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Holocaust memorial week is an opportunity to remember and honour those people who lost their lives in the holocaust. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary
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said, 6 million Jews, as well as Roma, Sinti, disabled people, Poles, Russians, political opponents, homosexuals and trade unionists were murdered by the Nazi regime. Approximately 1.5 million children were killed in the holocaust. Those children would have been our future, and we should honour their tragically short lives. One of the most affecting parts of the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem is the memorial to children. It is a silent memorial. When one thinks of the noise and movement of children, a silent memorial is very affecting.

I commend the Under-Secretary and the Opposition spokesman for their excellent speeches. Both used the phrase, “Never again”, which is used frequently about the holocaust. However, to society’s cost, the world has failed more than once to prevent or halt genocide—in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and now Sudan. In our interconnected world, we have a responsibility to act to prevent any repetition of the mass murder and attempted extermination of a people that was the holocaust. That is only one reason for the holocaust’s relevance today.

In the 1930s, Germany was hijacked by the rise of far-right nationalism, which preached intolerance, hate and racism. In recent years, we have witnessed an increase in support for far-right parties here in local elections and abroad in countries such as Austria. That is why this year’s theme—stand up to hatred—is so important in a year of European elections. I hope that hon. Members of all parties will work together to combat any racism and religious hatred that threatens to come out of those elections.

Racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism plague community cohesion and race relations, and all politicians must unite to work against the reactionary and illogical mantras of the far right. Remembering, and educating people, especially young people, about the holocaust are invaluable tools in confronting racism and bigotry. That is why I am so pleased that, working with Conservative-controlled Swindon borough council, we are together bringing the “Anne Frank and You” exhibition to our town in April. It will help to educate and emphasise the relevance today of the holocaust of yesterday to not only our young people in Swindon but the whole Wiltshire community. It will help us to tackle some of the local problems that we have experienced between different religions and races and different parts of our community in Swindon. It will also help children to understand and reflect on what is happening in the world today and on what happened in the past.

I pay special tribute to Rod Bluh, the leader of Swindon borough council, members of whose family were on the last trains out of Nazi Germany before the second world war, for his leadership and determination that the “Anne Frank and You” exhibition should come to Swindon.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady. I am sure that she agrees that genocide and mass murder do not stem from only one part of the political spectrum—we think of the works of Stalin, and of Mao in the cultural revolution. Like the Under-Secretary, last summer I spent some time with VSO, and I was sent to Cambodia, where an auto-genocide happened. At that time, I was a young boy and blissfully unaware of what was happening there. That happened in an extreme left country, but was stopped by another country from the same part of
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the political spectrum. Vietnam’s interference and invasion thankfully stopped the mass murder of a third of the Cambodian population. Is not the overriding point the one that the Under-Secretary made about others standing by—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Interventions must be brief; the time for the debate is limited.

Anne Snelgrove: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I did not mean to suggest that bigotry and hatred came from only one part of the political spectrum. I thank him for making that point.

The fundamental themes of justice, political literacy and identity inspire and motivate young people to recognise their rights and responsibilities as citizens. We hope that that will come out of the “Anne Frank and You” exhibition. By making sense of the past, and realising where unchallenged discrimination can lead, young people are empowered to contribute positively to a future society that we hope will be free from discrimination and hatred.

I pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which seeks to educate not only children but all people, including parliamentarians, about the holocaust, not just for its own sake, but so that we might learn the lessons that it holds for us today. I have the privilege of being a member of a cross-party party group that the Holocaust Educational Trust took to Poland last year. We visited several places to witness the continuing effect of the holocaust and the concentration camps on modern Polish society as well as the effect on Poles when it happened.

One visit that will stay with me for ever was to Majdanek concentration camp. We do not hear much about it in this country because almost everybody died; there were few or no survivors to bear witness. I find it difficult to articulate how I felt after that visit. Although we went in July, it was a horrible, drizzly, foggy day, and the area seemed surrounded in gloom—rightly so. As we went into the huts, I was struck by the smell and the visual drabness of the whole area. My imagination still goes into overdrive about what happened at that terrible place. It is right that the Polish nation and the world keep such places available for us to visit.

I pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust in taking sixth formers from my constituency and those of other hon. Members to visit Auschwitz each year. I hope to visit it this year, with children from my constituency. I think that they will find it as affecting an experience as I did, and it is through such experiences that we keep alive what happened during the second world war and ensure that it does not happen again.

Another feature of our visit was an opportunity to meet some of our counterparts in the Polish Parliament, and representatives from its President’s and Prime Minister’s offices, to discuss ways of identifying and combating anti-Semitism and racism. We told them about the British Government’s support for the Holocaust Educational Trust’s student visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau. We need to ensure that dialogue and discussion continue between our parliamentarians and Polish parliamentarians, so that, through the European Union, we can encourage Poland to come more into this century as well as to look
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back and deal with the issues arising from the holocaust and the second world war that it has found so difficult to deal with.

