|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
"hope without memory is like memory without hope."
On our visit to Poland, we went to villages where all traces of the substantial majority Jewish population have been eliminated-completely wiped out. In one village, we found the synagogue down a back street, locked up and now used as a store room. The grave stones had been dug up and used to pave the roads. Some had been recovered and turned into a moving and poignant memorial in the forest some distance away from the village.
As my hon. Friend the Minister said, we visited Majdanek on the outskirts of Lublin. The Polish people must have known what was going on there; they were pretty powerless to do anything about it. We visited the Parliament in Warsaw, and what brought matters home to me there was the memorial to hundreds of Polish Members of Parliament who had been murdered by the Nazis. Those who had not been murdered by the Nazis were killed by Stalin. That brings it home that if it had happened here, none of us would have survived because the intention was to eliminate the leadership of the country.
It was interesting to talk to the Chief Rabbi in Poland-an American rabbi who had gone to live there-and hear how children of the holocaust who had been adopted by Polish families and become Catholics, because that was predominant religion in Poland, were now rediscovering their Jewish heritage and looking into their backgrounds and families.
I pay tribute to the Yad Vashem "The Guardian of the Memory" scheme, which I launched in Parliament two years ago on 23 January 2008. The idea behind it is for us all to take on the responsibility of remembering a victim of the holocaust and light a candle on Yom HaShoah. I asked Yad Vashem whether it could identify victims of the holocaust who were MPs, and it came up with 12 names, whom we paired with living MPs. I chose Itzhak Seiakis who was a Greek MP-the whole House knows that I am quite interested in Greek affairs and speak Greek. Seventy-seven thousand Jews lived in
Greece before the holocaust; 60,000 were murdered. All we knew about Itzhak was that he was born in 1882 in Larissa and died in 1942 in Auschwitz. Rather than just light a candle, I felt it was incumbent on me to find out more about him and to turn him into a person, as it were, in memory.
Using my connections in Greece, I was able to establish that his family in Larissa were merchant tailors, originally from the island of Khios. He had been educated to a high level, probably in either Athens or Istanbul. He moved to Thessaloniki, where he became a Member of Parliament and director of the community charity organisations of the city. He was arrested along with the rest of the panel of the directorate on 14 April 1941 only six days after the Germans invaded. After a few weeks in prison in that city, he was deported to Auschwitz, where he died in 1942.
My researches enabled me to identify a living relative, Alberto, who was living in an old people's home in Thessaloniki. He did not speak any English, so I had to try to make contact with him in Greek, but unfortunately he died weeks before I was able to do so. I regretted that I had not been able to find Alberto Seiakis's legacy of hope and hear his story, and fill in the gaps about Itzhak.
For me, that was about trying to build on that legacy of hope-learning about people whom it is difficult to find out about. We can easily find out about prominent people, but the people who are not easy to find out about make up the 6 million Jews and the 11 million victims. Every single one was a real living person. When we talk about the telephone numbers of people who died, it is easy to forget that each was an individual person with their own family, hopes and aspirations, all of which were snuffed out by the Nazi holocaust.
Have we achieved very much? There are still many outstanding issues from the holocaust-holocaust restitution, for example. Only last year, Parliament unanimously passed the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009, which I introduced as a private Member's Bill. It will come into force in a few days' time so that we can close yet another chapter in the holocaust and enable people to reclaim their looted works of art.
Has Holocaust memorial day achieved the objective we originally set out for it 10 years ago? There is no doubt that there is a much wider knowledge of the holocaust now than 10 years ago; that the holocaust features in our school curricula much more than it ever did; that Holocaust memorial day has provided a focus for communities to come together to talk about the holocaust; and that it has provided an opportunity to confront those Holocaust deniers such as the British National party, as we saw with Nick Griffin on "Question Time" .
