I beg to move,
That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day 2019.
In the middle of the night on 14 March 1939, a 10-year-old Jewish boy in a town called Ostrava, in what was then Czechoslovakia, was woken up by a noise in the street outside. Peering out of the window, he saw German soldiers marching into the town square. It was the night that Hitler invaded, and four days later, the boy was put on a train to England by his mum and teenage sisters. He was the only member of his family able to leave, and it was the last time he would see them. They were forced into a ghetto, then sent to Theresienstadt, and then to Treblinka, where they were murdered on 5 October 1942. He escaped to the UK. He grew up to become the youngest grammar school headmaster in the country, and he was honoured with an MBE for his contribution to education and his work for charities. He adopted four children, of whom I am the second, and I suppose that makes the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day this year—Torn from Home—particularly appropriate, and it is an honour for me to introduce this debate.
Right at the outset, I want to pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust and the brilliant work its fantastic team do to teach young people about what can happen if hatred and racism become acceptable. Thanks to their hard work and Government grants—launched in 2006 and continued, I am delighted to say, by every Government since—the trust takes two students from every sixth form in the country to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have seen young students from Dudley go on those trips, come back and campaign in their community against racism.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the House and the Backbench Business Committee for this debate, and I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members who supported the application for this debate or who are here to take part in it. I also thank the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for everything everybody is doing this week to commemorate and remember those killed—the 6 million people killed—in history’s greatest crime.
There is a particular group of people to whom I want to pay tribute today: the survivors—men and women like Eva Clarke BEM, whom many of us heard speak here in Parliament on Tuesday about the horrors that her family faced during the holocaust; or Zigi Shipper BEM, who at the age of 89 will travel to Dudley tomorrow to speak to hundreds of local people at our annual holocaust commemoration; or Mala Tribich MBE, Sir Ben Helfgott, Hannah Lewis MBE, Susan Pollack MBE and Eve Kugler—who all spend so much of their time travelling around the country to tell communities like ours where racism and prejudice can lead. I think it is extraordinary that these heroes, many of them now in their late 80s and 90s, use their direct personal experience of these terrible events to help us build stronger communities and a more tolerant, united country. I am sure everybody here will want to salute them and pay tribute to them all.
Listening to those survivors and visiting Auschwitz or other sites of mass murder is a truly life-changing experience. I thought I knew what to expect when I first visited Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust and students from Dudley, but nothing can prepare you for seeing the place for real. I will never forget seeing a mountain of human hair—two and a half tonnes of it—shaved from the heads of inmates to be shipped back to Germany and made into cloth, or the huge piles of shoes, glasses and suitcases.
Last year, I spent a week touring Poland with a brilliant project called March of the Living, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan). We visited the sites of ghettoes and concentration camps, before marching—thousands of us—from Auschwitz to Birkenau, but I will never forget visiting Belzec. It is a tiny site, about as big as two football pitches, where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered. Imagine this: at the peak of the killing in 1942, three or four transport trains arrived every day. In one month, August 1942, 130,000 Jews were murdered in Belzec. Imagine that: 130 000 people slaughtered in a place the size of two football pitches in just one month.
What also brings home the horror of the holocaust is visiting towns and cities where whole communities were wiped out. A few years ago, my dad and I went back to Ostrava. We found the flat that he had lived in and the site of his school and his synagogue. In 1937, 10,000 Jews lived in Ostrava. The town had several synagogues and Jewish schools and businesses. In the single room that serves as its synagogue today, there are seats for 30 people —30 people. In Poland, we went to a place called Nowy Targ, where we found what had been my dad’s uncle’s shop. There is a mass grave of the 500 Jews butchered in a day, including at least one of his cousins. Some 3,000 Jewish people lived there before the war. “How many live here now?” I asked the local historian who was showing us around. She looked at me as if I was mad. She said, “None”—none.
A few weeks before Christmas, we met in Speaker’s House to commemorate the anniversary of the Kinder- transport. We remembered how, when other countries were rounding up their Jews and herding them on to trains to the gas chambers, Britain provided a haven for thousands of refugee children. Think of Britain in the ’30s: the rest of Europe was succumbing to fascism—Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain—but here in Britain, Mosley was rejected. Imagine 1941: France invaded, Europe overrun, America not yet in the war and just one country standing for freedom and democracy, fighting not just for our liberty, but for the freedom of the whole world.
It is true that Britain did not do enough during the holocaust and could of course have done more, but it was British troops who liberated Bergen-Belsen, rescuing thousands of inmates from certain death. So when people say to me, “What does it mean to be British? What is special or unique about our country?” I say that it is because of who we are as a people and what we are as a country that British people stood up to the Nazis and laid down their lives for freedom. What makes you British is not what you look like, where you were born or how you worship, but the contribution you make and your belief in the timeless British values—values British people have fought and died for—of democracy, equality, freedom, fairness and tolerance.
No one embodies these values more than Major Frank Foley. He was an MI6 agent at the British embassy in Berlin in the 1930s, working undercover as a passport control officer. He provided papers to let Jewish people escape, forged passports and even sheltered people in his own home. He went into concentration camps to get Jewish people out and enable them to leave the country. Last September, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge visited Stourbridge in Dudley to unveil the statue that we produced of Major Foley. It was a huge honour for the people of Dudley, and a wonderful tribute to a great British hero. I think it was so impressive to see our future monarch taking such a close interest in these events, as we saw with his recent visits to Stutthof and to Yad Vashem.
Frank Foley sheltered people in his own home and, as I said a moment ago, even rescued people from concentration camps, including the father-in-law of the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. However, the really extraordinary thing about Frank Foley is that his courage, decency and determination were matched by his modesty. He retired in complete anonymity—never telling anybody about what he had done, never boasting about his heroism—to a quiet street in Stourbridge, where he lived out his retirement until his death in 1958. When people are singled out or extremists try to divide our communities on the grounds of race or religion, we should remember this great hero’s example and find it within ourselves to stand up for decency, fairness and tolerance.
I was flicking through The Daily Telegraph a couple of years ago when I came across the obituary of Rose Evansky, who had died aged 94. She pioneered modern hairdressing and became one of most famous and influential hairdressers ever. The amazing thing about her, however, is that she had been born in Germany in 1922 and when, in 1938, her Jewish father was imprisoned in Dachau, she managed to escape on the Kindertransport and she arrived in Dudley as a refugee. She was able to escape only because a local family, who were not related to her and had never even met her, heard about her from a refugee committee and put up the £50 guarantee—a lot of money in those days—that had to be paid before she could escape.
A few months later, in 1939, a 14-year-old German refugee called Kurt Flossman arrived at Dudley Grammar School aged just 14. His father had died in 1937, and he made his way across Europe on his own. His classmates—I think this is brilliant—clubbed together to fund his expenses, and local firms paid for his clothes. Stories like this show that Dudley, like the rest of our country, has always worked to help those in need and to build a tolerant community. Over the years Dudley—Britain—has welcomed refugees from around the world, so when our country opens its doors to what we now call unaccompanied minors or to others fleeing persecution, let us remember that this is what Britain has always done: this is who we are and it is what we do.
I grew up learning about the holocaust from my parents and hearing stories about the suffering, the appalling cruelty and the scale of the slaughter, and that left me with a conviction that I have held ever since. It is a conviction that prejudice leads to intolerance, then to victimisation and eventually to persecution. It is a conviction as well that we have a duty, every single one of us, not to stand by, but to make a difference and to fight discrimination, intolerance and bigotry wherever we find it.
One of the reasons I joined the Labour party as a teenager in Dudley 35 years ago was to fight racism. I believe that just as passionately now as I did then, and I am shocked that a party with such a long tradition of fighting racism has caused such offence and distress to the Jewish community. The first thing I did when I became an MP was lead a campaign to drive the British National party, which had a councillor in Dudley, out of the town. Since then I have stood with Muslim constituents who have been targeted by the English Defence League, but that would all be completely meaningless if I ignored antisemitism in my own party. It is easy to oppose racism at events or in meetings where everyone agrees with you. It is easy for those of us in politics to criticise our opponents, but that is completely meaningless if we are not also prepared to criticise when it is more difficult. Labour Members must understand that we will have no right to criticise our opponents on such issues if we do not first get our own house in order.
I wish to finish on a more positive note and say how pleased I am that we will soon have the new national holocaust memorial and learning centre next to Parliament, at the very centre of our democracy and national life. It will enable future generations to remember the victims of the holocaust, and learn the lessons of history through individual stories of survival, bravery and courage. For me, the importance of remembering the holocaust is to remember history’s greatest crime, and to pay our respects to all who suffered at the hands of the Nazis, as well as in more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and the rest. We must remind ourselves that what makes us the people we are, and Britain the country it is, is the unique response to the holocaust and the Nazis. Let us use this debate to rededicate ourselves to the timeless values of democracy, equality, freedom, fairness and tolerance. Let us pledge again to fight prejudice and racism wherever it is found, because that is the best tribute any of us can pay to the memory of those who were killed in history’s greatest crime.
Order. Colleagues will appreciate that there is pressure on time because this debate is well subscribed. I therefore impose a five-minute time limit on speeches, starting now.
This House, and the memory of those who died in the holocaust, have been honoured by the speech that we heard from the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), and I thank him for the way he introduced this debate. On a separate day, and in a separate way, I would like to engage with him and the whole House on the question of whether the proposed learning centre in Victoria Tower gardens is the appropriate place, but that is for another day.
I wish to concentrate my remarks on what happened on Sunday at Bushey New Cemetery. A number of us were present at the service and burial of the remains of six people whose ashes and bones had been given to the Imperial War museum which, once it knew what it had, and after analysis, quickly provided them for burial as soon as possible. Each of the five adults represented 1 million people who died in the holocaust, and as the Chief Rabbi reminded us at the service, the child represented more than 1 million children who died.
Most of us do not know quite who we are. As J. B. Priestley said, if someone can name their eight great-grandparents, they will have a better clue about who they are than he had about himself. My family has always known we had a Jewish ancestor, and we now know that many of my grandfather’s cousins died. Indeed, if we include the extended families, more than 100 people died, including 45 at Auschwitz, 45 at Sobibór, and others in other places. I mourn those who died who have no people to remember them, or those who do not know their family links and cannot provide a living memory of those who went before and who suffered.
The question I put to my constituency in my article this week concerned which would have been the right year to have intervened, with force, against Mr Hitler. Would it have been 1933, when The Economist, and Douglas Jay, were writing articles about the threat that existed for people? Would it have been 1934 or 1935, and so on through to 1939, when we did the things that the hon. Member for Dudley North referred to, or 1940, 1941, or ever, or never? There would never have been unanimity in the country.
I hope that Conservative Members will not make remarks about the difficulties faced by the Labour party. We ought to concentrate on why Mr Hitler thought that he might get support in this country, giving him a free hand to do what he wanted in continental Europe, eliminating Jews throughout the continent, and leaving Great Britain aside. He did that because he thought that there were people who might sympathise with his view. If one reads Iain Wilton’s very good biography of Charles Burgess Fry—one of the greatest sportsmen this country has ever had—one sees that he made the mistake in 1934 of flirting with fascism, and of going to see Mr Hitler and discussing issues with him. He was not the only one. Charles Burgess Fry was not a Conservative, but there were Conservatives in the late ‘30s who would probably have been reasonably happy to have stayed out of conflict.
I want people to remember those who helped to save many and those who failed to save more, but the biggest worry of all is the idea that pacifism is the right approach. My wife’s grandfather was sacked as Secretary of the League of Nations Union in 1938 by the appeasers.
The League of Nations was not set up to be pacifist; it was set up to bring peace, and the United Nations needs to do the same thing. When we consider holocausts that have taken place, not on the same intended scale as Mr Hitler’s, but those involving Muslims in former Yugoslavia, or what is now going on in some countries where oppressive regimes bully and beat people to death, we should reflect on how we can enforce a duty to protect on Governments, so that they cannot with impunity slay their own people and bully them, especially if people are picked out on grounds of race, colour or religion.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Dudley North for introducing this debate, and I hope that at some other stage we can have that debate about the national holocaust memorial and learning centre.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for the moving, thoughtful and inspirational way that he opened this debate. Last spring, as he said, we had the honour to join the annual March of the Living which, alongside holocaust survivors and young people from around the world, took us from Auschwitz to Birkenau. During the week, we stopped in places such as Belzec and the forest of Zbylitowska Gora, where 6,000 Jews, including 800 children, were murdered. It was a very moving experience.
