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"Our responsibility is to remember those who were persecuted and murdered, because their lives were wasted. Our challenge is to make the experience and words of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides a meaningful part of our future...It is their example that can inspire us to greater action."
My commitment to the legacy of hope is not just as an elected representative or as a Minister, but as one who shares humanity with those who died. My aim is to do all that I can to ensure that the evils of racism and hatred are challenged and rooted out. Hon. Members know that the Government have worked hard to promote the UK Holocaust memorial day-obviously with cross-party support. We give a sizeable grant to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to help it to do what it does. We also support the Holocaust Educational Trust, as I said earlier, which does outstanding work to raise awareness of the holocaust among young people and others.
Mr. Pelling: As the Minister comes to the conclusion of his speech, would he acknowledge that today is a chance for us to think positively about forgiveness and redemption? For instance, the German Government have given moneys for a proper facility at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Mr. Malik: It is true that those countries found wanting at that time-and it was not just Germany-have learned much and are incredibly progressive. It is also true, however, that there are still elements in those countries who, not so far behind the scenes, are not so disappointed with that past. That is why we have no room for complacency whatever.
I pay tribute again to the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Karen Pollock, and to its chair, Lord Janner. I pay tribute to them for the work that they have done with all political parties and for the way in which they have captured the imagination of young people throughout the country through their work. I pay special tribute to Stephen Smith, the former chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, who has gone on to be chief executive of the Shoah Foundation in the USA. That is just recognition of the exceptional skill and commitment he brought to bear in raising awareness of the holocaust, through the trust and elsewhere, in a way that is meaningful to our lives today. The money from the Government has been magnified many times over through his dedication and that of other colleagues.
On the subject of survivors, Eva Schloss, the stepsister of Anne Frank, was in my constituency. Often, when we are fighting the far right, we equate them with Nazis and it does not quite work. In this case, when one of the kids in my constituency asked her, "What do you think about the BNP?" she said, "I think they're no better than Nazis." That was so powerful, and it had an impact in a way that our literature could never achieve.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I am sure the whole House will be in accord with the Minister, both in the content of his speech on this important topic and in the manner in which he made it. Occasionally, he and I have our differences, but on this issue he, I and everyone else in this House are entirely united. We are all grateful for the opportunity to debate this important topic.
The Minister is right to recognise the importance of Holocaust memorial day and right, too, to recognise the tremendous work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. Many of us will have come into contact with it, and we have found our experience, and our knowledge of this subject, enriched-if that is the appropriate word for so dreadful a topic-by its work. It is right that everyone has the chance to understand the horrors of what happened, so I endorse entirely everything that the Minister said.
I, too, am sure that those of us who have had the privilege of meeting holocaust survivors will have been profoundly moved by their testimony. As the generation who suffered in the holocaust leaves us, it is all the more important that their memories are kept alive and that the lessons are learned. I was particularly struck by the comments of Members who have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. My hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) and for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) and I have visited it with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Not only was it a deeply moving experience, but two things about it particularly struck me.
First, it might seem trite, but it is worth restating the sheer banality of the circumstances that gave rise to such horror, and the ordinariness of what had been a run-of-the-mill army barracks but was suddenly turned into an industrial machine for the mass murder of human beings. We were standing in an office that could have been something like a 1930s local government office, but in fact millions of people were consigned to their deaths there. That brings home the fragility of what we take to be civilisation and sophistication in an advanced western society.
Mr. Pelling: May I add to the hon. Gentleman's comments about the banality of Auschwitz-Birkenau? When we visited, we saw the pictures of a band welcoming people who had come there. That was one of the saddest deceits that could have been made against people who were ultimately, or sometimes immediately, going to their death.
Robert Neill: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and we must learn the lesson from the way in which Germany, which had been a democratic state, was perverted, taken over and turned into a fascist dictatorship. We must learn just how easily that can happen, even in an educated and sophisticated society, and how the models of everyday life can be twisted and perverted to evil ends. That strikes us hugely strongly.
The other thing that struck me at Auschwitz-Birkenau came from looking at many photographs, which I also had the chance to do when I visited the holocaust museum in Israel. I thought back to the photographs
that I saw of my parents as young people and my grandparents at about the same time, in the 1930s and '40s. Those in the photographs that I saw were the same type of people, from every rank of society and dressed in much the same fashions of the time. In a sense, it could have been my parents and grandparents. It is hugely important to bring that home to people. It echoes the words of Pastor Niemöller that he did not speak up for others when people came for them, and in the end no one was left to speak up for him. That is a hugely important part of the work.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I commend what my hon. Friend is saying. The message that came across to me and the students from my constituency who went to Auschwitz-Birkenau two years ago, which I was reminded of yesterday, was that the holocaust was not just about the huge scale, numbers and evil consequences but about the individual lives lost and the effect on families and communities. Future generations of families were lost, and that message certainly came home yesterday.
