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Westminster Hall

Thursday 19 January 2012

[Mr Mike Hancock in the Chair]

Backbench Business

Holocaust Memorial Day 2012

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Crabb .)

2.30 pm

Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): We come to the debate to mark Holocaust memorial day. I am delighted—I am sure that the whole House is—that so many Members have decided to take part. The first Member to be called is Gavin Barwell.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hancock. On 27 January—the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—the UK will, for the 12th time, celebrate Holocaust memorial day. I am very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, which has become something of an annual tradition in Parliament in recent years. I am also grateful to all Members who have attended today.

With your indulgence, Mr Hancock, I shall start with an explanation. When I originally requested this debate, I was a lowly Back Bencher. Subsequently, I was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). I checked with the Backbench Business Committee whether that was a problem, and it said no. However, the Government have chosen a Minister from my Department to respond to the debate, so there is a technical issue. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and to my Secretary of State, who have both agreed that, because the subject is wholly apolitical, there is no issue with me initiating the debate. I wanted to put that on the record from the start.

As all hon. Members will know, the holocaust was the systematic state-sponsored murder on an industrial scale of approximately 6 million of Europe’s pre-war Jewish population of 9 million by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. One million of those murdered were children. Of course, there were many other victims of the Nazi regime. In addition to those killed on the battlefield or by the bombing of civilian areas, millions of prisoners of war and civilians were brought to Germany to act as slave labour, and Romani were also killed.

There has been a great deal of historical debate about whether the holocaust is unique. Genocides have occurred before and, regrettably, they have occurred since. However, it seems that the holocaust is unique in the sense that it involved a modern industrial state turning all the energies of its bureaucracy towards the extermination of a single group of people, and it is entirely right that we commemorate that and learn the appropriate lessons.

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In opening the debate, my job is briefly to set out the facts of what happened. Nazi ideology was based on a pseudoscientific racism that saw Jews as a race that was in mortal combat with the Aryan race for world domination. However long their families had lived in Germany, as far as the Nazis were concerned, Jews were aliens who could never be part of the community. The persecution of Jewish people began as soon as Hitler came to power on 30 January 1933. That year, a series of laws were passed that excluded Jews from key areas of public life, the civil service, medicine and agriculture. In 1935, the Nuremberg laws were passed, making it illegal for a Jew to marry or have sex with an Aryan, and stripping Jews of German citizenship. Violence against Jewish people and against Jewish property escalated, with Kristallnacht on 9 and 10 November 1938 being the most infamous example.

At that point, the Nazis’ plan was to deport forcibly all Jews from Germany and to try to convince the Governments of the United Kingdom and France to accept deported Jews to their colonies. However, it was the outbreak of the second world war that led to the holocaust, both because it put a much larger proportion of Europe’s Jewish population at the Nazis’ mercy and because it gave cover to the ultimate fulfilment of their racist ideology.

Western Poland—annexed-occupied by Germany in September 1939—contained about 2 million Jewish people before the war. Initially, they were forcibly relocated to ghettos. Conditions were appalling: for example, 30% of Warsaw’s population was forced to live in just 2.4% of the city. The ghettos were deliberately located in cities that were also railway junctions, so that, in Heydrich’s chilling words, “future measures can be accomplished more easily”.

The invasion of Russia in 1941 escalated the atrocities even further. The invading army was followed by four SS Einsatzgruppen, which were essentially extermination squads. At his trial at Nuremberg, the commander of Einsatzgruppe D, Otto Ohlendorf, described their work:

“The Einsatz unit would enter a village or town and order the prominent Jewish citizens to call together all Jews for the purpose of ‘resettlement.’ They were requested to hand over their valuables and shortly before execution to surrender their outer clothing. They were transported to the place of execution…immediately. In this way it was attempted to keep the span of time from the moment in which the victims knew what was about to happen…until the time of their actual execution as short as possible. Then they were shot, kneeling or standing, by firing squads in a military manner and the corpses thrown into the ditch. I never permitted the shooting by individuals, but ordered that several of the men should shoot at the same time to avoid direct personal responsibility.”

It is estimated that more than 700,000 Jewish people were killed in that way.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. He has referred to what happened when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. Is he aware that there are many people who, at the end of world war two, fled the Soviet Union and got false identities in other countries? Is it not important that we continue to make sure that those people, wherever they are and however old they are, pay for the crimes they carried out?

Gavin Barwell: That point is extremely helpful, because the end of that quote states:

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“to avoid direct personal responsibility.”

One of the responses to what happened must be to ensure that everyone, wherever possible, is made to take responsibility for what they did.

On 20 January 1942, Heydrich convened a meeting to discuss

“the final solution of the Jewish question”.

At that meeting, figures were given for each country, including the United Kingdom, countries under German occupation, neutral countries and belligerents that Germany had not yet conquered. The Jewish population of Europe was to be deported to the east and either used as slave labour in concentration camps—the Germans had a phrase for that that translates as “destruction through work”—or killed in the gas chambers of new extermination camps. It is estimated that 1 million died at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 870,000 at Treblinka, 600,000 at Belzec, 360,000 at Majdanek, 320,000 at Chelmno and 250,000 at Sobibor.

I want briefly to touch on the emotional reactions of those who liberated the various camps, both the concentration camps and the extermination camps. For time reasons, I shall quote just three people. First, I shall quote America’s legendary broadcaster, Ed Murrow, who was with the US Third Army when it liberated the concentration camp of Buchenwald. He said:

“I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words”.

A. R. Horwell was a German Jew serving as a doctor in the British Army who wrote to his wife following the liberation of Bergen-Belsen about how he was deeply moved to be part of a group

“where there is no sign of discrimination, and where the Jewish padres were the most honoured guests. It made me realise it again: it was worthwhile to be in this war, it is an honour and distinction to wear this uniform...I must restrain myself, for fear to become too emotional. I can’t help it, darling; it is a great thing to be back here after all these years—after all these immense sufferings inflicted upon us and our people, to be here with the victorious army...I am very happy tonight and sad at the same time. Happy, because I have survived, one of the few to see this day, and sad, because I am one of the few—so few”.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for intervening, but I know Belsen relatively well. I want to remind everyone that it was not only people of Jewish origin who were exterminated in these camps; Gypsies and, indeed, officers of the Special Operations Executive, of which my mother was a member, were also exterminated.

Gavin Barwell: My hon. Friend makes his point very powerfully. Earlier, I tried to touch on the fact that the victims of Nazi atrocity were clearly many and varied.

Dr David Tibbs was serving with 13 Para, which was also involved in the liberation of Belsen. He had a slightly different reaction:

“At Belsen, I felt a curious elation. Looking at all these terrible things, I thought, ‘Here is the justification for this war, for all the lives we have lost, for everything we’ve been through’”.

A few people in our society today argue that war never achieves anything. I myself am an opponent of one of the conflicts we are engaged in at the moment. However,

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those words are a reminder that, sometimes, violence does achieve something. In this case, it stopped, far too late, a tremendous atrocity.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He spoke very movingly about the history and first-hand testimony. Does my hon. Friend share my dismay that the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a repeated holocaust denier, was given a platform to address the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva in April 2009, and that he spoke from a UN platform again on this subject in 2011?

Gavin Barwell: I regret that fact. I am a great believer in free speech, and if people such as Mr Ahmadinejad wish to reveal just how foolish they are by denying things for which the historical evidence is overwhelming, I do not have a problem with that, but I do not believe the United Nations should have given him a platform to do so.

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): I also congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important debate. Does he agree that, as time passes and there are fewer and fewer survivors from the camps and people who liberated them, the work of organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust—Karen Pollock and her team, who are with us today—is vital in teaching future generations exactly what happened, so that we can hope and pray that history does not repeat itself for people of any religion, colour or creed?

Gavin Barwell: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend and it is to that matter that I now turn.

To me, Holocaust memorial day is an opportunity to do several things: first, to remember the victims of the holocaust. Like, I imagine, many hon. Members, I had the opportunity, thanks to the Holocaust Educational Trust, to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau with students from my constituency as part of its excellent “Lessons from Auschwitz” project. It is probably the single most memorable thing I have done as a Member of Parliament. To those MPs who have not taken that opportunity, I encourage them strongly to do so. Indeed, the very idea of Holocaust memorial day came from a former Member of this House, who visited Auschwitz-Birkenau thanks to the Holocaust Educational Trust. One thing I learned from that visit was not just to regard people as victims. We started the visit in the Polish town of Oswiecim, looking at the gap on the high street where the famous synagogue used to be and looking at a whole part of Polish and European culture that was very nearly wiped off the face of the map, to remember what was there before and to not just see people as victims.

Holocaust memorial day is an opportunity to pay tribute to the survivors. Before I joined the House, I was a councillor in Croydon and was responsible for community cohesion. We have an event in Croydon on 27 January, when we commemorate Holocaust memorial day. I will never forget listening to a Croydon resident, Janina Fischler-Martinho, who is a holocaust survivor. She spoke to an audience of several hundred young people and they sat in rapt silence listening to what she had to say. One of the challenges we face is that sadly, the number of survivors is diminishing and we need to find

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a way to make sure that their story continues in the future. I know that the Holocaust Educational Trust is working with the sons and daughters of survivors to consider how they can take forward their parents’ testimony. Holocaust memorial day is also an opportunity to pay tribute to the bravery of those who sheltered Jews at great personal risk and to those who liberated the camps, and to remember the victims of other instances of genocide and racial prejudice—I would like to touch on that at the end of my speech.

Why is it important to remember? In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the former Secretary of State for Education, Lord Baker of Dorking, whom I admire enormously and think has done a great deal of good for education in this country, said something that, on this occasion, I disagreed with:

“I would ban the study of Nazism from the history curriculum totally. I don’t really think that it does anything to learn more about Hitler and Nazism and the Holocaust. It doesn’t really make us favourably disposed to Germany for a start, present-day Germany...I think you study your own history first...I think children should leave a British school with some idea of the timeline in their minds—how it came from Roman Britain to Elizabeth II.”

I certainly agree with him about the importance of teaching the history of our country, but to me world war two and the holocaust is a vital part of that history. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Many still share Churchill’s judgment at the time that Britain’s continued resistance in 1940, when we had no realistic prospect whatever of winning the war, was “our finest hour”.

In response to Lord Baker’s point about attitudes to modern-day Germany, it is important to learn that the holocaust happened not just because of the Nazis, but because people from many countries collaborated with them, and that no country has done more to address its historic crimes than Germany. Those are important points to make when teaching this material. Nor should the United Kingdom be too complacent. A Foreign Office official, Arminius Dew, wrote the following on 1 September 1944, during an impassioned controversy about allied policy in the face of increasing intelligence about the holocaust:

“In my opinion, a disproportionate amount of the time of the Office is wasted on dealing with these wailing Jews”.

That was a British Foreign Office official, and at the time appeals for the bombing of the approaches to Auschwitz were turned down.

What happened is a reminder of what human beings are capable of doing to each other, and not just by a small number of people. As Ian Kershaw wrote:

“The road to Auschwitz was built by hate but paved with indifference.”

Parish churches and the Interior Ministry supplied birth records showing who was Jewish. The post office delivered the deportation and denaturalisation orders. Government transport officers arranged the trains for deportation to the camps. Pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners. Companies bid for the contracts to build the crematoria. Detailed lists of the victims were drawn up on IBM Germany’s punch card machines, producing meticulous records of genocide.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, as others have, on securing the debate. I join him and the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott) in congratulating the Holocaust Educational

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Trust on its work. Tomorrow I will be at Perryfields high school judging a contest for those who wish to go on its next trip to Auschwitz.

The hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) describes the background to hate, and I agree with the wider way in which he has drawn that. Is not one of the most shocking facts about the genocide the amount of people deeply involved at senior and officer level who were graduates of universities, and in many cases medical graduates? Does that not indicate that such prejudice is not confined to the unthinking and illiterate, but that it spreads right the way through, and is a virus that has to be fought in every generation?