Mr. Dismore: I, too, was on that visit, and what struck me when we visited the Warsaw ghetto was that the consequences are still with us today. We saw the tram tracks on what was formerly Warsaw’s equivalent of Oxford street, which had been completely devastated. We also visited the villages, the majority of whose populations had been Jewish, where the Jewish people had been entirely wiped out. It showed just how close the Nazis had been to succeeding, and I think that that emphasises the importance of what my hon. Friend is saying today.

Anne Snelgrove: My hon. Friend has eloquently made the point that I was about to make. Even though the liberation of Auschwitz took place 64 years ago, we cannot say that the problems are not still with us today. They are a stain on Europe, particularly where those concentration camps were situated. We need to work closely with the Polish Government and the Polish people to enable them to overcome that stain, to recognise where Jewish people lived in their country, and to celebrate the past as well as recognising the difficulties that the people in that country faced in dealing with—or not dealing with—what was going on among them at the time.

Majdanek was a camp that was situated right on top of a community in a city. It was not hidden from civilisation. That is shocking. I give that example not as a condemnation of the Polish people but as a warning to all of us. If we are not careful, it will happen again among us. That is the true meaning of “Never again.”

2.2 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): My parents were among those who were provided with refuge in the UK from the turmoil of war and the fracturing of a continent. For that reason, I am extremely proud and grateful that, as a nation, we honour the victims of the holocaust by officially commemorating this day. I would like to pay tribute to Europeans across the continent who provided refuge to those fleeing persecution. I only regret that, once again, the press—with one or two noble exceptions—seem to be too busy to attend this debate in person. I hope that that absence will not be repeated next year.

The philosopher George Santayana said:

Our aim is to live by that moral and to remember the 6 million victims of the holocaust, as well as the many other victims of genocide who have already been mentioned. Unfortunately, genocide remains a stain on the 20th century, with around 150,000 victims in East Timor, 500,000 in Cambodia, 500,000 in Ethiopia, and more in Tibet, Bosnia and Rwanda. Genocide continues even now in Darfur and towards the Karen people in Burma. It is also worrying that the international community has not been able to draw a line under the Rwandan genocide, with remnants of the tribal tensions spilling over into the present conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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The situation facing the indigenous people of West Papua is just as bad. One of the worst examples is the displacement and killing of thousands of people to make way for the giant American and British-owned Freeport mine, the largest gold mine in the world, which has reduced a sacred mountain to a crater and poisoned the local river system. We talk about this here, but, collectively, we still allow it to happen elsewhere.

I also pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which is so ably led by Karen Pollock, and without which I doubt we would be having this debate. Sadly, however, there are threats to the holocaust’s memory. According to the BBC, 94 per cent. of funding for the museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau comes from Poland, with only 6 per cent. coming from elsewhere. I would like to ask the Minister whether our Government would consider making a more formal financial contribution, in order to keep the memory alive. The impact of visiting the museum in Auschwitz is profound, and almost no one who has been there can forget it or deny the holocaust.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Last year, I went to Auschwitz-Birkenau under the aegis of the Holocaust Educational Trust, and it was indeed a profoundly moving experience. I also went to see how the trust prepared the youngsters before they visited the site, and I was hugely impressed by the contribution of a man called Joe Perl, a holocaust survivor. After all he had been through, he was still filled with enough love of humanity to carry his message to those young children. I was also impressed by the fact that when the children came back, they were encouraged to talk about their experiences and to think of ideas to ensure that these things can never happen again.

Lembit Öpik: I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. The lessons to be learned from Auschwitz are a priceless contribution to education, and I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to write a letter to their local schools to encourage the take-up of that scheme.

In addition, I would like to cite a film that I saw recently. It was called “Defiance” and it chronicled the outstanding contribution of two heroes in Poland: the Bielski brothers, Tuvia and Zus. They harboured 1,200 citizens in the forests of Poland to give them protection at the height of the holocaust. They personify the heroism of so many in Europe’s darkest hour.

Education is our greatest weapon against the recurrence of genocide in Europe. I join others on both sides of the House in honouring the victims of the holocaust, along with those who were brave enough to condemn it in the past, and those who promote its memory in the present so that it can serve as a practical reminder for the future.

We must also commend the work of the Kindertransport, before world war two broke out, in securing the future for more than 9,000 Jewish children. Such examples show the human race at its best, in contrast with the very worst, as illustrated by the holocaust. Let us also remember the fragility of tolerance. People may make a pariah of Germany, but in the Channel Islands, which were occupied, there was a degree of co-operation by people not far from here. That suggests to me that we have to be vigilant, ensure that the underlying causes of intolerance are challenged, and hope that this kind of behaviour never ceases to be characterised as wrong—an opportunity to scapegoat by those who are unwilling to see the bigger picture.

