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It is a strange thing to describe, but when somebody says, "You went to Auschwitz. What was it like?" I have to say that I was very disturbed. I want to finish with
what disturbed me the most. There were TV screens as we came in after landing at Luton airport. "Question Time" was on, and that vile man Mr. Griffin was on TV. The things he comes out with-yes, they will be dressed up to be just the right side of the law and yes, he will not actually say what he truly means-are there to divide us. I just hope that this wonderful country that we live in-and it is a wonderful country-will realise that.
Angela Watkinson: My hon. Friend has just described what disturbed him most. What disturbed me the most-he will have seen this for himself at Auschwitz-was how the whole thing was justified by the Nazis to themselves. They convinced themselves that they were not doing anything wrong. He will have seen the accommodation for the officers who ran Auschwitz-it was where their wives and children also lived-which was no more than a stone's throw from where the prisoners were kept. The people living there could not possibly have not known what was going on, so there must have been a mindset behind it all that convinced them it was justified and that they were not doing anything wrong. That was the most dangerous thing.
Mr. Scott: Yes, that is perfectly correct. The commandant and the other staff lived in close proximity to where people were being gassed. There is no way that their families did not know what was happening, but my hon. Friend is right: they convinced themselves that it was okay.
I return to my previous point: I hope that the people in our wonderful country will realise that, whatever they choose to do, the gentleman whom I have mentioned and what he represents are not the way to go.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: As I said earlier, I went to Auschwitz about 20 years ago. People can read about it or see films and documentaries about it, but it is only when they go there and see for themselves the horrendous thing that happened in Europe in the run-up to and during the second world war that they understand. We should also pay tribute to those who took on the Mosleyites on the streets of London in the '30s, because they were courageous people as well.
Many more people want to speak in the short time we have left, so I would like to finish by again thanking the Holocaust Educational Trust for the privilege of that experience. Even though it disturbed me and even though I think about it every day, it is right to do so, because if we do not think about it, history can repeat itself, whatever group it might be. We are duty bound to ensure that that never happens again.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Before I call the next speaker, let me remind the House that we have approximately 20 minutes left in this debate. Three hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so perhaps all three will bear that in mind when making their remarks.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op):
It is encouraging to see how Holocaust memorial day-set up 10 years ago following the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) with all-party
support-has become so much a part of the calendar and the life of this country. However, it was never intended that Holocaust memorial day should be the sole way in which the holocaust should be remembered. Indeed, its remit was not only to commemorate the unique evil of the holocaust, but to learn lessons from that for other genocides and the prejudice and hatred in the whole of our society. It is because remembering the holocaust and learning the lessons from it need action all year round that the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which was founded by Lord Janner and the late Lord Merlyn-Rees and of which I am a council member, is so important.
Last week I was privileged to take part in the Merlyn-Rees memorial lecture, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust. There were three aspects of that event that underline the importance of holocaust education in its broadest sense throughout the year. Students from the "Lessons from Auschwitz" programme participated in that event, and talked about how their personal experience of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau had greatly affected them and, even more importantly, led them to bring back the message about what had happened there to younger people, so that they too could learn the lessons. A reminder of the current pervasiveness of anti-Semitism was brought home very clearly by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), and I commend his excellent work in this regard, which takes place all year round.
We also listened to a presentation by Efraim Zuroff, from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. He spoke of the importance of bringing Nazi war criminals to trial. It is important to do that to ensure not only that such people are brought to justice, but that young people today can be educated about what happened in the past. It is chilling to discover that, even now, countries such as Austria and Lithuania resist bringing war criminals to trial despite solid evidence of their complicity in mass murder. That should not be allowed to continue.
We should also look at what is happening in the United Kingdom today. The excellent work of the Community Security Trust has revealed record levels of attacks on British Jews. More than 609 incidents were recorded in the first six months of 2009, and increasing numbers of such incidents are linked with events in the middle east. There is an uneasiness across the Jewish community in this country that has not been felt for generations, and that should be a matter not only for that community but for the whole of our society. British Jews are loyal citizens of this country. They participate in and contribute to all walks of life, yet they feel increasingly uneasy and threatened in their own country.
We should also be concerned about the messages of hate that emanate from various sources, including the internet. We are familiar with the messages of anti-Semitic hate from organisations such as the British National party. We are all aware of those, and we are rightly ready to condemn what those organisations are doing. But are we as ready to condemn the anti-Semitic messages of hate that come from Islamist jihadist sources? They are present in our society, on our university campuses and on the internet.
