler, a young woman in a concentration camp with nothing in the world but a raspberry, could be the light in that unimaginable darkness.
Years later, Gerda said:
“I like to remember some of the things in camp, how people helped each other. I want to tell young people about that—that there was friendship and love and caring.”
Like so many accounts from holocaust survivors, the story has a heartbreaking coda. Ilse died on a death march a week before Gerda was liberated. They were holding each other’s hand. We must never forget the atrocities of the holocaust—never—how Ilse and 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis and the inhumanity inflicted on humans by humans. We must remember, so that we try harder to stop it happening again, as it has, tragically, in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and elsewhere, as other colleagues have said. We must be vigilant in our opposition to hatred, discrimination and oppression and vigilant in defence of peace, respect and human rights.
Let us also remember, as Mrs Klein does, the friendship, the love and the caring that existed even amidst all that horror. If those qualities can exist in a Nazi concentration camp in the middle of the holocaust, they can certainly exist now. No matter how difficult things are, how big our challenges may be or how dark the days might seem, we can still find those most human of qualities. We can still care for each other, we can still love each other and we can still be the light in the darkness.
We come together today to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, which is held on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau more than 10 years ago, but it is forever seared on my memory. Six million men, women and children were murdered for no reason other than their faith. This was murder on an industrial scale, with thousands of people responsible for the holocaust. We can never forget what happened, but those who have long memories can forgive those people who perpetrated this crime against humanity.
I pay tribute to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and to the Holocaust Educational Trust, so ably led by Karen Pollock, which do so much good work to educate not only us but children and young people about the horrors of the holocaust. Sadly, the number of holocaust survivors is dwindling each year, but I pay tribute to those who go into schools, colleges and other meetings around the United Kingdom to bear personal testimony to what happened to them when they were growing up. The reality is that, without their personal testimony, it is hard to contemplate how 6 million people could have been murdered in such a way. Auschwitz-Birkenau was not the only camp. It was responsible for 1.4 million people being murdered, but we have to remember that the other death camps were equally responsible.
We must have the Holocaust memorial and education centre built alongside Parliament in Victoria Tower gardens as a permanent reminder of the horrors that can be inflicted by evil people, so that when people visit the cradle of democracy that is Parliament, they can also visit the memorial centre on a free-of-charge basis, and young people can be suitably educated. I am the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for the holocaust memorial, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will be able to update the House on any further news and progress when he sums up the debate. Equally, we must always remember that this happened in our names, and we must ensure that we as Members who cannot sign the book of remembrance this year can sign the early-day motion that I have been privileged to sponsor. Early-day motion 1305 has attracted 91 signatures so far from hon. and right hon. Members from across the House, and I urge other colleagues to do the same. Let us all come together and be the light in the darkness.
Today’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme of “Be the light in the darkness” is really important. We are going through a form of darkness ourselves with the coronavirus epidemic, and 1,500 out of every 100,000 people in this country have died due to coronavirus. For European Jews, the death rate was two thirds of our whole community in the second world war. The fear that Jews had every day in the period from when Hitler took power was unbelievable, and we need to reflect on that today. It did not start with extermination. It started with acts of antisemitism, the forced shaving of beards, the forced labour camps, the removal of religious rights and the detention of children.
I can also say all those things that I have just said about the Uyghur Muslims in China. They are going through a form of persecution, which we need to stand up to today on Holocaust Memorial Day. I praise the Board of Deputies of British Jews for its work on this. We also have other genocides in the world. I am the Chair of the all-party parliamentary group on West Papua, where more than half a million people have been killed. The universities of Sydney and Yale have classified this as genocide, and it is important not just to reflect on history but to remember those people who are being oppressed and having genocidal action taken against them today. We have a duty to speak out about what is happening now, as well as reflecting on what happened to my own ancestors—people I will never get to meet and whose children were never born. That is something that has fallen not just on the Jewish community, but on other communities around the world. It is not just about communities of race or religion. We need to remember other minority communities, such as the trans community, who are going through terrible forms of persecution and oppression around the world, and who are grossly misunderstood in many places. We also need to send our solidarity to communities of identity and others today on Holocaust Memorial Day. This is not a day just about Jews and the holocaust; this is a day about all those facing oppression, genocide and persecution. As a Jewish person, I send my solidarity and my support to all those facing persecution. We need to be able to shine a light in the darkness. It is said that light is the best disinfectant. Today, we can shine that light and start to disinfect the problems and issues of the world.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), and a privilege to be able to speak today to recognise and commemorate all those who were lost in the holocaust. Across the country, there have been national commemorations. I am sure that every Member of Parliament has at least attended private commemoration services online, too. Yesterday, I attended the Solihull Mayor’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration and watched the livestream of the very moving UK commemorative ceremony for Holocaust Memorial Day. Even during a pandemic, the determination of the British people to hold virtual commemorations online across the country is heartening and demonstrates our resolve to remember the horrors of the holocaust.
I am part of a generation fortunate enough to learn from the lived experiences of many people. However, I agree with the Prince of Wales, who said that the important truth is that we are increasingly losing living voices to educate us. As well as bearing witness to what happened, by listening to these stories and by sharing them we ensure that our future generations will have the courage to speak up in the face of evil. That is why I am a big believer in the importance of programmes such as the Lessons from Auschwitz project, the Ambassador programme and the Outreach programme. Those programmes are important not just because they teach us about the false doctrines of the past; they warn us against malevolent ideologies in the present and the future.
The relevance of that in today’s United Kingdom cannot be understated. The Communities Security Trust recorded over 1,800 antisemitic incidents in 2019, a 7% rise on the record of 2018. In 2018, cases of antisemitic incidents rose by 16% from 2017, the highest yearly total since records began in 1984. Clearly, there is more we must do to tackle the ideology of blind hate. We cannot allow ourselves to forget the tragic horror and torment that the Jewish people faced during the holocaust. We must not let ourselves forget the repulsive hatred that led to their suffering. It is a sad fact that the holocaust was not the final genocide that our world has seen. Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur and Srebrenica, to name a few, are scars on human history. They remind us that we have no room for complacency.
Debates like this cannot just be empty words. When we speak in the House on these issues, it serves two purposes. First, it is a warning to those who commit or intend to commit atrocities, that we and the rest of the international community will stand in their way. Secondly, it is to inspire. As we remember the courage of those who came before, we seek to inspire those listening today to have the courage to stand up for the oppressed and persecuted. We will never forget the horrors of the holocaust and we will continue to call out antisemitism wherever we find it. This is a duty on all of us. We must be the light in the darkness.
It is a privilege to be able to speak in such an important debate and I would like to echo the contributions of other hon. Members today. I think we can all agree that this is an issue that unites us across the House.
Holocaust Memorial Day allows us a moment to remember the 6 million Jewish victims of Nazi holocaust and the other victims of Hitler’s murderous regime. It also reminds us that genocide did not end in 1945. It allows us to reflect on our human experience and the choices we make. We know that darkness exists within all of us, but we can choose to be the light. We can choose not to be drawn down into a dark place of hatred and discrimination that only leads to one place.
Three weeks after I was elected as the MP for Vauxhall, anti-Islamic slogans were painted on the walls of a mosque in my constituency. That hideous hate crime was rightly, and immediately, condemned by everybody in a position of local authority. It came three days after antisemitic graffiti was sprayed across a synagogue and shops in north London, during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.
Genocide does not just happen. People do not wake up one day and decide that they hate each other. It is a slow process that builds over time. We know from history that latent hatred can lead to genocide when it is left to fester and then exploited by those in positions of power. We cannot pick and choose which forms of racism or hatred we do not like. We must all be united in condemning all forms of racism and hatred, whenever and wherever it happens.
It is our duty as public servants to ensure that those in power never knowingly sow division through the language they use or the actions they take, or choose not to take. We must always be vigilant to see the warning signs, and we must call out racism, discrimination and hatred whenever we see it. The power of Holocaust Memorial Day is that it reminds us never to forget.
It has been 76 years since the world understood the full scale and horror of what happened, as the Nazis and their collaborators tried to eliminate the Jews of Europe. Every time I have returned from Auschwitz-Birkenau, I struggle to comprehend the enormity and sheer scale of the holocaust. That is why that genocide stands out in history, and why we can, and should, never forget it happened. Each time I visited, a different element of the camps affected me. Seeing the mass of hair behind the glass cabinets hits particularly hard; seeing children’s clothes is simply incomprehensible.
When we really understand that this was a mass, industrialised killing across borders, and across Europe, to wipe out an entire race, the holocaust takes on an even more sinister meaning. It was organised. It involved complex logistics to move people around, and to murder as many Jews as possible after the Nazis had taken from them everything they could. Some—those who counted themselves lucky—were given jobs, but others did not even get that chance.
In many ways the easiest way to understand what happened in the holocaust is by hearing the testimony of those who witnessed it. Otherwise, the scale is too difficult to comprehend. The number of victims is too large, and the number of perpetrators that it took to get there is simply terrifying. I watched Tuesday’s Survivor webcast with Eve Kugler BEM, which was superbly organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust. It was fantastic to see Q3 Academy in West Bromwich East taking part. Harpej, a year-nine pupil at Q3 Academy, said it was important to hear Eve speak “because for them it is so personal, and they can tell their story with emotion and we can see how bad it truly was.”
Having spent time with survivors, their lust for life never ceases to amaze me, and this past year they have been even more inspiring. We all know that the future of holocaust education will be challenging, as those first-hand witnesses sadly become fewer. While this year has been testing, covid-19 has not stopped survivors in their mission to educate. I pay a special tribute to the incredible survivors who have taken to Zoom to continue their incredible work over the past year, and to the work of Karen Pollock and the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Holocaust survivor, Lily Ebert has managed to reach millions of people, and she continues to share her testimony, thanks to the help of her great-grandson, Dov, who has taken it upon himself to share his great-grandmother’s story through social media. The reach has been enormous, and Dov is part of an important generation of people who are all witness to the truth, as a result of hearing the testimony from survivors themselves. I have never been in any doubt that the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and of the survivors is invaluable, as, sadly, antisemitism still exists and we find it all too often. This year survivors have really been the light in the darkness. They are a community of people who have been through the most unimaginable suffering, but their positivity and relentless resolve to make sure that this never happens again is something to behold. We all have a duty to be the light in the darkness.
Every year across the country, we come together to mark Holocaust Memorial Day: to remember those who have been lost; to hear the retelling of stories from those who have survived; and to reflect on what we can do to stop such atrocities taking place again. I thank the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for the fantastic resources and ceremonies they have provided to ensure that the memorial is still happening safely in 2021.
Thinking of this year’s theme—“Be the light in the darkness”—I think of those glimmers and moments of hope brought about through unimaginable bravery and courage. I came across Madeline Deutsch’s story in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum collection, where she shared the sacrifices that her mother made to keep her safe during their time in the camps in the second world war. Madeline spoke of how her mother would give up her scraps of bread in order to keep her child safe and fed through the hardest and most trying of circumstances. Although we are aware of how the Nazi regime targeted their evil at all Jews, along with those who did not fit the idea of Aryan, today I want to talk about the treatment and experience of women in camps.
Ravensbrück was the largest Nazi concentration camp established for women. Over 120,000 women had been imprisoned in Ravensbrück by the time it was liberated in 1945. Those women faced not just the harsh reality of the camps; they could also face forced medical experiments and sterilisations, be made to work in makeshift brothels or were murdered. In what must have been the very darkest of times, we still hear stories such as the sacrifices that Madeline Deutsch’s mother made to keep her child fed and safe.
Although we know that identity-based persecution often affects all those who fall into the targeted groups, women’s experiences during genocide can be unique. Today we remember those women who lost their lives or experienced persecution not only in the holocaust, but in the genocides that have sadly followed since. Let us remember the light and hope shown by men and women; let us remember the sacrifices made by fathers and mothers; and let these stories show us that in the very darkest of times, there can always be light.
As I sat in his kitchen, I noticed a picture of a young man in a British Army uniform. I asked him who it was and he said, “That’s me, aged 18, during world war two.” I asked him what he did during the war, and he told me that he was with the British Army and helped to liberate Bergen-Belsen. He told me that he could not believe the horrors that he saw, the smell, and what human beings could do to their fellow man. He said that he cried and he cried and he cried, and since that day he had never cried again, and he finished by saying, “I left all my tears at the gates of Belsen.” I will never forget those words.
I want to start by paying tribute to Olivia Marks-Woldman and the staff at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and Karen Pollock and the good people at the Holocaust Educational Trust, for their tireless work to educate us all. “Be the light in the darkness”—what an amazingly powerful theme. It is a reminder that the anti-fascist values of those who stood against the Nazis are so important today.