Holocaust memorial day has also, indirectly, brought alive the holocaust for the Armenians, although they are not commemorated as part of the process. However, it has not prevented the genocide in Darfur. We remember Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, East Timor and all the other genocides that have taken place since 1945, but genocide is still with us. We must remember, through Holocaust memorial day, that there is still an awful lot more for us to do if we are ever to eliminate genocide from our planet.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): I join the whole House in marking this day and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) for his personal effort over many years to ensure that the House and Parliament mark this important day.
The Minister and the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) mentioned the BNP, and I add my condemnation of those Nazis. What I find particularly distasteful is its use of the Union flag to promote its vile and outrageous policies. The House and the whole country acknowledges that. My father fought in the war, in the Royal Air Force, and my mother was a nurse in the war. For all who fought Nazism in Germany, Italy and other parts of the world, I find the BNP's parading of the Union flag in that way quite repugnant. We should be concerned about that.
We have Holocaust memorial day for two reasons, the first of which is to remember. We remember those 11 million people and 6 million Jews, the intellectuals, Gypsies, liberals and communists-people whose only crime was an accident of their birth or their views. They were not combatants or soldiers and they were not fighting a war; they were innocent men, women and children. As has already been described, they were slaughtered in an industrial way-it was not a frenzied killing or a knee-jerk reaction, but a cold calculated, brutal act of genocide.
It marks-I suppose-the low point in human existence, because the people who did it were led by an elected Government and people who were in other ways intelligent, sensible and rational. Yet because of their hatred for certain sectors of society, they were able to perpetrate that crime. We should never forget the basic fact that it was done in our world, in our continent.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Sadly, as colleagues have already said, the holocaust that occurred in Nazi Germany, though bigger than almost any we have ever seen, was not the last. We have seen genocides in East Timor, Cambodia, Tibet, Burma, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Darfur-the list is very long-and we must never forget that we have an ongoing role in our lives, in our Parliament and in our communities to ensure that people remember what has happened and that they do not let it be repeated.
For that reason, I too congratulate the Holocaust Educational Trust, Karen Pollock and Lord Janner on the magnificent job they have done in getting the importance of listening and understanding across to young people, who perhaps do not have the same connection that some hon. Members have with those who fought in the war or who remember directly. I have not been on one of the trips to which hon. Members have referred, even though I have been invited on a number of occasions. I would like to go-even if saying that I would "like" to go sounds crazy. Sincerely, it is obvious that those who have been have found great strength. Children from my constituency have been on the trips, and it has brought home to them what happened.
I pay tribute to those from this country who tried to do something-the Kindertransport has been mentioned. We should not forget the people in this country who
tried to do something before the outbreak and in early stages of war. The British Committee for the Jews of Germany and the Movement for the Care of Children in Germany pushed through the idea that children from Germany and the occupied territories of Austria and the Czech lands should be able to come to this country. The first transport arrived on 2 December 1938 and the last left Germany in September 1939, just before the outbreak of war. Indeed, the last transport from the Netherlands to this country left on 14 May 1940, the very day that the Netherlands surrendered.
Between 9,000 and 10,000 children came to these shores, 7,500 of whom were Jewish. It was people such as Sir Nicholas Winton who organised and facilitated that. Ordinary families from all over the United Kingdom took those children in. Those children made huge contributions to our society, and we should not forget them or the people who looked after them.
It is almost impossible to say anything new about the holocaust. The spirit to which the Minister referred led to so much good writing and eloquence, which, frankly, none of us in this House can match. I conclude by remembering the words of Pastor Niemöller. As a German in 1946, he reflected on the fact that he and others did not come and raise their issues and concerns. In 6 January 1946, he said:
"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak out."
Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East) (Lab): It is a pleasure, if that is the right word, to speak in this debate in this place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) suggested, we have had a role in these events through history, however small. Let me just point out to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch)-I had a row with Michael Heseltine about this once-that the Nazis were not elected. They never secured a majority. It was the foolishness of the Deutsche Zentrumspartei and the German Conservative party-no partisan point intended-that allowed Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei into power. They were never elected. That may be a small point, but I make it.
