– in the House of Commons at 1:20 pm on 26th January 2023.
The debate is well subscribed and many hon. Members want to speak, so I will have to introduce a time limit, which will start at seven minutes but may have to come down. I wanted to tell hon. Members that that would be the time limit—except for the right hon. Member opening the debate—so that they could prepare for it.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Holocaust Memorial Day.
I thank Dame Margaret Hodge, my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb and my hon. Friend Nicola Richards for co-sponsoring the debate. I pay tribute to the incredible people at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust and many others for the work that they are doing this week and all year round.
I am extremely honoured to be leading this debate. Usually, my lengthy speeches from the Back Benches are reserved for when I resign from the Government, so this is a welcome change. I could not think of a more important issue on which to speak and I am pleased to see so many hon. Members on both sides of the House here today. Tomorrow will mark the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—a place of evil, atrocity and inhumanity; a place where more than 1 million men, women and children arrived but never left. More than 6 million Jews and others lost their lives during the holocaust, and countless more would carry the burden of their persecution.
Genocide is a dark stain on the conscience of humanity, and the hatred that drives it is a disease of the heart. After the holocaust, we vowed, “Never again,” but the killing fields of Cambodia, the butchery of Rwanda, the deathly silence of Srebrenica and the suffering of Darfur show that the disease of hatred lives on. Although those dark stains can never be washed out, it is our duty to shine a light on them in this House.
It is also an honour for me to be the first Muslim to lead this debate from the Back Benches. My late friend, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, once said,
“The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognise God’s image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideal, are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.”
At a time when I worry about communities becoming increasingly insular, and when too many young men and women are drawn to divisive voices, our responsibility is to spread the message of understanding and compassion between communities. That responsibility has never been greater.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ordinary people, but I will first mention a group of extraordinary people—the survivors of the holocaust. I have been privileged to know many of them during my time in Parliament, as have many other hon. Members on both sides of the House. When I was Chancellor, I invited 12 survivors to have dinner in 11 Downing Street; it was an evening that I will never forget. That night, my family was joined by the late, great Zigi Shipper, who was full of energy, enthusiasm and optimism. As we were showing him out, I recall that he pointed at me and, turning to my wife, said, “What are you doing with that rogue when you could be with me instead?” May his memory be a blessing.
Zigi saw the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau first hand, but as the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us, we should not forget that the crimes of that place were committed by, and to, ordinary people. As the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust has said:
“Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a blind eye, believe propaganda, join murderous regimes”,
and ordinary people are persecuted
“simply because they…belong to a particular group”.
I would like to speak about one ordinary person—my great-grandfather David, who was in Lviv, Ukraine during the war. To survive, he needed a job, and to get a job, he needed a life number. He worked in a hairdresser’s, but he had to bribe the hairdresser and he did not have enough money to bribe them. His valuable belongings were hidden in a safe house and the person who owned the safe house would not give them up, so he could not afford the bribes. He lost his job, he lost his life number, and he was sent to Belzec extermination camp and killed. He was an ordinary person doing ordinary things, but betrayed by ordinary people.
I thank the hon. Member for everything that he has done and continues to do to fight hatred in our communities, and for sharing that about his dear family with the House. He makes the point so well.
In this debate, we should also reflect on our role as policymakers, because we know the familiar, sickening pattern of atrocities all too well. We are right to reaffirm our commitment to “never again”, but we as parliamentarians must also do more to prepare the political foundations and the policy framework to prevent the next atrocity. Our commitment to the truth must also be reinforced at home, including in how we counter misinformation and conspiracy theories. In the UK, we have seen a rise in anti-vaccine protesters carrying signs reading “vaccine holocaust” and wearing the star of David, and I must say that it angers me that any Member of this House would seek to connect the holocaust with UK public health policy.