I have always been awed by the Warsaw ghetto uprising—a few streets that held out against overwhelming Nazi force for 28 days—and today I am remembering Tosia Altman. She was just 20 years old when she joined comrades in Lithuania, but she was the first to go back into Nazi occupied areas—such courage at such a young age. She spent the next few years, at enormous risk, travelling in and out of Jewish ghettos in occupied Europe. She spread information about the horrors that were being perpetrated. She also spread hope. She organised the resistance.
Tosia’s incredible resilience in the darkest of times helped to bring about the Warsaw ghetto uprising. She helped people to know that state-enforced hatred could be challenged. She smuggled weapons into the ghetto. She strategised. Over and over again, she went into burning buildings to rescue others. She saved lives and, tragically, burns finally killed her. After being handed over to the Germans by collaborators in the Polish police, she died on 26 May 1943 after two days of untreated, unmitigated agony. She was the first from her movement to return to the greater danger in Poland, and she was the last of them to fall. Tosia Altman, a light in the darkness—remember her name.
We know in this place that racial hatred and genocidal violence is still with us in this world. That is why I was so disappointed that last week, despite the pleas of holocaust survivors, the Government refused to change the law to prevent trade deals with countries committing genocide. We must have clear pathways to identify and prevent another genocide. “Never again” must not be a platitude. It is an instruction. We must be the light in the darkness.
It is humbling to join colleagues on both sides of the House and my constituents to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. For Jews around the world, including here in the UK, the holocaust is not just a terrible memory; it is something they live with on a permanent basis—the photographs of family members they never got to meet, and the knowledge that the thriving Jewish communities across Europe were all but annihilated. Today, 76 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the world’s Jewish population still has not returned to what it was prior to the second world war.
One memory was brought into sharp focus this year, in a time of pandemic: the numbers tattooed on the arms of parent and grandparents. I am sure we have all seen the powerful images of holocaust survivors receiving the coronavirus vaccine with those tattoos still on their arms today. This year’s theme is “Be the light in the darkness”, encouraging us all to reflect on the depths that humanity can sink to and the ways that we can resist darkness and be the light for others. We are fortunate still to have holocaust survivors with us today, and I urge everybody to interact with the Holocaust Educational Trust and Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to hear from these inspiring individuals.
We have heard a lot about the words “Never again”, which first appeared on handmade signs hung up by prisoners at the Buchenwald concentration camp following their liberation in 1945. Those words have become a symbol of the world’s resolve to prevent such crimes against humanity from ever reoccurring. Tragically, however, genocides and mass killings were not relegated to history in 1945 but have claimed the lives of an estimated 80 million people since, in places such as Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda, to name but a few, and today we hear of the persecution of Christians, Yazidis, Rohingyas and Uyghurs. That is why we must continue to be a voice for the persecuted around the world today and to learn from the horrors of the past so that we can be the light.
I would like to finish with these words of Elie Wiesel, the holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate:
“Let us remember those who suffered and perished then, those who fell with weapons in their hands and those who died with prayers on their lips, all those who have no tombs: our heart remains their cemetery.”
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in today’s debate, as we join across the House and with the Holocaust Educational Trust to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. Today is an opportunity for us to pause and remember the millions of people who were murdered or whose lives were changed beyond recognition during the holocaust and in more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. It is simply staggering to think that the horrors of genocide have occurred across the world during the past two decades, including on the edge of Europe, and even today we see the persecution of Rohingyas, Uyghurs and others across the planet.
As many will know, the date of Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. Since Holocaust Memorial Day began in the UK in 2001, it has been marked on the same date each year with a different theme. The 2021 theme is: “Be the light in the darkness.” As the trust has said, we can all be the light in the darkness, shining light where people are persecuted and holding those responsible to account. Indeed, it is our common responsibility to be the light and to recognise that our lights are more powerful when we work together.
Words are important too. All of us, through our words, have the power to help set the tone in our family, our workplace and our community. Words can really make a difference. The words that we see and hear all around us today, in newspapers, on social media, online and in conversations, and the words that we all choose to use, have an impact on us and those around us.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, we can honour the survivors of these regimes, but we must also continually challenge ourselves to use the lessons of their experience to inform our lives today. We seek to learn the lessons of the past, but we must also recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own; it is a process that can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked, challenged and prevented.
We are fortunate here in the UK not to be at risk of genocide. However, discrimination has not ended, and neither has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion. There is still much to do to create a safer future. It might be easier for some to ignore massacres that are happening halfway around the planet, but perhaps it is not so easy to turn a blind eye to events happening in our own backyard. In 2014, antisemitic incidents in the UK reached their highest ever level, double the number of the year before. This continues to be a stain on our society today. Anti-Muslim hate tripled in London after the Paris attacks. Following the EU referendum, hate crime aimed at EU nationals spiked across the UK.
Holocaust Memorial Day is still hugely relevant and important. The mistakes and crimes of the past can never be repeated. Commemorating as we are today is a real demonstration of how the lessons of the past can inform our lives today, and ensure that everyone works together to create a safer, better future.
Holocaust Memorial Day demands all to reflect on the hellish events of the genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. This year’s memorial focuses on being the light in the darkness, encouraging everyone to fight persecution, oppression and injustice everywhere. Despite the difficulties of the past year, it was reassuring yesterday to see people and communities come together in a new way for Holocaust Memorial Day and to reflect.
In the years since the holocaust, we have come to acknowledge that it must never again be allowed to happen. But words alone are hollow; action is required to give them effect. Since the holocaust, we continue to witness genocide, including the Anfal, Rwandan, Bosnian, Rohingya and Yazidi genocides, and currently the genocide of the Uyghurs by the Chinese Communist party.
Tragically, antisemitism continues to rear its monstrous head. In December 2018, a survey found that 89% of Jews living in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK felt that antisemitism had increased in their country over the previous decade.
The United Kingdom must be the light in the darkness now, and provide an example by standing up to those currently committing genocide. Limiting trade and commerce unilaterally with genocidal regimes is one step that the UK must take in leading the world against genocide. On this day, and every day, let us remember the words of holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who said:
“I swore never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”
Our world’s shameful past, and its present, makes it clear that human decency is fragile, and admonishes us that if we treasure humanity, we cannot take our values for granted. To safeguard humanity, we must never forget the evils deliberately inflicted upon the Jewish people throughout the holocaust, and we must appreciate that, as I speak today, similar filthy crimes are being perpetrated by a totalitarian state. We cannot be complicit or deliberately turn a blind eye to genocide out of convenience or lust for blood-stained trade.
Heartbreakingly, this House is called on not only to do everything we can to prevent genocide in the future, but to stop the evil practice that continues today.
It is an honour not only to speak in such an important debate, but to have joined the very moving Holocaust Memorial Day Trust event yesterday evening.
We should never underestimate how important it is that we take this time every year to remember the horrific events that have occurred in the past; to remember the 6 million Jews murdered during the holocaust, as well as the other millions who were murdered under Nazi rule, and to remember those who were killed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and in other horrific genocides. Many would have heard the quote:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
This year’s theme for Holocaust Memorial Day, “Be the light in the darkness” could not be more fitting, because we see not only a sustained rise in far right fascism across the world, but the pending economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. We all know too well the foundations of fascist movements and how they exploit issues in society to perpetuate these ideals. In these dark times, we talk a lot about going back to normal, but we must remember that our normal was not good enough. Our normal saw a rise in antisemitism and all forms of racism over the past few years.
Today, I want to echo the words of 94-year-old holocaust survivor, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who recently said that she hopes the coronavirus pandemic will wake people up to have better attitudes towards each other. The atrocities of the holocaust and other past events teaches us that we must challenge the prejudice and the language of hatred that we see on a daily basis. We must condemn it when it marches across our streets. We must expose it when it tries to rear its head on all platforms—online platforms in particular at the moment. We must stamp it out when it seeks political legitimacy.
We have all seen recently in the US just what happens when hatred and discrimination are left unchecked and when prejudice is reinforced, empowered and given power. It threatens the very fabric of democracy, so it is not enough for us just not to be racist ourselves. To challenge the scourge of racism across our societies, we must all make the decision to be anti-racist, make conscious efforts to do better and to stand up for others more. The responsibility is with us to be the light in the darkness and to learn from the atrocities of the past to ensure that these horrors never happen again.
This debate is an important opportunity to reflect on and remember the murder of millions of Jews, Roma and Sinti, political prisoners, the disabled, those with mental illness, and those who were gay who were persecuted by the barbaric Nazi regime. Today, we also remember the victims of genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Darfur and those who, sadly, are still persecuted in parts of the world simply because of who they are.
I have had the privilege of attending events this week to commemorate 76 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and 20 years since the first Holocaust Memorial Day. On Tuesday, I attended a virtual memorial service hosted by the embassy of Israel and the Foreign Office, and I would like to place on the record my thanks to the Foreign Secretary, the ambassador and Lord Pickles for their moving contributions. In the exceptional circumstances that we face this year, I was grateful to have the chance to listen, learn and reflect on how we must continue to shine a bright light in the darkness.
In 2019, thanks to the Conservative Friends of Israel, I had the privilege of visiting Israel, as recorded in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, along with other Members of this House. For me, the most moving part of the trip was the visit to the Holocaust History Museum in Yad Vashem where we laid a wreath in memory of the victims of the holocaust. Seeing the personal stories of murder and destruction that forever changed human history moved us all, reinforcing for me the importance of rejecting hatred and working to root out antisemitism. However, the sad truth is that antisemitism persists in the UK and across the world. Indeed, the Community Security Trust has reported that online antisemitism in the UK is at its highest level ever, with more than 780 incidents recorded in the first six months of 2020 alone.
Antisemitism is simply racism, and like all racism it has no place in our society. Racism is born out of ignorance, and ignorance can be overcome with education and understanding. The planned education centre and dedicated holocaust memorial in Victoria Tower gardens will serve as a beacon to future generations to reject hatred, prejudice and denial. Today, we remember all those who have been murdered as a result of religious and political intolerance, and those who have been persecuted in the hope of a kinder, more tolerant society. It is by coming together as nation—as a community—that we can combat hatred and prejudice globally. We must be the light in the darkness.
When I was growing up—when I was first married—one of my most fun relations was my father’s first cousin, Joan Priday. Joan was an intelligent woman with a wonderful laugh that I remember today. She was bright, full of fun and had such a sense of humour, and I think I would describe her as being a feminist before her time. She has been dead a long time.
One thing that I did not know about Joan until I was slightly older was that, like the friend of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), she had been one of the first females into Belsen when it was liberated in early 1945. Like so many people who had that dreadful experience, she did not like to talk about it, but she did tell me that they could not feed the freed prisoners too much to start with because the shock of a full meal could kill them. She talked about the smell which, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) mentioned, is something that people who have experienced it never forget. She caught a disease at the camp that made her very sick indeed.
Talking today to her son, John Priday, I discovered that she was troubled by the most awful nightmares for much of the rest of her life. She was awarded the MBE for what she did—she was with the Red Cross, and when the liberating soldiers moved on, of course, the Red Cross had to stay at Belsen. She is dead and gone, and I mourn her, yet by a very strange coincidence, she died on 27 January—Holocaust Memorial Day.
As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I live in the highlands—I live on the shores of the Dornoch firth in a gentle little town called Tain. That would have seemed then, and indeed seems today, very far from the horrors that were going on in Europe during the second world war, yet what my cousin Joan Priday said to me has been a useful reminder to me as an individual of how, to echo every other Member speaking today, we must never let this dark heart of evil ever walk the world again. We must do everything in our human power to prevent it.
I gave my maiden speech in the House in the corresponding debate last year, and I speak from a constituency where my predecessor has worked tirelessly on this issue and is now our antisemitism tsar. I am truly humbled to be able to speak in this debate on Holocaust Memorial Day—a day that is rightfully being marked not just here in Parliament but throughout the country and beyond.
We should never forget the atrocities perpetrated against the Jewish people and the many other groups that were the target of Nazi racism. That is why I am proud to represent a county where the National Holocaust Centre is located. The memorial centre is dedicated to the teaching of humanity and remembrance so that we as a society can work together for a better world in which tolerance of people’s ideas, culture and beliefs is the foundation for a modern society.
