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Holocaust Memorial Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:59 pm on 24th January 2019.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 2:59 pm, 24th January 2019

I really wish beyond words that we did not have to have this debate today, but we do, because the holocaust happened—there are some who dispute that, but it did happen—and because of the heroic efforts of holocaust survivors, who, every time they give their testimony, are choosing to relive the horrors of their past to try to protect us from reliving those horrors in future. Despite all that, we are failing to see the same warning signs as those that were there in Germany in 1932 and 1933. We are failing to see them here today in these islands. They are sometimes on display in this Parliament, and all too often in parts of our society that no democratically credible politician should ever associate themselves with, but all too often we do because we think there might be some political advantage to ourselves from it.

Ian Austin, in a deeply moving speech, referred briefly to the contribution that holocaust survivor Eva Clarke made to the event in Parliament earlier this week. One of his colleagues referred to a tiny spark of light in the darkness. Sparks of light in the darkness do not get much tinier than Eva, because she weighed just over three pounds when she was born. She is possibly the youngest of all holocaust survivors, because she was born after some of the camps had been liberated. She was born on the cart that was taking her pregnant mum from the train to the death camp at Mauthausen on 29 April 1945. The reason that date was so significant was because if it had been 28 April, Eva and her mum would have been put into the gas chambers and killed, but on 28 April the gas chambers stopped their evil work because they had run out of gas. Twenty-four hours difference in the arrival time of a train meant literally all the difference in the world to Eva, and it means that we still have the benefit of Eva’s testimony—and her mum’s testimony, until she died a few years ago. Such testimony reminds us not only of the horrors of what happened but the immense power of good—of love—that was demonstrated all the way through. We have heard mention of some of the families who sheltered Jewish families, at enormous risk to themselves, for months and sometimes even years, taking complete strangers into their homes and hiding them in order to try to protect them from the evil that was about to be done to them.

As everyone else has done, I say thank you to Eva and to all the other survivors, who do not need to put themselves through this. They could just go away and live a quiet life, and try to come to terms privately with what they had experienced in their younger years. They choose to put themselves through it to try to give us the warning, again and again and again, of what happens when hatred becomes normalised—when it becomes normalised to spit at a child on their way to school just because he or she is Jewish, normalised to react to news of a killing by wondering which side of a divide the killers were on and which side the victim was on before we decide how we are going to react, or normalised for Christians to hound their fellow Christians out of their homes because they are the “wrong kind” of Christians. Within my lifetime, in parts of these islands, that has happened to Christians on both sides of the divide. When it becomes normalised for people to say that it is horrific that some of the families trying to cross the border from Mexico into America are carrying prayer mats—when the carrying of a prayer mat is a sign that somebody becomes a threat—we should all be concerned. That blatantly racist, Islamophobic attitude has not only become normalised—it got elected, because that was said in a tweet from the President of the United States of America.

A lot of this hatred comes not just from social media but from the front pages of newspapers that I do not need to name. I make a plea to all Members here and ask the Front Benchers on both sides of the House to relay this message back to their colleagues as well. When those same newspapers ask for an interview, when they offer 150 quid for an article, or when they invite us to celebration parties for their editors’ achievements, we need to think about how we respond, because if we support, in any way whatsoever, the purveyors of hatred—whether it is antisemitism, Islamophobia or any other form of hatred—our words, “Never again”, will only be words, and hollow words at that. The 6 million murdered Jews of Europe and the millions of other murdered citizens of Europe deserve much, much more than hollow words.