To tackle persecution, our voices and actions are needed now more than ever. Research from the Community Security Trust shows that in the first half of 2022 alone, 782 incidents of anti-Jewish hate were recorded in the UK. As so often, that hatred is fuelled by the online world.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech on an important day, which reminds us what ordinary people are capable of—good and bad. He talks about antisemitic attacks. Recently, I visited a Jewish school in London where 10-year-old children told us stories about the antisemitism that they had faced. Does he share my concern that we are still overlooking the potential for that sort of problem to exist and grow in our society?
Yes. I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said and I very much share her concern, as will hon. Members on both sides of the House. She rightly talks about young children, but a recent independent report that was done for the National Union of Students also found antisemitism, so it is an issue across society for people of all ages. She is absolutely right to raise that.
The hon. Lady and others will agree about the role of the online world in spreading hate. Recent research shows that every day in the UK, more than 1,300 explicitly antisemitic tweets are posted—some to Members of this House. It is no wonder that many British Jews are becoming increasingly frustrated at hearing words of condemnation alone when it seems that the perpetrators of that hate too often do not receive the punishment that fits the crime.
The fact that the Community Security Trust needs to exist should be a cause of deep sadness—although, when I was Home Secretary, of course I was pleased to secure multi-year funding for it. When Jews in this country have the freedom to pray behind high walls and security guards, can we call that freedom at all?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the speech he is making. However, in some ways he has provoked in me a condemnation of the Crown Prosecution Service, because many of my constituents were threatened by protesters who drove all the way down from Bradford with signs saying that they were going to rape and kill Jews, but the CPS decided it would not prosecute, for reasons unknown to me or, indeed, the Home Secretary. Does he agree that these kinds of actions send out a terrible message, and that if these perpetrators are not brought to justice, people will continue to act in such a fashion?
Yes. My hon. Friend gives an excellent example of exactly why more needs to be done. I think that includes the entire criminal justice system, and he is right to share his example of the CPS. I do very much agree with him.
Another thing that certainly helps to reduce antisemitism and hatred of all types is education, which is crucial in the effort to tackle persecution and hatred. For example, the Anne Frank Trust reached something like 46,000 schoolchildren last year alone. The Holocaust Educational Trust does fantastic and excellent work with visits for schoolchildren from across the UK to the Auschwitz Museum.
As a Communities Secretary who fought hard for the establishment of a national holocaust memorial, I was personally delighted with the news from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday about the new holocaust memorial, which will have cross-party support. It has been a long road, but that memorial will make an immense difference.
I want to end with the words of Anne Frank. She wrote:
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
The world is a complex and often unjust place, but if we can embody the spirit behind those words and work towards the common good, then the steady ship of progress will never veer far from its course. So let us stand together and reaffirm our commitment to fight for the common good, to shine a light on evil wherever it is found and to never, never forget the victims of persecution.
My thanks to Sajid Javid and others for co-sponsoring the debate, and to the right hon. Member for his excellent speech.
Holocaust Memorial Day has been a national day of commemoration for 22 years. We use the occasion to strengthen our collective memory of the holocaust, to ensure that the lessons learned are passed on, and to intensify efforts to bring safety and justice to those suffering persecution today. This year’s theme—ordinary people—supports our purpose. Ordinary people were involved in all aspects of the holocaust. Ordinary people were victims, but they were also perpetrators, bystanders and witnesses. Ordinary people allowed this to happen, but some ordinary people also became extraordinary during the war. They acted in brave, dangerous and extraordinary ways to save Jews from the fate of extermination.
Roza Robota, imprisoned in Auschwitz in 1942, helped to smuggle explosives to members of the Jewish underground in the camp. When they blew up one of the crematoria in 1944, Roza was identified, horrifically tortured and then hanged on
Captain Frank Foley was a British spy in Germany. After Kristallnacht, he risked his life obtaining papers, forged passports and visas to help Jews escape. He visited concentration camps with batches of visas to get Jewish prisoners released. He hid Jews in his home in Berlin. He made it possible for an estimated 10,000 Jews to get out of Germany.