I commend the Holocaust Educational Trust for its ongoing work, not just for what happened yesterday. I was appreciative to hear that in my school, holocaust educators do work throughout the curriculum throughout the year to bring the message home.
The final thing that I was going to say about my visit and the lessons of it was on a point of irony. The evening when we came back from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the leader of the British National party was on "Question Time", which seemed to me a particularly obscene juxtaposition and perhaps reinforced my point about the need for vigilance. Even in societies that we think are sophisticated and democratic, that can be undermined. We must always be alert to that.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that even though people put on suits and ties and stand on doorsteps telling lies, a Nazi is still a Nazi today as it was during the war years?
Robert Neill: My hon. Friend is absolutely right-evil is evil however it is dressed, and we need to restate that continuously. I was struck by an interesting article in The Times by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who made the interesting and historically justified point that anti-Semitism is a virus that mutates. The hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason) mentioned the expulsion of the Jews from this country in mediaeval times, and my hon. Friend pointed out in his article that over the years, the rationalisation for anti-Semitism has changed and been twisted. Initially it was perhaps on the basis of religion, the blood libel and so on, and then it was twisted almost in Nietzschean terms to a scientific, race selection reason. Even today, we have to be alert to the fact that it mutates again into a denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and a homeland.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op):
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the Community Security Trust, in its meticulous collection
of data, has shown that there has been a record rise in attacks on Jewish people? Is that not a stain on our society?
Robert Neill: The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I have been greatly impressed by the impeccable work of the CST. I have come across a number of its organisers and volunteers, and it is right to remember that they do great work. It should be a matter of the deepest concern to all Members that such attacks can continue and that external factors are often perverted to give rise to the increase in anti-Semitism, which I am sure we all condemn.
Mr. Winnick: I agree with that. Saturday will be an unhappy anniversary, because it will be 77 years to the day since Hitler was appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg. Returning to the domestic scene, which the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) mentioned, does the hon. Gentleman accept that although immigration is a perfectly legitimate subject for debate-no one is suggesting otherwise, certainly not myself-there should be particular care in the coming general election about how the debate is conducted? It must be very far from the BNP. If we are talking about discrimination and the persecution of Jews, we must bear in mind that as we saw in Stoke last Saturday, there are also other groups in this country who are subject to racist thugs who will use any sort of lie against the Muslim community.
Robert Neill: The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why it is important first that the mainstream democratic parties are not afraid to address these issues, but also that we set a lead in the tone and responsibility with which we do so. That is hugely important. He is quite right that issues are sometimes hijacked by extremists-we have seen the operations of the English Defence League as well as the BNP, and it is right that we are vigilant against extremism of all kinds.
I mentioned the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which many hon. Members have referred to. I am glad that we are able to do so. It was a Conservative Government who had holocaust education introduced into the national curriculum in 1991, and I am glad that the current Government have enabled that work to expand and continue. My party will always continue to support it, as I am sure all responsible and democratic parties will. It is important that holocaust education remains a part of the core history curriculum. As other hon. Members have said, I hope that other opportunities are taken to bring the topic forward within the curriculum as well. Some local education authorities ensure that it is addressed in religious studies, citizenship and other appropriate areas. It is important that every opportunity is sensibly and sensitively used, and I am sure that we all want funding for such schemes to be supported and continued, because education is crucial to all of us in dealing with these matters.
The Holocaust Educational Trust's outreach programme is crucial and central to its work. I have had the privilege of witnessing in some schools the profound impact that a survivor or someone with direct experience makes. The "Think Equal" scheme has been devised specifically for schools in areas of racial tension and it therefore deals to some extent with the issues that the hon.
Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) rightly raised. We should not limit the education to being about only one community. The scheme works with staff and educators to enable students to focus on the dangers of racism across the board, taking the holocaust as an experience that leads to general application. Surely that, too, is commendable. The scheme also provides training for trainee teachers. It is hugely important that teachers are alert to the subject. Holocaust memorial day is therefore the visible part of a much wider, more significant and very valuable programme.
I hope that the good work that is done in schools will be reflected in some of our institutions of higher education. I greatly hope that we will continue to make the case to the university sector for adopting the EUMC-European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia-definition of anti-Semitism and to deal appropriately with speakers who transgress.