Holocaust Memorial Day offers an opportunity to reflect on the tragic events of the genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany on the Jewish community. It is often said that we shall never again allow this, the most grievous crime against humanity, to be carried out again. Holocaust Memorial Day offers the opportunity to reaffirm this pledge to defend human rights. One such way we can help tackle antisemitism is by adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. In December 2016, the UK became the first country in Europe to adopt formally this definition, which, while not legally binding, is regarded as a valuable tool, enabling criminal justice agencies to understand how this form of bigotry manifests itself in the 21st century. In 2019, the Communities Secretary wrote to all councils and universities encouraging them to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, and I would encourage others that have not yet taken this pledge to do so.
We must remember acts of genocide from all over the world. The cases from Rwanda and what happened at Srebrenica, along with the current disturbing world events, are things many of us can immediately relate to and remember, indeed, from our own lifetimes. Today is a day not just for remembrance, but to remind us that action also needs to be taken and we must stand together.
It is a privilege to take part in such an important debate. I want to begin by particularly congratulating the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on the brilliant job it has done in marking Holocaust Memorial Day in these most extraordinary circumstances, as well as communities up and down the country that, like mine in the London Borough of Redbridge, have organised digital events—virtual events—so that people could still come together, albeit in a way that was different from usual.
The last time I went to Auschwitz-Birkenau was just prior to the 2019 general election, with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and it was, as visits to Auschwitz always are, deeply moving and deeply unnerving. In particular, going with groups of children from my own constituency, through the Holocaust Educational Trust, was a particularly powerful experience because of the responsibility that we bear, as current and future generations, to bear witness to the testimony of holocaust survivors, who are, sadly, fewer in number with every passing year.
One of the things that I find most troubling about the lessons of the holocaust—the lessons from Auschwitz and, in particular, from visiting Auschwitz just before the 2019 general election—is that it is very easy to look at the holocaust and the Nazi persecution and to ask, with confusion, bewilderment and a total lack of understanding in many respects, how it was that these uniquely evil people, the Nazis, could perpetrate such appalling acts of genocide, but the uncomfortable truth is that the Nazis were not extraordinary people. They were ordinary people capable of acts of extraordinary evil. That is the fundamental truth of the holocaust, and why we must always guard against antisemitism in our society.
It is very easy to condemn the antisemites of the world where they bear the swastika or march through the streets of Charlottesville, but it is much less comfortable confronting antisemitism among the people we know in our communities, perhaps even in our families or, indeed, in our political parties. So if the words “Never again” are really truly to mean something, being the light in the darkness is not just about our country’s responsibility on the global stage to tackle ongoing acts of genocide and atrocities such as those being perpetrated by China; it is also our everyday responsibility as citizens and Members of Parliament to tackle antisemitism under our very noses.
With the sheer scale of the tragedy, the unimaginable horror and the fact that it happened in Europe—on our doorstep—in the mid-20th century, the holocaust is almost impossible to comprehend. Over the 76 years since the liberation of the concentration camps and the end of the second world war, the destruction of Nazi tyranny and the genocide, we have become numb to the numbers and the facts, but we must remind ourselves over and over again. As the numbers of those who survived sadly diminish each year, it is up to us, a new generation who have heard at first hand from those survivors what happened, to remember and to pass on.
In 1933, when the Nazis first came to power in Germany, there were 9 million Jews living in Europe. By 1945, 6 million had been killed—two out of every three—not through disease or natural causes or war but through a programme of extermination, a cold, calculated effort to wipe an entire people from the face of the continent. While we remember all of that faith who, for their faith alone, were tortured and killed, we cannot on this day forget the 5 million others who did not fit into the vision of a perfect race, or who would not submit to the vicious ideology of Nazism: more than half a million Roma Gypsies; thousands of Christian priests and Ministers who refused to submit to the Nazis; political opponents; resistance fighters; the 15,000 members of the LGBT community who died having first been forced into the ignominy of wearing pink triangles so that they could be easily recognised and even further humiliated; the disabled put to death under Hitler’s cleansing programme; the black children who were forcibly sterilised. For all who suffered and died because of their faith, who they were, who they loved or what they looked like, we must remember and say “Never again.”
It is often asked why we did not do more in the 1930s in the run-up to world war two. Surely we knew what was happening, if not the scale. Maybe we did, but it was harder to know exactly what was happening on foreign shores back then—not so anymore. In this interconnected world, a world that seems closer and smaller than ever before, that argument no longer stands, so I wonder, however well meant, how hollow our words feel to the people of Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia. I wonder, when they hear politicians in the west say “Never again” what they actually think. We knew what was happening in those countries and still we did nothing. We saw on our TV screens the death and destruction, the genocides taking place in our world and in our lifetime. We saw Bashar al-Assad use chemical weapons against children, and this House voted not to intervene. We see forced sterilisation, forced labour and prison camps in Xinjiang for the Uyghur Muslims, and the suffering of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Today, when we say “Never again” let us mean it.
While comparisons with the holocaust should never be made lightly, the suffering of at least 200,000 North Koreans in Kim Jong-un’s prison camps, many of them prisoners of conscience, is not dissimilar from that in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Stalin’s gulag. The only difference with North Korea is that the incarceration, atrocities and absolute totalitarian repression have continued there for longer—for decades.
More than 10 years ago, the UN’s first special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea described the human rights crisis there as sui generis—in a category of its own. A 2014 UN commission of inquiry chaired by the distinguished Australian judge Michael Kirby concluded that the gravity, scale and nature of human rights violations in North Korea reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world, and designated those violations as crimes against humanity. The reality is that, in North Korea, there is no freedom whatsoever. Every single article of the universal declaration of human rights is violated every single day.
That 2014 UN report recommended that those responsible be brought to account, but those steps have not been taken, and subsequent years have seen only further crimes. In the light of that, the all-party parliamentary group on North Korea, of which I am a co-chair, launched an inquiry into human rights in that country since the UN report of 2014. Our aim is to shine a parliamentary light. We also wish to spotlight the urgent need for the UK and other states to challenge and suppress these ongoing violations in North Korea, and to work towards bringing those responsible to justice. It is welcome that Lord Ahmad, our Minister for human rights, attended the APPG recently and make clear his support for, and the active engagement of the FCDO with, our inquiry.
The voice that matters in this debate is that of the victims and survivors, to whom I pay tribute. One such is the North Korean escapee Timothy Cho, who not long ago worked as an intern in my office for a year. His hope and enthusiasm for democracy, freedom and the rule of law to be present in his home country is inspirational. We owe it to him and to the victims and remaining survivors of the holocaust and other genocides, however difficult the challenge, not to ignore human rights violations across the globe, including those in North Korea today.
It is an honour to have the opportunity to address the House today as we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day 2021. The theme this year is “Be the light in the darkness”. In the world of today, where injustice and persecution are par for the course in so many lands, this is a powerful, pertinent message. The animus of hatred that drove the Nazi persecution of the Jews and many other marginalised groups such as the Roma, LGBTQ and disabled people remains manifest in the world today, and all of us must be a light in the darkness that will confront that hatred and stop it in its tracks.
Even today, 76 years after the liberation of the inmates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there are vulnerable minorities around the world who suffer identity-based persecution, discrimination and violence. From the Rohingya in Myanmar to the Uyghurs in China, millions of people across our planet are subjected to deliberate, ongoing oppression and attempts at extermination of their culture, way of life and personhood. How we respond to these horrors is a living, every-day test of whether we are the light in the darkness that the memory of the estimated 6 million Jewish people and millions of others murdered by the Nazis calls on us to be.
Across Europe, too, discrimination against and persecution of many marginalised groups continues today. We cannot be complacent about the antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Traveller, homophobic and transphobic attitudes that prevail in our societies. I pay tribute to organisations such as Human Rights Watch, HOPE not hate, and Tell MAMA, which continue to document rising hatred and persecution domestically in the UK and around the world. I pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which does excellent work in schools across the UK, including in my constituency, educating our young people about the horrors of the holocaust and other genocides. I have had the privilege of listening to the deeply moving testimony of Mala Tribich, a survivor of the holocaust who, alone with her brother Ben, was the last member of her family to have survived Nazi persecution.
In conclusion, it is impossible to overstate the importance of these personal accounts. It is paramount that we remember those dark times when the darkness was everywhere and lights were few. It is vital that they are passed on to the next generation, so that the light of memory inspires other lights, other acts of resistance to even the darkest evil. Let us all be such lights.
It is an honour to be called to speak in this timely and poignant debate to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day and the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. I put on record my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee and my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) for securing this timely debate.
I wish to start by discussing the most abhorrent example of antisemitism: holocaust denial. The Community Security Trust recently undertook a study of holocaust denial in relation to an alternative social media site, BitChute, which unfortunately still operates, providing a safe space for antisemitic, racist, misogynistic and conspiracy-fuelled content from the far right. The CST conducted searches on BitChute in the 24 hours running up to Holocaust Memorial Day this year. The searches related to five non-offensive terms related to the holocaust: “holocaust”, “Auschwitz”, “Hitler”, “gas chambers”, and “Anne Frank”.
What was found were easily accessible videos in vast quantities that both denied and glorified the holocaust. In every single case, the vast majority of the search results were overtly antisemitic. The CST limited its search to the first 20 videos per search item, and 94 of them were considered overtly antisemitic. These 94 videos had a combined viewing figure of over 1.5 million. Some of the videos are inaccessible in the UK, and rightly so, but this is easily circumvented by using a virtual private network. These 94 videos were only a fraction of thousands more that were glorifying the holocaust, and we do need to be doing more to remove this content. Holocaust denial is only one part of the problem on BitChute, which still hosts large quantities of other antisemitic, racist and conspiracy-fuelled material. I look forward to being able to address this further when the online harms Bill comes forward.
I pay tribute to the fantastic work that the Community Security Trust does to keep the Jewish community safe every single day. I also pay tribute to the work of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, and Danny Stone in particular. My constituent Noemie Lopian recently shared the story of her family’s experience during the “long night” and the book telling the story of her father, Ernst Israel Bornstein. The Fed Jewish care home in my constituency runs the My Voice project to make sure that these holocaust survivors will never be forgotten and their stories will live on. The work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which many hon. and right hon. Members have mentioned, and of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, certainly needs to be remembered. This year’s theme is “Be the light in the darkness”. We really must be that light and say firmly, as a House, “Never again”.
It is a privilege to speak in this important debate as a proudly Jewish parliamentarian.
This year, Holocaust Memorial Day and today’s debate coincide with the Jewish festival of Tu Bishvat. It is one of four “new years” within the Jewish calendar, marking the birthday of trees for the purposes of the mitzvot relating to farming practices and the permissibility of the fruits of those trees for eating or bringing to Jerusalem as a tithe. In contemporary Judaism, and in the context of increased awareness around ecological issues and the climate emergency, the festival is having something of a renaissance, with millions of trees planted every year and lively debates within our community about what we can learn from our traditions of sustainable farming practices and respect for the divinity of the natural world. In the context of Holocaust Memorial Day, there are some deeper lessons we can take from Tu Bishvat into our reflection, as we honour the lives of those murdered in the holocaust and subsequent genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Darfur, and into action as we resolve to make “never again” about more than just platitudes.
I spoke in my speech last year of the incredible story of the Sarajevo Haggadah and Dervis Korkut, a Muslim man who is recognised by the Yad Vashem world holocaust memorial centre as a righteous gentile to whom the Jewish people owe a huge debt. We are not short of these stories of heroism and resistance, and in this place we are enormously privileged in our position of being able bring about the kinds of large scale changes that these heroes could only dream of. We need not risk our lives smuggling Swedish passports into Nazi-occupied Hungary, like Raoul Wallenberg, or smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto, like Irena Sendler, or hiding Jews in the Albanian mountains, like Vesel and Fatima Veseli, because we can bring about a fair and just immigration system that protects the lives of refugees, we can work to halt the proliferation of fascist propaganda online, and we can use our international standing, our influence and our trade policy to hold other nations accountable. We need not look the other way as people are persecuted around the world when we have both the moral obligation and the means as a nation to “be the light”. It brings me great sadness to say that, as a House, we are failing in this duty. Solidarity is our most powerful weapon against genocide, and our communities must not allow us to be divided nor to see others scapegoated or disasters exploited by the far right.
One of the stories often told from the Talmud at this time of year is of Honi the circle maker. One day, Honi the circle maker was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” The man replied, “Seventy years.” Honi then asked the man, “And do you think you will live another 70 years to eat the fruit of this tree?” The man answered, “Perhaps not. In the same way as my fathers planted for me, I will also plant for my children.”
We know about the long-reaching shadow of inherited pasts and post-memory—the relationship that the generation after bears to the personal, collective and cultural trauma of those that came before—but Tu B’Shevat marks the time when the sap starts flowing in the trees again, the welcome reminder of nature’s rhythm and light returning after the darkness, with trees growing, blooming and fruiting. As we preserve the memory of those who can no longer share their own stories, all of us have a duty to sow the seeds of solidarity and friendship for our children, even if we may never live to see the fruits ourselves.