Those memories are very much in my mind today as we mark Holocaust Memorial Day and the tearing of people from their homes under the threat of persecution and genocide. Once again, I am reminded of lives cut tragically short, communities uprooted and destroyed, and the sheer depravity of the systematic attempt to slaughter the Jews of Europe. I am also reminded of something else from that journey last spring, and the fact that even in the midst of places of great horror and suffering, we celebrated life.
Before travelling to Poland, we were encouraged to read the stories of some of those who survived the Shoah. They were stories of tragedy and loss, but also of bravery, love, and the endurance of the human spirit. They were about men and women such as Freddie Knoller, who fought in the French resistance, but when captured chose to confess that he was a Jew rather than denounce his comrades. Eve Kugler—she has already been mentioned—wrote after the second world war that
“we started again with nothing except the Jewish beliefs and values that the Nazis could never take from us.”
Their stories recall the words of the late Martin Gilbert who said:
“Even in the darkness of the Holocaust, there were sparks of light.”
Our journey also gave us the opportunity to celebrate the life of the Jewish people’s homeland, which was reborn in the aftermath of the holocaust. We recalled the contribution of the survivors to the state of Israel, and all that many of us admire so much about its achievements, its values, and its resilience.
However, remembrance and celebration alone are not enough to truly honour those who died in the holocaust and those who risked all to save the lives of others; we must also learn from the holocaust. Tragically, the flames of racial and religious hatred continue to be fanned around the world. Antisemitism remains a scourge of the modern world. Hideous antisemitic tropes, repugnant conspiracy theories and malicious examples of holocaust denial are all used by populists and demagogues for political ends throughout the middle east and in Europe.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that so much more needs to be done to tackle the scourge on social media? It is an absolute cesspit on sites like Facebook and Twitter—the degree of antisemitism that we see. As we remember the holocaust today, we remember also that it did not happen in a vacuum; it happened because of the context—prejudice and the dehumanisation of people. We see that today on social media. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must see more, both in terms of legislation and from the social media companies themselves, to deal with this scourge?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, with which I absolutely agree. Much is said, but not enough is done, about this pernicious form of hate crime.
Here in the UK, on campuses, in trade unions and even, sadly, as we have heard, in the Labour party, pernicious comparisons have been drawn between Israel and Nazi Germany. In the United States, we see neo-Nazis, racists and white supremacists tolerated, excused and encouraged by those at the highest levels. We must stand up with courage against antisemitism and racism each and every day, wherever we find it.
One of the greatest weapons at our disposal in this fight is education. As Sir Ben Helfgott—also a holocaust survivor—has suggested, we must all do our
“utmost to help create greater harmony, mutual respect and understanding amongst people”.
So I commend the vital work of organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust, March of the Living and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. By teaching younger generations about the horrors of the past, they are working for a future that is free of hate. Let us remember, too, the moral duty that each of us has to play our part in this struggle. That duty was best put by Elie Wiesel, who wrote:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
It is a real privilege and pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan).
In November, I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau to participate in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s “Lessons from Auschwitz” programme. I had heard previously from students and teachers in my constituency that it was a personal and educational experience like no other, so I am grateful to the trust for giving me the opportunity to see how that important educational programme is delivered.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is a place of fascination. The architecture, the gateway, the railway line have become immediately recognisable symbols of the holocaust. It draws visitors by the thousands every week. It features in the Lonely Planet guide under “attractions”. It also remains one of the world’s largest crime scenes—a place of proof and evidence—even as some continue to promote theories, whether through vile cartoons or pseudo-academic papers, that these events never took place.
Auschwitz is also, for many, a deeply spiritual place. For some, it is a place where God did not intervene—where He turned His back. For others, it is the place where faith found new depths and new heights, even in the midst of a visitation of pure evil on an entire people group.
I have had the privilege to meet several survivors of Auschwitz and of other death camps. One cannot fail to be moved by the grace and depth of these remarkable individuals. Last October, Susan Pollock MBE, who survived both Auschwitz and Belsen as a young girl, gave probably the most meaningful talk I have ever heard at a Conservative Party conference. She left the whole room stunned; there were tears running down our faces as she shared her memories and experiences and spoke of forgiveness and of breaking down barriers. I thought, what an incredible, humbling privilege it is for us, as a society, to have these people still living among us. The precious twilight years of so many such survivors are now devoted to educating and informing younger generations about the past—what they saw and what they lived through.
Holocaust Memorial Day this Sunday is about honouring the survivors, as well as reflecting on the devastating losses and the destruction of a whole culture in central Europe. It is also a day about the present and the future. That is what makes it so vital that the Government should continue to support the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
What is the message? What lessons cry out to us today from these darkest of events? For me, the lesson is that the roots and origins of the holocaust run very deep. It was not a quirk of history. It did not just happen by accident in the chaos of warfare. Visitors learn something similar when they go to the Genocide memorial and museum in Kigali, Rwanda, which I have visited several times. Genocides require planning, organisation, equipment, supplies. That needs effective management and leadership. However, to undertake something so horrific on such a vast scale, something else is required. Yes, genocide requires a large number of people to carry out tasks, but it requires an even larger number of people to turn a blind eye—not to question, not to resist. It requires a population to stay silent, out of fear or assent.
In all examples of genocide we see the same pattern, where the violence and killing has been supported by years of conditioning the population to really hate the group that is being targeted for elimination. It starts with what we now call stereotyping—generalisations, mockery, blame, lies, bullying, verbal abuse, victimising, conspiracy theories. That is what provides the deep soil from which grow the hideous and vile acts of genocide. That is the very essence of antisemitism. Who can say that we are not living with that in our very midst in 2019? That is the lived experience of some of our colleagues, and some of our constituents, right now.
So this week—a week when many of us have signed the Book of Commitment downstairs, and when we shall be remembering Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday—is about pledging to act; to label and call out the acts that we come across daily for what they are. As a new MP in my first term, I was in the Tea Room talking to a colleague about a forthcoming Conservative Friends of Israel trip to Israel. A rather grand colleague, who is no longer in this place, said to me, “Be careful, young man. You wouldn’t be the first gentile to be taken in.” I am ashamed to say that I let that remark go. The remark reflected the dark stereotypes of the Jewish people, drawing on ideas of conspiracy, manipulation and deception. I am ashamed that I did not stand up to it on that occasion. We have an opportunity, on this memorial day, to reflect on what we can do and to renew our commitment to act.
I hope we are not just “considering” Holocaust Memorial Day, with our antiquated practices in this place, but endorsing it.
I pay tribute to my team of Danny Stone, Amy Wagner and Ally Routledge, who put together the Sara conference in November—“Sara” after the Nazi name forced on Jewish women in 1938 to show that they were Jewish. That conference looked at misogyny and anti- semitism; I bring to the House just one nugget from it. In this country, in the past year, there were 170,000 anti- semitic internet searches. Since last year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, searches on “Holocaust hoax” are up 30,000. We have talked in previous debates about holocaust denial. Let me put another term on the record, because it is the pertinent one in this country for some at the moment—holocaust revisionism. Some people want to twist and turn what happened for their own ends; they would like to give some lip service, but only some, while twisting the facts and minimising the consequences and the implications.
We have seen it in the past few days, with the TV personality, Rachel Riley, and the abuse that she has received from many for standing up to antisemitism, in this week. Well, I stand, and I hope we all stand, with Rachel Riley, recognising the bravery of that young woman—one amongst many, one of the better known, and therefore the more abused—for standing up against modern antisemitism.
My parents died very young, but I only ever saw them both angry once. That was in 1972, seeing the television footage of Israeli athletes being murdered in Munich. That meant so much, in terms of understanding the realities of the Jewish people at the time. That was the only time I ever saw my parents angry together in their lives but, if they were alive today, that would not have been the only time that they were angry. Holocaust revisionism is the current-day plague that we have to challenge and fight, rather than the ignorant and thick holocaust deniers of the past, who were quite easy to challenge. There are far too many around.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
If I may, I will continue.
The problem is not just a British one, and we do not like talking about some of these things, but I am quite hard-nosed about some things now. When I went around Majdanek, I observed it in detail. In an hour, at every major exhibit and in the gas chambers, one could go around without even realising that the Jewish people were the target of the Nazis in the holocaust. I went to the cathedral, up the tower, and I did not need binoculars—one can see Majdanek from the centre of Lublin now, as people could at the time. Yet there is still not a single reference in the exhibitions to the fact that the target there—the mass murders—were primarily the local and Polish Jewish population.
Holocaust revisionism—it is a problem all over Europe, it is a problem in my political party, it is a problem in this country and it is a problem that we are not facing up to sufficiently robustly or successfully. That is why Rachel Riley gets all the crap that she gets at the moment. Holocaust revisionism is not understanding the realities of what happened and what that means today. That is why I am angry. I endorse, as I am sure we all endorse, Holocaust Memorial Day today.
It is a pleasure to follow such a powerful speech by my neighbour and the excellent chair of the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann).
I join others in paying tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust—to Karen Pollock and her team, which includes one of my former staff members, Robert Lingard, an east Yorkshire boy who has no Jewish ancestry, but has very much been drawn into this issue. I pay tribute to him and all the team at the trust.
My community and I are proud to be associated with a new holocaust memorial in Brigg. Our area has no real Jewish history; there is some in east Yorkshire, Grimsby and Hull, but not particularly in my constituency. Brigg Town Council has had a small memorial for many years, but given what has happened in recent times, it wanted to show its partnership with and commitment to those who were murdered in the holocaust by creating a new and bigger holocaust memorial in Brigg, which I am pleased will be unveiled this year.
The holocaust is what happened to the Jews of Europe, but we should recall that the genocide that the Nazis inflicted on Europe took a great number of other people. For example, it is said that 3 million Christian Poles were killed for “Lebensraum”. For me, Holocaust Memorial Day means them, too; I am quite sure that the Holocaust Educational Trust would not mind that association.
Of course. That is patently true. Brigg has a long Gypsy and Traveller heritage, going back centuries. Sometimes the problem is that some of those arguments are used by revisionists who seek to undermine the fact that the real target of the holocaust was the Jews of Europe.
I am proud that a memorial is to be unveiled on Millennium Green in Brigg, and I am proud of the young people from Sir John Nelthorpe School and the Vale Academy in Brigg who entered the competition to design the memorial. I pay particular tribute to Izzy Roberts, a year 10 pupil from Sir John Nelthorpe School, whose design won out. I also thank the town council, which committed £5,000, and local businesses Keyo, East Coast Surfacing and Turnbull, which put their hand in their pocket to fund the memorial. My constituents, despite the area not having a big Jewish population, have seen what has been going on recently in this country in terms of antisemitism and hate. The community wants to show that it will not allow anyone to forget or downplay the suffering and horror of the holocaust.
I refer to what is going on at the moment because it is a cancer in our politics, on both the left and the right. In recent days and weeks, I have been appalled to see references made to the Jewish ancestry of Mr Speaker or other colleagues. They might have a different perspective from me on the Brexit debate, but to have their Jewish ancestry brought into it was truly disgusting. Those who did that do not speak for people like me, and the near 77% of my constituents who voted leave in the referendum. Antisemitism is an issue on the far left and on the far right.
I will tell a story about why I think that there is something peculiarly evil and different about Jew haters. Some colleagues might know that I converted—I would say converted back—to Judaism some time ago. I had never really faced any racism before that, apart from once at a cash machine in Edinburgh, when I was told to eff off back to England by someone who had obviously had too much to drink. I had never really given racism a thought, but I converted to Judaism and was then subjected to two incidents, by the same people on different occasions. Sadly, one incident started with them chanting the Leader of the Opposition’s name at me, and then screaming that I was “Israeli scum” and responsible for killing Palestinian children. This is not a political point, because those people do not speak for the vast mass of Labour members. Indeed, I suspect that they were not Labour members. That first incident was bad enough; it was reported to the police, but no action was taken, unfortunately.
The second incident happened in a shopping centre in Doncaster. The same people again screamed at me for being “Israeli scum”. This is where Jew hate is somewhat different: the incident became more sinister when one of the individuals said, “You should tell people before an election that you’re a Jew.” Obviously, I was taken aback by that; it was a nasty incident. I was then told to eff off and “eat my Jew halal food,” so we could say something about the education levels of such people. The interesting point, however, is that they started with Israel and moved on to my own Judaism. A few years ago, when I responded as a Minister to the Holocaust Memorial Day debate from the Dispatch Box, I talked about that Israelification of antisemitism, which we have to be very careful about. I was tempted to use parliamentary privilege to name those individuals because, I am sad to say, due to the failings of Humberside police, the trial which had been set has unfortunately not taken place; the police failed to follow certain procedures. However, I will not name those people today, because I am better than them.