Gavin Barwell: I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman. Many of those who would have been judged at the time as educated and cultured people were responsible for the deaths.

It has happened since and it can happen again. Many of the attitudes and much of the ideology that I described at the outset—of people being “alien”—and which underpinned what happened are still prevalent in parts of the population here in the UK. In Croydon, there was a recent incident where a lady was filmed on a tram making the most disgraceful racist remarks about black passengers on the tram. As the local MP, I commented on it and condemned it. For the next two or three weeks, I was subject to a stream of vile e-mails from people who believe that anyone who is not white cannot be British. They accept that they are British citizens, but they do not accept that they are really British. They think that they are alien and do not belong here—that is the kind of language in the numerous e-mails I received. The same attitude applies in some of the ways the Muslim community in this country has been demonised in parts of the media—that there is something alien about that faith and that Muslims cannot be British.

Those attitudes persist in parts of our society. It is important not only that we remember what happened—remember those who lost their lives and the bravery of those who survived—but that we learn that lesson and continue to confront it. We have to face the fact that as human beings, we appear to be predisposed to being hostile to those who appear different. That means that we are bound to behave in that way, but we need to confront that innate prejudice and overcome it. That, to me, is the fundamental underlying lesson of the holocaust.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful and moving case. I was intrigued to see in a television documentary some of the propaganda material from the Hitler era. What shocked me was that it did not spew out hate; the propaganda was all about archetypal families—almost a sketch of happy families. It was quite cleverly done, almost saying, “This is what we are part of and therefore this other group must be part of the other.” I find that very chilling and dangerous—that is how the roots of prejudice can grow. We are in danger of that in this country—although obviously not to the same degree—when there is an insidious type of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or whatever, and a sense that a particular group is different.

Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): Order. A lot of people want to speak and if hon. Members make interventions, could they please make them short or wait until they have a chance to speak? Otherwise, it is very unfair to

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other hon. Members who have indicated that they want to speak. To make an intervention and just leave, for example, is not fair to those hon. Members who might not get the opportunity to speak, so can Members please bear that in mind? I will try to be as fair as possible to everyone, but if you make interventions please ensure they are short.

Gavin Barwell: The hon. Lady’s points speak for themselves. Taking on board what you said, Mr Hancock, I shall conclude.

It is important that we commemorate the holocaust, in memory of those who lost their lives and in order to learn the appropriate lessons for the future. If hon. Members wish personally to mark their commitment, they can sign a book of commitment on the Members’ staircase from Monday to Thursday next week between 2.30 pm and 4.30 pm. An event is being held on 23 January at 6.30 pm in the Atlee Suite.

I thank you, Mr Hancock. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate, and all hon. Members present for attending to show their support for this important cause.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): I thank the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the House for the way he presented his comments. A lot of hon. Members want to speak, so please bear with the Chair.

2.50 pm

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): In March 1939, a 10-year-old Jewish boy from a small industrial town called Ostrava in what was then Czechoslovakia was put on a train by his mum and teenage sisters. He was the only member of his family able to leave Czechoslovakia, because of his age, and it was the last time that he saw his mum and sisters, who were eventually rounded up and imprisoned, first in a ghetto, then in Theresienstadt, before finally being murdered in Treblinka. When he arrived in the UK, he could only speak three words of English—“hot”, “cross” and “bun”—but he grew up to become the youngest grammar school head master in the country. He was honoured with an MBE for his services to education and his charitable work. He adopted four children, of whom I am the second, and this explains why, for me, this is such an important issue.

As hon. Members can imagine, I was brought up hearing about the holocaust from my parents and hearing stories about the suffering and the appalling cruelty, about which we have heard this afternoon, and the scale of the slaughter. That left me with a lifelong conviction that prejudice leads to intolerance, then to victimisation and eventually to persecution, and that everyone of us has a duty not to stand by, but to make a difference—to fight discrimination, intolerance and bigotry wherever we find it. I have seen similar convictions awoken in students from Dudley who have visited Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust and have come home and campaigned against racism on the streets of our town.

The Holocaust Educational Trust’s “Lessons from Auschwitz” project is now in its 14th year and has taken up to 16,000 students and teachers from all over the UK

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to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Based on the premise that hearing is not like seeing, young people can see for themselves what happens when prejudice and racism become acceptable. As a result of funding initiated by the previous Government and continued, I am delighted to say, by the current one, students from every school will see with their own eyes the appalling cost of racism and anti-Semitism and will be able to explain that to their peers in their own words. I echo the tributes paid to the trust, and to its dedicated team, for the phenomenal work that it does not just reminding people of the horrors of the holocaust, but ensuring that these lessons are learned by every generation afresh.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing this debate and I thank him for doing so. I also congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on agreeing to it, because this debate shows that our country’s politicians want to unite in determination to ensure that these horrendous crimes are never forgotten. It shows that we want to join in a promise that we will—all of us—in whatever way we can, work to ensure that they are never repeated.

My dad’s story teaches us that, when other countries were rounding up their Jews and herding them on to trains to the gas chamber, Britain provided a safe haven for tens of thousands of refugee children. Think of Britain in the thirties. The rest of Europe was succumbing to fascism—Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and 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 liberty and democracy, a beacon to the rest of the world, fighting not just for our freedom, but for the world’s liberty.

Britain did not just win the war. Britain won the right of people around the world to live in freedom. Look at Britain’s response to the holocaust. It is true that our country did not do enough, of course, and that it could have done more, and sooner, but no one can deny that when other countries were rounding up their Jews Britain provided a safe haven. It was British troops, as we have heard, who liberated the concentration camps, rescuing tens of thousands of inmates from almost certain death and enabling many of those to go on and prosper under the democratic values of the UK.

When people ask me, “What does it mean to be British? Does it matter if the countries that comprise Britain go their separate ways? What’s special and 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 came together and stood up to the Nazis and were prepared to lay down their lives for freedom. For me, what makes people British is not what they look like, the colour of their skin, not where their parents were born or the religion they practise. It is not a matter of their race or religion; it is how they behave, what they believe and the contribution that they are prepared to make to our society. What makes people British is their belief in the timeless British values that British people have been prepared to fight and die for: democracy, equality, freedom, fairness and tolerance. It is this that makes us the greatest country on earth.

It has been a privilege for me to meet Zigi Shipper, Ben Helfgott, Mala Tribich and Joanna Millan, who survived the concentration camps and went on to rebuild

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their lives and make a huge contribution to Britain, bringing up families and setting up businesses. Now, working with HET, they spend their time travelling around the country speaking to schools and teaching future generations, ensuring that these crimes are never forgotten.

We organise an event each year through my office in Dudley. It is now the borough’s Holocaust memorial day event. A survivor has spoken at these events in the past few years. I am delighted that Joanna Millan will be at Dudley college a week on Friday, so people in Dudley, including students and young people, will hear this story anew. The courage and dignity of these people, and their humbling sense of duty and commitment, means that even today they want to use their experience to make our country better and to ensure that these terrible events are never forgotten. It is a humbling experience.

I pay tribute to another British hero, a great man, who lived in Stourbridge near Dudley. Known as the British Schindler, Frank Foley was an MI6 agent at the British embassy in Berlin in the 1930s, where he worked as a passport control officer. He provided papers to let Jewish people escape, forged passports and even provided a haven for Jews in his own home at risk of being rounded up. As the BBC says,

“At great personal risk, Frank Foley’s bravery and compassion saved thousands of lives and some even believe the figure could run into tens of thousands.”

But the thing that has always struck me is that after the war he retired to Stourbridge, where he lived out his years in anonymity until he died in 1958. At Eveson road, where he lived, you will see that this great man—this hero—lived in the most typical British house in the most typical British street that you could ever imagine. He teaches us, even today, that seemingly ordinary people can find within themselves the courage to do extraordinary things and do the right thing when the easier, safer course would be just to walk away and turn their back. Frank Foley risked his life to save so many others.

For me, it is important—this debate is important—to remember the holocaust so that we remember the greatest crime ever inflicted by man against his fellow man in the bleakest chapter in the history of the 20th century; so that we pay our respects to all who suffered at the hands of the Nazis in the holocaust and in other more recent genocides, too; and so that we remind ourselves that what makes us the people we are, and Britain the country it is, is the unique response of our country to the holocaust and to the Nazis.

The one thing that should come out of today’s debate, signing the book of commitment or attending the events in our constituencies over the next few days, is the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the great British values that make our country what it is and to pledge again to fight prejudice and hatred wherever it is found. That would be the best tribute possible to the memory of the people who were killed 60-odd years ago.

3 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): My contribution this afternoon will be short, because many Members want to speak. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), with his

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personal and moving contribution about how he and his family were affected directly by the holocaust. I, too, thank the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for their assiduous campaigning year after year to ensure that we do not lose sight of what happened during the holocaust. I very much welcome the theme for this year’s campaign, Speak Up, Speak Out, which encourages us to stand up and speak against racism, discrimination and genocide, because regrettably those issues are alive and well, and remain with us, abroad and in the UK.

I draw attention to the work of the all-party group against anti-Semitism. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) would have liked to have been present today to make a contribution. I must declare an interest as the vice-chair of the group, but my role has been relatively minor compared with that of the hon. Gentleman, who has played a central role in building the group, which has challenged past Governments successfully, pushing them much harder and faster. Let me list some of its achievements. There have been three formal Government responses to its inquiries into anti-Semitism, under different Governments. There has been the establishment of a Whitehall working group on anti-Semitism, the first official anti-Semitic hate crime statistics, a funding arrangement for the security needs of Jewish faith schools, a Crown Prosecution Service review into the disparity between anti-Semitic incidents and convictions, ministerial conferences and action on internet hate crime. So the group has made it plain that, when people want to get together and successive Governments have the will to tackle such issues head on, it is possible to achieve great things.

We must maintain our vigilance, and the work of the Community Security Trust in highlighting the number of incidents reminds us regularly of that. Although the number of incidents of anti-Semitic hate crime has gone down, there is still a large number of incidents around the country. The Jewish faith is not the only faith to suffer in such a way, of course, and I very much welcome the funding recently given to MAMA, the Measuring anti-Muslim Attacks project, which is a means of reporting hate crime against the Muslim faith. The Minister is well aware of the initiative, and I hope that it will be possible for that facility to be drawn to the attention of a wide range of Muslim groups so that awareness of it can be promoted heavily within the communities that could use it. There have been interesting discussions, and I hope there will be more, with other organisations that might be able to benefit from such a reporting mechanism, including people with disabilities who clearly still suffer a degree of discrimination and targeting that is completely unacceptable.

One other area on which the Government are due to report is to do with Roma people. During the holocaust, perhaps up to half a million Roma people were killed. While they do not suffer persecution as they did then, certainly in the UK, persecution of Roma people remains in some countries in the European Union, and the UK Government should take a vigorous stand on the issue. The Government also have a responsibility to come forward with a plan on the Roma people, and I look forward to it.

We must maintain our focus on education. As other Members have said, as the survivors of the holocaust die, perhaps it loses its prominence. I suspect that many

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parents and filmgoers have had the opportunity to see “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”—I have just finished reading the book to my son—which brings to the attention of a completely new generation, in an accessible way, the impact of the holocaust. That can play an important role in raising the awareness of new generations, when neither they nor their parents have had direct knowledge of the holocaust. Also, as the schools landscape is changing, with more free schools and academies, schools have an important role. There might be a conflict with the desire, which I support, to give schools more control over their own curriculum and activities, but it would be regrettable if that desire to free them up meant that the focus that there has been on the holocaust and on educating pupils on such issues were lost as part of the change.

