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Holocaust Memorial Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:06 pm on 24th January 2019.

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Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Labour, Enfield North 1:06 pm, 24th January 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Peter Bottomley, and I thank my hon. Friend Ian Austin for the moving, thoughtful and inspirational way that he opened this debate. Last spring, as he said, we had the honour to join the annual March of the Living which, alongside holocaust survivors and young people from around the world, took us from Auschwitz to Birkenau. During the week, we stopped in places such as Bełżec and the forest of Zbylitowska Góra, where 6,000 Jews, including 800 children, were murdered. It was a very moving experience.

Those memories are very much in my mind today as we mark Holocaust Memorial Day and the tearing of people from their homes under the threat of persecution and genocide. Once again, I am reminded of lives cut tragically short, communities uprooted and destroyed, and the sheer depravity of the systematic attempt to slaughter the Jews of Europe. I am also reminded of something else from that journey last spring, and the fact that even in the midst of places of great horror and suffering, we celebrated life.

Before travelling to Poland, we were encouraged to read the stories of some of those who survived the Shoah. They were stories of tragedy and loss, but also of bravery, love, and the endurance of the human spirit. They were about men and women such as Freddie Knoller, who fought in the French resistance, but when captured chose to confess that he was a Jew rather than denounce his comrades. Eve Kugler—she has already been mentioned—wrote after the second world war that

“we started again with nothing except the Jewish beliefs and values that the Nazis could never take from us.”

Their stories recall the words of the late Martin Gilbert who said:

“Even in the darkness of the Holocaust, there were sparks of light.”

Our journey also gave us the opportunity to celebrate the life of the Jewish people’s homeland, which was reborn in the aftermath of the holocaust. We recalled the contribution of the survivors to the state of Israel, and all that many of us admire so much about its achievements, its values, and its resilience.

However, remembrance and celebration alone are not enough to truly honour those who died in the holocaust and those who risked all to save the lives of others; we must also learn from the holocaust. Tragically, the flames of racial and religious hatred continue to be fanned around the world. Antisemitism remains a scourge of the modern world. Hideous antisemitic tropes, repugnant conspiracy theories and malicious examples of holocaust denial are all used by populists and demagogues for political ends throughout the middle east and in Europe.