This is a particular hate that is different from some of the other hate that we see in politics, though all of it is unacceptable. Since I converted to Judaism, I have understood the peculiarly evil element behind antisemitism. I am disgusted by it, and I am ashamed that it is on both sides of politics at the moment—on the far left and the far right. Days such as Holocaust Memorial Day are vital to remind us all of the role we have to play in preventing its spread.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), who spoke with great passion, and shared with the House his personal experience of the modern manifestations of antisemitism.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on the way in which he opened the debate, the tone that he set for it, and the fact that so many Members on both sides of the House are gathered here today. That is also a great testament to the valuable work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
I think it important to reflect on what Holocaust Memorial Day actually is. Why do we commemorate it on 27 January? The answer is that it marks the date on which the Red Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945. That was the site where nearly a million people were murdered, but, as we know, it was just one of the many terrible death camps across Europe.
I reflect on my own family experience. On my mother’s side alone, we know that more than 100 members of her family, aged between four and 83, were sent by the Nazis to their deaths in the gas chambers of not just Auschwitz but Treblinka, Sobibór, Mauthausen and Bergen-Belsen, for no other reason than that they were Jewish.
It is beyond our comprehension that humans are capable of inflicting such horrors on other humans. It questions the very nature of humanity, and leads us to the contemplation of evil. Yet we have continued to witness horrors in our own times, in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia, and the House recently debated the plight of the Rohingya in Burma, driven from their homes, their villages in flames.
Humanity never seems to fully learn the lessons of history. That is why Holocaust Memorial Day is so vital and continuing holocaust education is so critical—so that we can do everything possible to ensure that it really does not ever happen again. It is why we celebrate the lives of survivors who are now in their 80s and 90s, such as Susan Pollack MBE, with whom I had the privilege to share a platform a few months ago at the Labour party conference in Liverpool. Susan was in Belsen when the British liberated it, and still visits schools to talk about her experiences. It is why we mourn the passing of so many holocaust survivors, particularly in the past year, such as Mireille Knoll, who lived through the occupation of Paris but was murdered this year at the age of 85 in a hate crime, and Gena Turgel, who survived four concentration camps. She tended to the dying Anne Frank in Belsen, and married a British soldier just six weeks after liberation. The testimony of every single survivor aids our understanding, adds to our history, and helps to educate the next generation.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way during such a moving and powerful speech. Like her, I was extremely moved by Ms Pollack’s testimony, although that was at a Conservative party conference. Does she agree that the declining number of holocaust survivors is another reason why it is so important for their recorded testimony to have a central role in the new learning centre?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important intervention. I have seen the testimonies that are housed at Yad Vashem. That project, which is funded in part by Steven Spielberg, has done so much to capture the stories and the background. For every single person who perished, there is a whole history and a family who have been affected up to the modern day. It is critical for those testimonies to be at the centre of every holocaust memorial, however it may be presented—in particular, the new national memorial that we are due to have—in order to have an impact on the next generation.
It is important to recognise that the holocaust did not start with gas chambers. It started with ideas, with books, with newspapers, with films, with torchlight processions, with speeches. It culminated in crematoria, but it began with words. It had its roots in the warped racial theories of the 1890s, and in conspiracy theories such as those in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Nazis did not invent antisemitism, but they modernised it, made it the state religion, and turned an industrial state into a machine for killing every Jew in Europe.
We should ask how that happened. How was such a thing possible in a civilised European country? One answer lies in the compliance of the civilian population. In the past year we also lost the writer Primo Levi, who was in Auschwitz. He wrote:
“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
That is the aspect of the holocaust from which we need to learn the most: not the SS, who enjoyed the torture and killings, but the thousands of people in the civilian police, the railways and the civil service who never challenged what they knew to be happening, who never questioned the plans that they were helping to implement, who looked the other way. They saw those trains heading east, but they never wondered why no one ever came back, even for a day. At what point could it have been stopped? Surely the lesson for us today is that unless we challenge the words, it is much harder to challenge the deeds. We cannot be bystanders. We cannot walk by on the other side.
In the 1930s it was Der Stürmer, which ran from 1923 onwards with its unceasing antisemitism. It told its readers week after week that Jews spread disease, and the caption on every front page read “The Jews are our misfortune!”. Today it is social media, with all its manifestations of modern antisemitism: Jews secretly run the banks, organised 9/11, profit from wars, manipulate the media, and have loyalties to foreign powers.
When people deny the holocaust or claim that Jews exploit it, we cannot be bystanders. When people online draw up lists of Jews in the media, we cannot be bystanders. When people use the term “Zio” or “Rothschild” instead of “Jew” to cover their racism, we cannot be bystanders. Whether it is the neo-Nazis or those who think that they belong to the left, we must say no, and call it out as loudly as we can. Every single time, it must be challenged swiftly and without favour, no matter where it rears its very ugly head.
I will end with another quote from Primo Levi:
“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”
No other episode in human history can match the holocaust for scale and depth of evil—an evil that sought to harness the technology of the modern world to deliver mass murder on an industrial scale, in an attempt to eliminate an entire ethnic group. The fact that it could have happened not in the distant past but in supposedly civilised 20th-century Europe still shocks me, and I still find it impossible to comprehend, so many years after I first learned the story of those terrible events. That so many people stood by when their Jewish friends and neighbours were torn from their homes and subjected to unspeakable cruelty is the most truly shocking part of that story.
However, I think we should also remember those who did not look away when Jewish people and others were being attacked and rounded up by the Nazis: the people who stepped up and saved lives, even when that put their own life and those of their families in real danger. The example that I want us to remember today is Albania.
Following the German occupation, the Albanian population, in an extraordinary act of courage, refused to comply with Nazi orders to hand over a list of Jewish people living in their country. Albanian Government agencies provided many Jewish families with fake documentation to enable them to hide in the wider population. That remarkable assistance was grounded in Besa, a code whereby it was considered a matter of national honour to help Jewish people in their time of trouble. Sanctuary was offered not only to Albanian Jewish people, but to refugees from other countries. Albania, the only country in Europe with a Muslim majority, succeeded where others failed, and at the end of the war its Jewish population was larger than it had been at the start.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
No, I will not.
As well as producing stories of horror, brutality and pain, the events that we are considering today gave rise to the heroism of ordinary people in Albania, as well as people such as Frank Foley and Nicholas Winton, the voluntary groups and church groups who made the Kindertransport possible, and so many others who gave sanctuary and shelter to Jewish people fleeing Nazi atrocity.
Let me, like other Members, pay a heartfelt tribute to holocaust survivors in my constituency. There may be others, but those of whom I am aware include Hedi Argent, Harry Jacobi, Freddie Knoller and Mala Tribich. It is incredibly brave of survivors to be prepared to come forward and tell their stories—to relive those terrible years of suffering. We owe them so much for their role in explaining to successive generations the evil to which humanity can sink, and the importance of doing everything we can to make sure that this never, ever happens again. Like others, I thank the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Government for their financial support for holocaust education.
I have been campaigning against antisemitism for about 30 years. More or less the first day I set foot across the threshold of this building was to lobby my MP to highlight the plight of Jewish refuseniks in the Soviet Union, who were unable to practise their faith in freedom. I am sure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will remember the debate in April on antisemitism; it was one of the most moving debates I have ever been present for in this place. It was a chilling reminder that the menace of antisemitism is still with us. It is truly shocking that the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) has stated that the problem with antisemitism in Labour is now so severe that the party has passed the threshold for being deemed to be institutionally racist. As colleagues have pointed out, this is a problem on many parts of the political spectrum, and it is completely unacceptable.
Antisemitism has mutated, taken on new forms, and gained a lethal new lease of life with social media. It has also been given new life by the militant anti-Zionism of the radical left, so today is a time for all of us to make a commitment once again to root out antisemitism wherever it emerges, and to say loud and clear that we will never, ever tolerate this vicious form of racism.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate today in advance of Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for securing the debate, with others, and for his extremely moving opening speech.
The theme this year is Torn from Home, providing the chance to think about the impact that the holocaust and genocide has on those wrenched from the place they call home for fear of threat and persecution, and I wanted, in this year in which we are urged to be louder in the face of the rise in antisemitism, to use my contribution to pay tribute to my constituent Renate Collins. I am hugely privileged to have Renate as a constituent; she is an amazing woman who works tirelessly with groups and schools and at events to share her family’s story to ensure that such things never happen again. I am very grateful to her for the work she does and would like to put her story on the record today.
Renate was one of the last children to be put on the Kindertransport which brought some 10,000 young Jewish children to Britain from Germany, Austria, the former Czechoslovakia, Poland and elsewhere. On 30 June 1939 her train was the last to leave Prague before the Nazi invasion. She was just five years old when her mother and family doctor put her on the train, her mother and father not knowing if they would see her again. Renate had a high temperature and chicken pox so her mother was reluctant to put her on the train, but the doctor said, “If you don’t put Renate on this train, she will never go.”
Renate, at just five and with her hair in pigtails, had no idea where she was going, thinking that she might have been going on holiday. Yet her two-day journey through Holland and London brought her to Porth and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). Here she lived with Reverend Fred Coppleston and his wife Arianwen and was brought up as their own. She arrived in Britain with her visa bearing a Third Reich stamp with swastika and spoke just two words of English: “yes” and “no.”
Before going, her mother helped her write letters to the family she was travelling to. With the innocence only a child could have in such grave circumstances, she had written to the Welsh family:
“I hope there is no spinach in England. But I do hope there are many ice creams over there as I am terribly fond of it, and can be, throughout a whole day, the best girl in the world if I get plenty of it...I am thanking you for all you are going to do for me, and I will be a very good child to you.”
In a letter Renate still has that her mother sent to the reverend and his wife she had written:
“I’m thanking you for your beautiful and helpful letter. I would call myself happy to know my little one in a surrounding of so much affection and love.”
Tragically, both her mother and father were killed by the Nazis. In total, Renate lost 64 family members in the holocaust, Renate surviving because of the decisions her parents made 79 years ago. Over the last year Renate has discovered new information about the deaths of some of her closest relatives, coldly murdered in the open air by guards when their train to Treblinka was held up in bad weather.
I really wanted to get Renate’s story on record today because it is so important that we remember the families, the homes and lives torn apart, the children who never saw their family again, and the dangers and devastating consequences of racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism.
Renate is an absolutely brilliant woman and she keeps going because, as she has always told me, this extreme hatred and intolerance can always “raise its ugly head again.” The importance of Holocaust Memorial Day is that we learn these lessons and act to never see it repeated.
My hon. Friend is making a brilliant speech, and I would like to pay tribute to somebody who used to sit here on these Benches who has a similar story: Lord Dubs. He also came here on the Kindertransport, and this year’s theme of Torn from Home is very apt, because he has done so much work for modern-day refugees and to bring modern-day children to this country. We should recognise his work and all he has done.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. I also pay tribute to Renate and her family and to her continued commitment to educating and informing people about what she and millions of others went through within our lifetimes, as nothing can compare to the testimony of survivors.
Today we rightly remember the victims of the holocaust. As many colleagues have said in several moving speeches, mourning is not enough to honour their memory. Holocaust Memorial Day should serve to re-energise our efforts to address mass atrocities whenever and wherever they occur, and to challenge us to do all we can to prevent future genocides from occurring.
Has the international community done enough in this regard in the last 70 years? Sadly, it has done nothing like enough. The UN convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide had its 70th anniversary on 9 December 2018. It is the first international document to define the crime of genocide and to impose obligations on states to prevent and punish it. The crime is defined as the crime above all crimes and as
“acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
But, tragically, the last 70 years have been an era of genocidal crimes: Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur in Sudan, Syria, Iraq and more recently Burma—and even today there are fears of this in Nigeria.
We should ask ourselves what has gone wrong when after each fresh atrocity we say, “Never again.” Why have we not, both here in the UK and in the international community, worked harder to implement an effective atrocity prevention strategy, rather than simply hoping that genocides will not cyclically reoccur?
Over recent years we have missed too many early signs of mass atrocities—too many red flags. These red flags are of the type that my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) talked about with regard to Rwanda—the encouraging of children in Rwanda to call those of another group “cockroaches.” There were also red flags in Syria. In 2014 Daesh was committing mass atrocities in Syria and Iraq, but that was not the beginning; it is now clear that the persecution of Christians in Iraq probably began a decade earlier, and it was recorded in UNHCR documents. Similarly, the genocidal campaign in Burma against the Rohingya Muslims was the culmination of clear and consistent ethnic and religious persecution over many years before it began to be recognised in 2016.