When other countries were rounding up their Jewish communities and herding them on to the trains to the gas chambers, Britain provided a haven for thousands of refugee children. In November 1938, the then Government announced the Kindertransport scheme, and the Dudley refugee committee was in one of the very first waves of local committees formed the following month. One of its founders, a Mr Honigmann, was a refugee himself, having escaped antisemitic laws in Germany. It was in Dudley that he found safety, and he became a scientific adviser to the newly opened Dudley zoo. Teachers from local schools in Dudley joined him in his efforts, and an excellent education was provided for the Jewish refugee children.
One young man, Georg Kreisel, before reaching the safety of British shores, had been arrested at a school in Vienna, and witnessed horrific beatings and slayings. Out of the 3,000 men and boys who had been detained, Georg was among just three who were released. The rest were sent to concentration camps. He observed:
“Behind me the gates of a hell closed, and horror-stricken, I sought my way home.”
Georg excelled academically, and towards the end of world war two, he made an important contribution to the success of D-day by calculating the effect of waves on the floating harbours being designed for the Normandy landings.
My predecessor in Dudley North, Lord Austin, the son of a holocaust refugee, did a great deal of work to root out antisemitism, and I pay tribute to him for his efforts. To echo the sentiments he told this House, it is the contribution we make in the belief in the values that British people have fought and died for—values of democracy, equality and freedom, fairness and tolerance—that make us British.
We must all take responsibility not just for our actions, but for our language as well. There is no place for identity-based prejudice and hostility, wherever this manifests itself. All of us have a duty to be vigilant, alert to the insidious traps set by those who seek to divide us. I welcome the Government’s introduction of the online harms Bill, but I would ask Ministers to look again at the categorisation and assess whether more could be done to tackle smaller platforms such as BitChute—my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) has just referred to it—which is a video platform for neo-Nazis. We must not allow any cesspit of hateful, antisemitic, racist abuse to grow and take hold. We all know what happened when it did.
Many schools across Hartlepool have held online events this week to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. In following their example, each and every one of us in this House has an obligation to stand up to hatred wherever and whenever we see it. We must use every opportunity to educate people about the horrors of the past to avoid further atrocities in the future.
The holocaust was not the last genocide to take place. Genocides have taken place while the international community has watched with horror on several occasions since the end of the second world war. We owe it to the survivors of the holocaust and of subsequent genocides in Europe, Africa, the middle east, and southern and central Asia to redouble our efforts to stop the slaughter. In our roles, we must set an example and a standard in public life. We must oppose those who seek to cause division and spread false information at every turn.
Prior to the rise of the Nazis, Germany was awash with antisemitism and antisemitic conspiracies, and we must learn from that experience. What begins as a wild myth can soon be accepted as fact across a broad section of society. With the acceptance of lies as truth comes the danger of violence. We know what that can lead to and we know what that did.
Antisemitism and every other form of hatred have not gone away since 1945. They are still here, still wreaking havoc and devastation across our communities, and still causing fear. Even now, Jewish people have told me that they do not dare be open about their religion or culture in some situations for fear of the reaction they might get. The same is true for other minority groups.
With the rapid rise of antisemitic conspiracies such as QAnon spread by the uneducated and hate-filled platforms like Twitter and endorsed by some of the most prominent political figures in America, it is clear that our fight is not yet over—not even close. The sickening image of a man standing inside the US Capitol building, the seat of American democracy, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Camp Auschwitz” shows the extent of what we are still facing as a society 70 years on. That must be our duty and our pledge to those who lost their lives, to the survivors and to future generations the world over. We should never forget and when we say never again, we must mean never again.
It is a real privilege to take part in today’s debate. It might be 76 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, but it remains as important as ever that we remember what happened.
This year, the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is to be the light in the darkness. Light is an incredible thing: it brings hope, it brings knowledge and it exposes. It is this light which showed us the scale of horror and devastation inflicted by the Nazi regime: 6 million Jewish people and millions more—Soviet citizens, Polish people, gay people, Gypsies and many, many more. The number of victims is almost incomprehensible to us and it is an evil brought about by our fellow man, showing us what can happen if we look the other way. It is a sobering reminder to all of us who sit in this place of the deep and humbling responsibility we have, and it is why I support a permanent holocaust memorial next to Parliament.
Earlier this week I spoke to the Jewish Leadership Council, the Antisemitism Policy Trust and the Community Security Trust, three organisations which do incredible work to protect Jewish people in this country and ensure we never lose sight of the work we still must do to end antisemitism. It is a sad reality that far from eradicating antisemitism, it appears to be on the rise. We know there are places on the internet where it thrives alongside other hate and extremism. Those are not dark, unknown corners of the internet, but the platforms many of us use: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, as well as the more obscure ones, including the ones explained in such great detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford).
Antisemitism is not just confined to the internet. Burnley does not have a large Jewish population, but last year one of my constituents, Ashley, who is just 18 years old, was attacked for no other reason than his Jewish faith. I want to recognise Ashley’s bravery in coming forward, and thank the CST for the support and help it provided to him. Ashley is a light in the darkness, showing the problems that still exist.
We have heard so many powerful speeches in this debate, including the one from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). They show us why we should stand vigilantly. We must stand ready to protect those who need it; not to stand by, but to stand up.
As we reflect today on the murder of six million Jews in the holocaust, we have heard today, shamefully, how antisemitism is still increasing. It is shameful that armed guards are often felt necessary to guard synagogues in London. That is something that should be part of our reflections today.
Currently, we see another genocide being carried out against the Uyghur population. It is unfolding before our very eyes, showing that great evil is still very much a feature of our world. The theme of this year’s commemorations, be the light in the darkness, is not just the light of goodness and hope, but the light that we must shine into the darkest corners of the world whether they be in Europe, Asia, Africa or anywhere else where hatred lurks and seeks to destroy others. Sadly, genocide is not something that is part of our history—it is with us today. The world rightly condemns the atrocities against the Uyghur population, which has chilling parallels to what happened in Europe in the 1940s. It is our moral duty to do everything in our power to stand up to those who violate basic human rights, however powerful they may be. In the world today, nation states that perpetrate such evil must not be glad-handed. They must not be gently coaxed as we seek to sign trade deals. States that perpetrate such evil must not be flattered because we believe them to be powerful and important. We must not tiptoe around leaders or regimes that preside over brutality.
There must be no doubt that we will not tolerate genocide, flagrant abuses of human rights, or hatred in any form. If we are truly serious about condemning such persecution, that must be reflected in this House’s supporting the amendment to the Trade Bill that seeks to terminate any trade deal with any country committing genocide. There can be no equivocation when it comes to dealing with evil.
The holocaust has taught us that hatred in all its forms does not appear overnight; it is the result of creeping, insidious, manipulative, predatory and strategic campaigning to turn one group against another. That is what happened in Germany in the 1940s to the Jewish people, and it is the pattern of all such campaigns of hatred, so we must always be aware. Let our light in the darkness be not just a light of hope but a beacon shining on evil, so that it can be fully exposed and challenged wherever it lurks.
Having been born and raised in Germany, where people do not shy away from their past lest the lessons be forgotten, I thought I was reasonably well versed in this subject. Then, last January, I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem. I would urge any Member here to visit that memorial, Auschwitz-Birkenau, or any of the other testaments to the unspeakable evil we are debating today. I have no shame in saying that that experience broke me.
There is a passage in the Talmud that states:
“Once a person has sinned and repeated the sin, [he treats it] as if it has become permitted.”
That verse warns of the mesmeric ease with which the worst of human behaviour can be repeated and then normalised—what political theorist Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil”. We have a duty, as a people who have enjoyed nearly 1,000 years of relative wealth, prosperity and freedom, to stand against that banality of evil wherever we perceive it. We have not always been equal to that task.
One of the darkest stains on the soul of this nation and, indeed, this place began with the phrase
“a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing”.
The catastrophe that followed allowed us to know those people a lot better, yet we still abandoned them to over 40 years of communist oppression after world war two as we turned inward to look after ourselves. “Enlightened self-interest” is rarely anything but. As Martin Niemöller once put it:
“Als sie mich holten, gab es keinen mehr, der protestierte.”
“When they came for me, there was no one left to speak for me.”
In commemorating the shoah, we must not satisfy ourselves that we are remembering an historical event that happened many years ago; in a very real sense, it is ongoing. The places—Darfur, Srebrenica, Rwanda—and the names—Yazidi, Rohingya, Uyghur—have changed, but the evil has not.
By our simple luck of birth, we cannot justify turning a blind eye. Nor can modern geopolitical realpolitik give a free pass to the perpetrators, whom we meet on a regular basis, whom we talk to, and one of whom we invited here to give a speech in Westminster Hall. When Andrew Marr can show the Chinese ambassador footage of Uyghurs being rounded on to trains and his response is to talk about tourism in Xinjiang, and when official Chinese social media accounts can boast of liberating Uyghur women by sterilising them, we are staring into the void. We must decide whether we want the void to stare back at us.
As we remember the 6 million stolen lives of the shoah—HaShem yikom damam—I hope that Members across the Chamber will also remember those still fighting to live just because of who they are.
It is a privilege to take part in this debate, and to take the opportunity today to remember and pay my respects to all those who have been lost and who have suffered as a result of division and hate.
Holocaust Memorial Day is a day to remember the 6 million Jews murdered during the holocaust, and those who experienced those atrocities as they inevitably reduce in number. It is more important than ever that we continue to observe this day so that generations to come never forget the horrors that were carried out during the holocaust, alongside the victims of genocide in Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia and Bosnia. I thank one of my local authorities, South Tyneside, which organised its own online event, of which I was very happy to be a part.
The world has a duty to remember that the holocaust was an evil attempt to eliminate 6 million innocent Jewish people and so many others, including LGBT, Roma, Sinti and disabled people, as well as trade unionists and the elderly, all of whom were victims of such horrific Nazi brutality. They were heartlessly killed for no reason other than that they were shockingly identified as being inferior by virtue of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation.
That humans are capable of such appalling brutality, based on an adherence to a doctrine of hate, is incomprehensible, but to fail to retell one of the darkest periods of human history would be an injustice to those who perished. I am sure the holocaust will carry emotional memories for many of us. For me, I remember my great uncle Frederick, who was one of the first British soldiers to liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 15 April 1945, and my youngest son is proudly named after him. It is essential that we continue to educate the next and future generations, so that they are aware of what happened under the Nazi regime and can develop a more tolerant society, free from racism, prejudice and bigotry.
Hatred and intolerance continue to exist 76 years later, and hate speech and hate crimes are on the rise. Our communities are becoming increasingly divided. All too often, acts of horrific cruelty are still being carried out around the world against people because of their religion, their race and their beliefs. In memory of the millions who perished, let us recommit ourselves to tolerance and respect and to stand together, so that their legacy will be a society of co-operation and compassion. We can and we must be the light in the darkness.
Yesterday, I was proud to see Durham cathedral and castle lit up to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. They joined scores of other landmarks illuminated to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945 and to remember the victims of the holocaust.
Some may question the value of these memorials and events, with our focus being on the pandemic and the crisis we are currently living through, but to me it makes them even more important. In hard times, where events are moving so quickly, it is good for us to pause for a minute and reflect.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, “light in the darkness”, is very appropriate, because these have been dark times, too. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust urges us to remember those who were murdered for who they were and to stand against prejudice and hatred in the present day. Both are equally important. Understanding our history is vital to learn the lessons of the past, so that we have hope of a better future.
As many have pointed out over the past few days, the persecution of Jewish people in Germany did not start with the concentration camps, but with stereotyping and prejudiced language, then hatred and scapegoating. We know where it ends. A few years ago, I visited Natzweiler-Struthof camp on the Alsace border, and that will be forever etched in my mind. Natzweiler-Struthof was well known for being used for medical experiments by SS guards.
No two historical periods are the same, but we live in fragile times. Frustration and anger are everywhere and, once again, the instinct for many is to look for scapegoats. As the Jewish writer and poet Michael Rosen wrote a few years ago:
“Fascism arrives as your friend.
It will restore your honour,
make you feel proud,
protect your house,
give you a job,
clean up the neighbourhood,
remind you of how great you once were,
clear out the venal and the corrupt,
remove anything you feel is unlike you...”
