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House of Lords Hansard
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UK Holocaust Memorial
20 January 2020
Volume 801

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to substitute the proposed UK Holocaust Memorial with a national memorial commemorating all victims of extermination or genocide.

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My Lords, the Government are firmly committed to establishing a new national Holocaust memorial. The memorial will be dedicated to the 6 million Jewish men, women and children and all victims of Nazi persecution, including Roma, gay and disabled people murdered in the Holocaust. This memorial, at the heart of our democratic institutions, will provide a striking reminder to Parliament and to the whole nation of the need to tackle persecution in all its forms.

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I thank the noble Viscount for his reply. I wonder whether we could all agree that all attempts to kill a whole group, whether ethnic, religious, national or other, are equally odious and ought to be prevented. Is it not therefore important that any British memorial to victims of genocide or extermination, certainly if it is to be sited next to Parliament, should commemorate all victims rather than one particular group?

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I take note of what the noble Lord says, but there can be no more powerful symbol of our commitment to remembering the Holocaust than placing a memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens. As I said earlier, the Holocaust is one of the darkest chapters in human history, which saw the systematic state-sponsored killing of human beings. To pick up on what the noble Lord said, there will be a focus in the memorial centre on the Jewish population, obviously, but particularly on other atrocities, including in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Question fails to recognise the intrinsic difference of the Jewish genocide in its length and comprehensive nature and the fact that anti-Semitism is still going on today not so far from here? It also reveals that we do not really know what is to be achieved by a Holocaust memorial. There are hundreds of them, but they have not proved effective in stopping anti-Semitism and we do not really know what this one will achieve.

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I take issue with the noble Baroness—a lot of work has gone into this centre so far. The Holocaust memorial will stand as a reminder that the central role of democracy is to encourage tolerance of ethnic, religious and racial differences and to foster religious freedom, individual rights and civil responsibility. The learning centre is a stark reminder, next to Parliament, of the work that needs to be done to be sure that these dreadful atrocities do not happen again.

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My Lords, on the uniqueness of the Holocaust, does my noble friend share the assessment of the late Professor David Cesarani, who said that the Holocaust was unprecedented because never before in history had a leader decided that within a conceivable timeframe an ethnic religious group could be physically destroyed and that equipment would be devised and created to achieve that? Is my noble friend pleased that a commitment to build the Holocaust memorial and learning centre specifically in Victoria Tower Gardens was included in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto at the general election last month?

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On my noble friend’s second point, yes, we are pleased—and it is a commitment from this Government—to go ahead and build this Holocaust memorial. Of course, he is right, and I am sure the whole House will agree that the number of people involved—6 million Jewish men, women and children, and millions of others—is almost incomprehensible and absolutely horrendous. That is why the Holocaust has to stand out on its own. However, as I mentioned earlier, we must never forget other atrocities.

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My Lords, all genocide is horrific but, on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, surely we should recognise how the sheer industrialisation of the Holocaust differs from other genocides, appalling though they all are. There are still Holocaust deniers. Civilisation is only skin deep, and we need continual reminding of man’s inhumanity to man. Does the Minister agree that the UK needs to preserve the memories of survivors and educate future generations?

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The noble Lord is absolutely right. That is why the memorial exhibition and learning centre will explore the role of Britain’s Parliament and democratic institutions in the Holocaust— what we did and what more we could have done to tackle the persecution of the Jewish people and other groups.

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My Lords, I endorse the comments of the noble Viscount in answering this Question. I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon, along with the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, and others, is a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Does the noble Viscount agree that it is welcome that the learning centre will focus not just on the Holocaust but on all other genocides and that it is important that we do not forget the horrors of the past?

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Yes, indeed. I repeat what I said earlier: the learning centre, which still requires a lot of input, will focus on the Holocaust but will also cover other genocides.

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My Lords, we all recognise that the Jewish people have suffered probably the most horrendous genocide in human history. However, we should not forget that other genocides have wiped out millions of people. Although the Holocaust memorial should focus on the suffering of the Jewish people, it is appropriate for it also to recognise that other communities suffer and will continue to suffer unless we recognise that politicians—to use the word in its worst sense—can turn communities which had previously lived together peacefully against each other, to the point where they massacre each other.

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I know that there are strong feelings in the House on this matter and I can only repeat that the memorial will look at other genocides. I mentioned Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia. The main point is that it will use the lessons of our shared past to inform the decisions that affect our future.