The failure to recognise these red flags has meant we have consistently failed to call genocides by their name. Following the self-declared genocidal actions of Daesh in 2014 to 2017, UN convention signatories have failed still to declare it a genocide, have failed to collect court-worthy evidence of atrocities, and have failed to prosecute perpetrators. That is despite many Parliaments, including this House of Commons, recognising those events as a clear and obvious genocide. We voted by 278 votes to nil about two years ago to recognise that. Unfortunately, our Government have consistently relied on their long-standing policy of leaving the question of genocide determination for international judicial systems, but that is not good enough, because there is not an effective international judicial system to consider these situations.
I suggest that, in order to address that, we look again at the Genocide Determination Bill, which Lord Alton introduced in the Lords and which I have introduced in the Commons during this Session. It aims to give the power to the High Court to make a preliminary finding on cases of alleged genocide, and to enable the subsequent referral of such findings to the International Criminal Court or a special United Nations tribunal. Without such a mechanism, and in the continuing absence of Government referrals, I fear that we will continue to see no prosecutions for UK nationals committing genocide.
There are some signs of hope, however. The Foreign Secretary’s recently announced independent review of the global persecution of Christians has been warmly welcomed, and Lord Alton’s call for an ad hoc inquiry in the House of Lords into the fulfilment of the UK’s obligations flowing from the UN convention is encouraging. Lastly, the UK-Iraqi UN Security Council resolution 2379 has provided a welcome, if overdue, beginning for evidence collection and the potential prosecution of Daesh crimes.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on securing this debate. It is important that we mark this day so that we and future generations remember the atrocities that happened during the second world war and that have occurred in genocides since. I note that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda and the 40th anniversary of the end of the genocide in Cambodia. I have always had an interest in the holocaust, having written my dissertation on the subject, and I am constantly shocked and saddened as I continue to read about the events that happened during that terrible time. I spent Christmas reading Primo Levi.
As many other hon. Members have shared, the theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is Torn from Home, exploring what it means to be taken from a place of safety and the trauma of the loss. It is important to reflect on the personal and emotive feelings that are generated when we try to imagine what it must be like no longer to have a place of safety or security to call home, and to live with the constant threat of violence and fear of the unknown. One of the most famous accounts of being torn from home during the holocaust is Anne Frank’s diary, which shares her family’s story of finding an alternative home. This is an extract from her diary, from 11 July 1942:
“I don’t think I’ll ever feel at home in this house, but that doesn’t mean I hate it. It’s more like being on holiday in some strange pension. Kind of an odd way to look at life in hiding, but that’s how things are.”
The diary abruptly ends on 1 August 1944, three days before her family were discovered in their secret annexe and torn from their place of safety. As Members will all be aware, Anne Frank was only a child and tragically lost her life at just 15 years old. In her diary, she describes how she felt as a child in hiding, saying:
“It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death.”
I find it particularly difficult to comprehend the fate of children in the holocaust. Many Members will be aware that I have spent a lot of my time campaigning in Parliament for the rights of children, and when I read about the experiences of children in concentration camps, it truly breaks my heart. I understand that around 1.5 million children died in the holocaust—a number too great even to comprehend.
Like a number of Members, I visited the Auschwitz concentration camp many years ago. Most people who have done so will tell you that it is a horrendous thing to see and to remember. More importantly, does my hon. Friend agree that we should be keeping our eye on Europe at the moment, because the rise of the right shows that certain parts of Europe have not learned the lessons of the holocaust?
I most certainly do agree with my hon. Friend. I would love to visit Auschwitz, but my own personal tragedy—my son would have been 38 today —has prevented me from doing so. I intend to rectify that, however, and I hope to go there this year.
Young children were particularly vulnerable and were often sent immediately to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. One of the reasons for this was that, along with the elderly, children were unable to participate in forced labour in the camps. That was why so many lost their lives. As well as more than 1 million Jewish children being killed, tens of thousands of Romany children, German children with physical and mental disabilities living in institutions and Polish children lost their lives.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech. I visited Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust in 2016, along with local students from my area, who were immeasurably moved by the experience. Does she agree that that is an incredibly powerful place to take schoolchildren if we are to teach future generations that we must all say, “Never again”?
I most certainly do agree with my hon. Friend.
It has been estimated that only 6% to 11% of Europe’s pre-war Jewish population of children survived, compared with 33% of the adults. Some of those who survived the holocaust have gone on to share their experiences of being a child in a concentration camp, and Gerda Weissmann Klein is one such survivor. She has described how she celebrated her birthday in the ghetto and how her mother had gifted her an orange on her birthday. Her mother got that orange by giving up a diamond and pearl ring in exchange for the piece of fruit. Every mother, and every parent, in this place will know that we are prepared to make any sacrifice for our children. That was the last birthday present Gerda ever received from her parents.
Gerda’s experience was unfortunately shared by many survivors of the holocaust, who have gone on to tell the heartbreaking stories of their time in the concentration camps. We must never forget those stories. They must continue to be told so that we can learn the lessons for a safer future. Holocaust Memorial Day offers an opportunity for us all to take the time to stop and reflect on the dreadful acts that occurred all those years ago, and it is vital that we take these opportunities to listen to the stories and to individuals’ experiences of being torn from home, so that we can work to make the future safer for all.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), and indeed all the Members who have spoken so movingly today. The holocaust is a subject that is difficult to approach. It is tough to find the right words, but it is even more difficult knowing that this is not some distant event that is completely removed from how we conduct ourselves today. Even with the effects still so prevalent, antisemitism continues to raise its ugly head and is trying to infect the political mainstream once again.
For Holocaust Memorial Day this year, Parliament will play host next Monday to the production of “PUSH”, a holocaust opera that was first performed in Chichester Cathedral to mark last year’s Holocaust Memorial Day. The performance centres on the true story of Simon Gronowski, who, as the title suggests, was quite literally pushed from a moving train by his mother in Belgium in 1943. That train was destined for the Auschwitz concentration camp, and Simon was one of the 1,631 Jews selected for transportation to the gas chambers that day. It was only through the actions of three brave resistance fighters that the train transporting Simon was halted en route. That was the first and only time that a transportation train was stopped on its way to a concentration camp, and 223 people tried to escape the train, although only 108 were successful. They included Simon, thanks to the courageous actions of his mother. Both she and Simon’s sister, Ita, stayed on the train, and they died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
We will have the honour and privilege of welcoming Simon to the House when Howard Moody and his choir put on their production next Monday in Speaker’s House. Members, peers and rabbis have been invited to come and watch the production, and it is particularly apt that the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is Torn from Home. I would like to pay tribute to the Chichester marks Holocaust Memorial Day Committee, particularly Councillor Martyn Bell, the mayor, and Councillor Clare Apel, who have helped to put the production together.
Listening to Simon’s story, and his interviews, we cannot help but be inspired by his faith in the goodness of humanity. In the years that followed the war, the collaborator who put him and his family on that train was racked with guilt. As he lay on his deathbed, he asked Simon for his forgiveness, and in an act of astonishing humanity, Simon forgave him. The holocaust has shown the darkest, cruellest aspects of the human character. I saw this for myself when I visited Yad Vashem. I was so moved by the actions of complete strangers who had risked their own lives to keep Jewish people safe from the Nazis and who are remembered there.
The mass graves of Auschwitz and the other concentration camps marked the end of a gradual process. The holocaust did not begin with the gas chambers; it started with the legitimisation of antisemitism in mainstream debate. It was instigated by making “different” wrong. The fact that Dr Joseph Goebbels and the other Nazis were able to spin lies and manipulate fact to legitimise their racist, tyrannical agenda should serve as a warning to us all today. The Nazis learned how to make the most of the new media capability of the day—the radio—and that is happening again. In so many ways, the advent of fake news on social media platforms today is a chilling echo of how a lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has its shoes on.
The holocaust began with hate speeches and radio broadcasts, but it then developed into legal discrimination against Jewish people through the so-called Nuremberg laws. Permission was given for violence to be visited on Jewish minorities across Europe. It was incentivised by the Nazis, who offered rewards for betraying Jews in hiding and then stole their property. It ended with the final solution: the gas chambers of the concentration camps.
We in the Chamber today have something that Jewish people and other minorities did not have during that period: a voice. We must use it and retell their stories to ensure that we call out antisemitism wherever we find it and to ensure that this tragedy never happens again. Simon’s story shows us that we can be better as human beings, and that humanity, freedom, tolerance, forgiveness and respect are noble values that each one of us has a duty to uphold.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for securing it and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for his opening speech. In Newcastle, we will mark Holocaust Memorial Day this year, as we did last year, by honouring the memory of the victims of the holocaust and subsequent genocides, celebrating and listening to survivors, and remembering the acts of kindness, such as our city’s welcoming of Jewish children from Germany.
We will also remember that much of the antisemitic hatred that preceded the holocaust was directed against poor Jewish immigrants from Russia, Poland and the other countries of eastern Europe and that that hatred was present not only in Germany, but in France and here in the United Kingdom. We must remember that at the core of so much of the hatred that prepared the ground for the holocaust was the idea that Jews were alien and could never truly be German, French or English. We must commit to fighting that invidious and corrupting lie wherever it raises its head.
On that point, I spoke in last year’s Holocaust Memorial Day debate and the footage was put on Channel 4’s Facebook page, where I was accused of all those things that my hon. Friend mentions. People said that I was a fifth columnist, that I was not fit to sit in the British Parliament and that I was not properly British. That is exactly what my hon. Friend is talking about, and we need to fight against it.
I agree with my hon. Friend that such lies must be called out whenever they are heard.
As my Jewish constituents have made clear, the terror of the holocaust does not fade for our Jewish communities. Incidents that may seem marginal and inconsequential to some are experienced from the point of view of survivors and their children and grandchildren as harbingers of horrors too awful to think about. Fear echoes down the generations while many of us go about our business feeling safe and secure. Recent studies have revealed the degree to which the first antisemitic legislation passed by the Nazi party was modelled on the racist laws of the American south and of British colonies such as South Africa. Remembrance must mean eternal vigilance against the politics of hatred and dehumanisation and the recognition that they do not make their first appearance as mass murder, but as a climate of religious or racial intolerance and political expediency.
Nowhere is that recognition more important than in discussions about the middle east. Those of us who support the cause of Palestinian rights must recognise that we see antisemitic ideas surface time and again in debates over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There must be zero tolerance of antisemitism in such debates, just as there must be space for an honest appraisal of the actual issues and behaviours of those involved in the conflict.
There must be zero tolerance within the Labour party, too. I am sad to report that Jewish constituents have told me that they no longer feel welcome in our party. I have written to and met both our leader and our general secretary to discuss the matter, and I have also met representatives of Jewish groups in Newcastle and nationally. I have been assured that the party is developing policies and allocating appropriate resources that will provide demonstrable evidence that we are committed to rooting out antisemitism. Antisemitism cases will be heard more quickly and the backlog cleared, and anyone using antisemitic tropes must be called out and subject to appropriate sanction.
However, we also need appropriate educational resources to help Members understand the history of antisemitism and antisemitic tropes, ensuring that we can express a wide range of views, particularly on Palestine and Israel, without implying any antisemitic views, either directly or indirectly. I have been assured that that will be developed and delivered soon.
In the party, in Newcastle and in the country, the holocaust must be remembered in words and in deeds.
On 27 April 1993, I stooped to pick up what I thought was a black rubber ball. I put it in my hand, looked at it and then dropped it in horror. I had picked up the blackened, burnt head of a baby. I was horrified and guilty. The day before, I found a whole family—a father, a mother, a boy and a girl—lying where they had been shot. From the way the bodies were arranged, it looked as though the little girl had been shot while holding her puppy. The same bullet had killed them both.
I was the British UN commander in Bosnia at the time, and my men were horrified. We took more than 104 bodies, mainly women and children, to a place called Vitez, where we dug a big pit in which to place the bodies. Someone said, “Take them out of the bags,” because we had put them into our body bags, which an infantry battalion always carries. “You cannot bury bodies in plastic,” we were told. One of my men said to me, “This is 1993, not 1943. This is genocide again.” And it was.
The Jewish genocide during the second world war, when two thirds of the Jews of Europe were destroyed by the Nazis, was appalling, but genocide’s shadow continues. We have heard about Cambodia, where between 10% and 30% of the population were murdered by Pol Pot. We have heard about Rwanda, where one million people were killed. We have heard about Bosnia, where 3% of the Muslim population was killed—most notably and horrifically when 8,373 men and boys were killed at Srebrenica in July 1995. Myanmar continues. So, too, does the genocide of the Yazidis in Syria and Iraq.