There are still things that we can do practically to take the survivors' legacy forward. The students from Bullers Wood school in my constituency, with whom I had the privilege of travelling, were bright, intelligent young people and the experience played on their minds. One could tell that from talking to them on the plane coming back. That is why the programme is important and I am glad to say that more students from schools in my constituency and many others throughout the country will go this year.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) represented the official Opposition at the national commemoration yesterday. We are united in recognising the importance of Holocaust memorial day, and I echo my right hon. Friend's words that it is
"vital that we teach generations today and in the future"
about what happened and the lessons to be learned. I am sure that all parties in the House wish to continue to support the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and that we all appreciate the importance of Holocaust memorial day.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House accepted my request for the debate, which has become an annual institution. Yesterday was the 10th national Holocaust memorial day commemoration. I take pride in the fact that I devised the parliamentary strategy that led to its being established. I do not take credit for the idea behind it, but for focusing the campaign to make it happen. That occurred after a visit I paid to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust and the personal impact it made on me.
We all have our memories of a visit to Auschwitz and it is always something little that suddenly strikes us. What struck me, from the industrial scale of what I saw, were the piles of shoes and boots, from which every single shoelace had been removed by some poor slave labourer. That brings home the industrial nature of what happened.
I pay particular tribute to Rabbi Barry Marcus for his work. On the plane back from the visit, I thought, "What can I do as an individual to stop this happening again?" Having the privileged position of being a Member of Parliament meant that I had access to the private
Member's Bill process and parliamentary questions to push forward the idea of a memorial day on a cross-party basis.
The motivation was not just to draw attention to the visits to Auschwitz, but to reflect on what I picked up from my constituency. I have the biggest Jewish constituency in the country-one in five people are Jewish. The holocaust is in many ways a living thing in that community. Many debates, discussions and arguments about its implications for modern society go on. However, those discussions are introverted and go on among Jewish people, and I took the view that we needed to try to turn them outward to engage society as a whole. If there were another holocaust-please God, there will not be-it would not come from within the Jewish community, who would be the victims, but from wider society, as happened in Germany. It would come from people from my sort of background-an ordinary small town in Yorkshire or wherever, where there are not many Jewish people. That is why it is important to turn the debate outwards.
The idea was not to rival Yom HaShoah, the Jewish community's own commemorative day. There were arguments in the Jewish community about whether it was a good idea and what day it should be. The purpose was to educate and inform about the lessons of the holocaust, not just on one day, but to use that day as a focus for schools and communities throughout the country. Consequently, events happen throughout the country, including in my borough of Barnet, though, for the first time, I was not invited this year, which I found distressing. We see a lot on broadcast media. Wonderful documentaries have been made and there is good news coverage. Of course, tribute has been paid to the Holocaust Educational Trust, and I am pleased that the visits to Auschwitz are supported by grants from our Government.
As has been said, the holocaust was not about just the Jews, but the Roma and Sinti, gay people, disabled people and political opponents. I have had the opportunity of meeting holocaust survivors at the Holocaust Survivors Centre, which is part of Jewish Care and is based in my constituency. An estimated 5,000 survivors of the camps or refugees live in the UK now, but they are, inevitably, a dwindling band. Indeed, I spoke to the chap sitting in front of me, who was a holocaust survivor, at the ceremony yesterday and he told me that seven of his friends had died in the previous year.
I pay tribute to Judith Hassan, Jewish Care's director of services for holocaust survivors and refugees, and her staff for the work of the Holocaust Survivors Centre. It provides a social centre for survivors, practical advice, befriending and, most important, a recording of testimonies. As survivors age, it is vital that their legacy is recorded. The imaginative legacy of hope means that those testimonies must live on.
We have all heard the moving stories of many prominent holocaust survivors-Ben Helfgott, Gena Turgel and others, who do such magnificent job going around schools-but talking to those who perhaps do not have the same confidence or are less prominent, such as the chap to whom I spoke yesterday, also sends out the message.
Like my hon. Friend the Minister, I visited Poland with the Holocaust Educational Trust and the all-party group on anti-Semitism. We went to Warsaw and Majdanek. As my hon. Friend said, in Warsaw, we saw
the effort not just to eliminate the Jews, but to obliterate all memory of them. The first thing we saw were tram tracks going nowhere in the middle of a wasteland. Our guide said, "Before the war, this was the Warsaw equivalent of Oxford street." It had been completely obliterated. We have heard of the ghetto uprising-the first civilian uprising against the Nazis. The Jews were outnumbered 1,000 to one, and the Germans' technological advantages were enormous, but they held out for nearly a month-27 days in 1943-to make the point that there were people who were prepared to resist.
My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned Oneg Shabbat, the extraordinary archive-the secret archive, which was inspired by Emmanuel Ringelblum, a holocaust victim, to ensure that the memory of the Jewish community lasted. Those people had no way of knowing whether the milk churns would be found, or whether they would be found by the Germans and destroyed, but that was their legacy of hope. In Emmanuel Ringelblum's words:
"It must all be recorded with not a single fact omitted. And when the time comes-as it surely will-let the world read and know what the murderers have done."
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