It is instructive, too, to look back in Hansard and read the 1937-38 debates on the emergency in Europe that led to the Kindertransport initiative. Many strong speeches were made saying that we must do something, but there were also those who asked what it had to do with us. Let us remember that this was at a time when the Prime Minister of the day, Neville Chamberlain, wrote-I do not have the exact quotation, but I cited it on the 70th anniversary of the Kindertransport-that the Jew, although rather shifty was not terribly unpleasant and we should probably do something to help them. That was the Prime Minister in 1937-38.
When my hon. Friend asks whether national Holocaust memorial day has been successful, my answer is that that is debatable. I recently did a question time with
others at a synagogue in my constituency, and some of the questions asked revolved around the issue of whether it was safe for British Jewry to remain in Britain. The answer is profoundly yes, with qualifications, but if people have to ask that, we have some way to go. Why do we remember? It is for two reasons. First, we must never forget, but secondly, we must never repeat. The two go hand in hand.
Why do we remember the Shoah, the holocaust, more than any other historic event? It is because of its banality, its normality and its extraordinary ordinariness. It is because of the mechanised, industrial scale on which a state's decision to eradicate a race was carried out. We should not equivocate in comparing atrocities, but that mechanistic and industrial nature is unprecedented, and that is why we remember it and should continue to remember it. As the survivors fade away, we have all the more reason to remember. That is why I endorse what everyone has said about the Holocaust Educational Trust. I went to Auschwitz-Birkenau with my hon. Friend in 1998 or 1999, as he said, but as even Kindertransport survivors fade away, we should remember all the more. That is why this debate is important.
The main point that I wish to make is that you cannot equivocate on this issue. You cannot say that you are doing all you can to avoid a subsequent holocaust if you let things slide or pass. I say that not as a partisan point: I genuinely mean it. You cannot indulge Kaminski, given his past. You cannot indulge people who dabble with the history of the Latvian Waffen SS and claim, "That's okay, we don't really mean it and we'll gloss over their history." You cannot do that and mean it when you say, "Never again." The lesson of national Holocaust memorial day must be that you cannot be just a little bit anti-Semitic. You cannot be just a little bit of a holocaust denier, and you cannot be just a little bit in support of terrorism.
Mr. McNulty: The hon. Lady misses the point: it was not a partisan remark. I simply say that she should look at the history. I repeat my point: if Holocaust memorial day is supposed to be about "never again" as well as remembering, we cannot equivocate.
It is a disgrace that at any stage since the inception of national Holocaust memorial day the Muslim Council of Britain has boycotted it. I have said that to its members' faces, so I am not saying anything here that I would not say to them. It is very disappointing that Dr. Abdul Bari decided that Davos was more important than attending the commemorations. That is a matter of profound regret, given the nature and sensitivity of the day. Someone else from MCB attended in a personal capacity, whatever that means, and a rather junior person attended in Dr. Bari's stead. That is a matter for regret for MCB, as well as for the unity that we all seek.
We cannot say "never again" and then indulge Ahmadinejad, the holocaust denier, or others. During the demonstration in London last summer-I was not on it, but I passed it-I saw genuinely sincere people holding banners saying, "We are all Hezbollah now". That made me weep when I saw it. But the leader of that
movement thinks that all Jews are the grandsons and granddaughters of pigs and monkeys, he is a holocaust denier and he wants to push Israel into the sea. That is not to say that Israel is above criticism, but that is a different matter. We cannot as a Government or a country equivocate on those points. You cannot be a little in favour of terrorism and fully support national Holocaust memorial day. You cannot, as al-Qaradawi has done, condemn 7/7 here but then say that our little children bombers in the west bank and Gaza will take on Israel because it is a war state and there is no such thing as an Israeli civilian. You cannot equivocate on such matters: you have to condemn, and you have to condemn harshly.
When I talked to the British Board of Deputies early in the consideration of my hon. Friend's Bill to introduce a national Holocaust memorial day, I said that part of the purpose was to remind people that "never again" meant exactly that. As other hon. Members have said far more eloquently than I could, we have not held to that. If we slip and indulge other people and their ideologies simply because that makes things easier for us, we will fail in ensuring that it never happens again. We should, of course, engage with all communities, including the Muslim Council of Britain, but we should do it in terms that leave people in no doubt about our collective values. That includes condemning anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. If we slip on that just a little or if we tell people what they want to hear rather than what they should hear, we fail. We fail not only as a Government, but as a nation and as parliamentarians.