We still have this scourge in the world, and I believe that is what the Holocaust Educational Trust is all about. Goodness me, what is it that allows a man—it is normally men, not women—to do this? Sometimes it is the society they live in, sometimes it is custom, sometimes it is greed and sometimes it is because they are wearing a uniform. None of the massacres we have talked about today were carried out by civilians. Uniforms can encourage people to behave disgustingly.
I believe that the purpose of our debate today is to try to stop genocide happening again, and the way we can do that is by action. We sit in a cosy, warm Chamber, and we all say how disgusting genocide is and how appalling it is that it has happened. What can we do about it? Well, take it from me, there is only one way to stop genocide and that is to get in among the people who are doing it and stop it. Sometimes that requires us to be brave with our armed forces and with our police. Words work, but action to stop genocide requires men and women to go in there and run risks to stop murder, just like the individuals we have discussed today.
It is an absolute privilege to speak in this important debate and to have been among the cross-party Members who applied to the Backbench Business Committee to request parliamentary time to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. I particularly thank cross-party colleagues and the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), who led the application and who spoke so well. It is also a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who also spoke so well and so poignantly.
I am grateful for the excellent work of Karen Pollock and the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Danny Stone and the Antisemitism Policy Trust, and Danielle Bett who does such excellent work in Scotland via the Jewish Leadership Council.
Holocaust Memorial Day is the day we remember the millions of Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis during world war two, the disabled people who were murdered and the many genocides since in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia. I declare an interest in that my husband served in Bosnia, which changed him by all that he saw and remembers to this day. It is also poignant for me as I have a Jewish family history, although I am a Christian.
The 2019 theme is Torn from Home as we mark the trauma of being wrested from one’s family, friends and all that is familiar and secure, and to feel that one belongs nowhere and that even one’s core identity is challenged. This is why I believe it is so important that we have an inclusive policy in this House and in the Scottish Parliament towards refugees, particularly lone children, the disabled and the most vulnerable in our society. I attended an event earlier this year on the Kindertransport and was overwhelmed when the whole hall stood up, as they owed their lives to that act of kindness. That is politics and policy at its very best.
It was also poignant to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington last year with the Antisemitism Policy Trust. I will never forget taking the time to listen to the testimony of survivors now recorded for posterity. I will never forget seeing the pile of shoes left behind and the words on the wall:
“We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam,
And because we are only made of fabric and leather
And not of blood and flesh,
Each one of us avoided the hellfire.”
Politics is important in this debate, and we must never ignore the fact that the holocaust occurred via politics. That is why we must never ignore antisemitism, because ignoring is condoning. Antisemitism may be on the fringes of today’s society and politics, but it continues to exist.
I had first-hand experience of antisemitism when I was “named and shamed” in 2015. I was put on an online list of Israel’s agents in British politics. The list described me and others as
“shameless British parliamentarians willing to sacrifice freedom of expression to please their paymasters. British politics must cleanse itself of this corrosive influence…Zionist corruption which has implanted its roots in pretty much every British Parliamentary party.”
Antisemitism was never an issue in the over 20 years that I worked as a doctor, but it has been since the year I was elected.
The presence of that list online caused me to be called to a local meeting in 2015, which I attended with my husband and children. The list was brought up on a computer screen, and I was challenged about it. Others were as surprised as I was that that had happened, but no concern was raised about the impact it might have on me, my security or that of my children. The only concern was that people thought and were saying that I was a Zionist and an agent of Israel.
As recently as last year, individuals tried to prevent me from marking world war two and attending a Remembrance Sunday service by calling a meeting at the same time and then pretending not to know it was Remembrance Sunday. I was the only local MP to be treated in such a way. Never did I think that I would be repeatedly excluded from local meetings or from speaking at scheduled events, but I do not mention those issues for myself, because I am thankful for the support of my party and its Westminster leader. These issues make me very concerned about the way ahead in UK politics. The message of the Holocaust Educational Trust is to “speak louder,” which can be difficult because antisemites want to silence victims. Those who speak out are frightened of then being targeted, but we must take courage and speak louder. We must support all those who come forward. Remembering means that we never turn away from, minimise, ignore or condone antisemitism.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who made such a moving contribution.
Contemplating the systematic murder of 6 million people is beyond credibility, so the brilliant work of the Holocaust Educational Trust to highlight the testimony of survivors and the stories they have told is critical. I pay tribute to the fact that it educates 120,000 people every year about the awful horrors of the holocaust.
I pay tribute to holocaust survivors in my constituency, including Eve Glicksman, Henri Obstfeld and Herman Hirschberger, who all regularly go out to schools, despite being of advanced age, to bear testament to what happened during the holocaust.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) mentioned my late constituent Gena Turgel, who sadly died last year. I knew her as the best hostess in Stanmore, with the best apple strudel around, but her story epitomises what happened during the holocaust. She was born in Krakow, the youngest of nine children, and she was only 16 when the Nazis started their blitzkrieg on Poland. She had relatives in America, and the whole family intended to go there, but sadly the Nazis had closed all the doors before the family could get out, so the family moved just outside Krakow to the ghetto, carrying a sack of potatoes, flour and their other belongings.
The second brother fled the ghetto and was never seen again. Gena Turgel was eventually sent to the Plaszow labour camp on the edge of Krakow. She later discovered that her sister Miriam and Miriam’s husband—they had married in the ghetto—had been shot after the Nazis caught them trying to bring food into the camp.
The camp was liquidated in the winter of 1944, and Gena and her family had to walk—they did not travel by train—to Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were sent on a death march from Auschwitz, leaving behind her youngest sister. They never saw her again. After several terrible days, they came to Leslau, where they were forced onto trucks. They travelled under terrible conditions for the next three or four weeks, eventually arriving in Buchenwald. From there they were sent on cattle trucks to Bergen-Belsen, where they arrived in February 1945. Gena worked there in a hospital for the next two months. In 1945, the British Army liberated Bergen-Belsen. Among the liberators was Norman Turgel, who became her husband six months later. Gena and her husband moved to the United Kingdom, which she made her home and where she brought up her family—her children and grandchildren. She wrote a book called “I Light a Candle”. Her light has gone out, but it will survive for ever.
I am very pleased that the Lessons from Auschwitz project involved Park High School, Canons High School and Bentley Wood High School in 2018. No one who attended the Holocaust Educational Trust reception recently could have failed to be moved by the testimony of the survivors.
I want to end by saying that I think there is real hope. Yasmin Mohamed, a student at Canons High School and a Holocaust Educational Trust ambassador, commented after the reception that she had
“seen first-hand where antisemitism, intolerance and hatred has led in the past and I’m now committed to ensuring that the Holocaust is never forgotten. I want to ensure that we learn from the past so that we can build a better future.”
I am pleased that we will soon witness the Holocaust memorial centre close to Parliament so that we can educate young people and have a memorial to the victims of this terrible disaster. The planning application was submitted in December 2018 and the site, as we well know, is Victoria Tower Gardens. I am pleased to be the co-chair, together with my friend the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), of the all-party group that is going to see that come to fruition.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) said in his terribly moving speech, this year’s theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is Torn from Home. As we all know, homes are much more than physical dwellings; they are everything that sustains us. They are our comfort, our security, our family, our friends, our community and our faith. They are the structure that helps us to live rich and meaningful human lives. Home is part of our identity; it is who we are. That is why being torn from home is so utterly traumatic.
Through the 1930s, everything that makes a place a home was stripped away from Jewish people, in Germany and then throughout Europe. It was a gradual, harrowing experience. In ’33, the Nazi Government began the creeping exclusion of Jewish people from public life. Jewish people were no longer protected by the police or courts, and kosher meat was banned. In ’34, Jews were barred from military service, banned from becoming doctors or lawyers and even prevented from being accountants and actors. In ’35, the infamous Nuremberg laws defined Jewish Germans as non-citizens, depriving them of their rights to vote and stand for public office, and legally condemning relationships between Jewish Germans and their non-Jewish neighbours.
Jewish Germans witnessed the destruction of their home with horror. One of them was John Fink, from Berlin. He said:
“The Nazis knew how to torture us…Every few weeks...other laws came. We had... to move...to a so-called ‘Jewish House’ which the Nazis controlled.”
What a terrible demonstration of the difference between a house and a home. The marked-out houses and ghettos were a permanent reminder that John, his family and so many others were now homeless.
The trauma of being torn from home is powerfully illustrated by the story of the St Louis, which sailed on 13 May ’39, carrying 937 passengers towards Cuba. Almost all were Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. They had paid the Cuban authorities for their landing cards, but they were turned away on arrival at Havana. The ship anchored there for a week, and then crawled north past Florida. The passengers came close enough to see the lights, but the USA refused them.
Liane Reif-Lehrer, who was only a child at the time, said to a journalist some 50 years later:
“I think it’s...a symbol of what happened. The German government...were trying to show the world that nobody…wanted us”.
And did they not succeed? The Jews were not just made homeless in Germany; they were portrayed as universally homeless—abandoned by everyone and a threat to the homes of all. Being put in that position must have been terrifying. The passengers on board the St Louis knew what they were going back to in Germany. They knew what it would mean to return, even if they did not yet know the sickening scale of the holocaust.
One passenger, Max Loewe, had already been to a concentration camp, and the trauma had completely damaged his mind. He must have felt as though nobody in this world would help him, and the Nazi threat—the terror he had experienced at first hand—was growing all the time. As the boat lingered near Havana, Max became increasingly terrified, believing that there were SS officers on board searching for him. He cut his wrists and jumped overboard into the water where, in full view of all the other passengers, he writhed and screamed. He ended up in a Cuban hospital, but his wife and daughter were not even allowed to leave the ship. I cannot imagine what state he must have been in. He must have felt as though, with no help coming, the only escape for him would be death.
In the wake of America’s refusal to provide refuge, Britain was one of the four states who agreed to take some of the passengers in, and 288 of them, including Max, came here. However, there was a further tragedy. Of the 620 passengers who went on from here to Belgium, France and the Netherlands, 254 were murdered in the holocaust after those countries were invaded.
When we look at people who are seeking refuge in the United Kingdom today, I hope we will pause and remember. I hope that we will recommit ourselves to helping those who are fleeing in terror, torn from their homes and wanting to build a new home here. I hope we will act on the message “Never again”.
I have been deeply moved by all the speeches in this debate, but I particularly thank the hon. Members for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and for Bassetlaw (John Mann), and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), for their outstanding contributions. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), who brought back to me vivid memories of a visit to Yad Vashem.
I will dwell for a moment, if I may, on the spirit of remembrance. Richard Dimbleby filed a report after he had been in the concentration camp at Belsen. For several days, the BBC refused to broadcast it because of the horror of its content; only after he threatened to resign did it broadcast it. I would like to include some of it in my remarks, lest we forget.
Richard Dimbleby began his report with what he called
“the simple, horrible facts of Belsen”,
and he went on:
“But horrible as they are, they can convey little or nothing in themselves. I wish with all my heart that everyone fighting in this war, and above all those whose duty it is to direct the war from Britain and America, could have come with me through the barbed-wire fence that leads to the inner compound of the camp...I picked my way over corpse after corpse in the gloom, until I heard one voice raised above the gentle undulating moaning. I found a girl, she was a living skeleton, impossible to gauge her age for she had practically no hair left, and her face was only a yellow parchment sheet with two holes in it for eyes. She was stretching out her stick of an arm and gasping something, it was ‘English, English, medicine, medicine,’ and she was trying to cry but she hadn’t enough strength. And beyond her down the passage and in the hut there were the convulsive movements of dying people too weak to raise themselves from the floor.
In the shade of some trees lay a great collection of bodies. I walked about them trying to count, there were perhaps 150 of them flung down on each other, all naked, all so thin that their yellow skin glistened like stretched rubber on their bones. Some of the poor starved creatures whose bodies were there looked so utterly unreal and inhuman that I could have imagined that they never lived at all.”
“This day in Belsen was the most horrible of my life.”
The Nazis classified people according to their perverse ideology of hatred, separating those they deemed sub-human and then cruelly murdering them. Continuing hostility, hatred, threat and violence against Jewish people has no place in this country or any other. Those who aid and abet the perpetrators of this persecution should be ashamed, and exposed for their cowardice. Those who deny or downplay the evil of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau are purveyors of a wicked lie.