In conclusion, it is entirely right that we should have the debate today, and the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) is right to have brought it to the House’s attention. I welcome the flexibility shown to enable him to speak. The debate is clearly important and we need to have it annually so that we all remain focused on the genocide during the holocaust and can avoid future genocides.

3.7 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing it. He spoke powerfully and intelligently, and I commend him on how he opened the debate. Before I progress to my remarks, I will comment on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin). It was probably the most moving speech that I have heard in this place since I was elected. I have always had enormous respect for him, but that respect has grown today.

I do not represent a constituency with a large Jewish community, but I have always had a significant interest in the holocaust. I hesitate to use those words because the phrase, “an interest in the holocaust” might sound strange to some people. I am not perversely intrigued by what happened, but I am interested in the questions that the holocaust raises for us as a society and as individuals. How was it allowed to happen? What leads an individual to think that it is okay to torture and kill another human being on the basis of their beliefs, religion or culture? How do we prevent such violence and the huge atrocities that occurred in the holocaust from ever happening again? What would I have done in such circumstances? What would I have done if I had been a young person growing up in Poland during the second world war, knowing about or imagining some of the things that were going on in a place not far from me?

I have had that interest, and last year it led me to accept an invitation from the Holocaust Educational Trust to visit Auschwitz, as part of its Lessons from Auschwitz programme. I will reflect on some of the things that I learnt from that visit; but equally, I shall pay tribute to a man who has been the rabbi at the Catford and Bromley synagogue for the past 11 years, Dr Zev Amit, who sadly is retiring. In his work in Catford, he has done a huge amount to promote education

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among young people, as the HET does. Therefore, although I do not represent a constituency with a large Jewish community, those are my reasons for attending the debate today.

Last April, the hon. Member for Croydon Central and I went to Auschwitz with young people from schools in my constituency and visited two of the three concentration camps there. It is hard to know which issues to reflect on in a short speech. However, one thing that struck me when I was there was that we can read about it and watch films, but nothing can really prepare us for the enormity of the horror that took place—its scale and the human lives behind the statistics. A young woman, who is a constituent of mine, called Yasemin Mustafa from Sedgehill school was on the trip, and afterwards, she led the most amazing assembly at the school in front of about 500 or 600 pupils, where she spoke about her experience. Her feelings were similar to those that I described. She said:

“Nothing could have possibly prepared me for the distressing horror I was about to see. No matter how many books or films I watched I felt absolutely powerless as I felt the streams of tears run down my face. I couldn’t quite comprehend how it was possible for another human being to inflict such torture, pain and distress upon another.”

I cried when I visited Auschwitz as well. It was not when I saw the thousands upon thousands of bags and suitcases that those who were led to the concentration camps had taken with them. It was not when I saw the human hair that was cut off women, men and children when they entered the camps or when I stood in a bathroom and saw the pictures painted on the wall by people trying to make their disgusting quarters a little more human. It was when we stood outside the Nazi officer’s house about 10 metres from the gas chambers and the barracks that people lived in, and I asked myself, “Why didn’t someone stop him?” He was living in a house probably 3 or 5 km from people in Polish villages, and I asked myself, “What would I have done?” I cried at that point—partly because of the horror of what had happened, but also because it made me reflect on my huge responsibilities as an MP.

Two weeks before that visit, as a relatively new MP, I was asked to decide whether it was appropriate for the United Kingdom to take military action against Libya to try to prevent loss of life in Benghazi. I asked myself a very difficult question then about when one act of violence—dropping bombs on another country is an act of violence—is appropriate to prevent other acts of violence. In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Croydon Central also spoke about those questions, which we, as elected representatives, ask ourselves.

3.14 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.25 pm

On resuming—

Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): Order. There will be 11 minutes’ injury time at the end of the debate to give hon. Members who desperately want to speak that opportunity.

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Heidi Alexander: When the sitting was interrupted, I was talking about my visit to Auschwitz, which, as hon. Members will have seen, left a deep and lasting impression on me. I applaud the excellent work done by the Holocaust Educational Trust and believe strongly that it is only by engaging with and educating the next generation that we can ever have any hope of preventing genocide from happening again.

It was inspiring for me to see the response of the young people from Lewisham who accompanied us on the trip. They dealt with a difficult situation in a mature and empathetic manner. They asked themselves the difficult questions that we asked ourselves, and the way that those young people responded to the visit gives us great hope. Just like the hon. Member for Croydon Central, I would recommend all hon. Members who have not been on the visit to Auschwitz to go on it. It makes people ask themselves a huge number of questions. Once someone has cried in front of a group of people, they are very honest with people. I had the most honest conversations with a constituent that I have ever had, following my visit there—with Yasemin, the young lady I spoke to earlier, on the bus going back to Krakow airport. I also had a very honest conversation, as I remember it, with the hon. Gentleman about our experiences as new Members of Parliament.

I want briefly to pay tribute to the work of Dr Zev Amit, who for the past 11 years has been the rabbi of the Catford and Bromley synagogue, based in my constituency. I first met Dr Amit when I attended a multi-faith service a number of years ago, to mark Holocaust memorial day. Since the memorial day was established, following the representations of the former Member of Parliament for Hendon, Andrew Dismore, we in Lewisham have always had a series of events to mark it. They have been shaped enormously by the approach of Dr Amit, who is a very inclusive man who has always believed in the importance of educating young people. At the multi-faith service, we had a small piece of drama from young people from the Roman Catholic Bonus Pastor school.

When Dr Amit opens the service, he speaks very genuinely and honestly about the challenges that face society today. Yes, he talks about the holocaust, but he also talks about the genocides in Rwanda, Darfur and Srebrenica. That inclusive approach has been of huge benefit in Lewisham, and we therefore have a significant number of events to mark Holocaust memorial day. It is a personal sadness to me that Dr Amit has retired from the synagogue. He will be missed in Lewisham, but young people there will grow up more enlightened as a result of the work he has done.

If the debate serves to do anything, it should be to remind us that we must always confront and challenge racism, prejudice and discrimination whenever we see them in our society. I shall read the statement of commitment of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. The final point says:

“We condemn the evils of prejudice, discrimination and racism. We value a free, tolerant, and democratic society”.

No words can be more important to hon. Members than those. I commend to the House the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and people such as Rev. Zev Amit, and I look forward to the other contributions today.

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3.30 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I thank my good and hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) for securing this debate. About nine years ago, I received a telephone call from a man called Alex Brummer, who is the financial editor of the Daily Mail. He asked me to go to the Richmond synagogue and to address the ceremony for the first Holocaust memorial day in the UK. I said, “No. Why? I’m not Jewish. I was born in 1949. I know I look quite old, but I’m not quite that old. I know nothing about the holocaust.” He said, “Please, will you think about it, and I’ll come back to you in a few days?”

So I thought about it, and I remembered that in 1971 or 1972, as a young officer in Berlin, I commanded the guard that stood over Rudolf Hess at Spandau, so I have a connection with perhaps one of the last Nazis. Then I remembered that when I was in Germany and my battalion was based near Belsen in 1992, I rang my mother and said, “I’ve been to Belsen. It’s disgusting, mum.” She said quietly, “I know.” I said, “What! How do you know? When I have been in Germany, I have never taken you there.” She said, “No. I was there at the end of the war.” I said, “Why were you there at the end of the war?” She said, “Remember, I was a special operations executive officer. I went there looking for my colleagues. I saw it.” I said, “Why have you never told me this?” She said, “Because, Robert, I was ashamed.” I said, “Why were you ashamed? You were 22. You had learned to parachute out of aeroplanes. You had learned to fight Germans—evil Germans. You did your very best, you fought the war, and you are ashamed?” She said, “I was ashamed because it was my generation when the holocaust happened, and it should not have done. We were collectively responsible for it.” I did not understand what she meant.

A few months later, I was sent into Bosnia by Parliament. At the end of November 1992, I watched 10,000 people in carts come past my base. I had told my sentries to start counting, but they gave up at 10,000. Those people were like us, in suits. They were lawyers, they were teachers, they were farmers—normal people. I could not believe what I was watching. I thought, “This can’t be happening.” A couple of months later I dug a mass grave, and I put 104—I think it was 104—bodies into it. They were Bosnian, Muslims in the main, but who could tell? I wept. I felt impotent. I knew what my mother had meant. I was ashamed because that had happened in our generation, within two hours’ flying time of the United Kingdom. It had happened again.

During the clean-up, I picked up a ball at the No. 7 house in Ahmici, and then I dropped it. It was not a ball; it was the head of a baby, burnt. I dropped it and then I realised what I had done. That was the last touch of a human being on that baby, who cannot have been more than six weeks old, and was burned with its parents. My wife as she is now—Claire Podbielski of the International Committee of the Red Cross—came to me and said that I had a big house and that she wanted me to put up some children, particularly one child. I said, “You must be joking. I am the commander of the British in central Bosnia, and you want me to look after a child. This is not my job.” She said, “It is, you know. What are you here to do?” I said, “I’m here to save lives.” She said, “Well, save this one. Save this little girl.”

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Claire walked into the concentration camp, took the girl by the hand, walked past the commandant, telling him to get the hell out of her way—she was a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and quite powerful—and brought the child to me when I was having dinner in my house with Martin Bell, the BBC journalist. I could not believe it. She said, “I’ve brought the girl.” I said, “Well, yes, well, what can I do?” Claire turned to the soldiers beside me—they were my bodyguards—and said, “You’ll look after this little girl, won’t you?” They said, “Of course.” They took her, they bathed her, they dressed her, they put a cot between their beds, and they looked after her for three days.

At the end of that time, Claire managed to find an uncle, but the girl did not want to leave. She told us in the meantime what had happened to her. On 16 April 1993, some men came to her house at about 5 o’clock in the morning, told her mother and father to get up and get out, just as happened in Poland, Russia and in occupied Europe during the second world war. They were told to get dressed and get downstairs. When they were downstairs, she and her mother, father and brother were made to lie on the ground face down. As she described it, there was a lot of noise, and her mummy, daddy and brother did not get up.

That is the holocaust. We have representatives here who are trying to keep it alive. It is alive; it is happening all the time. I am delighted to say, hon. Members, that I have given evidence against the people who were mainly responsible for this happening, but only a very small number of the people who did it.

I am delighted to say that I have been back. I went back in October. My graveyard of 104 has grown to 170. People say, “We must remember the holocaust”, but for me it is a living thing. It is evil and a canker in our society. We have already questioned why people do these foul things. One reason we have not given is fear. People act in a brutal way because they are fearful for themselves and for their families. We must be very careful about that. To me, the holocaust continues.

Hon. Members will understand that, if I reel off examples of the holocaust since the second world war, I am sure I would miss a few. But Cambodia is certainly one, and we knew about the killing fields. We knew it was happening, but what did we do? We did nothing. Hon. Members, if we remember what has happened, perhaps we will stop it happening again. I doubt it, but let us keep up the effort.

3.39 pm

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): I feel a sense of privilege, and of inadequacy, to be following such a powerful speech by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), in which he recounted his own personal experience of the kind of horror that we are debating. If, however, a sense of inadequacy were to deter Members of Parliament from making speeches, our parliamentary days would be much shorter, so I will press on none the less. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing such an important debate. It should become a regular fixture in the parliamentary calendar.

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I am looking forward to going tomorrow to Sandside Lodge special school in my constituency to meet Blake Martin, who has just been on the latest round of trips to Auschwitz-Birkenau, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust. I go with a slight sense of trepidation, because this time last year I visited that school to listen to an account of the trip made by James Simpson, whom I had had the opportunity and privilege to accompany. He gave a memorable account of an experience that was clearly as deeply seared on his memory as it will always be on mine.