Are we willing to condemn internet sites such as Hamas's al-Fateh website, which are preaching to British children at this moment messages such as the one in a column entitled "Stories of Uncle Izz al-Din"? The column depicts the Jews
"as if they are wolves whose eyes blaze with evil, evil fills their hearts...They are indeed the murderers of the prophets".
Should we allow such a website, with its cartoon headed "Criminal Jews" that depicts a person who is half Israeli soldier, brandishing a gun and with teeth bared, and half stereotyped diaspora Jew, with a skull cap and a big nose, grasping for money? Is it right, as we commemorate Holocaust memorial day, that that internet site should be able to broadcast such messages of hate to children in this country and elsewhere in the world? I am told by the Home Office that it is considering whether there are grounds to stop the website on a voluntary basis. It should make its mind up quickly about that. If we are serious about stopping these messages of hate, we must think not only about the BNP but about Islamist jihadist sources of hate as well. That website is one of them.
Holocaust memorial day has never been only about what happened in the past, however horrendous and uniquely evil that was. It has always been about the present and the future as well. It is about learning the lessons of the past for present and future generations. When we talk about the Holocaust memorial day and remember that yesterday's commemorations focused on the message "The Legacy of Hope", we should renew our determination to fight hatred, prejudice and bigotry wherever we find them, so that we can create a society that is happy, acceptable and fit for everyone.
John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): The Holocaust Educational Trust makes it clear that the people who suffered during the holocaust included gays, blacks and Roma Gypsies as well as, overwhelmingly, Jews. I must admit that I did not know much about the trust until I was invited to go last September to Auschwitz-Birkenau with a group of Glasgow pupils, along with the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and some journalists. It has already been observed that these journeys involve a day of preparation before the visit itself, and a debriefing and school projects afterwards.
Different things affect different people individually on these visits. For one of the journalists, what struck him was the shoes. He told us that he had a little girl, and he realised that some of those shoes would have fitted her. I was challenged in a number of ways. One related to the position of the Roma Gypsies in our society today. They are a group that some people really despise and would not want living next to them. The visit brought it home to me that those feelings are continuing today and are real.
The physical aspect of the visit that struck me was the railway. Some Members will know that I am a fan of railways and that I like travelling by train. Clearly, railways are used sometimes for good things and sometimes for bad things, but to see the railway in the Birkenau camp, which had been specifically built to kill people, struck me as particularly awful. It was built to get the Hungarian Jews into the camps as quickly as possible, quite late in the war. The last thing I did that day was to walk right along the track back to the famous gate.
I have visited other sites that I have found moving, including Terezin, near Prague. It was meant to be a transit camp, but 33,000 people died there, including
prisoners of war, which should not have happened. In Israel, I visited Yad Vashem. The children's memorial there is a dark place with mirrors and a few lights, and the names of the children who died in the holocaust are read out. I found that quite overwhelming. It is also possible to visit ghettos and synagogues in other towns.
The Jews were not the sole victims of the holocaust, but they were largely so. The Holocaust Educational Trust is very good at reminding us that we should oppose all discrimination against all minorities and promote understanding and good relationships. It was a good by-product of our visit to see the children from some very well-off private schools in Glasgow mixing with children from ordinary state schools and, hopefully, understanding each other.
The Jews have suffered a lot, historically. Back in biblical times, they were treated as slaves in Egypt. They were expelled from Rome during the Roman empire. In 1290, England became the first European country to expel the Jews, and that lasted until 1656. Clearly, I am not a fan of Edward I, for a number of reasons. It was interesting that he expelled the Jews, largely for financial reasons, and that Cromwell brought them back for similar reasons. They were expelled from Spain in 1492, and from Portugal in 1497. It has been said that Scotland is the only European country not to have exercised state persecution of Jews, although there was not a large Jewish population there in the past. Also, I went to the cinema recently with a Jewish friend, and youngsters in the cinema were making anti-Jewish comments, so none of us is exempt from that kind of thing.
As time is limited I shall not go into great detail, but I want to raise the question of why the Jews are the subject of so much hatred historically. There are some superficial reasons such as that the Jews killed Jesus, but, fairly obviously, Jesus was Jewish, all Jesus's early followers were Jewish, and the whole early Christian Church was Jewish. One can say that gentiles such as me who follow the Christian faith are the second-rate believers, and the Jewish ones are the first-rate believers.