What have we learned from this desolation? If we had learned anything, would we have seen the genocides of Darfur, Bosnia or Rwanda? Would we have done more to confront Myanmar over the treatment of the Rohingyas? The sobering truth is that genocide is still happening in our time.
We must each take responsibility for how we relate to our fellow human beings. We must remember our common brotherhood and sisterhood. We see the seeds of the thinking that led to the Nazis in all the places of the world where people are persecuted because of their faith or belief, their ethnicity, their sexuality or their convictions. We are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. It is one of the first lessons of scripture, and it is what defines our humanity, our need to exercise compassion for one another, and our responsibility to one another.
In my Christian faith, we are invited to practise love, one to another, and to treat other people the way we would want to be treated. Those behaviours begin with what we are thinking and feeling, and we are accountable for our attitudes and behaviours. When we spread deliberate lies, when we abuse other people, when we hate other people because they are different or see the world differently from us, and when we give expression to that hate, we are descending to an infernal pit of self-loathing and self-destruction.
Loving our neighbours as we love ourselves, respecting every human being without prejudice, and upholding the universal human right of individual agency—these are the values that elevate our common humanity. We must always remember what happens when we do not listen to what Abraham Lincoln described as
“the better angels of our nature.”
We must individually live out our commitment and prayer of never again.
What a privilege it is to have heard the speeches we have all listened to.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I wonder whether I might crave your indulgence and that of the Chamber and share an anecdote—a memory. Thirty-two years ago I was, believe it or not—it was a long time ago—the youngest councillor in Ross and Cromarty in the highlands. In those days, the link between the arts and local government was not particularly there to be seen, but we had a very forward-looking chief executive called Douglas Sinclair, who is sadly no longer with us. He really did catapult Ross and Cromarty into having a really enlightened arts policy. He was a great supporter of the Labour party. I put that on the record with some pleasure, because a man like that deserves to be remembered in Hansard.
Mr Douglas Sinclair got Julian Lloyd Webber to come and play in my hometown of Tain. He got in place a writer in residence and a poet in residence, and the arts flourished in the far north of Scotland. I particularly remember one cold winter’s night, when we were bidden through to a concert in the town hall in Dingwall, the county town of Ross and Cromarty. When we sat down, the first thing I noticed was that there were two Mozart piano concertos on the programme, but for some reason the old upright piano in the town hall had not been exchanged for a rather more splendid grand. The upright piano had probably only ever had “Chopsticks” played on it for the previous 20 years. Nevertheless, in came the orchestra. If my memory serves me rightly, they were called the International Orchestra of New York, and they played with considerable verve. The poor old upright piano did not know what had hit it: moths came out of the top and we thought the sides were going to fall off. They dropped the odd note and the odd chord was wrong, but by gosh they put their hearts into it.
At the interval—it is not the way in the highlands to have posh glasses of champagne as they do in London or these splendid places down here; in the highlands we have egg sandwiches, shortbread and tea—the whole audience mixed with the orchestra. Within minutes of my talking to the orchestra—you can guess what is coming, Mr Deputy Speaker—it became apparent that they were survivors of the camps. They told me that they had played for their lives in the camps, and now they were playing for us as a celebration of life. One of them rolled up his sleeve—he was wearing white tie—and showed me his tattoo. In those short minutes over our eats and our tea, we were all moved by these people being with us, and having come to the north of Scotland.
When we sat down again for the second piano concerto, which I remember very well was Mozart’s 23rd, we hung on every note. Every mistake—they were rather elderly—was ignored. We cheered them to the rafters when they sat down at the end of the last movement and we encored them furiously. Somehow, our enthusiasm caught on with them and they responded. That piano has never since recovered.
That is my anecdote. In just one event in my life, the very people who had survived were there, and that brought home to me, more than anything else probably could have done, what the holocaust was. Those good people are probably no longer with us, because it was a long time ago and they were elderly then, but that is my memory, and it serves me strongly when it comes to remembering, as we shall do, the horrors of the holocaust, and never forgetting. I tell you this, Mr Deputy Speaker: I cannot listen to Mozart’s beautiful 23rd piano concerto without remembering those good, noble and brave people.
It really is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone). I, too, shall speak to the House about one of my experiences.
On Sunday, I attended the funeral service at Bushey new cemetery. It was significant because it was the first and only interment of victims of the Holocaust ever to take place in the United Kingdom. It is remarkable that such a ceremony should take place more than 70 years after the death camps were discovered. The remains were originally given to the Imperial War Museum many years ago. They were acknowledged by a pathologist to be the remains of six people—five adults and one child—and because they were never going to be put on display, it was decided that they should be buried. That was certainly the appropriate decision.
I pay tribute to the Imperial War Museum for its efforts in seeking a resting place for these people. Such decisions are really outside most curators’ experience, but having established that the remains did come from Jewish people at Auschwitz-Birkenau, they took action. The museum contacted the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, and they collaborated and decided that the remains should be interred at the cemetery at Bushey.
As with any funeral, I was not actually invited, but I decided to attend because I have several Holocaust survivors in my constituency—and, indeed, the Holocaust Survivors Centre. Not knowing how many people would turn up, I arrived in plenty of time, and as I travelled along the road, I realised that it was quite an important event. Unknown to me, in attendance were the Archbishop of Westminster, Israel’s ambassador, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Baron Pickles, and Lord-Lieutenant Robert Voss as a representative of the Queen. I addition, I saw many hundreds of my constituents. I understand that more than 1,200 people attended.
The address given by the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis—who happens to be my constituent—moved many people to tears. I watched as several men carefully wiped their eyes when the Chief Rabbi spoke personally to the infant among the six. He said:
“Your childhood was robbed. You experienced such fear and dread, then the ultimate wickedness saw your life taken. We don’t know who you are, your name, if you were male or female or the details of your family. But we do know you were Jewish. All of us here feel a strong connection to you.”
One of my constituents, about whom I have spoken in previous debates, made an impact on me again on that day. I often visit her to eat her home-made cake, and I like to ensure that she is doing okay. I was proud when I saw her at the service on Sunday and witnessed her and other Holocaust survivors accompanying the coffin to the grave. Zigi Shipper, Harry Bibring, Renee Salt and Agnes Grunwald-Spier all placed their hands on the coffin’s blue velvet covering as they walked to where the remains were to be buried in earth brought over from Israel.
As prayers were said and the coffin lowered, people were invited to come forward to place earth in the grave. With such a large crowd, it did not take long for the space to be filled. What struck me as I stood by the graveside was the number of people who held pictures and artefacts of relatives whom I presume were victims of the Holocaust. For them, the funeral was very real, and it cannot be said definitively whether or not the grave contained one of their relatives. We will never know. In so many ways, these six people represent the millions who do not have a last resting place, and whose families, friends and relatives cannot mourn them because they do not know what happened to them.
As I turned away, someone indicated a small bag of earth and that I should place it on the grave, which I did. We undertake many activities as Members of Parliament, but this event was something completely different, and something I will not forget. At the Barnet Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony, we have heard from many speakers over the years, talking about atrocities in Rwanda, Cambodia and other countries, in addition to many local people whose lives have been directly or indirectly affected by the Holocaust. For me, the event has become more personal, particularly this year, as I have had direct contact not just with the survivors, but now with the dead.
No words—certainly none that I have—can describe adequately the horror of the Holocaust, the attempt to wipe out the Jewish population of Europe, the killing of Roma, gay people, trade unionists and many other victims of Nazi ideology. As this debate has shown over the last couple of hours, what brings it home are the human stories showing how real it was on an individual level. A life is a life.
Like many Members of this House on all sides, tomorrow I will take part in commemoration events for Holocaust Memorial Day, one in Wolverhampton and one in Dudley. I pay tribute not only to the wonderful and moving opening speech today but to the tremendous work over a longer period of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin). Year after year, he has organised a very moving and well-attended event in his constituency aimed at teaching today’s young generation about the horrors of the past. He has spoken up bravely against antisemitism and alongside a number of my hon. Friends has stood up for the best of what my party should stand for at a time when sadly that has not always been easy.
I also pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. These organisations do amazing work. The latter records the testimony of those who survived, arranges speakers in schools and enables pupils to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau in what is a life-changing experience for them. I am pleased to say that schools in my constituency—Colton Hills, Moseley Park, the Ormiston SWB Academy and the Royal Wolverhampton School—have all taken part in the past year. These events are valuable and important. They not only benefit those who take part directly but allow students to share the experience with others. Most of all, they show to a new generation the terrible and appalling consequences of where race hatred and the demonisation of those who are different can lead. I am pleased that support for the Holocaust Educational Trust is bipartisan and has survived several changes of Government. Long may that continue.
This is also a moment to reflect on our own politics. It is estimated that 70,000 refugees came to the UK from the rest of Europe in the years running up to the war, including children saved through the Kindertransport programme. Yes, the UK could have done more during the war, but surely today we have to ask questions about our own debate on refugees. It has become too easy to talk about refugees in a way that strips them of their humanity and ascribes to them some darker, ulterior motive, and it has become too easy to say they should go anywhere but here. No one has done more to emphasise the common humanity of refugees than our colleague Lord Alf Dubs, himself a child of the Kindertransport. He is an inspiration and has provided through his life and work and campaigning a timely reminder that every life matters and that we are all diminished if we look the other way.
This is also a moment to stand strong against the politics of hate, which seeks to demonise any group or community on the basis of race, faith or both. The antisemitic abuse that is routinely posted online, including to Members of this House, is not only unacceptable in itself but a warning of what happens when people ascribe great virtue to themselves and those who agree with them but show a closed and hostile mind to others, when people have a hierarchy of victimhood, where some are allowed to be victims but others are not. These are the permission slips for cruelty that have so scarred our politics and allowed hatred to grow. As we mark Holocaust Memorial Day, let us remember the common value of humanity. A life is a life, no matter a person’s colour, background, wealth or whatever else, and each life must be valued. That is the lesson of the events we mark this weekend.
The opening speech by the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) in this important debate was powerful, moving and appropriate. He is not only a colleague in this place but a friend, and he really did set the tone for all the speeches that followed. This has been an important and beneficial debate, as I hope will be recognised by people outside viewing it.
I, too, believe that it is fitting that the UK have a national memorial here in the Borough of Westminster, and I hope it comes to fruition soon. I have had the privilege of visiting the national Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. This moving and poignant memorial gives immense hope in reminding us of the strength of character amidst the hellish loss that people suffered. I hope that our national memorial will be similarly powerful.
As we have heard, the Holocaust is to be commemorated all over the UK. I am pleased that this evening in Belfast’s city hall politicians and community leaders from Northern Ireland will come together to mark this moment. Northern Ireland is an exceptional community with a very strong connection to the Jewish community. To name just one, Chaim Herzog, the sixth President of Israel, was born in Belfast to the Chief Rabbi of Ireland. As many will know who follow Israeli politics, he played an amazing role. His son, who now works for the Jewish Agency for Israel, was a political leader in his own right, and recently his entire family came to Belfast and celebrated Chaim’s contribution to the state of Israel and his connection to our city. It was hugely inspiring. We love to see that connection brought alive.
In last year’s debate, I suggested that No. 10 honour the Holocaust Educational Trust’s young ambassadors by inviting them to a reception at No. 10. The Minister responded very positively on the day, and I am delighted this week to have received a letter from the Prime Minister that reads:
“A reception is absolutely one option we are considering, but we are also looking at other ways in which we can support the work in the coming months”.
Those young people will be inspired and encouraged by the fact that their work is marked by the Prime Minister of our nation. Those young ambassadors do an amazing job, and I encourage the Holocaust Educational Trust, led unwaveringly by Ms Pollock, to continue with the work that it is doing.
Northern Ireland was the last part of the kingdom to benefit from the Holocaust Educational Trust work, not because there was any lack on our part, but, sad to say, because of political disagreement. I am delighted that that was righted in 2016 when the two Government Departments came together, led by Ministers from my own party, and put in place the funding to allow for the trust’s “Lessons learned” programme to be extended to Northern Ireland. It is sad that some misguided people think that that is some sort of front for something else and do not recognise how significantly important it is to put that programme in place for our young people.
I am delighted that the Government are extending that programme to our universities. I note once again on the letter that I received from the Prime Minister that a further £6 million of continued funding will go into the “Lessons from Auschwitz” programme, which will be extended to university students. I would love it to be extended to Queen’s University and the University of Ulster. The first time that many young people in Northern Ireland come together in our divided community is, sad to say, when they get to university. I hope that the programme will be extended there to encourage our young people at university. We need that programme; I am encouraged by it and I welcome this debate.