When I last visited the school for that purpose, I remember the overwhelming experience of looking at faces in the assembly, and realising that those children and students with learning difficulties or disabilities would have been ruthlessly exterminated by the Nazis, along with so many others. Being at that school reinforced in my mind the importance of the work undertaken by the Holocaust Educational Trust and others. Indeed, I wish to congratulate and underline my respect for the Holocaust Educational Trust. The MBE that was graciously conferred on its chief executive by Her Majesty was well deserved.

The holocaust is close to being unimaginable and involves a level of horror and dislocation that people simply cannot fully understand unless they are subjected to it. It is important that we as parliamentarians continue to help every new generation, and allow and enable them to get as close as they can to that horror. For me, and for everyone who has been there, visiting the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau was the most intense experience that I have ever had, and the few hours spent there absorbing the sense of sheer horror, hopelessness and desperation that pervades that place were transformational. We know that simply being on that site all those years later cannot get close to what the victims of the holocaust must have endured, yet the sheer power of being there conveys the importance of the work that we need to do.

The Nazis, even more than the first world war, definitively broke what had unfortunately turned out to be a naïve faith in modernity, and a belief that the constant path of progress would ensure societies that were ever better for their citizens and ever more humane. In fact, the technological progress that accelerated in the previous century made possible the sheer industrial scale of the evil and destruction of the holocaust. Of the many lessons that we take from visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, the lesson that things will improve only if we have the determination to make them better is fundamental. We will succeed in making the holocaust unique only if we understand that we must always be vigilant and do more against the evil and horror of genocide, such as that recounted so vividly by the hon. Member for Beckenham.

Unless we have the resolve to stop it, evil will spread as it did only 70 years ago. As the hon. Member for Croydon Central powerfully said, at the highest level we must never lose our determination as a nation or—this is fundamental—our capacity to act and use force to protect common humanity, as and when it becomes necessary. There are things that we must do every day beyond that, and we must resolve to have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and prejudice whenever and wherever it occurs, as—unfortunately and sadly—it too often does in the UK and elsewhere.

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Parliament must provide support to the Holocaust Educational Trust, and others, to ensure that understanding of the holocaust remains alive once it slips out of living memory, as it is unfortunately soon set to do.

3.47 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) for securing this debate. We have heard emotional speeches, and I feel that the holocaust is one of those subjects I must speak about—it is a feeling inside. Seventy years on, it is perhaps difficult for us to understand the scale of the holocaust, and having been to Israel and the holocaust museum, and having seen the shoes and the clothes and possessions of the millions of Jewish people who were killed, it is almost impossible to comprehend.

As other hon. Members have pointed out, it is also difficult to understand the industrial scale of the holocaust. It was carried out by educated people who came together to create a genocide that had never been seen before, and that is the callousness of it all. However terrible it is to shoot people, or whatever, the actual creation of gas chambers and railways to transport people, together with all the bureaucracy to exterminate a people, is almost unbelievable.

We must also remember that out of a population of some 18 million, the Jewish people lost a third of their population; again, that is almost impossible to comprehend. There cannot be a Jewish family in the world who have not been touched by what happened during that period. The Holocaust Educational Trust is so right to remind people not just that terrible atrocities took place, but of what actually happened. We need to be reminded that these things can and did happen, and we must ensure, as far as possible, that they do not happen again.

We talk about the holocaust and the number of Jewish people who were murdered. One can sometimes understand very much the attitude of Israel when it is surrounded by neighbours who say that they do not want Israel to exist—that it should be wiped off the face of the map. The Jewish people have suffered historically. One third of their population was wiped out, so one can understand how strongly they feel. My constituency does not have a huge Jewish population, and I am not of a Jewish family myself, but as many other hon. Members have said, one great thing that we British have is a sense of fair play. What happened was absolutely not fair play, and we need to stand up and be counted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) made a great speech about Bosnia and Srebrenica. I, too, have been to Srebrenica: I have been to the factory where many of the killings took place. We cannot afford to be complacent, because atrocities continue to be committed. As my hon. Friend said, that place is only two hours by plane from where we sit, but it happened, and in the 1990s. One would think that it is not possible. I met mothers and wives who had lost their sons and husbands. They believe that many of the people who carried out those atrocities are still out there, free, not having been brought to book.

Bob Stewart: They are.

Neil Parish: Yes, exactly. Again, the situation is hugely emotional. Today is one of those times when we remember what happened and we support very much the Jewish

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state and Jews throughout the world, who have suffered so badly. Although we congratulate ourselves on the huge improvements that have taken place, we must never take our eye off the ball, because these things could happen again. I endorse so much of what other hon. Members have said. It would be absolutely right to have a debate such as this every year to ensure that we lay down clearly on the record what Parliament feels and what Britain feels about what happened, and what we will try to do to make sure it does not happen again.

3.53 pm

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): It is a privilege to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hancock. I thank the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) for securing the debate. He made a simple, straightforward and powerful speech, for which I commend him. I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). Nothing is more powerful than the statement of someone who has been there and seen it, so I really do honour that.

Many hon. Members want to speak today, so I will try to keep my remarks brief. Like a number of those in the Chamber, I was privileged a year and a half or so ago, along with Karen Pollock and the team from the Holocaust Educational Trust, to visit Auschwitz. I would like to share with those in the Chamber a couple of things about the visit. What was quite interesting and strange was that, of course, I had seen the place many times because I had seen many films and documentaries about it, so I was not surprised by things that, had I not seen it all on television before, would have overwhelmed me. I am talking about the entrance, the railway and so on. The place was absolutely horrendous, but also, in a way, familiar, because I had seen so many movies and documentaries about it over the years.

The hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) touched in an intervention on something very important that came out of the trip. Having seen this vision so many times, I found that it was the smaller things that got under my skin and had an impact. I would like to share two of those things with hon. Members.

The person from HET who was leading the tour was telling us while we were beside the rail track that many political prisoners were also kept at Auschwitz-Birkenau. We were shown the place where they used to play football, and behind us was where the rail carriages came in down the bottom of the hill. The story came out after the war of one particular political leader who was a dissident in the eyes of the Nazis, so he was sent to Auschwitz. He was the goalkeeper. Those prisoners were kept separate from the whole extermination side of Auschwitz. I had not been aware of that, but I learnt it that day. It was a separate camp, almost, even though it was smack in the middle. They knew that there was a rail track on the other side of the hill, because they would hear the noise of the train, but they never actually saw it.

This bloke recounted after the war how one day, while he was the goalie, the ball went way over the crossbar and he ran down the hill to get it. At the bottom of the hill, of course, was the siding where the trains came in, and a train had just come in. Suddenly, he saw thousands of people being moved out of the

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train, and guards there—the huge, Dante’s inferno-type exercise of a train coming in. He thought, “That’s interesting,” and he picked the ball up and went back to the game. About 40 minutes later, another ball went over the crossbar and he went down the hill again, but there was nothing there—everything had gone. It was so efficient. A train would come in and be emptied. There were troops, dogs and kapos there. Everyone had been moved off. Some 45 minutes later, the train had gone. The hon. Member for Clwyd South described what got under her skin, and I remember that when I was told that story, it got under my skin. That aspect of the story I was told was so powerful that it made a real impact.

I shall describe the second thing that really struck home. So many things about the final solution, Auschwitz and the whole Nazi machine were clearly demented. I might define myself as a very minor political leader; I am a Back Bencher but someone who leads politically in my constituency of Eastbourne. I am pretty rational and logical and I was in business for years before I went into politics. What occurred to me again and again as I was being shown round by the Holocaust Educational Trust was that this was a country—Nazi Germany and the whole empire of Germany—that was fighting a war for its life, a life-and-death war, yet it was so insane about anti-Semitism, Gypsies, people who were homosexual, people who were different and the Jewish population in particular that it would even stop the troop carriers that were on the way to the eastern front so that a train with Jews from Romania could go through first. That is completely insane. I am not being trite in any way; it really got to me. I thought, for God’s sake, these people are leading something and fighting something and it is a war to the death, but they are so completely, perversely mad that they will stop a train of tanks going to the eastern front so that a train of Jewish people who are to be annihilated can go through first. That was a powerful lesson.

I asked one of the students I took from Eastbourne to write me an essay afterwards, and she sent me a 500-word essay a few weeks later. It was a powerful essay. It was fantastic to read. Although she was so young, innocent and naïve, she picked up on a point that hon. Members have mentioned: the reason why Holocaust memorial day, visits to Auschwitz and the Holocaust Educational Trust are so important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said, is that they remind us of the wickedness of humanity in the slim hope that it will not happen again, or at least not on the same scale. Perhaps if we keep reminding ourselves, it will happen less and less.

I share my hon. Friend’s view that humanity’s capacity to be inhumane to others is unsurpassed throughout history. Remembering the day in Parliament, the mother of democracy, is important. The work of the Holocaust Educational Trust is vital. I pay tribute to Karen and her team. Perhaps humanity can take a small step, every year, towards thinking that such things cannot and must not happen again.

I finish with some challenging issues. Again, my hon. Friend mentioned fear. The reality is that fear makes us behave badly. Sometimes it is power, but usually it is fear. Good people behave badly when they are fearful—

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something I learned a long time ago. Sometimes we must stand up against fear, even though that fear might be justified, and say, “Hang on a minute. Let’s be rational. Think very carefully about what you’re doing.” That is bravery, sometimes in the face of a mass of people, or even of the media when they are on a witch hunt: standing up and saying, “Stop a minute. Think through why you’re behaving that way, and the consequences.”

That is our duty as parliamentarians, and the duty of the Holocaust Educational Trust is to remind us and newly elected parliamentarians that not only must we never forget the absolute nightmare of the final solution; we must use it to remind ourselves daily that wickedness comes in many forms, and sometimes starts very small.

[Nadine Dorries in the C hair]

4.2 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I once introduced a ten-minute rule Bill whose Second Reading was 15 years ago last week. It was the Holocaust Denial Bill, and it ended up going to Committee, but it ran out of time just before the 1997 general election. In the subsequent Parliament, my friend Andrew Dismore, the former Member for Hendon, introduced a Bill to mark Holocaust memorial day. I pay tribute to the fact that he was successful where I was not. Perhaps it is a little easier to have a memorial day than to legislate against holocaust denial.

The reason why I introduced that Bill 15 years ago was that Germany, France, Austria and other countries that were occupied by the Nazis have strong laws—although it is a civil offence in France—against denying the holocaust, wearing Nazi uniforms, portraying Nazi regalia or flags or singing Nazi drinking songs at universities, kinds of behaviour that seem to be acceptable to at least a minority of British people.

We should not think that this debate is simply about what happens in other countries or what happened in the past, whether the crimes of the Nazis against Jews, Roma, communists, socialists, trade unionists, homosexuals and anyone else who was different; the crimes carried out, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) eloquently described, in the civil war in the former Yugoslavia; what happened in Rwanda or Cambodia; or what might happen elsewhere in Africa, as difficult internal conflicts are occurring in several African countries. We must also think about the ideology behind such events and how that ideology is expressed in the age of the internet and perpetrated and communicated globally.

We as a society must revisit the issue. We have strict laws against incitement to racial hatred, and we changed our legislation during the last Parliament to make it, as well as incitement to religious hatred, an offence. It is therefore important that we recognise that this debate has a domestic context. I add that we must learn from history, and should remember it. Anyone who, as I have, has walked the streets of Krakow—the place depicted in the film “Schindler’s List”—will have seen the factory and the streets, visited the small synagogue, which is no longer in use as such but is now a museum with photographs of Jewish families, some of whom escaped to the United States of America, and thought, “Where were those people taken?” We know where they were taken; it has been mentioned. They were exterminated, or, if they were lucky, they managed to escape.