Sadly, I see some of that in the way we talk about the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in this country, and sometimes even in this House. Romany Gypsies were victims of the holocaust, too. Hundreds of thousands perished in Nazi Germany, yet many see anti-Traveller sentiment as an acceptable form of racism in 2021. It is not, and as we remember the holocaust, we should learn the lessons of that terrible period.
The Holocaust is not the only example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is not the only genocide, and while it touched every corner of Europe, the United Kingdom was, relatively speaking at least, barely affected. So why remember? It is surely because, as we have already heard so vividly today, it still has the power to shock. The scale is difficult to comprehend. This was not a rampage or a single, impulsive act. Winston Churchill warned in 1940 of
“a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”.
In the “final solution”, that was made real by educated men, calm deliberation and technical precision. The holocaust was made possible by attitudes that were prevalent in early 20th-century society.
The reason we should continue to remember is encapsulated in the post-war experiences of Toivi Blatt, a Polish Jew who escaped from the Sobibor extermination camp and later found a new life in Israel and then in the United States. Laurence Rees’s book, “Auschwitz: the Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’”, tells how in the early 1990s Toivi returned to visit his home village of Izbica in eastern Poland. He visited his old family home, from before they were taken to the camps, and asked the new owner if he could look around the house where he grew up. The new owner was reluctant, but the offer of US$3 convinced him. In the living room, Toivi noticed a chair that had belonged to his father. The homeowner said that that was impossible, but Toivi turned over the chair to reveal the family name written on the base. “Mr Blatt, why the comedy with the chair?” the homeowner asked. “I know why you’re here. You have come for the hidden money. We could divide it 50/50.” Toivi was furious, and left immediately. There is some poetic justice in the story. When Toivi next returned to Izbica, he found his old house in ruins. A neighbour told him: “When you left, we were unable to sleep because day and night he was looking for the treasure you were supposed to have hidden. He took the floor apart, the walls apart, everything. And later he found himself in the situation that he couldn’t fix it—it would cost too much money. And so now it’s a ruin.” Poetic justice, perhaps, but a reminder that while the attitudes that triggered the Holocaust are less prevalent today, they have not been extinguished. We must remember.
It is a huge privilege to be able to speak today in this important debate. I am mindful of the time pressure and I will be brief. Holocaust Memorial Day is so important and so necessary. It is an opportunity to remember all those murdered by the Nazis, the 6 million Jews, the thousands of Roma and Sinti, the political prisoners, those with disabilities and mental illness and those persecuted for their sexuality. It is also the day when we remember the 2 million victims of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the almost 1 million victims of the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s. It is also the day when we remember the 8,000 Muslim men and boys murdered in Srebrenica more than 25 years ago. On Holocaust Memorial Day, we come together to remember them all, to mourn their loss and to commit ourselves to never letting this hate blight our world again.
Like so many people across Newport West, I welcome the theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, “Be the light in the darkness”. It is a call to action against identity-based persecution, misinformation and the denial of justice. I was glad to be able to join so many people across the UK for the online memorial service last night, organised by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and I pay tribute to the trust’s amazing effort to produce such a poignant service incorporating input from victims and leaders across the UK. This is a timely focus for the fight for a better world, and we need to remember that the generation who lived this horrific experience are now passing on. Soon, all of those who faced the sheer horror and brutality of the holocaust and survived will no longer be with us, so we owe it to them, and to all those who died at the hands of the Nazis, to never forget and to always remain vigilant.
People across Newport West reflected yesterday on the vicious murders, on the hopes and dreams robbed by the Nazis and on what we can do to stop hatred taking hold again. I was pleased that the leader of Newport City Council—Councillor Jane Mudd—and her colleagues across the political parties came together yesterday to light the Civic Centre purple as our city marked Holocaust Memorial Day.
This year, we were not able to remember together, nor to reaffirm anew our commitment to a better world, but we will meet again next year. The millions of victims of genocide across the world will not have this opportunity, so let us seize the ability to meet again that we have been blessed with, let us protect it always, and let us commit ourselves to eradicating hate wherever we find it. I am honoured to speak for the people of Newport West in this debate, and I pledge on behalf of us all to never walk by on the other side.
I am truly humbled to be called to take part in today’s debate. As I lit a candle last night to mark the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, I reflected on my visit there some years ago. I was attending a conference in nearby Krakow and felt compelled to take time out to make the journey. I travelled there by train, and was unable to imagine what that journey would have been like for the millions of Jews who knew what the final destination meant.
We all have moments in our lives that remain embedded in our memories long after others fade. I remember vividly the eerie silence and the absence of birdsong as I entered the site. The sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” was a grim reminder that I was stepping back into the setting of the most abhorrent atrocity in the last 100 years. Before visiting the Auschwitz living museum, I had not fully understood the extent to which the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis reached beyond the Jewish population, to include a wide range of political opponents, other ethnic groups such as the Roma community, gay men and people with disabilities. But in remembering the lives of these victims, so brutally murdered by the Nazis, who felt empowered to commit these atrocities, we must recommit ourselves as a society to tackling that hatred, intolerance and prejudice in whatever modern day shape it may take.
That is why, as so few survivors of the holocaust remain to talk of their lived experience, it has never been more important that their stories are captured or retold by future generations—lest we forget. Yet as the London Eye lit up purple and candles were lit in windows yesterday evening to commemorate and remember the dead, denial, division and misinformation continues. I welcome the work of organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust that play an important role in providing educational events for students across the country on Holocaust Memorial Day and throughout the year. I also absolutely support the Government’s commitment to building a permanent statue and Holocaust Memorial education centre next to Parliament.
Lessons were meant to be learnt from the horrors of the holocaust. The world was to change for the better forever. How, then, do we explain Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda, the Rohingya people and the plight of Uyghurs in China? As I know many colleagues wish to speak in this debate, I will end my speech now, with the poignant words of holocaust survivor Gena Turgel:
“We will continue to do our bit for as long as we can, secure in the knowledge that others will continue to light a candle long after us.”
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “Be the light in the darkness”, encouraging us to focus on those who, over the years, have found the courage and the conviction to take a stand against hatred and division, and to remind us of our duty to confront racism, division and misinformation wherever we see it. We should not underestimate the great courage that it can take to do so, or see it as a challenge confined to the history books.
Just three weeks ago, a group of thugs stormed the heart of US democracy. Among their number was a man wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirt, and others wearing shirts emblazoned with deeply offensive and disturbing messages. This did not come out of nowhere. Too many politicians have failed to take a stand for freedom, tolerance and the rule of law over the last few years. When President Trump refused to accept electoral defeat in November, one Republican party official was quoted as saying,
“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?”.
History has repeatedly confirmed that appeasement in the face of prejudice and hatred only emboldens those who perpetrate it.
One of the reasons why the rise of the Nazis is so difficult for us to come to terms with is that it is not something that happened centuries ago or in a failed state on the other side of the world; it happened in western Europe in the mid-20th century. It stands as a grave warning of where hatred and misinformation can lead, if we allow it to, even in the wealthiest and best-educated societies.
Today, the worrying reality is that many British Jews see antisemitism creeping back into everyday life. So what do we do? First, we educate. I pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust, which have helped me to understand the true horror of the holocaust, and my duty to ensure that we teach future generations what is right and how to build a better future.
Secondly, we legislate, through the online safety Bill, and by adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. We work, on a cross-party basis, through the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism, which I co-chair, and which I invite all Members to join. Most of all, we set the tone in public discourse, with no pandering to racist, divisive narratives, and no standing by when we see antisemitism in or outside politics. Sadly, we still have work to do in my party to repair the damage of the past five years.
Through active remembrance, which we continue to do through this annual debate and events, I hope that Holocaust Memorial Day will serve as a marker for future generations that we have listened, we have learnt, we have acted, and never again.
North Norfolk is a peaceful constituency of farming, beautiful coastline and, of course, the Norfolk broads. Life generally moves slowly, with a broads ranger quietly reminding a speeding boat that 5 mph is well over the 4 mph limit, and to be more careful in future.
Had I been the MP for North Norfolk in the 1930s, I wonder how I would have reacted to the growing stories of antisemitism in Europe. I wonder how Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Thomas Russell Albert Mason Cook, my predecessor from 1931 to 1945, would have reacted. According to Hansard, in the years between his election and the outbreak of war, he did not once mention the subject. It is not surprising, really, and I do not blame him, because in the same period from Hitler’s power grab, antisemitism gets only 43 mentions in Hansard, and those are largely in passing. In Hitler’s early days in power, that is perhaps excusable, but our records show not only a lack of interest in the rise of evil elsewhere, but a positive wish to keep it there. There are quite a few examples to choose from, but perhaps this one from a debate in 1938 is as good as any to prove the point:
“We must remember that if these people come in here, we risk the rousing of anti-Semitism in this country.” —[Official Report, 24 November 1938; Vol. 341, c. 2053.]
Thankfully, times have changed and continue to change.
As an island nation, we could be accused of being inward-looking. We must not be. Too often it is easier to turn a blind eye or to make the excuse that we must fix our own problems first. Too often, especially these days, people are afraid of calling out wrongdoing or evil for fear of being branded a troublemaker or disrupter, of going against the tide, of challenging authority, of raising their voice when others say they must not, because it means putting their career and reputation at risk. So have I any right to call out Sir Thomas for worrying more about the British sugar subsidy in 1935 than the persecution of Jews in Germany? No. We live in very different times; but it is an important reflection of how far we have come, and must continue to move, so that this period of history is never forgotten yet always learnt from.
That is why today we should be standing up for the Rohingya in Myanmar, and against the Dinka ethnic group in South Sudan for their persecution of the Neur people. We should be calling out the persecution of the Yazidis in Iraq. Perhaps most seriously, there is the persecution of the Uyghurs by the Chinese state. We put our economic comfort against the untold distress of an entire people. These atrocities are happening today. Are we a light in their darkness? We should be. Let us all be a light in their darkness.
It is a privilege to speak in today’s debate. No words can really describe the evil perpetrated by man upon their fellow man in a deliberate act of extermination of an entire race. As the survivors—the living testament to this evil pass—it is vital that we redouble our efforts to ensure that a light continues to be shone upon this evil. That is why I am glad to add my support to those seeking a permanent memorial here in our nation’s capital—a city that shone a light in the darkness during the dark days of the second world war. I cannot think of a more poignant or apt tribute to those people.
It is an honour and a privilege to speak in today’s debate. A staggering and heartbreaking 6 million Jews—women, men and children—were murdered during the holocaust. Today we collectively commemorate and remember them. Today we collectively grieve and say, “Never again.”
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s theme for this year could not be more fitting: “Be the light in the darkness.” This theme invites us to reflect on the murky depths to which humanity can sink. We saw it in the holocaust and in the genocides that followed, from Cambodia to Darfur, Bosnia and Rwanda—dark stains on all of humanity. The light derives from communities who defied evil and those who rose to save lives—those who put their own lives on the line to stand up to and against hate. We salute those people, we commemorate them and we remember them.
The holocaust was not something that happened long ago. It is our recent history, and it should always remain engraved in our consciousness. Millions of Jews and non-Jews were murdered through forced labour, starvation, bullets and gas chambers. We should rightly be proud of the role that British forces played in liberating those who were sent to die in concentration and extermination camps such as Bergen-Belsen.
In the aftermath of the war, more than 3,000 holocaust survivors settled in Britain. In putting together my remarks for this speech, I was inspired by the story of Martin Kapel, who grew up in Coventry. Martin was born of Polish parents in Germany, and I welled up as I read about the horrors he witnessed as a young boy. Fortunately, he was selected to be transported to Britain through the Kindertransport programme. He was one of the thousands of Jewish children who survived by escaping to Britain while the communities they came from were destroyed. I am proud that he chose to make Coventry his home.
I am proud that, today, Coventry still holds its status as a sanctuary city, home to refugees fleeing violence. I join the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in calling on us all to be the light in the darkness. In doing so, we make a commitment to continue to stand against hate. We make a commitment to not be complacent in the face of intolerance and not to look the other way. We must do right by those who are fleeing persecution. Never again should we stand by and watch genocide take place or forget our most important humanitarian principles.
It is a great privilege to speak on this most important occasion. Between 1935 and 1945, an estimated 16 million people were killed by the Nazi regime. That included 6 million Jews, 7 million Soviet citizens, 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 1.8 million non-Jewish Polish civilians, 312,000 Serbian civilians, 250,000 people with disabilities and 250,000 Roma Gypsies. The breadth of depravity was breathtaking. It included legalised social discrimination, involuntary hospitalisation, euthanasia, forced sterilisation, forced labour, sexual slavery, human experimentation and downright murder. I say to those holocaust deniers who may be watching: “You do not speak for me or anybody in this place, and you need to take a look in the mirror.”