It is my pleasure to take part in this very important debate and to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for his very eloquent and moving introduction.
As we have heard, the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day this year is Torn from Home. I want to talk about this in the context of the genocide in Rwanda, which took place in 1994.
Last year, it was my privilege to lead a parliamentary delegation on a visit to Rwanda facilitated by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. We were privileged to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and museum, which is run by the Aegis Trust, a British organisation based in Newark, which has worked with the Rwandans in creating a permanent memorial to the 1 million Hutus who lost their lives in the 100 days of genocide following decades of tension between Hutus and Tutsis.
The tension came to a head when the President’s plane was shot down and extremist Hutu leaders blamed the Tutsis for killing the President, which led to genocide on a colossal scale, with Hutu civilians being told that it was their duty to wipe out the Tutsis. The state provided support for the massacres, which were carried out by civilian death squads, with local officials assisting in rounding up victims and making places available for slaughter. Even churches and places of worship were used —nothing was sacrosanct. Neighbour turned on neighbour, friend on friend, and relative on relative.
One of the most moving and disturbing parts of the memorial museum for me were the stories told of the children who were killed in the massacre. There were small children, babies and toddlers. Their short lives were chronicled: their likes, their dislikes and their favourite activities. Following this simple account of the normal things that children like to do and are preoccupied with came the violent manner of their death—attacked by machetes and clubs and thrown against walls. I defy anyone to visit that museum and not to come out thinking in a different way; it is one of the most shocking and humbling experiences that I have ever had.
It seems impossible to think that, out of this madness and inhumanity, anything good would ever come out of that country again, but, miraculously, Rwanda is in the process of rebuilding itself as a vibrant and rapidly developing place, which pays due respect to its traumatic past, and, most importantly, learns the lessons from it.
On our visit, we were immensely privileged to visit the Bugesera district. We were made welcome at the Village of Unity and Reconciliation where both survivors and perpetrators of the genocide live together, working together for peace and reconciliation. We heard incredibly moving personal testimonies from the villagers, which included a great deal of forgiveness and understanding and even marriages taking place between perpetrators and survivors. The villagers explained to us that survivors and perpetrators, finding themselves homeless, simply got together and started making bricks. With the help of a faith-based organisation, Prison Fellowship Rwanda, those bricks were used to build the houses, and the Village of Unity and Reconciliation was born.
One perpetrator explained how he had been poisoned by the venomous propaganda of the genocidal regime, which had convinced him that his Tutsi neighbours were his No. 1 enemy and did not deserve a place in the world. He said that the thought of having to go back to his village once he had served his sentence and live side by side with people whose loved ones he had killed was almost unbearable. Yet he was pardoned by the survivors and now lives in harmony alongside them, with his son marrying the daughter of the family whom he had killed in what he described as an astounding sign of our reconciliation.
Although those people were torn from their homes by the genocide and had loved ones and friends torn from their lives, it was amazing to see them rebuilding their lives together and finding their home again. For me, it was all summed up by one villager who said that they saw themselves no longer as Hutus and Tutsis, but just as Rwandans. Rwanda shows that, out of the madness of genocide and man’s inhumanity to man, people can come together, can forgive but never forget, and can work together as neighbours to ensure that these shocking and dreadful events are never allowed to happen again. As Nelson Mandela said:
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), who made a powerful speech reflecting on her experiences in Rwanda. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) intends to speak about that later.
I have found being a Member of this place quite difficult over the past few weeks and months, given how incredibly divided we are and the volatile atmosphere, so it has been a refreshing change to see such consensus across the Chamber today, albeit for a debate on a very sad subject. If we conducted all our debates in such an atmosphere, we would probably be in a position that was a hell of a lot better. I particularly appreciated the thought-provoking speech made by the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr). It is certainly something I will consider next Monday, when we return for what I expect will be another volatile week.
I think that we all agree that on this, the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration and death camps, it is more important than ever, particularly given the dwindling number of holocaust survivors, to take this opportunity to reflect not only on that awful atrocity, but on other genocides. That is why it is so important to place on the record our thanks to the Holocaust Educational Trust for its work in all our constituencies. In Scotland, over 3,000 pupils and teachers have had the opportunity to benefit from the “Lessons from Auschwitz” project, and I know that a number of Members have had an opportunity to take part in that. Many years ago, when I was a researcher in this place, John Mason, one of my predecessors, visited Auschwitz, and I remember that we could tell how incredibly moved he had been. I think that anybody who has been to Auschwitz has had that experience.
I also want to stand up today and make sure that the Jewish community in Scotland know how safe they should feel in our country. There is no doubt that in this country the Jewish community have had to endure some utterly despicable behaviour, and hon. Members have placed some of that on the record today. A number of years ago I had the great fortune to attend the Garnethill synagogue in Glasgow, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss)—she and I both attended—and to look at some of the Jewish archives. It comes back to education, because it was only then that I began to learn about one of my predecessors, Myer Galpern, who was the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston from 1959 to 1979. In fact, he was a Deputy Speaker of the House from 1975 to 1979. Myer Galpern was not only the first Jewish Lord Provost of Glasgow, but the first Jewish provost in Scotland. I think that it is really important that I, as one of the youngest Members of the House, put that on the record today, to make sure that we never forget the contribution of the Jewish community, not just then but now, and that we embrace them and show them how much a part of our community they are.
I want, in my capacity as a member of the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews, to make some reference to current events, particularly in Hungary. I do not believe that the UK Government have done enough to confront the Hungarian Government about their state-sponsored antisemitism, as seen in the campaign against George Soros, for example. I also make a plea to the Minister to see that the UK Government do more to encourage other countries to promote the just and speedy restitution of property that was seized by the Nazis during the holocaust, much of which has still not been returned to the families of the original owners, despite promises to do so across Europe. I would be grateful if Her Majesty’s Government, through diplomatic channels, could convince other Governments to take action on that.
Let me say again what an honour it has been to be part of a debate where we treat each other with respect. Parliament is all the richer for that today. I am not normally a fan of this place, but Parliament can be very proud of how it has conducted itself today, and I think that sets a good example to our constituents.
I really wish beyond words that we did not have to have this debate today, but we do, because the holocaust happened—there are some who dispute that, but it did happen—and because of the heroic efforts of holocaust survivors, who, every time they give their testimony, are choosing to relive the horrors of their past to try to protect us from reliving those horrors in future. Despite all that, we are failing to see the same warning signs as those that were there in Germany in 1932 and 1933. We are failing to see them here today in these islands. They are sometimes on display in this Parliament, and all too often in parts of our society that no democratically credible politician should ever associate themselves with, but all too often we do because we think there might be some political advantage to ourselves from it.
The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), in a deeply moving speech, referred briefly to the contribution that holocaust survivor Eva Clarke made to the event in Parliament earlier this week. One of his colleagues referred to a tiny spark of light in the darkness. Sparks of light in the darkness do not get much tinier than Eva, because she weighed just over three pounds when she was born. She is possibly the youngest of all holocaust survivors, because she was born after some of the camps had been liberated. She was born on the cart that was taking her pregnant mum from the train to the death camp at Mauthausen on 29 April 1945. The reason that date was so significant was because if it had been 28 April, Eva and her mum would have been put into the gas chambers and killed, but on 28 April the gas chambers stopped their evil work because they had run out of gas. Twenty-four hours difference in the arrival time of a train meant literally all the difference in the world to Eva, and it means that we still have the benefit of Eva’s testimony—and her mum’s testimony, until she died a few years ago. Such testimony reminds us not only of the horrors of what happened but the immense power of good—of love—that was demonstrated all the way through. We have heard mention of some of the families who sheltered Jewish families, at enormous risk to themselves, for months and sometimes even years, taking complete strangers into their homes and hiding them in order to try to protect them from the evil that was about to be done to them.
As everyone else has done, I say thank you to Eva and to all the other survivors, who do not need to put themselves through this. They could just go away and live a quiet life, and try to come to terms privately with what they had experienced in their younger years. They choose to put themselves through it to try to give us the warning, again and again and again, of what happens when hatred becomes normalised—when it becomes normalised to spit at a child on their way to school just because he or she is Jewish, normalised to react to news of a killing by wondering which side of a divide the killers were on and which side the victim was on before we decide how we are going to react, or normalised for Christians to hound their fellow Christians out of their homes because they are the “wrong kind” of Christians. Within my lifetime, in parts of these islands, that has happened to Christians on both sides of the divide. When it becomes normalised for people to say that it is horrific that some of the families trying to cross the border from Mexico into America are carrying prayer mats—when the carrying of a prayer mat is a sign that somebody becomes a threat—we should all be concerned. That blatantly racist, Islamophobic attitude has not only become normalised—it got elected, because that was said in a tweet from the President of the United States of America.
A lot of this hatred comes not just from social media but from the front pages of newspapers that I do not need to name. I make a plea to all Members here and ask the Front Benchers on both sides of the House to relay this message back to their colleagues as well. When those same newspapers ask for an interview, when they offer 150 quid for an article, or when they invite us to celebration parties for their editors’ achievements, we need to think about how we respond, because if we support, in any way whatsoever, the purveyors of hatred—whether it is antisemitism, Islamophobia or any other form of hatred—our words, “Never again”, will only be words, and hollow words at that. The 6 million murdered Jews of Europe and the millions of other murdered citizens of Europe deserve much, much more than hollow words.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for introducing it and all the Members who have spoken.
I am proud to be a friend of Israel. I am proud to remember the Balfour declaration and the role that the British played, along with their allies, in returning some of Israel to her people after the second world war. In 1920, Britain assumed responsibility for Palestine under a League of Nations mandate. During the next two decades, more than 100,000 Jews entered their home country. I am proud of the part that this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—always better together—played in ensuring that the Jewish people could return to their homelands.
I declare an interest, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. The motivation for many of us to speak in this debate is our own faith and how we feel when we see wrongs that have to be righted and wrongs that have to be spoken about. This debate is one of those occasions.
We now have a part to play to secure the history of the Jewish people once again. In a world that seeks to whitewash and even begin to refute the evidence of a holocaust, it is more important than ever that we in this country take a stand about the true history of the Jews during the second world war.
I read an article by a writer who happened to be born into the Jewish faith regarding holocaust denial. He outlined how a friend’s 88-year-old Jewish grandfather travels the length and breadth of the country to talk in schools of his experience of the camps. Many Members have referred to similar people they have met. He ensures that the children he reaches have heard with their own ears the tales of the horror that happened when people refused to question evil and inhumanity. That gentleman is a hero, but he is one of the few survivors, and with them go the first-hand experiences.
Those stories need to be told. My fear is that when we lose the first-hand experiences, it becomes simply numbers on a page, and now it becomes a number that umpteen people on Facebook deny, without measures being taken by the administration. I was brought up to learn in history classes of Bloody Mary’s reign and her choice to kill by burning at the stake 300 Protestants. It is all very well to look at the historical context, but we must never lose compassion or thought for any of the families who lost loved ones in this horrific manner. The definition of compassion is feeling someone else’s pain in our heart. Every one of us here has felt others’ pain in our heart, and that is what we have tried to express.
Will the slaughter of 6 million human beings become a fact in a history lesson, or will it be a lesson that every generation learns regarding mankind’s ability to be completely and utterly full of evil and madness? We must not allow the massacre of Jews during the holocaust to become something in movies and history classes; it must be a living, breathing lesson embraced by every generation. We must ensure that the names of those who were murdered are spoken and that children are afforded the opportunity to visit Auschwitz, to see the wedding bands and shoes that reach beyond the grave. We must ensure that schools retain in-depth teaching of this terrible period of history and do not simply pay lip service to it.
We must ensure that we live in a United Kingdom where our British Jewish citizens feel able and happy to recount the stories handed down through generations. We must ensure that the representatives in this Parliament play their part and stamp out the antisemitism and misinformation that is not dissimilar to the propaganda that Goebbels was so proud of. We have a role to play in protecting not simply the history of the holocaust but its legacy: the promise from a horrified world that we will never let this take place again.
In my final minute, I want to mention the part that Strangford played, long before it was the constituency it is today. The Kindertransport children were transported from Germany to England and then on to other parts of the United Kingdom. Some of those children came to McGill’s farm in Millisle in my constituency. The farm and some of the buildings that the children were housed in are still there. Some of those people stayed and married, and there are generations of them there.
I will finish with a line I read in an article, which said:
“One thing we all share: none of us can trace our families back more than a couple of generations. The Holocaust, as I’ve come to think of it, is history’s loudest full-stop.”