These stories and the testimony of every survivor help our understanding and educate us all. It is why I have spoken about my own family’s experiences—my grandfather, who escaped to Britain from Vienna; my grandmother, murdered by the Nazis; my uncle, gassed at Auschwitz; my sister’s husband, who survived through the Kindertransport. I want to keep their stories alive for my family and, through occasions like today, for others, so that we never forget.
My family were just ordinary people. As I prepared for today, I thought about my mother, whose own mother was murdered. My mother died when I was 10 and my oldest sister was 17. She never, ever talked about our grandmother’s murder. Maybe it was too brutal and distressing. Maybe it was the culture of the time that when people died you were expected to put your feelings in a box and close the door on your loss. Maybe she felt guilty because she survived. Maybe she felt anxious to become accepted in Britain, and feared she might stir up antisemitism by making her Jewish mother’s death a part of our lives. My mother’s silence was not uncommon. Many survivors felt that they could never share their experiences. So we have no idea how this brutal death affected her. The only clue is that, when my younger sister was born in 1947, she was named Marianne, after my grandmother.
My aunt survived the war in the Ardèche, protected by local people. My memories of her in the 1950s were of her waiting for her beloved husband to return. She convinced herself and us that he was still alive. Only when we were clearing her flat in Paris did we find papers with his Auschwitz number and confirmation that he had been gassed and killed. She had known that for years, but had never stopped hoping. She never admitted to his being a victim of the holocaust.
My dad never said much. We coped with our refugee status by working hard at becoming British—eating cucumber sandwiches and dried fruitcake became more important than recounting the past—but I think we lost something by their silence. Understanding the experience of ordinary people during the holocaust can be a powerful way to combat rising hatred today. Despite my parents’ silence, my refugee Jewish identity has always been there, equipping me to fight the racist British National party and helping me to fight antisemitism in my own party.
Nine days before she was killed, my grandmother wrote to my uncle—her son—and said:
“I am sceptical that we shall ever meet again. Who knows when I can even write to you again”,
and then twice she said:
“Don’t forget me completely”.
Ensuring that she is never, ever forgotten is why I am here today, and why I champion the brilliant work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
We know how vital remembering the lives of ordinary people in our history is to understanding and fighting hatred and racism today, whether it is in our attempts to help the Uyghurs and the Rohingya Muslims, acting to support the Ukrainians—the documented incidents involving potential war crimes, vicious attacks on civilians and the shocking death of children horrify us all—or, and I welcome the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove on this, the condemnation from us all when a Member of this House compared the vaccine roll-out to the holocaust as equivalent crimes against humanity.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust recently found that 5% of UK adults do not believe the holocaust ever took place, and over one in 12 believe its scale has been exaggerated. That shocking finding should make us all redouble our efforts to keep the holocaust history alive. That is why today matters. We, ordinary people, are using our voice today to remember and remind other people of the atrocities of the holocaust.
I close with the eloquent words of one of my political heroes, Martin Luther King. He said:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
We must learn from his example, and never give up hope that we can make a world free of genocide. We have to work hard, together, for future generations and for those who suffered in the holocaust. For me, this is for my grandmother I never knew. May she never be forgotten.
It is an honour to follow the first two speakers. To follow on from some of the early words of my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid, tomorrow in Worthing people who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, humanist and Christian will come together to mark their intention that things such as this should never be forgotten and, where possible, should never recur. The idea that the holocaust was the last major genocide we all know is wrong.
I have spoken before about the places where some of my grandfather’s extended family died. The list sadly gets longer as research shows more and more people who were involved: Sobibor, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Belsen, Ravensbrück, Dachau, Seibersdorf and Bytom. I do not know many of that side of my family. They are not close—they were not close—but they matter. The idea of education is that people like me can discover those links and that many other families will have a closer experience.
Every time I take people around the Palace of Westminster, I try to take them past the Kindertransport plaque by the admission order office. I show it to them to illustrate that what people may have disapproved of at the time, they are now proud of. It was not unanimous that those 10,000 children should have been able to come to this country from stations such as Prague, aged 5, 6, 7 or 8. I am glad we have the living proof of Alf Dubs, who in his lifetime has shown the importance of what was done following a debate in the House of Commons.