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Similarly, I went to Vilnius, now the capital of the independent state of Lithuania, in 1978. I led a cross-party British Youth Council delegation that included representatives of the Scouts, the National Association of Youth Clubs, Labour students and young Conservatives. There were six of us. We went by train from Moscow to Vilnius, through the night, and stayed in Vilnius for two days. During that entire time, not one person in the Soviet Lithuanian Communist organisation that greeted us and took us round referred to the fact that it was Vilna, the heart of the Jewish community in central eastern Europe during the first 35, 40 or 50 years of the last century. That is interesting. Under the Soviet Union, they wanted to talk about the Nazis and what the Nazis did, but they did not want to talk about what happened to the millions of Jewish people who lived in that area and were exterminated.

Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (LD): Part of the reason is that many of them served in the Waffen SS. That was the problem in places such as Lithuania and Latvia. Their memories are short. Sadly, when I went to both places, I saw commemorative marches by members of the Waffen SS, who were greeted with cheers in the streets. That was not 20 years ago; it was 10 years ago.

Mike Gapes: I agree. That is why, as I said in an earlier intervention, we must continue to search for those, whoever and wherever they are and whatever names or aliases they are using, who played a role in those terrible crimes. We must also confront directly those who deny and minimise the holocaust.

I am delighted that the holocaust denier and Nazi apologist David Irving was imprisoned in Austria for his crimes. He launched a legal challenge against the historian Deborah Lipstadt and lost. I am delighted that he lost, and I congratulate her on her victory. It was an important victory for truth and for the memory of those who died.

It is also important to remember in other ways those who died. The great film maker Steven Spielberg has produced an incredible archive of the Shoah that includes the personal testimonies of survivors, taken before they were no longer with us. I have had the pleasure—“pleasure” is probably not the right word; it was a privilege and a great honour—of listening to a survivor speak in a school in my constituency. At least future generations will have those testimonies on film, and we can have that dialogue and relationship with our young people. It is crucial, as hon. Members have mentioned, that all young people in this country take part and learn about these events.

I have a mixed constituency, and I am pleased that in Valentines park in Ilford next Friday we will have our annual Holocaust memorial day service in the holocaust memorial garden, which was established by Redbridge council several years ago. Young people from local schools will be there. There will be Sikhs. There will be Muslims. There will be Hindus. There will be Buddhists. There will be Christians. There will be Jews. There will be people from minority communities, including Roma children, who have taken part in the service in the past. That reflects the diversity of modern Britain, and it is an important part of learning about the past, so that the errors of the past are not repeated in the future.

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I am pleased that the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) secured this debate today, and I congratulate him and the Holocaust Educational Trust on what they have done and will continue to do in future.

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): As a timing reminder, I would like to call Mr Barwell at about 4.17 pm for his short winding-up speech and then call Mr Dromey and the Minister from 4.20 pm. There are six hon. Members left to speak, so they can do the maths between them from now on.

4.11 pm

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): It is certainly a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on having secured what I regard as an important debate, but it is also timely as tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the Wannsee conference, where the horrific final solution to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe was co-ordinated by the Nazis. It may have been 70 years ago, but it is timely to bring that to the forefront of our minds today.

The holocaust was the most horrific act of genocide in history, and it is crucial that we never forget or let the memory of the evil that occurred fade. As holocaust survivors grow fewer and older, our thoughts must be about how we continue to educate our young people about this harrowing episode. I want to focus on education, and I praise the Holocaust Educational Trust, which works tirelessly to teach children about the holocaust. I am delighted that the Government continue to give two post-16 students from every school and college in Britain the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of the trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project.

In November 2010, I joined a group of college students from the south-east and the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) on a visit to Auschwitz, and memories of that visit will remain with me for ever. Several hon. Members have spoken this afternoon about the industrial scale of the genocide, but what instantly struck me, particularly on visiting Birkenau, was the industrial atmosphere. The place looked like a factory, and one felt that this was very much a business that the Nazis undertook.

As we have heard, everyone’s memories of visiting Auschwitz are different. People are struck by some of the small things, but it is always individual and personal. I remember looking at the mountains of hair from thousands of victims, the shoes and the suitcases, which were exactly as the victims had left them, but the thing that struck me—I am sure that this is personal—was the piles of spectacles with the lenses still in place. As someone who wears glasses, I can say that if someone were to take them from me, at that point I would know that there was no future for me, because I simply could not function without them.

In 2006, I was fortunate to visit Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial in Israel. As a parent, I was particularly struck by the memorial to the children. It is a phenomenally dark place that one spirals down into with candles representing each of the victims. The names of the children who perished in the holocaust are read out.

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The sombre surrounds are phenomenally moving. As I said, it is dark in both respects. The memorial is dark, but you feel very dark in your heart to know that there was a regime that could consider it acceptable to slaughter 1 million innocent children. I am utterly convinced that that is one of the main reasons why we must continue to educate our children, so that they in turn can teach their children and that the horror of the holocaust is never lost and will remain in history for ever.

The holocaust has many incredible stories of suffering and survival and of families separated, and it is a real testament to the bravery of those survivors that, all these years on, some still continue to speak of the horrors that they endured. They continue to go into schools. As the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) mentioned, it is real privilege to be able to hear them. Individuals such as Steven Spielberg must be congratulated, because they have made it their mission to ensure that, even if only on film, they capture those personal testimonies.

I have heard representatives of the Holocaust Educational Trust say that it is one of their challenges to ensure that the stories live on. The survivors provide the most powerful testimonies, but we have the technology nowadays to be able to capture them. It is crucial that even elderly survivors still have the opportunity to speak their story, so that we can keep it for posterity. The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, has said that

“fighting the pain of ancient wounds”

the survivors have

“told their stories to schoolchildren, teaching them what freedom means and how it must be fought for in every generation.”

The holocaust is part not just of Jewish memory, but of our collective consciousness. All humanity has vital lessons to learn from the holocaust. In my constituency, there is an annual peace walk that is organised by the Southampton Council of Faiths, and different faith groups meet and walk to every place of worship in the city. That could be the Sikh temple, the synagogue or the Catholic church. As we walk, we talk and share our experiences and recognise our differences, but we also celebrate our similarities. We should continue with that important role, so that the community has the opportunity to share its collective conscience.

I am increasingly conscious, however, that anti-Semitic incidents are still reported every year in Britain. In 2005, Chief Rabbi Sacks said:

“After sixty years of saying never again, it is happening again. There can be no doubt as to the most tenacious ideology of modern times. German fascism came and went. Soviet Communism came and went. Antisemitism came and stayed.”

Again, I return to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. It helps students understand the results of prejudice and racism. It is of paramount importance in understanding contemporary society and in averting the occurrence of another Rwanda or Bosnia. It is clear that racism is born of ignorance, and the most effective antidote for that is education.

4.18 pm

Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (LD): It has been a privilege today not only to chair this sitting of Westminster Hall, but to have a chance to take part in

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the debate. I have listened carefully to what hon. Members have said, and anyone who was in the room when the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) spoke could not fail to have been moved by his personal explanation of what his adopted father had been through and the way that it had harnessed his life and his philosophy. Today is a good example of when Parliament comes together—all parties, both sides and many different backgrounds.

I was privileged enough to go to Auschwitz 20 years ago when I was the leader of Hampshire county council. I went to the region of Krakow as the guest of the wojewoda—the governor. When we went to Auschwitz, there were just five of us; otherwise, the place was completely deserted. I will never forget the experience of standing inside the remaining gas chamber at Auschwitz and trying to come to terms with what people went through as the door to the gas chamber closed. I then went to the other part of the camp—the old camp—and stood where the firing squad had operated. There was a wall, where literally thousands of people had been executed by gunfire.

Those sorts of things stay in the memory, but for me the most moving thing was to see the pigtail that had been scalped from a child and left on the pile of hair. It was still plaited but was now as grey as my hair. We cannot imagine what that child went through in having her hair cut off and thrown on a pile and then going to her death. Of all the memories that come from visiting a place such as Auschwitz, for me that was the most telling moment.

The other place that I went to, some years later, was Dachau. Dachau is a different camp to Auschwitz. Nevertheless, it is extremely moving to walk around it. The thing that struck me, first of all, was how close people lived to that camp. Dachau is close to the outskirts of Munich, which was the cornerstone of Nazi philosophy; Nazism was born and bred in that city. As I say, the Dachau camp was built very close to the outskirts of Munich and there were houses right up against the camp. Those houses were not built after the war; they were undoubtedly built in the style of pre-war German construction. One wonders what people who lived around the camp must have thought about what was being done inside, in their name.

A few years ago, I visited Babi Yar in Ukraine, which is just outside Kiev, where 100,000 people were shot in three weeks. I stood on the edge of that pit—and remember that it was not Germans who were shooting those people but Ukrainians who were shooting Ukrainian Jews on behalf of the Germans.

We must remember, and we must continue the struggle of trying to get people not to forget, because if we forget, the stories and tales of Bosnia and elsewhere will unfortunately again become a reality. Bosnia was 20 years ago. It already starts to fade—does it not?—in the memory of people, and we have to keep it alive. We must ensure that people remember the enormous price that other human beings have paid because somebody had it in their head that they were not fit to live; we must remember the evilness and the wickedness of that. Such evil should never go unpunished and it should never go unremembered.

The lesson that we have to learn is clear, is it not? It is that those of us who believe that good should prevail over evil must continue to educate people. The hon.

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Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) was right that this issue is about education and, as she said, about people being prepared to walk the streets of Southampton together—from church to synagogue to mosque to Sikh temple—to show that there is a common bond of goodness that prevails over evil.

I met a young man from Hampshire who was 19 when he joined the Army, and he was present at the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp. He was a constituent of mine, and when I first met him he told me how horrendous that experience was for him. He had fought through the war and had never seen anyone who had been killed, until he walked through the gates of Belsen. That experience ruined his whole life; he never recovered from it. His wife told me that hardly a day went by when he did not have some memory of the nightmare of walking through Belsen concentration camp.

That young man’s story taught me a lot about the way that other people can act with such violence and such evilness, and with such scant excuse as believing that they were better than everyone else. If this Parliament stands for anything, it stands for equality—the belief that all of us have the right to live in any way we like, following any religion we like—and I hope that that is long the case.

I have never had the privilege of going to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust—I am delighted that so many of my colleagues have—but I felt that I had to visit it and the memory of that visit has stayed with me ever since. I am delighted to be part of this debate today.

4.24 pm

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): This has been a highly emotional debate. Sometimes, I suppose emotions are the right things to express. I can remember being taught a saying, which I think is Jewish: “Things that come from the heart speak to the heart.” On this particular subject, that is certainly the case.

First, I obviously congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing this debate. If he ever finds politics boring, I am sure he will find a really good career as a history teacher. In fact, teaching is where I want to start, having been a history teacher myself for 27 years. At the end of the 1980s and in the 1990s, I was involved in the debate about whether teaching the holocaust could fit into the national curriculum. When we make laws in this place, and make demands of Government to make laws, we should remember that somebody lower down has got to carry out those instructions. In the history profession at that time, there was a serious debate about teaching the holocaust. It was due to be taught as a section in the history curriculum, to what I used to call third years—year nine students now—who were 13 or 14.

There were serious concerns among history teachers then about that issue: whether children of that age were capable of understanding the holocaust, and whether the history profession was capable of dealing with the consequent emotional effects when anybody gets near this topic. At the time, I was a strong supporter of teaching the holocaust. I have an anecdote from one of the first classes I taught on the subject. Teachers had to be aware of the emotions that were expressed—a lot of emotion has been expressed by Members in this

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debate today. I can remember two 14-year-old girls—two Afro-Caribbean girls—who came up to me at the end of the class in tears, and it was not because of my usual poor teaching at the time. They said to me, “Sir, we never knew this happened. We never knew this happened.”

That is why I, like other right hon. and hon. Members, will hopefully talk to the Government and say, “Whatever alterations there are in the national curriculum, the teaching of the holocaust should remain a fundamental part of it, and children of that age, if they are well taught, can understand it.” However, as I said, many children—like the two girls I mentioned—do not know that the holocaust happened.