What are the lessons to be learned from the holocaust? One is that we need to be peacemakers, not just peacekeepers. As previous speakers have mentioned, it is difficult to separate the Jews from Israel. Clearly, some Jews are opposed to the current existence of Israel, and many are opposed to particular policies of the Israeli Government. I fear that for some people being anti-Israel on the surface is a cover for being anti-Jewish underneath. Among committed Christians, there are those who are pro-Arab, pro-Palestine and anti-Israel, and others who are strongly pro-Israel and seem blind to its failings.
On the home front, we need to learn how to treat minorities-including the Jewish one-and the poor. That is a measure of a civilised country. The Equality Bill is important in that regard, and I welcome its protection of the disabled, of gay people and of other groups. However, it is necessary to be careful about how the Bill addresses religious matters. On the foreign front, the lesson to be learned is how to deal with the middle east. It is easy to be a strident supporter of one side or the other, but surely one role for this country is to be a peacemaker in the middle east.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. In that context, I want to place on record all our thanks for the work of Elliot Conway, who has just moved on to greater and better things, having been for a number of years an effective director of the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism. In the past year, I have also chaired the international parliamentary coalition against anti-Semitism. Yesterday, Italy commenced a comparable inquiry to that held by the House on a cross-party basis three years ago, and Canada has also held a cross-party inquiry throughout this week. The cross-party nature of the work and some of the successes achieved have been demonstrated by today's debate. I trust that all parties will ensure that, whatever decisions are made on budgets, such essential work is red-circled at a minimum, in each and every year of the next Parliament.
I also urge those on the Front Benches to consider how they can assist the excellent work of Beth Shalom, the only bespoke holocaust centre in this country, which has sadly had to make some staff redundant in recent times. Local authorities have been unwilling to pay what I would deem an appropriate charge to participate in such educational activities. Engagement by Government and Opposition with James Smith and the team at that centre would be beneficial. In these times of austerity, it is important that such work is not cut back but expanded. There is a role for temporary Government assistance to keep that good work going at the same strength.
I echo the sentiments and thanks expressed to the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Community Security Trust, Stephen Smith and his team, and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust committee. I congratulate both sides of the House on the cross-party alliance on the matter during this Parliament. It has been a model for other Parliaments across the world to take forward such work. I want to suggest some other ways in which we can take the work forward.
In 2012, Olympic year, we should do something, whether in connection with Holocaust memorial day or
in some other way, to look at the contribution of Britain in 1948, why Britain was chosen to host the Olympics, and how racism and the holocaust link to the history of the Olympics. There is a British angle, not least in relation to holocaust survivors in this country who became Olympians, that is a worthy subject for education. I suggest that to the Government and Opposition parties as an agenda item for the next two years.
Just before the Olympics, the Euro 2012 championship will take place in Poland and Ukraine. I do not have the necessary time to go into some of the issues in eastern Europe and the rewriting of history led by academics in particular-the rebalancing of history, as some of them call it-but it is fundamentally worrying. If possible, on a cross-party basis, we should engage their Parliaments on the issue. That football championship, in which all four home countries aspire to participate if they are successful in qualifying-doubtless some will, not least England-gives an opportunity for such engagement. It is vital that we take that opportunity.
We also need to engage the European Union as an institution in holocaust education. Given some of the progress of the past 10 years, since the initiatives of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), backed by others, we have something to sing about. We can do more at the European level. We should engage the European Union, the new European Parliament and Commission, and Britain should take a lead in the Council of Ministers in getting proper resource and thought and more research at a European level and across nations. That will allow holocaust education and the lessons of the holocaust to permeate a wider range of countries. That is our responsibility as British parliamentarians as well as good Europeans, and I recommend that to those on both Front Benches.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): It may be helpful if I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Leeds City Council Bill and the Reading Borough Council Bill are virtually identical, and I think it will therefore be for the convenience of the House if the Bills are debated together.
I do not intend to detain the House with a very long speech. I hope that even the most assiduous students of the Bill will now be satisfied that it addresses a major abuse of the peddling laws in Leeds, while not affecting the ability of genuine pedlars to continue to ply their trade.
In a previous debate, I gave the example of one of my constituents who ran a stall in the centre of Leeds. He employed staff, had a street trading licence and paid taxes and business rates. His business and staff were nearly driven to the wall by a competitor who abused legislation on peddling by setting up in direct competition. Of course, he was able to do so without paying any of the overheads of my constituent. The Bill is intended to give the authorities in Leeds the opportunity to prevent such abuses from occurring while allowing genuine pedlars who are mobile and can carry their wares around with them to continue to trade unaffected.
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