I wish to disagree with the Government about the location of the national holocaust memorial. My hon. Friend Bob Blackman has tabled early-day motion 748, almost all of which I agree with. I have also tabled an amendment to it, stating that we should have the memorial
“in a place and manner consistent with the features and facilities listed by the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Foundation’s ‘Search for a Central London site’ in September 2015 on page 6 and in the area illustrated and considered to be sufficiently central to meet the visions set out by the Holocaust Commission on page 10.”
That map on page 10 states that a site would be regarded as central London from the west of Regent’s Park, to the east of Spitalfields and to the south of the Imperial War Museum.
I commend to everybody, whatever their views on the proposed location of the memorial and learning centre, that they visit the holocaust galleries in the Imperial War Museum, which reopened in the past two or three years. They are incredibly impressive. I think the way forward—I hope I will be supported by Baroness Deech and others—is for us to separate the learning centre from the memorial.
We should have a new competition for the memorial. It being adjacent to Parliament was not in the minds of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, the committee or the Government eight years ago. If it has to be there, we could consider Parliament Square, where the Buxton memorial fountain was first placed before it was moved to Victoria Tower Gardens. I think that we could do it better, and that it would have more impact and be less of a threat if we did not have the learning centre and the place of gathering so close to the Palace of Westminster.
My last point is that the tributes to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust are genuine. Those people do mighty work, and they allow people to understand what is happening. We must ensure that that does not happen just on Holocaust Memorial Day, but on every day of every year in every way, and that people understand the horrors of what we stood against, with the victims, around the time I was born.
One of the most difficult questions for people to answer is when would have been the right time to stand up, with force, against Adolf Hitler’s Nazis in Germany. Should it have been in 1933 when he was elected Chancellor and was thought to be pliable by the bigger parties? Should it have been in 1935 or ’36 when he started invading? Should it have been in 1938? It happened in 1939, although some people did not think that was right, but should it have been later, or ever, or never? The reason I am not a pacifist is because of the holocaust.
We now come to a maiden speech. I call Andrew Western.
It is truly an honour to make my maiden speech in the House in such an emotive and important debate. We must always remember the horrors of the holocaust, and do all we can to inform and educate ourselves and future generations about the dangers that exist when the judgment of decision makers is clouded by bigotry, hatred, racism and intolerance.
Given the matter before the House, I feel compelled to begin my comments about my constituency by first highlighting the rich diversity that we so cherish in Stretford and Urmston, and indeed in Partington, Carrington and Old Trafford. I am therefore pleased to share with colleagues that my constituency is home not just to those whose heritage can be traced back several generations locally, but, among others, to a large Irish diaspora, a considerable Muslim community, one of Greater Manchester’s largest Sikh populations, a Traveller settlement, many Jewish and Hindu residents, and a longstanding and sizeable African-Caribbean community.
In 1997, the new constituency of Stretford and Urmston elected its first MP, and we were represented until 2010 by Beverley Hughes, now Baroness Hughes of Stretford. Like me, Baroness Hughes was leader of Trafford Council before being elected to this place, and until earlier this month she also served local residents as the deputy mayor of Greater Manchester. Hers is a formidable record of public service, and she remains fondly remembered by many of my constituents to this day.
Bev’s retirement in 2010 saw my great friend and predecessor, Kate Green, elected. Kate was a much loved and admired MP, whose warmth, diligence and compassion quickly won her the support of local residents. You will know better than I do, Mr Speaker, that Kate was a respected and unusually thoughtful parliamentarian, thorough in her consideration of matters before this House, and compelling in the arguments she made to advance the many causes she supported. I am left in no doubt that I have huge shoes to fill.
It would be unforgivable for me not to refer in this speech to Stretford and Urmston’s unique status as the birthplace of what is surely the greatest social advance in the history of our country: our precious NHS. It was at Park Hospital, now Trafford General Hospital, that the late, great Nye Bevan officially opened the first NHS hospital on
“the most civilised step any country has ever taken.”