The substantive point behind national Holocaust memorial day was, of course, never to forget, but-and this is where we have our failings-it is also about ensuring that it is never, ever repeated in any form, but certainly in that mechanised, racist and ethnocentric form. We are in better shape now than we were, but we are being a tad complacent if we think that somehow, 10 years on from the first national Holocaust memorial day, we have done the business and there will never be another holocaust of any description. I hope that that is right, but that legacy of hope is what we build on and hope that it is not formed of eggshells.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Let me start by paying tribute to Karen Pollock and the Holocaust Educational Trust for the work that it does under her inspirational leadership, not only in our schools, but on the trips to Auschwitz. Over a number of years I have visited Babi Yar, just outside Kiev in Ukraine, to which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred earlier, and Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic, as it now is, but in all honesty I had always put off visiting Auschwitz. I had been invited by the Holocaust Educational Trust on many occasions and had chosen to find a reason, which comes from my history. If my grandparents on both sides had not decided to come to this wonderful country, they would have perished in the holocaust and my parents would not have been born, and I certainly would not have been born.
I went to Auschwitz on a quite cold Thursday morning with a plane full of wonderful young people, who will be our future. No matter how hard I tried, I was not prepared for what I experienced. I did not think I would
react in the way that I did, and probably not a day has gone by since October, which is when I went, when it has not played on my mind. Of course I knew what happened in the holocaust. Like the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), I have a very large Jewish community in my constituency. We can dispute who has the largest- [ Interruption. ] We will dispute that on another occasion; none the less, I have a large Jewish community and I am Jewish myself, so I was fully aware of what happened in the holocaust. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and the work he has done, and also to my good friend Lord Janner.
Like others, when I got to Auschwitz, it was the little things that affected me. For me, it was seeing the children's shoes at the start. The last time I had cried before then was on the birth of my daughter, who is now 21, but I am not ashamed to say that it was the first time I had cried since then. The experience had an effect that I cannot really put into words. We went round Auschwitz and saw the crematorium, and as we were above the railway lines where evil people decided who should live and who should die and that children should be dragged away from their parents and murdered, I was honoured to be asked to read a poem. However, I did not make it through the poem. I cried for a second time on that visit, and at one point I could not stop myself. Was it because I felt that, but for a quirk of fate, it could have been not me, but my grandparents standing on those railway lines? I am really not sure.
As we walked round with the young people, they asked me, "What can we do to stop this happening? How can we make a difference?" I said to them, "It's happening today. There are people out there who would do exactly the same today, whether to Jews, Muslims or any other minority group, because hatred is a terrible thing, and hatred without even knowing why you hate someone is even worse." After I was elected to this House, I received a phone call at my home from someone who said, "You dirty Jew. We're going to burn you to death." I obviously cannot tell the House who it was from-because I do not know-but hatred has not gone away.
We owe it to ourselves never to forget. That is why I pay tribute to the work that the Holocaust Educational Trust and others do. If we are so honoured in the coming months, I would like my party-I say this from the Back Benches, but I have asked this of my party directly-to extend the programme, so that more and more young people can go and see what happened, because out there the years go by and people do not grasp the enormity of what happened.
I should like to pay tribute to a few people in my area. Yesterday morning we stood in a quite cold holocaust memorial park, which we have built in my borough of Redbridge. I commend Councillor Alan Weinberg, who was one of the movers behind that, and Leon Schaller, who, along with others, contributed funds for the park. As Rabbi Sufrin said prayers, we stood with children from King Solomon high school and people from all different communities and religions, and we remembered. We also heard from a holocaust survivor-there are obviously fewer and fewer survivors as the years go by. I was again moved, as I am every day on Holocaust memorial day.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|