Holocaust Memorial Day

Part of Backbench Business — Childhood Obesity Strategy – in the House of Commons at 4:32 pm on 21st January 2016.

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Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans) 4:32 pm, 21st January 2016

It is an honour to be speaking in this debate today. We have heard many very moving and thoughtful contributions from Members across the House, and it is evident that this is a topic of great concern to all of us. I must add my voice to those commending the outstanding work of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

It is an honour for me to represent East Renfrewshire. My constituency is home to Scotland’s largest Jewish population, as well as to other engaged and active faith groups. Their congregations and leaders add so much to our local communities, promoting positive relations and the importance of working together and learning lessons from the past.

As a number of Members have rightly pointed out, as fewer and fewer holocaust survivors are able to share their story, it is more important than ever that we take steps to make sure that their stories continue to be told, and it is fitting that the theme of this year’s commemoration is “Don’t stand by”. The message this gives could not be clearer or more important. It is about us all: we must not stand by—and we must also be aware, as we have heard from my hon. Friend Peter Grant and others, that these terrible acts often involved ordinary people.

I am very proud of the diversity of modern Scotland. It makes us all better to live in a diverse, vibrant country, but we can never take the diversity and tolerance of our society for granted. Scotland’s Jewish community is a vital and important part of our society. Every member of that community has the right to feel safe and we on the SNP Benches join the others here today who have condemned anti-Semitism; it is wholly unacceptable.

We have heard about our duties to refugees from Mr Burrowes and, as Europe struggles to get a grip on the refugee crisis stemming from Syria, we must not stand by and ignore cries for help from men, women and children fleeing not only the barbaric control of Daesh, but the evil regime of Assad.

In 1999, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair asked Jewish community leaders in Britain whether they felt it would be a good idea to have a Holocaust Memorial Day. They told him that they themselves did not need one, because Jews already had Yom HaShoah, a memorial day on which the whole community remembered all those who had been lost. However, they pointed out that it was important for our whole society to have a Holocaust Memorial Day for the Jewish people and for the other victims of the holocaust, including Roma people, trade unionists, people with disabilities, gay people and Jehovah’s Witnesses—all those who, along with the Jews, were so terribly singled out for the crime of being different, as Wes Streeting said. This is important for wider society too, so that we have the opportunity to listen and to learn.

It was a huge honour for me to be invited to march with the Jewish war veterans at the Remembrance day service in Newton Mearns in November and then to join the community at the Newton Mearns synagogue for an excellent, thoughtful service at which their brave and selfless contributions and the losses and sacrifices of so many were remembered.

We must remember not only the horrors of the second world war but the subsequent genocides, including those in Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia. This year marks the 21st anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica, which has been mentioned by Bob Stewart. The cemetery there has more than 8,000 obelisks marking Muslim graves. Organisations including Remembering Srebrenica and the Mothers of Srebrenica work to ensure that we remember and help us to try to learn.