Another key element of my constituency’s history is our industrial heritage, given the economic significance of Trafford Park. As the world’s first industrial estate, Trafford Park’s place is history is assured. Yes, it is home to some of the most well-known businesses in the world—Ford, Kellogg’s, Westinghouse—but it is especially fitting in this debate that I share with colleagues that Trafford Park was also key to defeating fascism, with production almost entirely turned over to the war effort from the end of the 1930s. Indeed, it was at Trafford Park that the engines for both the Spitfire and the Lancaster bomber were manufactured—truly national service indeed.
Turning from Stretford and Urmston’s economic and industrial heritage to our cultural and sporting identity, I should note that we are also home to the Trafford Centre, one of the country’s largest indoor shopping and leisure destinations, and the provider of many jobs to our local economy. For those who seek a rather more cultured afternoon, the Imperial War Museum North offers an intellectual and educational experience that is second to none. A short walk away can be found the sporting Mecca that is Old Trafford, home to my beloved Lancashire county cricket club. It is a venue of international repute, and the site in 1993 of cricket’s ball of the century, with Mike Gatting bamboozled by Shane Warne.
On the subject of sport, and as a lifelong Manchester City fan, I have to admit to being sorely tempted today to use the protective veil of parliamentary privilege to assert that there is in fact only one sport in Old Trafford, and they play it with a cricket ball. But whatever my own footballing allegiances, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the global standing of Manchester United as a hugely successful sporting institution, even if they are still below City in the league.
A more recent addition to the constituency has been ITV, which moved production to Stretford and Urmston in 2013. With it came perhaps Manchester’s most famous global export, the cobbles of “Coronation Street”—the longest-running soap in the world. If soap opera has taught us anything, it is that from Weatherfield to Walford, Erinsborough to Emmerdale, and, yes, from Summer Bay to Stretford and Urmston, it is people and communities, not assets and institutions, who truly bind neighbourhoods together. People, that is, like notable former Stretford and Urmston residents Emmeline Pankhurst, L. S. Lowry, the philanthropists John and Enriqueta Rylands, “The One Hundred and One Dalmatians” author Dodie Smith, and the aviator John Alcock, born in Stretford, who piloted the first trans-Atlantic flight in 1919. All have helped to shape my constituency in some way, as have the friendly, hard-working and socially conscious people who are resident there now. I am humbled to be their voice in this place and hope to use my time here focusing on work to better support people out of poverty and to root out inequality.
Anybody seriously attempting to do either of those things must first recognise two simple facts: one, that a safe and secure home is the most fundamental element in unlocking anybody’s potential; and two, that while we as politicians speak the language of addressing unfairness, we are not yet routinely bold enough to challenge that most dangerous of inequalities that is so detrimental to our economy and our future, and that underpins our broken housing market—I speak of the generational inequality that is so entrenched in wealth and privilege up and down the land. I hope to say much more on that in future, Mr Speaker, but time and tradition prevent me from doing so today. I shall simply say that our housing crisis is, at its source, a crisis of basic supply and demand, the answer to which, however much we tinker at the edges, can only ever be to build, build, build. And why? Because:
“Housing is the first of the social services. It is also one of the keys to increased productivity. Work, family life, health, and education are all undermined by crowded houses.”
Those are not my words, but those of Winston Churchill’s Conservative party in its 1951 manifesto. Given that Churchill’s grandson, Winston Churchill MP, represented both Stretford and Urmston’s predecessor constituencies before 1997, those are words it feels fitting to associate myself with today.
So, that is me and that is my constituency, at least a little of it. I want to be an MP for everyone in Stretford and Urmston, but I want to be an MP fighting for a better future for Stretford and Urmston too. It is the honour of my life to serve such wonderful people in such a wonderful place that I am so privileged to call my home. I will give it my all, Mr Speaker, and I hope I will not let them down.
That completes the maiden speech. I must agree on the cricket; I’m not sure about the football, but it also held the rugby league world cup final.