Sadly, so few of those who witnessed these appalling events are still with us today, but we must record their testimony while we still can and capture the evidence of that time. My own testimony is limited. When I was based in Germany, we visited Bergen-Belsen and travelled further afield to Auschwitz—dark, scary and eerie places. I heard a number of questions, including, “Daddy, is it true that the birds don’t sing?” to which I replied, “Yes, I think so.” Of course, there is a reason why the birds do not sing.
In 2016, the regiment I was commanding in Germany was tasked to set up a convoy support centre in Altengrabow, just west of Berlin. We discovered very quickly that it was the location for Stalag 11 A, and had also been home to German and Soviet forces throughout recent history. It became obvious that in the woods behind the big, barbed wire fence, there were some strange buildings. I have no idea what those buildings were, but history must be recorded there, too.
I have seen with my own two eyes atrocities in Sierra Leone and in Bosnia—atrocities of Governments, of Serbs, of Croats, Christians against Muslims and vice versa, the Revolutionary United Front against the people in Sierra Leone, and Makeni, Ahmići, Goražde and Srebrenica. More recently, we have seen Rwanda and Yemen, the Uyghurs in China, and Cambodia. This is happening right now—it is happening in our world, today, on our doorstep—and it must be stopped with the full power of the United Nations, NATO, military force, peacekeeping, peace enforcement and sanctions. Most importantly, for now, the evidence and the testimony from these current events must be captured, so that lessons are learned for the future and that those who perpetrate these dreadful crimes are brought to justice.
Like others who have spoken, I remember my visit to Auschwitz with a group of sixth formers, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust, to which I pay tribute. It was around this time of year. It was freezing. There was no snow on the ground. I will never forget how I felt as I thought of human beings being forced to march across that frozen ground, barefoot, near naked, on their way to extermination.
We must never forget that we allowed it to happen. That is why we cannot quietly ignore or excuse antisemitism. That is why we must challenge phoney equivalence arguments and free speech excuses, no matter where they come from or who says it. Excuses mean complicity.
When we think of Israel, it is right to question the motives of those who constantly single out that state for special treatment. That does not mean that I do not support a just settlement, a democratic and viable Palestinian state, and a secure and recognised Israel—I do support those things. It does mean, however, that when I hear the frank views of As’ad AbuKhalil, who has said:
“The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel…That should be stated as an unambiguous goal”,
or those of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has said:
“It is the mission of the Islamic Republic…to erase Israel from the map of the region”,
I question the intentions and the motives of those who support such people and such movements.
It was exactly those kinds of views that paved the way to Auschwitz. We should never forget what indifference and turning a blind eye can lead to. Let us be a light in the darkness.
My constituency is home to a long-standing Jewish community, and I regularly meet constituents whose lives have been personally deeply affected by the events that we remember today, including many who fled persecution and found sanctuary here in the UK.
We have heard many examples during this debate of where our country has been, or has tried to be, the light against genocide and oppression, wherever it has occurred in the world. I pay particular tribute to members of our armed forces, who have often been the last defence of those at risk, and all too often the first on the scene to provide succour when atrocities occurred, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart).
My constituents would be the first to remind me that this debate is about future action as well as remembrance. The UK is the leading country in Europe for the resettlement of child refugees and continues to play an honourable role in efforts to bring peace and stability to the wider world. As we remember the victims of the holocaust and of genocide throughout history, it is also an opportunity to consider that, as well as seeking to bring the light of freedom to places where there is none, our country remains a beacon of light to those who are fleeing oppression.
The new global resettlement scheme is an opportunity to restate our commitment to the United Kingdom being a place of refuge. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) mentioned, Hansard records little consideration of issues of oppression and the risk of genocide in the run-up to the holocaust. At a time when we know that, across the world, there is great instability and great risk to life and peace, let us all ensure, following this debate today, that we have a genuinely humanitarian approach as we consider the policies that we will need in the future at a time when we are saying collectively, “Never again”.
It is a privilege to be called to speak in this debate. In 2013, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. What affected me more than anything else, more than the watch towers and the crematoriums, were the signs of life—the human hair, the family suitcases, the stacks of shoes. Today in Parliament we remember the 6 million Jewish people and the millions of Roma, Sinti, LGBT and disabled people who were murdered by the Nazis. We also remember the resistance to the Nazis, the resistance seen when Hanukkah arrived and a menorah was lit on a Berlin windowsill even as swastikas flew outside, when the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto rose up in one of the most inspiring acts of human history and when prisoners in Treblinka and Sobibor rebelled in the shadow of the gas chamber and killed Nazi oppressors. Alongside the horrors of the holocaust are these accounts of the human spirit—of people standing up to the most brutal of evils. Today, we must treasure and defend the daily reminders of the Nazis’ defeat—from every synagogue service and every Jewish family who pass on their traditions to the next generation to our rejection of racial hierarchy and our celebration of multiculturalism.
History is not over. Antisemitism and the far right are on the rise. Earlier this month, we saw fascists wearing Nazi iconography storming Capitol Hill. A man who called white supremacist protesters “very fine people” held the world’s most powerful office. In Hungary, the Prime Minister spreads Soros conspiracies and lauds generals who sent tens of thousands of Jewish people to Nazi concentration camps. In Brazil, the far right president attacks the rights of LGBT people, indigenous people and trade unionists. Here in Britain, antisemites still spread conspiracies about the Rothschilds and George Soros.
Antisemitic violence remains a growing threat to Jewish people. Our communities are still divided by racism. Frantz Fanon, an intellectual of the anti-colonial struggle, said that whenever he saw an antisemite, he knew that he, too, was threatened. That was not only because plenty of antisemites are white supremacists, but for a deeper reason. It is because that kind of thinking that produces antisemitism blames social ills on minority groups. It is a thinking that encourages us to turn on each other and to treat our neighbours as our enemies. So long as that thinking exists, Fanon said that none of us are safe from denigration and attack. That is why we all have a stake in fighting for each other, in combating antisemitism and racism in all of its forms. When we come together and link our struggles, we are all made stronger. There is safety and solidarity, and today and every day, I extend my solidarity to Jewish people and everyone facing—
It is painful to imagine, as a parent, the possibility of saying goodnight to one’s child and not knowing whether a knock at the door could mean never saying goodnight to them again. That is the reality of the holocaust. Six million lives were lost—due not to famine or pandemic, but to hate. In this debate, we have heard powerful statements and numbers beyond comprehension of victims of genocide around the world—lives lost, contributions to society that we will never know, and stories wickedly ended before their time.
We often say that time heals, but it can leave a scar. The holocaust is a scar on humanity that we must face up to, even today. As we mark Holocaust Memorial Day, we reflect on a simple yet powerful statement: be the light in the darkness. In doing so we must remember that, just as the night descends each evening, darkness can also fall slowly on us all. Darkness can exist only if there is an absence of light. It is only by choosing to look the other way that we diminish the light of humanity.
The trouble with the darkness is that it allows otherwise good people to believe that they cannot see what is happening around them. No baby is born with hatred in their heart, yet there are those who will twist the human condition to nurture hate and to plant the seeds of hate with words of envy and of “us versus them” and, ultimately, at the worst extreme, to generate acts of evil while others pretend they do not see them.
We cannot bring back those whose lives were ended too soon, but we can ensure that others do not have to fear that knock at the door. We cannot bring back to life the millions whose lives were tragically ended, but with every candle we light, every child we educate, every time we choose not to like or share statements of intolerance and every time we challenge acts of hate around the world, we shine a light on those who would prefer to hide in the darkness.
The holocaust and the genocides ever since have taught us that we must never be complacent. We must continue to look around the world, today and in all our tomorrows, to ensure that we are not ignoring the plight of others. As we mark Holocaust Memorial Day, let us all be in the light in the darkness.
I pay tribute to Liverpool’s long-established Jewish community, and to two former residents: Maurice Eschwege and his daughter Vera Goltschmitt. As a young child, Maurice moved from Germany to Liverpool, where he grew up. He married Isabella Annoni, an Italian Catholic, and they had three children: Vera, Alexander and Muriel. Maurice ran a jewellers and pawnbrokers business on Lime Street. He was a pillar of the community and served as a justice of the peace. He was twice elected as a Labour councillor for the St Anne’s ward of the city in the 1920s.
When his wife Isabella died, Maurice moved to Paris to live with his daughter Vera and her husband. After the war broke out, Maurice was transported to a German camp—he never returned. Vera, her husband and their youngest son Alain were all transported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered alongside millions of others—Jews, Slavic peoples, Roma and Sinti communities, black, disabled and LGBT people and political opponents, who all perished at the hands of the Nazis. Today, we remember them, and in their stories we seek to learn the lessons of the past.
We recognise that the forces that drove this evil were pervasive and widespread: Governments and politicians throughout Europe—even in the UK—made antisemitism acceptable through their statements and actions, especially when denying safety to refugees. Today, as our Government lock asylum seekers in inhumane conditions in military bases and close the door on unaccompanied child refugees, it is clear that we still have much to learn.
Today, we must recognise that genocide does not begin with the death camp, but is what happens when we allow discrimination, racism and hatred to go unchecked—when we allow politicians and the media to divide us and govern through hatred. We a collective promise to reinforce our commitment to fighting the rise of racism and those political forces who would take us back to some of the darkest times of European history; and to take a stand against the normalisation and institutionalisation of discrimination and hatred in our own country and across the world.
As we take this opportunity to remember the millions who lost their lives in the holocaust, we remember prior genocides in the Congo, Kenya and South Africa, and we remember subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. But we have to redouble our fight against ongoing atrocities against the Rohingya, the Uyghur and the Kashmiris. Today, in the memory of all those whose lives were unjustly taken, we pledge our solidarity with oppressed peoples across the world and promise to carry forward the flame of resistance against hatred, racism and bigotry. In remembering the true horrors of fascism and the victims of all acts of genocide across the globe, we stand together, united—a light in the darkness—to say, “Never again.”
Yesterday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked 76 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. It is hard for any of us to comprehend the devastation and complete horror that occurred during the holocaust. By the end of the second world war, 6 million Jewish people—6 million men, women and children—had been murdered by the Nazis. I was particularly struck recently by the words of the chairman of Bradford synagogue, Rudi Leavor, who came to Britain in 1937 aged just 11, after escaping Nazi Germany with his parents and sister. He said:
“The process of their murder was inflicted with insane cruelty. Children were separated from their parents, couples were separated, they were deceived into entering what were described as showers but were in fact gas chambers, made to stand on the edge of wide trenches in which there were already corpses, then shot so that they conveniently fell into those trenches.”
I think we can all agree that those words set out in stark and plain detail the true horror that was the holocaust.
Holocaust Memorial Day provides an opportunity for us all to reflect on our own actions and our collective actions and to consider what more can be done to prevent these horrific events. But, of course, actions speak louder than words. The truth is that we have seen a worrying, creeping rise of the virus of antisemitism across our country in recent years, and we cannot be complacent. A recent report by the Community Security Trust suggested that for the fourth year in a row, the number of antisemitic incidents in Britain has increased.
It is incumbent on every single one of us in this House, no matter what political party we are in or how long we have been here, to do everything it takes to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again. As we speak in this debate today, we have in the forefront of our minds the terrible reports that are coming out of western China, where the Uyghur population is being persecuted—reports of forced sterilisation of Uyghur women, high levels of surveillance and forced labour—and what is happening in Kashmir. We must use debates such as this to remember, but also to talk about current issues.
Fundamentally, I believe that this comes down to education. Our schools can play an important role, and I am pleased that many of our young people across the country are learning about these horrific events, so that we can ensure that appropriate actions are taken as we go forth. I am sure that the permanent holocaust memorial and education centre right next to Parliament will play a crucial role in ensuring that we all consistently remember as we come into this place.
It is an honour to take part in this Holocaust Memorial Day debate and to hear the many moving and memorable contributions. Like many Members, I have heard, read about and known about the holocaust for a lifetime—a lifetime denied to many millions. I only now recognise that reading Anne Frank’s diary as a child was perhaps instrumental in awakening that part of my political motivation that is about fighting discrimination, racism and injustice. It prompted me to ask questions, and I am proud to say that the answers my parents offered left no doubt about the wrong that they believed had been done and how easily it could have been them. Those questions meant that I read everything I could, watched every documentary and listened to every survivor account in a search not for information about what had happened but some understanding of how that evil had been nurtured and allowed to grow.