I was passionate to ensure that the holocaust was part of the national curriculum, because for 17 years I was a councillor in Springfield ward in Hackney, which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) knows well, and more than 50% of the people in that ward were what I would describe as ultra-orthodox Jews—I do not know the exact term, but they were visibly Jewish members of the Stamford Hill community. I learned so much as a result of that experience. I had left Manchester at the age of 18 to come to London. I do not think that, in my 18 years growing up in Manchester, I ever knowingly met a Jewish person; I did not do so until I moved to Hackney. That just did not happen in Manchester then. So, to be confronted by the Stamford Hill community was something else, and then to stand as a Conservative candidate in Hackney was also something else. I spent years as deputy leader of the Conservative group, and the leader of the group, Joe Lobenstein, was from that Jewish community. He is still alive, God love him. We also had a chief whip; as people can imagine, there were only three of us serving as Conservative councillors in Hackney, but we knew how to spread the offices around. In fact, I think the Leader of the House, in the days when he was a Minister, may have met Joe.

As I said, Joe was from that Jewish community and he had many stories. He was six years old at the time of Kristallnacht and then came to this country as a refugee. He said that one of his earliest memories was going with his father to a swimming pool in Germany and his father suddenly saying, “We’re not allowed there today.” Then there was Kristallnacht, and his family came to Hackney. To this day, Joe has huge pride in this country, for the kind of life it gave him and the other members of his community. At the last count, he had, I think, 64 grandchildren and he has made a hugely successful life for himself. Funnily enough, he always says that he still counts in German. German is always in his mind and he counts in it, even though he speaks English.

I have to say that Joe first stood as a Liberal councillor, but then he saw the light and became a Conservative councillor. He has never received any real recognition for the fact that he was a member of this visibly Jewish community, and was the first person from it ever to stand for public office. It was a community whose members, as people can imagine, moved gradually into Hackney and Stamford Hill; they were refugees both before the war and after it. Joe told stories of Shabbos, or Saturdays, in the 1950s when people used to walk down the street and smash the car windows of Jewish people, knowing that, because they were strictly religious, they could not pick up a telephone to report it or do anything else. People need only to step now into Stamford Hill or Bury South to see that anti-Semitism is still alive.

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Joe taught me so much. When I was a councillor, we had one of the first applications for mosque planning permission, and Joe’s view was that we should support it, because everyone of faith has a right to worship in their place of worship. We supported the first gurdwara application, near Finsbury Park, and Joe was instrumental in, and is still part of, a joint Muslim-Jewish council, which meets whenever problems from the middle east might impact on youngsters in Hackney. What Joe taught me about the impacts was reflected to some extent in my teaching, and I add to the plaudits for Karen and her team at the Holocaust Educational Trust.

I had taught about the holocaust, and I had electors. I remember when I was canvassing, knocking on doors, as we all do—as a politician I am after the vote, obviously—and for the first time someone suddenly put their hand out and I saw the tattoo there. I could tell Members all kinds of things that that made me feel. The first Auschwitz survivors I met were in Tower Court, Springfield. They were a couple who, as children, had lost their whole families but had managed to get to England. I can always remember one of them saying to me, “Eric, I think I’m an illegal immigrant.” This man had survived the war, lost his family, got married—funnily enough, to another survivor—brought up a family and grandchildren, and was living in a council block in Hackney. I asked him, “Why are you an illegal immigrant after 50 or 60 years?” and he replied, “Because after the war, Britain said it needed bricklayers, and I was trained as a jeweller but put my hand up and said I was a bricklayer, so perhaps I’m still illegal.” I assured him that he was not.

What I am saying is that I did not want to go to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Like the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), I had seen and read all the stuff and had taught history. I was frightened that perhaps the visit would lower the emotional impact, and I was worried about seeing the museum. In the end, I think it was Karen’s nagging, which she is extremely good at, as we all know, that convinced me to go, and I had the honour of going with the Chairman of this debate. What hit me more than anything else was the sheer size of Birkenau.

I now find myself as the Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Fleetwood, where there is a minuscule Jewish population. I would like to put on the record my thanks to a previous Labour Member of Parliament, who is still alive and in Lancaster, Stanley Hoenig, and a lady called Liz Meet, who even in that minuscule population have kept the pressure on for a Holocaust memorial day ceremony, which I will be pleased to attend yet again this year, next Thursday. Having taught the subject, represented people of the Jewish faith, been in Srebrenica and seen the other massacres, what I will say in conclusion is the phrase we see on war memorials: lest we forget.

4.34 pm

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing this debate. He

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is an excellent advocate for his constituents, and deserves credit for securing this debate to mark Holocaust memorial day.

I pay tribute to the fantastic Holocaust Educational Trust, and particularly want to mention Karen Pollock’s well-deserved new year honour—the MBE. The trust does such important work in ensuring that we never forget the horrifying events of nearly 70 years ago. Thanks to the trust, I was able to visit Auschwitz with schoolchildren from my constituency. It was a truly unforgettable and extremely moving visit, and is seared into my memory. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), I thought I knew a thing or two about the holocaust as an amateur historian, but it is necessary to go there and see the industrial scale of the place.

I want to mention just two or three things that stuck in my memory from the visit—many speakers have already shared a lot of the points I was going to make. The Germans were always clinical and their records impeccable, and in Auschwitz I, they had recorded the very early inmates in black and white photographs. Auschwitz was started after the invasion of Poland in 1939, with Polish prisoners of war being kept there. They literally had “prisoner No. 1”, “prisoner No. 2”, and so on. The photographs were in the corridors, and what struck me was the type of people the Nazis imprisoned there. They would have a photograph of the prisoner, with his date of birth, the date of incarceration and the date of death. They then had the prisoners’ occupations, which included teacher, student, engineer, doctor, lawyer and business man. You name it, it was there. They were very ordinary people, with the types of occupations that many of our constituents have.

Another thing that struck me was the length of time the prisoners spent in Auschwitz I. They would get arrested and incarcerated in, say, April, and by October or November they would be dead. They were worked to death on about 750 calories a day. They would be woken at five o’clock in the morning with some ersatz coffee, work a 15-hour day and then have watery soup and a piece of bread in the evening. That was their food for the day, so it is not surprising that they died from exhaustion, overwork and beatings. I will always remember the faces of those people, very young people in some cases. They would last six months—and then were finished; and the Nazis recorded the whole thing.

What struck me at Auschwitz II—Birkenau—was the industrial scale the Germans were able to put together, in particular the ramp. When someone stands on the ramp, it seems innocuous, but they then see the photographs that a Nazi officer took to record a particular train load of, I think, Hungarian Jews, coming in. It was clearly a hot, sunny, midsummer’s day in 1945. Men, women and children—families—were brought off the train, on which they must have spent days, and the old and infirm, and those with young children, were taken to the left, and those whom the Nazis thought could work were moved to the right. That was photographed. It was when I was standing there, looking at that black and white photograph, that it hit me that we were witnessing how the events had happened. The photographs were found by chance.

The other thing that really moved me was when we went over to the gas chambers. The Nazis tried, but failed, to cover their tracks. They attempted to destroy the gas chambers, but they are still clear for all to see.

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What struck me was that leaves were falling on the steps that men, women and children had had to go down. The steps were still there for all to see, and millions of innocent men, women and children had gone down them, never to return.

What is so effective about the Holocaust Educational Trust’s visits is that schoolchildren go along and then return to their schools and share their experiences with their classmates in assemblies. I have experienced that in my constituency, as have many Members. As time goes on, it is essential that we work harder than ever to ensure that people remember the holocaust; we cannot allow it to become a remote and distant memory for future generations. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history risk repeating them. Evil men know that. Adolf Hitler knew it. When he was trying to convince the SS—not that it needed much convincing—he always referred to the Armenian genocide, which took place between 1915 and 1923, during the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It involved 2 million Armenians—1 million were murdered and the other 1 million were displaced. The circumstances were very similar to the genocide of the Jews. What Hitler was saying was, “Who remembers that genocide?” It had happened only 20 years previously and the world had moved on and forgotten about it. The point Hitler was making was that they could murder 8 million people on the continent of Europe and that in years to come, it would be forgotten and nobody would remember the European Jews.

We all know that education is essential to fighting hatred. However, simply teaching children that racism is bad will only get us so far. Teaching young people about real events from recent history, such as the holocaust, is so much more effective and underlines the importance of the work of Holocaust Educational Trust. When one looks at the record of other nations that are not as assiduous on holocaust education, one sees that anti-Semitism is far more prevalent.

It is also important to remember that this unique event in history, in which millions of people were murdered by the state on an industrial scale because of their racial origin, occurred in what was one of the most modern and, arguably, civilized nations in the world. Germany under the Weimar Republic just over a decade earlier was generally considered to be one of the most liberal and enlightened countries. Laurence Rees’s series, “Nazis: A Warning from History”, is very good on that, and I recommend that Members watch it. It is important that holocaust education continues and that we remain vigilant against future genocides.

Sadly, anti-Semitism still lingers to this day, which serves as a further reminder of the importance of holocaust education. During the first half of 2009, there were 628 reported anti-Semitic incidents—a record high. Fashion designer John Galliano utterly disgraced himself last year with a drunken rant expressing disgusting anti-Semitic views and boasting about his love for Hitler. I am most worried, however, about the continued reports of anti-Semitism on our university campuses. The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who is not in his place at present, has mentioned that the London School of Economics is investigating allegations that an anti-Semitic attack occurred after a Jewish student raised objections to a Nazi-themed drinking game on a university ski trip. A recent Union of Jewish Students survey highlighted that 20% of Jewish students have experienced, and a

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further 32% witnessed, anti-Semitism in the past academic year. Those depressing findings show how much more needs to be done, and should motivate universities and Government to take responsibility.

I applaud my colleagues who have taken part in this debate. It is always encouraging when Members from all parties can come together, and there are few more important subjects than this one. I also pay tribute to our forebears who fought in the second world war. One of my relatives was killed serving in the Royal Air Force, dropping Special Operations Executive agents into occupied France, a subject that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) referred to earlier. I am also a proud British individual from Cheshire, and my hon. Friend served in the Cheshire Regiment, which goes to show that it continues to serve us well in foreign fields.

Finally, I want to mention Nicholas Winton. He was a special individual who helped 10,000 Jewish children escape from Czechoslovakia in 1939, just before the second world war started. There is a bronze plaque to the Kindertransport in the House of Commons, and whenever I do the “Graham Evans tour of the House”, I never fail to take my visitors to see the plaque and tell them the story of Nicholas Winton, the humble young man who did so much to save 10,000 Jewish children who came to this country. On 1 September 1939, he had a trainload of 250 children ready to travel through Germany, into France and over to the United Kingdom, but, as those historians present will know, 1 September was when Germany invaded Poland and that train did not leave Prague station. Those 250 children disappeared, never to be seen again, and records show that, unfortunately, their parents died in the holocaust. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham for the moving account that he gave earlier. The children saved by Nicholas Winton gave him a gold ring, inscribed on which was an old Jewish proverb: “Save one life, save the world.”

4.44 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): It is an honour to follow so many emotional speeches. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) for his perseverance in ensuring that we could have this debate and for securing it from the Backbench Business Committee.

My problem with the holocaust is thinking about 6 million people being systematically murdered. It is easy to picture one person being murdered—we can see a photo of them, talk to their friends or read about them—but one cannot even envisage or contemplate 6 million people lying in a row or filling a hall. It is unimaginable.

I am privileged to represent the people of Harrow East, where we have, if not the biggest, one of the biggest Jewish communities in the whole country. I have had the privilege of meeting refugees of Kindertransport and people who came here before the war or who escaped the atrocities of the concentration camps. All of their stories are deeply emotional. I have had the privilege of going to schools where they have spoken and have talked with them about their feelings about the holocaust.