It should not be allowed to be a full stop. It must be an ellipsis that indicates an unfinished thought. We cannot draw a line under the holocaust as something that was done and is over. We must ensure that we continue to think about and consider the holocaust—the history and, most importantly, the humanity of it all—and we must ensure that the generations that follow do the same. That is what this debate is all about.
It is a real privilege to sum up for the Scottish National party in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on securing the debate, and the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) on tabling an early-day motion for us all to sign to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.
This is the 18th Holocaust Memorial Day, commemorating the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and this debate has become an annual event in the House. In the book of remembrance that Members sign each year, we often see it written that we should “Never forget”. Perhaps more than that, we should always actively remember. This debate provides the opportunity to renew that and to reflect on the holocaust, especially as the number of survivors continues to dwindle, as we have heard many times today.
This year also marks significant anniversaries of other 20th-century genocides: 40 years since the end of the genocide in Cambodia, and the 25th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. If the number of survivors of the holocaust continues to dwindle, there are still many survivors of those genocides. The late 20th century is still with us, and the memory is still visible and raw. I took part in the same delegation that was led by the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), and it had an equally powerful impact on me. An estimated 1 million Tutsis were killed in just 100 days between 7 April and mid-July 1994 in Rwanda. The memorial garden in Kigali, which we visited, is incredibly moving. Over 250,000 victims are interred on that site.
I remember at the time in 1994 and indeed since, hearing of the Rwandan genocide almost as though it was a relatively spontaneous event, with the Hutus incited by their Government to rise up and take matters into their own hands. What that memorial and the visit more generally made me realise is, in fact, how premeditated the killings were, how the roadblocks that sprung up had been co-ordinated, how weapons had been manufactured for months if not years, and how a decades-long propaganda campaign had demonised the Tutsi community. When the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), and others, said that the holocaust did not begin with killing, but with words, it strikes me that that is true of all the other genocides in the 20th century and throughout history, not least in Rwanda.
As the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton said, there are positive lessons from the aftermath in Rwanda, and if the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is Torn from Home, one of the key memories for me was the reconciliation village, where perpetrators and victims together now make their homes. They have sought and exercised forgiveness, and they teach their children to learn from the mistake of their forebears. Such a first-hand opportunity to experience and witness the legacy of genocide is invaluable. It is one that we must find ways of extending to as many of the current and future generations as possible, including by hearing the kind of survivor stories that my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) spoke about, as have others throughout the debate.
I equally join in the tributes paid to the Holocaust Educational Trust and its “Lessons from Auschwitz” programme. Many Members have already taken part in that, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) spoke about one of his predecessors. The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, visited in 2018, following the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, who accompanied 200 schoolchildren on their visit in 2017. The Scottish Government have committed to continuing to fund the “Lessons from Auschwitz” programme. I think the First Minister has said that, as long as she is in office, she will make sure that continues.
The national lottery has recently announced £296,000 for Scotland’s first Jewish Heritage Centre, which will be based in the Garnethill synagogue, the oldest in Scotland—founded in 1879—which I have had the privilege of visiting. That will include a Scottish holocaust era study centre to provide public access to the important records held by the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, which document the experience of adult and child refugees who fled Nazi Europe before the outbreak of the second world war and of those who came after as survivors of the concentration camps.
I agree with all the sentiments expressed today about how we must continue to provide an environment where antisemitism is condemned and called out, and where it is unacceptable in any circumstances.
An undeniable rise in incidents has been documented by the Community Security Trust, and we have a particular responsibility as parliamentarians to lead by example and promote zero tolerance, even within our own parties, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) pointed out. Likewise, we should support positive initiatives that celebrate faith and diversity, and promote tolerance. I was pleased to attend an event at the end of Scottish Interfaith Week in November, and it concluded with a moving exhibition at the University of Glasgow of the work of the Glasgow Jewish artist, Hannah Frank, who died in 2008 aged 100. The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is Torn from Home, and events such as the holocaust and other genocides tear us all from our comfort zone and our shared humanity. We must find ways of recovering that.
Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27 January, and on 25 January the memory is celebrated around the world of Scotland’s great humanitarian poet, Robert Burns. He reflected on needless violence and murder in his 1790 poem, “I murder hate”:
“I murder hate by flood or field,
Tho’ glory’s name may screen us;
In wars at home I’ll spend my blood—
Life-giving wars of Venus.
The deities that I adore
Are social Peace and Plenty;
I’m better pleas’d to make one more,
Than be the death of twenty.”
Global deaths due to genocide in the 20th century are far in excess of 20 million, so as we remember those torn from home by genocide, perhaps we can also reflect on those humanitarian values expressed by Burns, and on how much needless suffering could have been, and still can be avoided, if the deities we choose to adore are social peace and plenty.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for his passionate and eloquent speech, and for the work he does throughout the year in rooting out antisemitism and combating it whenever he sees it. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have spoken—in these times of division it is good to see the House coming together, as I believe that is when the House is at its best. Like all hon. Members who have spoken, I thank the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which work throughout the year to ensure that the horrors are never forgotten and that lessons are learned. I add my tributes to those for Lord Alf Dubs. He learned that lesson a particularly hard way, and he is assiduous in applying what he went through and how he felt to the refugees of today.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), the chair of the all-party group against antisemitism said, we must show solidarity in the face of antisemitism, because unfortunately that scourge is still very much part of the modern world. Social media has given it a new platform on which people can speak vile hatred and feel validated in their views by others. I am horrified that many British Jewish people to whom I have spoken are considering moving either to Israel or to another country. It is appalling that in this country, and this century, people are considering being “torn from home”—the theme of today’s debate—but it is not altogether surprising. There has been an increase in attacks, and in my area of Greater Manchester there have been three attacks on the Urmston Jewish Cemetery. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) eloquently put it, home is community, family and friends, and we must support those in our community who feel threatened today.
We must tackle antisemitism wherever it is seen, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) said, there should be no bystanders. She has shown that many times through her actions as well as her speeches. We must condemn antisemitism and root it out wherever it is seen, including in our own backyards, and that includes the Labour party.
The Labour party was formed to give a voice to the voiceless and to represent the oppressed. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) that it is the responsibility of us all to show that we have zero tolerance of antisemitism in the Labour party, or wherever it rears its ugly head. It is not only vile, but it refuses to recognise, indeed denigrates, the great contribution of the Jewish people to this country—indeed, any country in which they have settled.
I am proud that in Greater Manchester we have the largest community of Jewish people in Britain after Greater London; and they have been there for over 200 years. It has been home to individuals as diverse as Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Karl Marx. They were very different characters, but each saw Manchester as their home. They chose to come to Manchester. However, the theme today is Torn from Home, and that is people who have no choice. They had no choice, as children, to be sent to an area they did not know, to people they did not know. There was no choice for people torn from their home and sent to the death camps, torn from their families, their friends, herded into cattle trucks and often to their death. They were human beings like us, 6 million of whom were exterminated, and that is a staggering number. In fact, it is a number so big that it can hardly be comprehended, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) said.
We are also here to hear the testimonies and listen to people’s stories, and hear about the contributions of the survivors, as my right hon. Friends the Members for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) and for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) reminded us. That is why the Holocaust Educational Trust does such great work in schools and colleges, taking in the recorded testimony of survivors, and taking students, such as those from Winstanley College in my constituency, to visit the death camps. There is no better way to try and comprehend that horror, as I know from my personal experience. I took my daughter when she was 11— 20 years ago—to visit one of the camps, and she has never forgotten it, and neither have I.
Remembering the holocaust gives us a perspective on the world we live in today, and that is all the more important as we reflect on the genocides that have continued to occur in recent years, such as that in Rwanda, which my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) spoke about. She gave us a story of hope—hope that people can come together. However, we also need to be aware of the bigotry, the prejudice, the hatred, and the anti-democratic forces that are still here today. The holocaust may be a part of the past, but the causes continue to cast a dark shadow over the present, and we must remain vigilant and speak out, and be louder.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee, and commend the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for securing this vital debate.
It has been a real privilege to hear nearly 30 powerful speeches and contributions by hon. Members across the House. It was a particular honour to hear the personal stories of the hon. Members for Dudley North and for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I echo the pledge to fight racism and prejudice wherever it is found. To put the mind of the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) at rest, Lord Pickles is focused on the matter of restitution.
The holocaust remains an incalculable tragedy that has touched so many lives, including hundreds of refugees, kinder and holocaust survivors who now call Britain home. Every year we are privileged to hear their testimony. Some tell of their life before the Nazi occupation and the impact of Kristallnacht. Others give harrowing accounts of conditions in the death camps and the forced marches. Others were separated from their parents as children, to be brought up safely.
There are also stories of those who reached out and saved others. We can take pride in the fact that some of those extraordinary people were British. One such man worked for the Foreign Office. As we have heard, his name was Captain Frank Foley. Just yesterday, at a moving ceremony in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a bust of Captain Foley was unveiled by the Foreign Secretary, and holocaust survivor Mala Tribitch.
As we have heard, the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is Torn from Home. It is especially poignant for me, as Minister responsible for housing and homelessness. Home usually means a place of safety, comfort and security. As I think about the holocaust and the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Srebrenica, I am mindful of the thousands upon thousands of people who never saw their homes again. It is also important to note that this year is the 40th anniversary of the genocide in Cambodia and the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda—in 2013 I had the honour to visit the memorial in Kigali.
Few events have had such a monumental impact on our democracy, our history and our values as the holocaust. That is why this Government are so proud to support the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and its vital work in communities across the country. I pay tribute to Laura Marks and the team led by Olivia Marks-Woldman who have ensured that Holocaust Memorial Day goes from strength to strength. Their incredible efforts will see more than 10,000 events take place up and down the country this year.
I acknowledge a number of others as well: Karen Pollock and the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, educating young people of every background about the holocaust and the important lessons it teaches us today; Dr Ben Barkow, his work at the Wiener Library and in setting up the Holocaust Explained website to help us all better understand that dark period of history; Lillian Black, who has worked tirelessly to create the holocaust centre at Huddersfield University, which will provide vital holocaust education for young people; and, finally, the amazing work at the holocaust memorial centre in Newark, which is ensuring that survivor testimony is preserved for future generations.
I will also reflect on the historic task given to my Department to build a national holocaust memorial and learning centre, which we are doing with a cross-party foundation headed by the right hon. Lord Pickles and the right hon. Ed Balls. There can be no more powerful symbol of our commitment to remember the men, women and children who were murdered in the holocaust, and all the other victims of Nazi persecution, including Roma, gay and disabled people, masons and others. It will draw on the history of the holocaust and subsequent genocides. It will stand as a memorial, yes, but equally it will stand as a warning—a warning of where hatred can lead and a warning that when we say, “Never again”, we have to mean it.
After the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—which I was privileged to visit privately in 2017—the world said, “Never again.” Yet exactly 30 years later, in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge claimed the lives of a quarter of the population through mass murder and starvation, and we said, “Never again.” Twenty years later, almost 1 million Rwandans were murdered in 100 days, in a conflict in which friend turned against friend, and neighbour against neighbour. Once more, we said, “Never again.” We then witnessed the murder of 8,372 mostly Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica—I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) for his amazing speech—and we said, “Never again.”
Rather than despair at the world’s collective failures, however, we must reaffirm our ongoing responsibility as citizens, as a nation, to do everything we can to stop such atrocities happening again. We must remember, too, that tolerance and reconciliation begin at home. The rise in the number of antisemitic incidents in the UK is shameful. It saddens me that Jewish communities in the UK should ever feel a sense of threat.
Each year that passes, I am mindful that living witnesses to the tragedy of the holocaust are becoming fewer in number, so I will conclude by remembering two incredible women we lost last year: Gena Turgel, who survived the Krakow ghetto, a death march, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, as we have heard; and Sabina Miller, who was born in Warsaw, survived the Warsaw ghetto and spent most of the second world war on the run from the Nazis. In later life, Sabina worked closely with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, receiving the British Empire Medal in 2017 for services to education. Both lives are a warning of the dangers of hatred but, equally, they are profound examples of tolerance, kindness and respect. They are examples we should do our best to follow—and never forget.
Again, I thank everyone for this debate. It is the right thing to do. It has been an honour for me to be the Minister replying today.
This has been an amazing debate. We have heard moving and powerful speeches, and had some amazing contributions. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us to have the debate, and every Member who supported the application for it and who took part in it. It has given us the opportunity to pay our respects to the victims of history’s greatest crime and to dedicate ourselves to opposing racism and prejudice wherever we find it.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day 2019.