As an adult, I visited Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam with my own daughter, and was shocked afresh at the conditions in which her family had been forced to exist in order to avoid being murdered simply for who they were. I have also visited Yad Vashem in Israel and listened to the heartbreaking tales of those who survived, but I have never yet been able to face visiting any of the concentration camps. But I will—because of what I am thinking about today, because of what we in this place must do, and because I remember a photograph on the wall in Anne Frank’s house that has stuck with me. It was a picture of, of all things, the young Princess Elizabeth. I remember looking at it and wondering why—thinking, “What was its significance?” Perhaps its significance was that the knowledge that there were good people in other parts of the world fighting a war that might end the horror that they were enduring gave them hope and provided a light in their unimaginable darkness.
We all continue to share a responsibility, not only for those whose lives and loved ones were stolen in the holocaust, but for those who suffer now—today. They suffer the indignity and cruelty of being forced to kneel on railway platforms in China before being boarded on to trains and transported to camps. The echoes of the holocaust in those pictures were evident to us all. I pay tribute to the Board of Deputies of British Jews for leading the calls for action to protect the Uyghur Muslims. We must all listen to them. We must act and ensure that the lessons of the holocaust are never forgotten, its horrors not repeated again in our lifetimes, and the light of remembrance never ever allowed to dim.
Although I myself am not a Jew but a Catholic, there is Jewish blood in each and every one of us. I would certainly have been proud to have been born a Jew, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with our local Jewish community at the Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation, the Southend and District Reform synagogue and the recently arrived Hassidic Jews. Over the past two years, these people, who are my friends, have felt very vulnerable. I would like the Government to continue to support the work of the Community Security Trust, which does vital work to keep the Jewish community safe through the protective security grant.
I simply do not understand and have never understood antisemitism. The most important lesson from the holocaust is that although we cannot police the world, it is simply not acceptable to stand by and do and say nothing when genocide happens. For evil to prevail, all it needs is for good people to remain silent. I therefore support the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill. We should not be supporting genocide in any form—whether against the Jewish community, the Uyghurs or anyone else—and should instead be encouraging countries to improve their human rights records.
Each year, a tree-planting event is planned in Southend to commemorate the lives of those who died in the holocaust and more recent genocides. I am very much involved in that event, and have also had the great honour to lay a wreath and plant a tree at Yad Vashem. For two years I campaigned to have a statue of Raoul Wallenberg placed outside the Western Marble Arch synagogue, and Sigmund Sternberg led the fundraising campaign. Through the Schutz-Pass, Raoul Wallenberg saved the lives of 100,000 Jews in Hungary. It was one of the proudest moments of my life when in 1997 Her Majesty the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the President of Israel unveiled that statue. Although most of us mere mortals would not be able to replicate such valour, if Holocaust Memorial Day is anything, it is a time to honour such bravery and for each and every one of us, particularly in Parliament, to condemn antisemitism and genocide.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) and the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing today’s debate. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity, I join colleagues on both sides of the House in taking a moment to pause, despite all that is happening around us right now, and reflect on and remember the greatest crime in history.
I pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Aegis Trust for their action on education and prevention in my constituency, across the country and around the world. We must never forget that we must use our power and responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure this never happens again. Unfortunately, and to our great shame, “never again” has become time and time again in the 76 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. At this very moment, as we have this debate, genocide and crimes against humanity are taking place all over the world, against the Uyghurs, the Rohingya, the Yazidis and more recently, the Tigrayan people in western Ethiopia. Genocide Watch now considers Ethiopia to be at genocide stage 9 out of 10: extermination.
Well-meaning words and statements will only get us so far, but as parliamentarians we must go further. What can we do? We can be assertive—braver at calling out genocides and crimes against humanity. Our second tool is accountability. We have to hold the Government to account on how they monitor, respond to and prevent atrocities. We can call for more training for our civil servants around the world to spot signs early and report them before atrocities take place.
We can also show political leadership. Our Executive need to lead from the front, and one thing they could be doing is reporting annually to Parliament on an at-risk register—a list of countries in relation to crimes against humanity, to stop them before they become genocide. We would do well to follow the example of the United States in that regard. In 2018, Congress passed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, which called for a government-wide atrocity prevention strategy. We should look into that.
On our language, we must set our own house in order to combat antisemitism and discriminatory and dehumanising language in everything we say. We should increase our offer of sanctuary for victims of terror and for child refugees from around the world. I invite all Members to join the all-party parliamentary group on prevention of genocide. On this Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the 6 million Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution, and we say that genocide does not start with genocide; it starts with the denial of rights. I say “Never again”.
It is a pleasure to speak in what is a very important debate. It is very clear that all sides of the House believe that antisemitism is both repugnant and repulsive. Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland), anyone who is a denier has no place in this modern society. Their voices should be silenced, and they should go and have a look at themselves in the mirror.
I will talk about a personal experience. I went to Yad Vashem with my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) and laid a wreath. It was when I was there that I thought about meine oma, who was born in the late 1920s under Nazi Germany rule and grew up under a Nazi Germany education system. As soon as that war ended, she fled to this country to start again. Even though it is a topic, as Members can imagine, that is not spoken about around the dining room table, I can see in her eyes the pain, the shame and the sorrow she feels for having been a part of a nation—by birth, not by belief—that committed one of the greatest atrocities known to human history. Sadly she lies very unwell at this moment in time, but she asked me today to stand in this House and simply say sorry for her for being a member of that nation and maybe not having the courage that she wished she had to send the fight back against that evil Nazi regime.
I spent eight and a half years as a schoolteacher, and it never ceased to amaze me that when we talked about the holocaust, it was one of the very few topics where I could hear a pin drop in the classroom. Students understand the importance of this subject and that we need to know our history to learn from it and ensure that we do not allow such atrocities to happen again. While we sadly see acts of genocide taking place in China against the Muslim population, we also crimes against humanity in places such as Kashmir. It is for us as parliamentarians to step up and make sure that global Britain, which I am a huge believer in, takes its rightful place in bringing together nations and leaders from around the world to find an end to these disgusting and awful crimes.
I would like to take one last moment to refer to my predecessor, Ruth Smeeth. She suffered repugnant and repulsive antisemitic abuse, and she still continues to receive it to this day. I thank her for having the courage of her convictions and beliefs to always stand up for who she is. I will continue that fight while I am in this place, to be her voice and champion on this very cause. To anyone who continues to give her such abuse, you are not a valued citizen of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke.
I, too, am pleased to take part in this most significant debate today and I pay tribute to those who succeeded in bringing this again to the Floor of the House.
Like many Members over the years, I have visited Auschwitz. It was some years ago, as part of a visit organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust with schoolchildren from my constituency. I pay particular tribute to the HET and its chief executive Karen Pollock for doing such amazing work in this area. It was, for me, a day that I will never ever forget. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) spoke a few minutes ago about the impact of seeing the photographs of the then Princess Elizabeth at Anne Frank’s house. For me in Auschwitz, it was not a single photograph but in the hall at the end of the visit where there is pinboard after pinboard after pinboard of photographs that were taken from the wallets of those who had been taken to the camp, exactly the sort of photograph that I carried of my own family in my wallet at the time and which we all doubtless do. It was at that point that one understood the sheer enormity and human cost of what had been perpetrated there.
It is absolutely right that we should have this debate today as an act of remembrance, but I would say that to ensure that we properly honour the memory of those who were murdered in the holocaust, we in this House and elsewhere have a duty to redouble our efforts to ensure that this never happens again to the Jewish people or to any other people in any other part of the world.
Today, I want to pay particular tribute to the British Jewish community for all that they have done when confronted with what they have seen happening in Xinjiang province to the Uyghur Muslim population. The Jewish News in particular has taken a brave and courageous stand. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis spoke powerfully this week about the resonances that he, as a Jewish man, could see from Xinjiang province of what his own people suffered in Europe in the 1940s. They were powerful words to which we should listen and pay the most careful attention.
What happened at Auschwitz and elsewhere in the 1940s came, at the end of the war, as a surprise and certainly as a shock to many people, but we now live in a very different age where information travels around the world much more easily than it ever did. Nobody will ever be able to say that they did not know what was happening in Xinjiang province and that they did not know what was happening to the Uyghur Muslims. We cannot now look round, while at the same time paying tribute to those who have perished.
To be number 73 on the list and to be able to make a contribution is quite an achievement, so thank you for getting me in, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I am very pleased to make a contribution in the holocaust debate on man’s barbarity to man. I am a pro-Israeli person and as a Christian I want to speak up for the Jewish nation. I also declare an interest as chair of the all-party group for international freedom of religion or belief for those with Christians beliefs, other beliefs and no beliefs. I am also my party’s spokesperson on human rights and chair of the all-party group on Pakistani religious minorities.
When we think of this debate—I have spoken at every one there has been in Westminster since my time of coming here—and 6 million Jews murdered owing to man’s hatred, we think it can never happen again. There would not be an occasion when the tears do not well in our eyes whenever we look at the programmes on TV or check the contributions in the press even here in Northern Ireland. Today’s debate reminds us never to forget the horrors of the Shoah, and we should also reflect on more recent events and our reactions to them. Today’s debate reminds us never to forget the horrors of the shoah, but we should also reflect on more recent events and our reactions to them. My constituency had many of the Kindertransport children who came across during the second world war, and some of them stayed and married and their relatives are still an important part of our life here. The Millisle farm in my constituency is very much a part of that.
I want to speak about the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It was announced in December 2016 that the Government had adopted that definition, but only last year the Secretary of State for Education highlighted the fact that only a handful of universities had adopted the definition. Also, I say respectfully that Members of this House promoted the Palestine Solidarity Campaign lobby day in December, actively promoting an antisemitic trope—that Israel is an apartheid state—given as an example by the IHRA, but this House did nothing. If there is no penalty for breaching the IHRA definition, its adoption is worthless. If we have learned nothing from the past, we can be certain that it will be repeated. This cannot and must not be allowed to happen.
Genocide has been repeated in other areas. We think of the Uyghur Muslims in China, the Baha’i in Iran, Falun Gong in China and the Rohingyas. This morning, I and other hon. Members had the opportunity to get more information about West Papua in Indonesia, where thousands of people have been murdered and thousands more displaced. Also, Christians all over the world are affected, including in Kashmir and in Russia, where human rights and civil liberties are trampled on directly by Governments. So we say that this must never be repeated, and today we have an opportunity to say clearly that we stand with all those people across the world, to be that voice for the voiceless, to speak up for them whenever they cannot do so, and to remember all those who died in the second world war.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate and I have been very struck by the contributions from across the House. This is one of the most important dates in the parliamentary calendar because of the importance of understanding exactly what happened during the holocaust and what continues to happen in genocides around the world and, as the theme for this year’s debate would have it, to “be the light in the darkness”. Light is much needed during these difficult times. We need to be mindful that, along with the many obvious challenges and worse that living through a pandemic brings, there is also the fact that it makes everything more fragile. Democracy and the normal strands of life that hold us all together are all the more fragile because of the strains of the pandemic. That means that we have to be ever more watchful, mindful and vocal. As the wonderful girls of the Giffnock Guides, who I visited on a Zoom screen recently, emphasised to me, we must look out for each other, and be kind.
It is my great privilege to represent the majority of the Jewish population in Scotland, as the MP for East Renfrewshire. The diversity of my small community makes us so much the better and is so valued by those of who live here, and the light that some of my fellow East Renfrewshire citizens have shone on the holocaust has been so important. I know the House will join me in expressing my sorrow on hearing of the death last week of Judith Rosenberg of Giffnock. Judith survived the horrors of Auschwitz, where she was taken when she was snatched away at only 22 from her perfectly ordinary family life. She endured indescribable horror and inhumanity, but somehow had the strength of character to share her experience with others so as to help to prevent this from happening again. She said:
“When I was a child, my father taught me that all people are equal, that it doesn’t matter who or what race they are, they are just people.”
Judith worked so hard to make that a reality, and I know that her tireless work made a huge difference to so many people. She will be much missed.
Henry Wuga and his late wife Ingrid also hold a very dear place in the hearts of so many people in my local area and far beyond. Ingrid, who was a lovely woman, was also a remarkable influence on so many people. She sadly died last year, and I know we would all wish to share our condolences with Henry, a fellow Kindertransport child, with whom she spent 75 years of happy marriage and a remarkable joint commitment to sharing their testimony with thousands of schoolchildren. I have had the privilege to see some of that work at first hand, and I know the impact that Henry and Ingrid have had, sharing with kindness, clarity and decency the terrible horrors of the Holocaust and the need to challenge prejudice and hate. I know that the House will also share my great admiration of Henry as he continues with this work.