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One of the things about the holocaust and what the Germans and the Nazis did to the people of many countries across Europe is that they attempted not just to wipe out the whole of the Jewish population, but to dehumanise them in the first place. They took away their humanity and their emotions, and the thing that I find really hard to contemplate is how it was allowed to happen and how people could tamely go into concentration camps and gas chambers and be wiped out. I also find it hard to contemplate how people across the world, if they knew what was going on, did not take the affirmative action required to prevent many unnecessary deaths.

I, like others, commend the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. One of the things that I feel very badly about is that, when I was at school, we were never taught about the holocaust. It was not spoken about. It was never part of our history lessons or of anything that we knew about. Fortunately I grew up among Jewish children and families, so we heard about it, but it was never really spoken about, which is deeply distressing.

I had the ordeal—privilege is not the word—of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau last year with the Holocaust Educational Trust and students from my constituency. I was struck by several things. None of those young people were Jewish. There were Hindus, Muslims and Christians, but no Jewish children. I think that that was good, because it meant that it was not just Jewish people learning about the holocaust, but everyone from every religion. The way in which the trip is built up is remarkable. When we visited the village of Oswiecim and went to the green, which is surrounded by trees, we queried what terrible things could have happened there. Then, however, we realised that it used to be the site of the biggest synagogue in Europe. It was wiped off the face of the earth, together with the Jewish population of that town, which now has no Jewish people.

From our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, several things that other hon. Members have mentioned—the hair, the shoes and other things—come to mind, as well as particular parts of the death camps and concentration camps. As people go round, the education and group leaders show what happened and explain it all. It came together for me when we were in Birkenau and the leader of our group said, “You must remember: the people who did this were not mad. They were evil, they were systematic, but do not allow the belief to exist that they were mad.” We must always remember that, because it is the key issue.

When we look at the maps of where people were transported from to get to Auschwitz-Birkenau, we can see how many were involved. This was not a few mad individuals; this was a systematic approach by large numbers of people who were evil. They were evil because they directly participated in it, or they were evil because they did nothing to prevent it. We have to remember the whole process of what happened.

As we strolled across what could be a park anywhere in the world to contemplate what evils were done in that pleasant area, I pictured, as we looked at the railway tracks, what it must have been like for people who had been transported for many days from different parts of Europe to arrive there, having been told that they were going to a work camp and that they would be given reasonable amounts of food, that they would be treated

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properly and that it would be a better life for them. How must they have felt, when the doors opened on those railway carriages and they stepped out on to the platform, to see the camp? One can then start to envisage the full horror of what befell them, as they were separated and marched off to death or, in some cases, to work.

Of course, some of the people who perpetrated these evil deeds have paid the price, but by no means all have. We must always pursue those people, whoever they are, wherever they are, so that they suffer the consequences of their actions. However, we also need to get to grips with the reality of why this happened. How could it possibly have come to pass? We have to remember the economic circumstances in Germany that led to the rise of the Nazis. That is not an excuse, but it is a reason why they were allowed to perpetrate their evils.

I declare a bit of an interest in this regard, because my wife’s family were German Jews who came to this country at the beginning of the last century and, historically, my mother’s family were French Jews who came to this country at the start of the last century. We should remember that anti-Semitism in this country was rife right up until the second world war, and that many of the families who chose to come here forsook their religions, as did mine, and changed their names for fear of the anti-Semitism and discrimination that took place at that time. We still have to confront that because, even today, Jewish children going to and from schools have to be escorted and have security outside the schools. Jewish graves are desecrated and synagogues are damaged. We must always remember that every single hate crime is a crime against this country and against humanity.

I commend this debate for the raw emotion there has been and for the solid examples that have been quoted of what we must do. We must never forget that the holocaust took place, and we must never allow people to forget the rationale and the reasons people make the excuses. I commend the work that is being done by the Holocaust Educational Trust and Karen Pollock and her team. I trust that we can educate our young people, so that never again will that systematic approach ever be allowed. I can accept that, unfortunately, there are evil people in the world who will commit atrocities almost on a systematic basis, but we must never allow such systematic approaches to death ever to happen again.

4.55 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I am very sorry that I was not here at the start of the debate; I was on other parliamentary business. I am extremely grateful to be called and given the opportunity to speak. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing this incredibly important debate.

I, too, had what I was going to say was the pleasure—but, of course, it was not a pleasure—to visit Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust. If anything, the day made it harder for me to understand what had actually happened. As the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said, it is not only the scale—how could so many people have been murdered? It was so hard to understand the stories. How could human beings be so inhumane to other human beings? It is not just the murder of people, but the torture that some

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people faced when they transgressed the rules, the living conditions that they were in, and the whole experience that human beings made other human beings go through.

Like other hon. Members, a number of particular things got to me. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) and I were on the same trip. I also saw the photographs that showed healthy young men and women—and people of all ages—and then the dates of their death just a few weeks after they had got there. They were worked, starved and frozen to death.

The latrines was another area that got to me. The notion that people would be trooped in, told when to sit on the latrine, then told when to get off the latrine and be marched out again, to be followed by hundreds of other people, really affected me, as did the attempts by the guards to completely remove the dignity of the people who were being held in those camps. There was also the reality that, of course, some prisoners did lose their humanity and treat people in inhumane ways. One of the things I find very difficult to imagine is the absolutely unbelievable number of people who were cramped into the huts. The weakest were at the bottom and would be covered with faeces, vomit and blood from people above them, because of the situation that people were in. My final realisation was that some people did retain their humanity. There were people who did support other prisoners in there and manage to live as human beings in the most inhumane conditions it is possible to imagine.

I pay huge tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust for enabling us and so many young people to experience that day and see what happened in the camp. However, the most important element of the trust’s work is not the act of remembrance, although, of course, that is vital; it is the work of challenging attitudes now. As other hon. Members have reminded us, the holocaust did not start in world war two; it was not the first and nor has it been the last. We have been reminded of Bosnia and Cambodia and, of course, there have been many other genocides during the past century. Even today, as we speak, murder continues. The only way that we can ever tackle that is to deal with the fear and the hatred. For me, that starts with discrimination in the playground. Irrespective of whether that is due to race, appearance, disability or any of the other things children bully other children about, it is still about division and saying, “Other people are lesser than me and I have a right to treat them in that way.”

Such things continue to happen on our streets. We have recently been reminded of the dreadful murder of Stephen Lawrence, and there are racist murders every week. Discrimination continues in attitudes in every-day life, and in divided societies where hatred is allowed to flourish. People will blame immigrants for the fact that they do not have a job or a house, or for the trouble on their streets, and will say that asylum seekers are to blame, not acknowledging that they are actually refugees. The young people I met on the trip to Auschwitz were not only looking back, but looking to the future. They were inspired to tackle prejudice and discrimination, to educate other young people about what happened and to ensure that it does not continue to happen. That is what they are doing after their trip.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) finished his amazing remarks by expressing his fear that we will not stop future genocide. We may not, but if we

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do not take action—if we as politicians do not lead to challenge attitudes, and to be opinion formers, not just opinion followers—clearly we never will. We have to do all we can to tackle prejudice and discrimination. We have to make it clear that we will not tolerate them, and that our society, in which we are leaders, will not tolerate them. Like those young people who visited Auschwitz, we must be inspired to do all we can to educate and to tackle divided societies. I hope that the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust will long continue. Its work is truly valued, but we too must play our part as politicians in the House of Commons.

5.1 pm

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), whose dogged persistence has ensured that the debate has taken place. He has done a great service to the House and to democracy and decency. I also pay tribute to all hon. Members, from my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) onwards, who have made some remarkable contributions to a remarkable debate.

I shall say something about my own experience. I was born the proud son of Irish parents who came to this country to better themselves in “County” Kilburn. When I was still at primary school, we moved to Dollis Hill where there was a significant Jewish community. The family next door were the Futtermans, and I always remember ma Futterman and my mother leaning over the fence. Over would come the matzos at Passover. I would go in every Friday night and turn on the lights. Four doors up were the Cohens, and I used to play football with them. I went to numerous bar mitzvahs, and it was at a bar mitzvah that I first discovered that Jewish people living in my street were from families—three of them—who had lost people in the holocaust, and I could not believe it.

I remember, as a young trade union activist, working with a very fine man called Paul Graham, a Polish Jew with a heavy accent. I was sitting down with him one night in his house and asked him, “Paul, why are you called Paul Graham?” He looked at the ground and could not speak for some time. It soon became clear to me that the demons of what he had experienced before he fled Poland had scarred him to that day. What he had done was to seek anonymity by changing his name, and he was not alone.

There is no question but that the holocaust was the greatest crime in human history—utter barbarism in the 20th century perpetrated by the country of Beethoven, Schiller and Goethe. Industrial slaughter, barbarism on a grand scale, was planned by people who were not mad, but profoundly evil. What the victims suffered is unimaginable. There have been so many powerful contributions; for example, from the hon. Members for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who were absolutely right. From Kristallnacht onwards, what must it have been like for proud people to be attacked in the streets where they had been born and brought up and in the ghettos that they were then forced to live in with no defence? There was no question of protection by the rule of law. What must it have been like? I remember thinking about that when my kids were very young. Imagine standing in a queue with our children, waiting to go into a gas chamber. What would we say to them?

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Millions suffered that terrible fate, but it was not just the Jews—there were others as well. The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) was right to point out the huge number of Gypsies and gay people who died. Today, the House unites to say, “Never ever again.” The message to the perpetrators must be, “No hiding place.” The message to collaborators must be, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” Yes, there were honourable exceptions—the Maquis in France and the Danish bishops—but too many turned a blind eye.

Sadly, the holocaust is not history. There have been a number of very powerful contributions, particularly from the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). He reminds us that, despite the universal declaration of human rights in 1948 and the formation of the United Nations, we had Rwanda, Bosnia—Bosnia, in our time and on our continent—and Cambodia. I visited Cambodia just after Christmas. The father and brother of the first person I met had died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. I went to the detention centre where tens of thousands had been taken and interrogated. First, they were photographed. Like the Nazis, the victims were impeccably catalogued with a photograph and a number across their chest before they were interrogated. With the exception of a handful of them, they were slaughtered either in the old school or taken out to the killing fields. One of the legends of the Khmer Rouge was:

“To spare you is no profit, to destroy you, no loss.”

The hon. Member for Beckenham is right—the world knew what was happening.

I think that progress has been made. We have the International Criminal Court calling to account the mighty, and rightly so, confronting them with the consequences of their actions. I hope that those yet to go before the court never sleep easy. International action was taken against Libya under UN resolution 1973 and rightly supported by all parties in the House. We have learnt painful lessons from history that we must never, ever again stand by and permit genocide or mass slaughter.

The theme of Holocaust memorial day is to speak up and speak out. I pay tribute to Karen Pollock and to the trust for the remarkable work it does. They are absolutely right—there is a sacred duty for each generation to learn the painful lessons of the holocaust. The hon. Members who have spoken—the hon. Members for Beckenham and for Croydon Central, in particular—are absolutely right, because to this day there is still an evil canker, to use the words that were used earlier, in our society. There is once again the shameful rise of anti-Semitism. There is, sadly, also Islamophobia. Racism still scars too many of our communities, seen at its most obscene in the killing of Stephen Lawrence. Gay people are to this day attacked and sometimes murdered. It is absolutely right that we speak out and accept that we all have a duty to give leadership, because the tone that we set is crucial to the harmony of our communities. Today, we also say that it is absolutely right to reject any notion of revisionism and any attempt to explain away or minimise the obscenity of what happened in the holocaust.

