Holocaust Memorial Day

Part of Kashmir – in the House of Commons at 3:25 pm on 19th January 2017.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 3:25 pm, 19th January 2017

It is a pleasure to follow Joan Ryan. I commend Peter Kyle for the way in which he introduced this debate.

Jewish people have suffered anti-Semitism throughout the centuries; there is nothing new in that. As Mrs Ellman reminded us, it is still rife not only all over the world but in this country, and we can never forget that fact. However, it reached its peak with the systematic attempt by the Nazis to wipe out Jews from across the world.

I grew up in an area where we were educated among Jewish people, Hindu people, Muslims, and people of all religions and origins, but the holocaust was never talked about. On my first to Israel in 1992, I saw not the wonderful museum that is now Yad Vashem, but the original museum. That brought home to me what life was like for the Jewish people in Germany and beyond who suffered the systematic attempt to wipe them out. It also brought home to me that we must educate young people across this country on the need to remember what happened, because it is very hard to contemplate that systematic attempt to wipe people out, and very easy to think that it was about just a small number of mad people. But it was not: large numbers of people were involved. We must remember that it is not good enough to pinpoint just the evil people who did this; we should also pinpoint those who stood by while recognising what was going on.

I remember my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau; it is seared into my consciousness. Going there and seeing at first hand what happened brought home to me the importance of the testimony of those who survived the death camps in proving what had happened. I was privileged to welcome to this House—together with Ian Austin, who is unfortunately unable to be with us today—Kitty Hart-Moxon, who, aged 16, was forced to go to Auschwitz-Birkenau at the point of a gun. She survived to tell the tale, and to come to this country to give her life to being a nurse, to build a family, and to build a life. When, on her arrival, she went to live with the Jewish community in Birmingham, they wanted to ignore the fact of the holocaust—to forget about it. It was a terrible thing, but they wanted to turn a blind eye to what happened. It is important to recognise that in this country way back then, there was almost an attempt, not to belittle the holocaust, but to try to forget about it. In 1978—a long, long time ago, before Holocaust Memorial Day was ever thought of—she went back to Auschwitz-Birkenau to do a documentary, “Return to Auschwitz”, and she wrote a brilliant book. That is almost the forerunner of what we now see in the Holocaust Educational Trust. She is a very brave lady who is very outspoken, quite rightly so, on the work she has done and what we have to do to combat such attempts.

There are three major feature films on this subject: “Schindler’s List”, “Sophie’s Choice”, and now, “Denial”. The first two will be well known to right hon. and hon. Members across the House. “Denial” will be on general release next Friday—Holocaust Memorial Day. It is about the trial of David Irving. Having brought the case himself, he was eventually put on trial, where he was proven to be a holocaust denier and shown to be the fool that he was. I think that that is symptomatic. It is a brilliant film, and I recommend that colleagues across the House see it.

I pay tribute to an honourable lady in my constituency, Gena Turgel. She was born in Krakow in 1923, the youngest of nine children. When the Nazis bombed her home city on 1 September 1939 at the outbreak of the second world war, her family planned to move to the United States, but unfortunately they tried to do so too late. The family moved to just outside Krakow, and in 1941 she had to move into the ghetto. She entered the ghetto carrying a sack of potatoes, some flour and a few other belongings, and she stayed there with her mother and four siblings. One of her brothers was shot by the SS in the ghetto, and a second brother fled from the ghetto and was never seen again.

Gena and her surviving family were eventually sent to Plaszów labour camp on the edge of Krakow. She later discovered that her sister Miriam and her husband, who had married in the ghetto, had been shot after the Nazis caught her trying to bring food into the camp. In the winter of 1944-45 the camp was liquidated, and Gena and her family had to walk to Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of a forced death march.

In January 1945, Gena and her mother were sent on a death march from Auschwitz, leaving behind Hela, Gena’s sister. They never saw her again. After several days, they came to Leslau—that was the German name for the place—where they were forced on to trucks. They travelled under terrible conditions for three to four weeks, eventually arriving in Buchenwald concentration camp. Then they were sent on cattle trucks to Bergen-Belsen, where they arrived in February 1945. Gena worked in a hospital for the next two months and tried to support her mother as best she could.

On 15 April that year, the British Army liberated Bergen-Belsen. Among the liberators was Norman Turgel, who became Gena’s husband just half a year later. Today Gena lives in Stanmore and is in close touch with her children and grandchildren. She wrote a book recently called “I Light a Candle”. At the age of 93, she goes to schools up and down the country to inform people about what happened.

I commend the early-day motion that was tabled in my name, on a cross-party basis, commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day. It has been signed so far by 44 hon. Members, but I hope that many more will do so later. The book of commitment from the Holocaust Educational Trust is available for Members to sign—it has been available this week and it will be available next week—in the Members’ corridor. I encourage Members from right across the House to sign the book of commitment, to demonstrate that we commemorate those victims and make sure that we all know that life will go on.