We all need to understand the horror of this murder of millions and millions of innocent people. There were more Jews murdered than the entire population of Scotland. The lessons in that for us all bear repeating again and again. That is why the work of organisations such as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust matters so much. I am very grateful to Karen Pollock, who is tireless in pursuing ways to engage our young people. I met my local education director last week and discussed the wide range of important work going on in East Renfrewshire schools to make sure that, at every stage in education, young people confront, understand and learn the lessons of what happened. This is not, and must not be, a one-day-a-year endeavour.
It is sadly true that this is probably more important now than ever, in this fractious, anxious time, when covid and the shadow of Trump and others loom large, fostering the othering, the hate, the misinformation and creating fertile ground for those with ill intent. None of us should kid ourselves that this cannot happen now. We need to raise our eyes across the world, as well as looking at ourselves. My constituent, Kirsty Robson, along with Jaya Pathak and Joe Collins, young people who have set up the excellent organisation Yet Again, know this and have been working hard to shine a light and to tackle the terrible realities of communities experiencing genocide today, such as the Uyghur Muslim population in China. I am really grateful for their recent focus on the surely inarguable fact that we should not engage in trade deals with nations engaged in genocide.
The young people in East Renfrewshire are very focused on these issues. Holly Edgar, influenced by the Gathering the Voices project, wrote a hugely thought-provoking piece about her visit to Auschwitz, which I published on my website this week, reflecting on the Lessons from Auschwitz project. That focus on all these voices, the individual people and what happened to them is so important—the terrible, all-consuming hatred whipped up against communities, persecuted and murdered because they were Jewish, Roma, gay, disabled, different. That must be a warning from history to us all, and we must have no truck with deniers and minimisers.
I visited Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, a few years ago. The focus there is on all those individual people, families, photos of lovely children, ordinary-looking mums and dads, killed because they were different or other, and what I saw there will never leave me. There were so many little everyday things, including combs, shoes, glasses—that was all that was left. I saw the sheer ordinariness of the things, the people, and then how the creeping hatred and antisemitism spilled over, and the unimaginable horror that followed.
So we need to commit, and we must always focus on being the light. I will conclude by reflecting on the words of Jane Haining, who is a personal hero of mine. Jane was a Scottish teacher, working in Budapest at the time of the holocaust. She stood with her Jewish students in the darkest of times. Jane died in Auschwitz because she refused to leave her students to face their fate alone. She said:
“If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness”.
That is the light that we need to think about. That is the spirit that we need to reflect on. It is an issue for all of us, and we need to step up.
The House has made it clear today in this very important debate why future generations must know the history of the holocaust. I congratulate the very large number of Members on both sides on their extraordinarily moving contributions; there were too many, unfortunately, to refer to individually. I also congratulate the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for the quite remarkable ceremony online last night.
Like many Members across the House, I have also joined a group of students from my constituency on a visit to Auschwitz, and I thank the Holocaust Educational Trust for organising that. We walked in the shadow of the words, “Arbeit macht frei”, tracing the footsteps of millions who walked to an unspeakably brutal death. We stood on the railway tracks where the cattle wagons unloaded their human cargo and where a Nazi doctor selected those who would live and those who would die. We walked through rooms packed with the remains of human lives—shoes, human hair, children’s tiny clothes and toys. The lessons of history could not be starker, more painful or more necessary for a new generation.
I thank, too, Labour Friends of Israel for taking me to Jerusalem, where, like many other Members, I toured Yad Vashem, Israel’s remarkable museum of the shoah, which catalogues the hatred and demonisation that led humanity into the abyss. The great tragedy is, as many Members have said, that we still have not learned the lessons of the holocaust; genocides happened again in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, and against the Yazidi, Rohingya and Uyghurs. We see time and again where hatred leads humanity, and it is why all of us have a duty to call out bigotry wherever we find it.
I wish to acknowledge the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), because I share her horror at having realised after 2015 that antisemites had entered the Labour party, intent on infecting our party with their poison. As the Equality and Human Rights Commission report has shown us, our party was too slow to act. My friend, Dame Louise Ellman, a most distinguished former Member of this House, was subjected to the most aggressive antisemitic abuse by some members of her own local party, who demonised her for the wrongs of a foreign Government. A measure of our party’s recovery will be when Louise and the others who were driven out feel able to rejoin the party they grew up in and to which they gave so much.
My small contribution during that time was to help establish the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, which runs an operation to identify, expose and disable online antisemitism. The project targets antisemitic extremism on the far left and far right, but where it identified antisemites who had become Labour party members, we reported them immediately for expulsion. When we identified how antisemites were operating online, we proposed legislative change, engaging with both the Government and the Jewish community leadership. I look forward to the online harms Bill bringing forward necessary new safeguards into law.
Labour’s new leader made clear in his acceptance speech last April his determination to root out antisemitism and make our party a safe space for Jewish people to be members of and to vote for once more. We understand the hurt that antisemitism has caused to the Jewish community and we will continue to work closely with and listen to the community as we seek to heal that pain. With the support of the Leader of the Opposition, I have asked every Labour council to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, with all the examples. We have backed the Secretary of State’s request for universities to do the same, and we support the establishment of the holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, right next to this place, the heart of British democracy.
I wish to finish with a story of hope. My friend and constituent Eric Sanders is 101 years old. As far as I know, he is the oldest living member of the Labour party. Eric was born to a Jewish family in Austria in 1919. Growing up, he experienced at first hand anti-Jewish hatred, and restrictions on where he could learn, work and go, and on whom he could love. He watched, personally, Adolf Hitler drive into Vienna after the Anschluss that incorporated Austria into the Nazi Third Reich. Eric came here to Britain, where he joined our armed forces to fight for freedom. After the war, he settled in south London, became a teacher, married a young woman and started a family. Today, Eric is a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather. He tells me how very proud he was to be awarded the Decoration of Honour by the President of Austria—that country’s highest civil award—just a few years ago. That act of recognition after the wrongs he suffered has allowed Eric finally to make his peace with the country of his birth. Just days before his hundredth birthday, I took a group of Austrian university students to meet Eric at his home in Norbury in south London. It was so moving to see a new generation of Austrians talking with a Jewish member of an older generation about what had happened to him and so many others in their country.
Eric would be the first to say that his story is now mostly in the past, but his story will not end with him if it inspires a future generation to build a better world. Today, as we reflect on the horrors of the holocaust, let us recognise that that anguished cry of 6 million voices from the past is our calling to build a better future, and in that, let us come together and find our light in the darkness.
I start by adding my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) and all those Members who secured this afternoon’s debate, including the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), whose personal bravery and courage in combating antisemitism I think we all admire in this House.
Yesterday, I was honoured to speak at the annual Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony honouring millions of Jewish people and other victims of Nazi persecution. Like thousands of people from across our country, I then lit a candle in their memory, joining them to be the light in the darkness, the theme of this year’s commemorations.
As it is for many others, the holocaust is part of my family’s story, but it is a universal human tragedy as much as a personal one—a tragedy from which we can all learn something. In doing so, we must draw on the power of the testimony of holocaust survivors. As many Members have said today, it is one of the greatest privileges to meet them. We need to ensure that their stories endure and are understood by us and by future generations.
We have heard today from many Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), about the connections that we draw between the memories of atrocities of the past and those of the present. He can be assured that I have already drawn his powerful call for action to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan police war crimes unit.
We remember, as others have said, the subsequent genocides—the millions of victims of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; the million-plus victims of the Rwandan genocide; the 8,000 Muslim men and boys who were murdered in Srebrenica. We heard powerful first-hand testimony from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) of those deeply disturbing events within our own lifetime and within the continent of Europe.
It is now more than 75 years since the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. A year ago this week, I accompanied His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to Jerusalem to mark that occasion. I was pleased that subsequently, we were able to make a £1 million donation on behalf of the United Kingdom to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to ensure that the camp, which many hon. Members have spoken of today, endures as a grim memorial—one of the most unforgettable places that anyone can visit.
It is distressing, but perhaps not entirely surprising, that covid-19 has itself given the hatemongers another excuse to dredge up and repurpose age-old antisemitic tropes, claiming, just as they did as far back as the black death and later, that the Jews were the cause of the virus.
As we have heard in the course of this debate, we see antisemitism everywhere. As my hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) said, we see it most prominently on social media, where, sadly, antisemitic abuse is rife. We see it on our university campuses, and I pay tribute to the fantastic work and bravery of the Union of Jewish Students, which does so much to ensure that Jewish students can enjoy all that university should have to offer.
No realm of public life has escaped the cancer of antisemitism, which is why I am proud that we are the first Government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. It is a tool to identify how antisemitism manifests itself in the 21st century, but as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, it is a tool only as useful as our willingness to apply it robustly. I am pleased that nearly three quarters of local councils have responded to our call and adopted it, and I am most grateful for the strong support of the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), in that regard.
I was heartened to see the English Premier League adopt the definition, thanks in part to the efforts of the noble Lord Mann, using its fantastic and unique international reach to provide a powerful reminder to those who perpetrate antisemitism in sport around the world. I strongly urge other institutions, councils and universities that have not yet adopted it to do so as quickly as possible. The reluctance of some of our great universities to do so is difficult to explain. It is surely not beyond the wit of our greatest minds and our most liberal institutions to be able to criticise the state of Israel without lapsing into antisemitism. I am pleased that the universities of Oxford and Cambridge agree and have shown the way.
The work of tackling antisemitism will continue, I hope, through a new holocaust memorial and learning centre, which currently awaits the outcome of a planning inquiry. If built, it will be a world-class memorial on our preferred location next to the Palace of Westminster. I thank Lord Pickles and Ed Balls, the co-chairs of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation advisory board, for their fantastic efforts in pushing this project forward. Some of the opposition to the memorial, the inaccurate reporting and, I am afraid to say, the statement we heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who knows perfectly well that his argument of partiality was tested at a judicial review and found to be wanting, only focuses our attention and increases our resolve to make sure that the memorial is built within the lifetime of this Parliament. I am grateful that it has received the full support of all living Prime Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the other major political parties and major faiths.
I know that some local residents, including my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West, have concerns about the memorial’s setting. However, I too walk there on a weekend when I am in Westminster, and I take my children to play in the playground. I can never forget that my children are the great grandchildren of holocaust survivors. I want their generation never to go through those horrors, and I want this Parliament to be able to look out upon that new memorial as a lasting reminder and as a source of education and nourishment to future generations.
I am also proud that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government supports holocaust education and remembrance. Like other Members, I pay tribute to Karen Pollock and the Holocaust Educational Trust, and to Olivia Marks-Woldman and her team at Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, both of whom are worthy recipients this year of honours from Her Majesty the Queen. They have done a fantastic job of keeping the flame alight, despite covid-19.
We gather today to fulfil a solemn obligation—an obligation of remembrance, to never allow the memory of those who died in the holocaust to be forgotten. Memory is the constant obligation of all generations. Today we mourn with those who mourn, and we grieve with those who grieve. We pay tribute to those who survived, who all these years have borne witness to that great evil and have served mankind by their example. We honour and remember the memory of all the allied forces who suffered appalling casualties and freed Europe from the grip of tyranny. Today we acknowledge the resilience and strength of Jewish people here in the UK and around the world. Finally, we pay tribute to the memory of those non-Jewish heroes who saved countless lives; those who the people of Israel call the “righteous among the nations”. In an age of indifference, they acted. In an age of fear, they showed courage. Their memory and their example should, like the light in the darkness, kindle a new flame in our hearts to do the same in our time.
In concluding this marvellous, inspiring debate, I thank all 76 Members of this House, drawn from all parties and from all corners of our United Kingdom, who contributed with moving powerful, intelligent and well-informed speeches. I believe that the best of the House is represented by the debates we have on Holocaust Memorial Day, which has become such an important feature of our national life and our parliamentary calendar. The strong commitment shown by all parts of the House this afternoon underlines and reinforces again the deep commitment that there is in this House to ensure that the holocaust has a permanent place in our nation’s collective memory. I am particularly grateful for the contributions from the three Front-Bench speakers at the end of this debate, all of whom spoke extremely well. I was particularly grateful for the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who spoke also very powerfully last night in the national commemorative ceremony and has a deep personal connection to the issue.
It was good to hear the shadow Secretary of State reaffirm his own personal commitment and his party’s commitment to honouring the memory of those who fell during the holocaust by challenging wrong sentiments and challenging prejudices that may still linger in the political party and in this place.
To conclude, I thank everyone who has participated. It is has been a very good debate.
I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau for the first time last year, and I will never forget what I saw there and nor should I. In 2021, we must all remain on our guard and shine that light until the end of time.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day 2021.