In conclusion, today we have seen the House at its best, speaking with a remarkable unity as, during the war, our country came together. The extraordinary

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Winston Churchill, whose poetic speeches inspired the nation, and—dare I say it?— people such as Ernie Bevin, who was the first general secretary of the old Transport and General Workers Union and Minister of Labour and then Foreign Secretary after the war, were united in utter determination to defeat barbarism. As one hon. Member said earlier, lest we forget: the message from both sides of the House is that we will never, ever forget.

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Mr Offord has been here for three hours, but unfortunately his name was omitted from the list of speakers, so I call him now, although it is unorthodox, because this is an exceptional debate and we have time.

5.9 pm

Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Thank you, Mrs Dorries, for allowing me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. It is a bit peculiar that the previous occupant of the Chair decided to speak himself and leave me off the list.

I will change my remarks in light of the debate. Not only do I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on securing this debate, but I thank him because some cynical people would say, “Why didn’t someone with a large Jewish population in their constituency request this debate?” However, success to me is not just introducing a Holocaust Memorial Day Bill or simply securing a debate; for me, an MP with many Jewish constituents, success is seeing so many hon. Members from constituencies without Jewish constituents or any kind of Jewish heritage here today. For that I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon Central, for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) and the hon. Members for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). I thank them all.

This debate reinforces for me that Holocaust memorial day is not just for people who are Jewish; it is for everybody who has concern, in whatever form, about the holocaust. In my constituency, we commemorate Holocaust memorial day with contributions from the Bosnian community and from Cambodians and Rwandans. Of course, it is only natural that we have contributions from many of my former council colleagues, whose family, friends and relatives were in the holocaust and who have relatives who, luckily, escaped from it. Councillor Maureen Braun, a friend of mine, and Councillor Richard Weider have regaled us with some of the events that happened to their relatives in a former life.

With regard to the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project, I have visited Auschwitz twice, the first time with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General. I was pleased to see him there, because I am not aware that he has a significant Jewish population in his constituency. I also went last year with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and another hon. Member who is not able to be here. My two visits were different. On the first occasion, I valued the experience for the same reason that the hon. Member for Lewisham East stated, and I learnt a great deal

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about the historical acts that occurred there. The second visit was important because I was able to gauge the reactions of some young people from my constituency who attended. On visiting the first camp, we were all in our own world with headphones on and everyone was fairly quiet, until we came to the hair, which was mentioned earlier, and the glasses. For one young man in particular, witnessing the pile of glasses personified the holocaust. That was a powerful, moving experience.

The second part of the visit, in the second camp, is an equally quiet event. It is peculiar because there are no birds singing. An occasional dog barks at the far end of the camp, but we hear nothing, as though nature knows some kind of horrific atrocity occurred there. I thought at the time that it was the long, exhausting day that made me feel so emotionally tired, but it was actually the realisation of what occurred in that country—in that part of the world—that makes us all so emotionally drained.

One discovery that I made on the trip was Elie Wiesel’s book, “Night”. It is appropriate that I am reading it at this time of year on the lead-up to Holocaust memorial day. Elie makes some rather good observations, which are useful and could also be applied to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. He writes:

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

The work of the HET is so valuable because it reminds us all of what occurred in that part of our terrible history and that we must prevent it from ever happening again.

I conclude by saying something that has been said before. I congratulate Karen Pollock on her well-deserved MBE, which is a recognition not only of her work, but of that of all her team and everyone at the Holocaust Educational Trust, which is keeping alive the recognition of what happened in those terrible years to many Jewish people, many of the Roma community, many artists, homosexuals and different ethnic groups. For that I am particularly grateful.

5.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): It is good to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Dorries. I thank hon. Members from all parties for their contributions to this debate, which have been, by turns, sober, chilling, passionate and personal and sometimes deeply moving. That illustrates the fact that we Members of Parliament are human beings with real emotions and some of us have real experiences that we can bring to bear on a subject of deep importance, not just for this Parliament or this country, but for our world.

This occasion is not just an event in itself; it is about laying foundations for the future in a world where, despite some pessimism expressed by one or two hon. Members, we have constantly to work and hope that we can learn from this and provide our children and grandchildren with a better world for the future. I am confident that hon. Members will join me in ensuring that the message from the House today is not just to condemn the atrocities of the past, but to learn and make sure that we learn well for the future.

There were powerful contributions from 17 hon. Members during this debate. I do not think I can match any of them, but I can match them at least in one

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respect by congratulating, on behalf of the whole House, both Karen Pollock and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which has expanded its work year by year with great effect. Hon. Members have spoken about the events that they attend in their constituencies. This year events are being arranged nationally. We can all take pride in the focus that the trust, in a leadership role, has brought to that work.

I am pleased to report that, without any hesitation at all, this Government have been ready and keen to follow the investment of the previous Government, and to follow their example in responding to the challenge that the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust set for us and for young people. The annual national commemoration and the local community activities that Karen and her team have fostered have ensured that people think once again about the repercussions of the holocaust on our society.

The key point that has come across in many contributions is that this is an inclusive event, remembering not just 6 million Jewish victims of the holocaust, but the millions of other victims of the Nazis and other genocides. Of course, the Jewish community is painfully aware of the lessons. The challenge is to make sure that other communities understand those lessons and learn from them as well.

The introduction to this debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) was sober, chilling and a great credit to him and to those who rightly decided that, despite the strict word of protocol, it was right for him to be the person who led this debate. He mentioned that the holocaust was not simply a Jewish disaster. It is not simply about one community but the persecution, harassment and abuse of any minority community. He rightly drew attention to the problems faced by black and minority ethnic communities, including Gypsies, and to Islamophobia and the problems increasingly suffered by the Muslim community in this country.

In the same vein, my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) referred to the work being set up by MAMA, in order to provide a resource for the Muslim community parallel to the work done by the CST for the Jewish community. The MAMA project will be launched fully later this year, and I was talking earlier today with the team who are delivering the project on behalf of the Government.

The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) gave a searing personal testimony to the experience of his own family. What he said about the values underpinning what we like to think of as our traditional sense of Britishness was a master class, which I hope will come to the attention of Members throughout the House.

I had not heard of the previous experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), but he spoke with brutal frankness about the circumstances he found in Bosnia during his service there in command of British troops. I had the opportunity some time after my election to the House to go on a short, all-party visit to Bosnia after the accord had been signed, with a view to the development of political institutions in Bosnia. As we were taken in secure vehicles through towns and villages, what stood out was that every third or fourth house going down a street was burnt out, while the others were fine. I asked why that was, because it did not match one’s picture of people being driven out of their

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homes. It was a case, however, of neighbour turning against neighbour. Whether a family was Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian, once things flared up it was neighbour against neighbour, and that brought me up short.

The hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and a number of Members contributing today asked why someone did not stop them. Why did somebody not stop them? Surely, if we can learn anything at all from Holocaust memorial day, it is that it is not always “them”; it is sometimes us who have to be stopped. What I saw driving through the villages in Bosnia was that it could be neighbours or lifelong friends who, because people were suddenly segregated in their thinking and their cultures, felt that the right solution was to burn their neighbours out of their homes. Given that connection with the individual circumstances of families and communities, that detachment and alienation surely open the Pandora’s box described so graphically by many people in the debate.

I do not want to trespass on the time that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central will want for winding up the debate, but I must state that our responsibility as a House is to remember those who were persecuted and murdered. Our challenge is to make the experience in the words of the victims and of the survivors a meaningful part of our future.

I have been provided with information that is certainly new to me, and this Olympic year is an opportunity to celebrate two Jewish athletes who competed in the Olympics after surviving the holocaust: Ben Helfgott, a British weightlifter, and Alfred Nakache, a French swimmer and water polo player. Ben was the only member of his family to have survived Buchenwald, and he moved to England after the second world war. He captained the British weightlifting team in Melbourne in 1956 and in Rome in 1960. That is a triumphant example of someone not only surviving and becoming a British citizen, but growing, developing and delivering for the country that he had learnt to love. Nakache, the French 100-metre freestyle champion, was in his country’s squad in Berlin in 1936; and, 12 years later, after Auschwitz, where his wife and daughter perished, he took part in the London Olympics of 1948. Such stories are a mixture of the very ordinary and the hugely exceptional.

We as a Government are working hard to promote the United Kingdom’s Holocaust memorial day. We give a sizeable grant to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and support the Holocaust Educational Trust—I gently chide a few Members who might have been a little confused about the difference between the two trusts in their contributions. Both trusts do hugely outstanding work to raise awareness of the holocaust among young people and the wider community. I thank not only Karen, who has had a lot of mentions, but also Cathy Ashley, chair of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and her team for their work.

Last year, 72% of local authority areas held a Holocaust memorial day event, which was a big step forward, although I know that the trust will not be satisfied until 100% of areas mark the memorial day with events. That is the task it has set itself to achieve by 2015, which would be exceptional. Surely Members of Parliament can play a key part in ensuring that that target is achieved not only in 2015 but in 2014—why not? I also

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hope that Members will pick up this year’s theme, Speak Up, Speak Out. Perhaps we should be speaking up and ensuring that our local authorities at least are commemorating, commending or taking account of memorial day.

The Government have committed £2.1 million to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to fund ongoing restoration works. I visited, as other Members have done, and it was a deeply moving experience. It is essential that we keep the site for future generations to see. The Government will also continue to support the work of the UK’s first envoy for post-holocaust issues. Some powerful words have been said in the debate by many people about the need to be on guard against future events. We had a sober warning of such events, in particular on the African continent. The Government are also supporting the Anne Frank Trust, to educate young people to challenge prejudice and discrimination, and the work of the Jewish museum.

Several references were made to other groups threatened in our society. The most challenging problem in this country in dealing with racism, alienation and discrimination relates to our Gypsy and Traveller community. It is a challenge to all of us as constituency MPs and to the House, and on a day such as this, commemorating events such as this, I hope it is one we will treat with deep seriousness.

5.29 pm

Gavin Barwell: With the leave of the House, I will reply just briefly. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) made both the points that I wanted to make, but I will briefly repeat them. I thank you, Ms Dorries, for the way you have chaired the second half of our proceedings, and in particular for allowing my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr Offord) to speak, which, if I may say so, was the second triumph today of common sense over rules.

Today’s debate showed Parliament at its best. I congratulate every right hon. and hon. Member who has spoken, but if others will forgive me, I will single out five hon. Members who reflected on particular personal experiences, which I thought lent a special force to their speeches. The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) spoke about his family experience, my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) spoke about his time in Bosnia, and the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) spoke about visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, on the same visit that I went on, as she said. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) reminded me about Councillor Joe Lobenstein, whom I had the privilege of meeting several times. The story of his 64 grandchildren was wonderful. The Nazis tried to kill him and his family off—and here he is 70 years down the line, with all those descendants, who would not be here if the Nazis had been allowed to have their way. Finally, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington referred to a trade unionist who changed his name because of the pain of the experiences he had been through.

What probably unites us all is that we do not want to live in a country where people cannot be honest about who they are—their faith, sexuality or background. Members on both sides of the House can unite around

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that, and the debate showed the House off very well. The hon. Gentleman was right to remind us of that period of British history of which we are all so proud, and of the fact that the Government then were a national Government. Churchill steals much of the limelight, but that Government brought together Atlee, Greenwood, Morrison and Bevin from the Labour party and Sinclair from the Liberals. All political parties can share in the achievement of the Government during the war.

The message we have sent out today is that we will not let the memory of what happened during the holocaust fade. We will go on confronting the evil of racism,

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because to do otherwise would be to betray the memory of the lives ripped away by the Nazi regime. Six million people: ask yourself, could there have been another Einstein or Kissinger among those 6 million? Whatever they would have gone on to be, 6 million individual lives were brought to an end because of the evil of racism, and that is what we are united in confronting. I thank all Members for attending the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

5.32 pm

Sitting adjourned.