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The holocaust of world war two is a salutary lesson in what has happened on our own European doorstep. But, more than that, it is a blood-stained testimony to what happens when an ordinary, decent society is allowed to descend into extraordinary barbarism through the abandonment of basic human rights. It is our duty to end the systematic killing of people and groups across the globe, long after the eye witnesses to the holocaust are gone. The few remaining holocaust survivors will not always be with us, and that is why we need the museum. Standing up to hatred means taking a stand for a future in which we simply do not allow systematic killing to take place anywhere in the world. That will require us to revisit our approach to foreign policy, because we do not always get it right.

I am grateful that the Government have done a great deal to embrace the memory of the holocaust. We are not just standing up against hatred; we are taking a stand for a future in which the honour of those who died in the holocaust will never be abandoned, and in which the errors of the holocaust will never be repeated.

2.9 pm

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. We all know the history of the holocaust, and it is a shame that we do not all believe it. The crisis in Europe between 1914 and 1945 is a subject that has interested me all my adult life. Fully understanding the effects of world war one and the treaty of Versailles on the German nation is, I believe, fundamental to understanding—if it is possible to understand—how Hitler rose to power in Germany.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend mentions the period between 1914 and the second world war. We commemorate the holocaust, of course, which relates only to the second world war. Does he agree that it is about time we also acknowledged the Armenian genocide committed at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915, which is unfortunately often forgotten, although it was cited by Hitler as one of the sources of the genocide against the Jews in the holocaust?

Gordon Banks: My hon. Friend is right. I hope that people in history will learn from history—from its good points, anyway.

For people in Hitler’s Germany who were not Jews, not gay, not disabled, not a Jehovah’s Witness, not a communist or a Roma and who kept their noses clean, life under Hitler, after the failures of the Weimar republic, could be good or even fine. So what does that really say? To me it says that if people are prepared to close their eyes to what is happening to the people they work with, if they are content to turn away from what is going on in their streets, and if they can put out of their minds what is happening to members of their family, things are not so bad.

It is the ability to turn a blind eye to hatred and intolerance that worries me today. We cannot and must not judge people on their sexuality, religion or ethnicity—yet all too often we do. I am also concerned when we all too often allow others to express these views without appropriate challenge. There are people who display these intolerances in our country’s politics today—they are sometimes dressed up, but they are there. We are failing the victims
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of the holocaust and every decent tolerant person in the UK if we fail to face down this challenge, and that is what it is—a real challenge.

The policy of Hitler and Himmler towards the persecution of non-Aryans was often a piecemeal approach—deadly, yes, but piecemeal none the less. It was a policy that grew into action, the stronger the Nazis became. We all know the end results. History shows us what happens when fascists dress up their policies to gather public support. To give the German people the benefit of the doubt, they could not see the extreme nature of what was coming. Today, we can see what happened and we must face up to and resist the opportunity to embark on such policies, both domestically and internationally. It is no defence for us to turn our back on persecution and genocide, wherever they happen. Yes, it might be a long way away, but so, too, in relative terms, was Germany a long way away from the average Briton in the 1930s.

What do we make of those who peddle holocaust denial, those who fuel a propaganda movement that is active in many countries? It is the responsibility of everyone in positions of power and influence to do everything they can to counter such statements—failure to do so is unacceptable as it increases their credibility. We must face down and defeat those who deny that the holocaust took place. Such remarks are offensive beyond words; they are the work of bigots. We must challenge these people, whether they are Heads of State, leaders of political parties, bishops or revolutionary freedom fighters, for want of a better expression. Genocide is not something that died in 1945; it is still here today.

While we are here in the Chamber talking about this subject in a relatively calm and measured way, we must spare a thought for those who are caught up in this horror—people seeing members of their family killed, raped, dismembered and trying to do just enough to get through till tomorrow when—guess what?—they face the torture, rape and killing all over again. I fear that the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust will never end. I call on this Government and other democratically elected Governments to step up their efforts as we try to stamp out genocide and hatred.

I was fortunate to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and come back—but more than 1 million did not. When I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, there were pupils from two schools in my constituency—Lornshill academy and Crieff high school—visiting for the first time. I am happy that other schools in Ochil and South Perthshire continue to send their pupils there; I hope that they will continue to take up that opportunity for years to come. The impressions left on pupils after these trips are, as we know, often life changing. With every life we change in this way, we may save thousands. To me, that is a good rate of interest.

Wandering though Auschwitz, one would not really appreciate what went on. Sure, there are areas where the gas chambers and the like still exist, but at first sight this place could be any kind of campus; indeed, it had been a Polish army barracks. Birkenau brought the real horrors home to me: the remaining horse-shed accommodation, not for horses but for humans, and the railway track in, but not out. If anyone needs to see how man’s inhumanity to man is best displayed, go to Birkenau.

Every year I urge secondary schools in my constituency to take part in this visit programme and I will continue to do so. Although the lessons are historical, the impact is, sadly, as relevant today as it ever was. To stand up to
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hatred is something we should all be prepared to do. To fail to do so tarnishes the memory of everyone who has been subjected to persecution and increases the likelihood that it will be us next.

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