It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Western. I congratulate him on an excellent maiden speech, delivered in the very best traditions of the House. We wish him all the very best for his time serving his constituents.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, a date that has become hugely important in our national life and in our parliamentary calendar. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid on leading the debate and on his outstanding contribution, which struck exactly the right tone as we gather to remember the victims of the holocaust. I also want to put on record my thanks to him for the work he did in a succession of ministerial roles. He was consistently excellent and consistently reliable in fighting antisemitism. I think of his work in support of the Community Security Trust. I think of the work he did to ensure that Hezbollah was proscribed in its entirety. He has been a consistent champion for this cause and it is fitting that he opened the debate.
I also want to put on record my thanks and pay tribute to the tireless work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and other organisations that work in this area, as well as the remarkable survivors who are prepared to recall the tragic and unimaginable experiences that they endured to ensure that the horrors of the past are not repeated and that lessons continue to be learnt.
Holocaust Memorial Day is a moment to remember again the 6 million Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, and all those who were murdered by the Nazis, including Roma and Sinti people, gay men, disabled people, political opponents and many others. We use this day to remember all those killed in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
As Members have highlighted, the theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ordinary people. That is a thought-provoking theme when we think about some of the survivors we have met in this House and the stories we have learnt about what people endured. There is nothing ordinary about that period of history; nothing ordinary about the scale of the suffering or the depth of the evil visited on Jewish people at the time. As we have heard, what really comes out from listening to the testimony of the survivors and listening the stories about family members, as described by Dame Margaret Hodge in her contribution, is that these were all ordinary individuals from ordinary families living in ordinary communities.
It was an honour to be at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on Tuesday to hear the very moving testimony given by Manfred Goldberg, who spoke incredibly powerfully about the events of that period. He spoke about his family, his mother and father, and he spoke in detail about what he personally endured. What came across in his speech was his extraordinary spirit, his extraordinary capacity to hope and to survive, and his capacity, like so many of the survivors we have met, to look back not with bitterness but with grace and forgiveness, and to look forward to the future and play his part in helping to ensure that future generations of young people are informed, are taught and learn the truth about what happened during the holocaust.
In June, the all-party parliamentary group on holocaust memorial hosted Mala Tribich MBE in Portcullis House. I know a number of Members were there in that room when we listened to her testimony of what she endured, surviving Nazi deportation and finally being liberated from Bergen-Belsen. I listened in awe to her testimony, which was really powerful and remarkable—ordinary people enduring extraordinary evil and coming through it with extraordinary grace, strength and optimism for the future.
It is important that we put on record those survivors of the holocaust who sadly passed away this year. We remember Iby Knill BEM, Freddie Knoller BEM, Freda Wineman BEM and, most recently, Zigi Shipper BEM, to whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove referred. They all worked incredibly hard with the Holocaust Educational Trust to share their stories. May they rest in peace. We thank them for their courage and bravery for sharing their experiences.
We in this House have an extraordinarily privileged position and it is right that we mark Holocaust Memorial Day with debates such as this. It is right that we attend events, light candles and wear badges. That is all part of the collective remembering and marking of the event. It is our responsibility, I believe, to ensure that this is not just a one-day affair, but that every day that follows we try to use our extraordinarily privileged position to ensure that the horrors of the past are never repeatedly, and to face down and tackle antisemitism. That goes for all forms of discrimination, wherever it occurs, at a national level and most particularly in our own communities and constituencies—in our own parties, even. We must use our voices and actions to that end.
I would like to finish in that spirit by urging the Government to press ahead with the commitments they have made in this field. I am delighted to see the Minister in her place. I know from our discussions that she takes these issues to heart and shares the strong commitment that the Government should continue to fight antisemitism and all forms of discrimination. I would encourage her to press ahead with the work on legislation to clamp down on boycotts, divestment and sanctions and the pernicious use of those avenues, because I believe they can be antisemitic. I look forward to seeing that legislation.
I do not want to make a contrarian point, given the remarks of the Father of the House, my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley, but I do believe that the national holocaust memorial and learning centre should be built in Victoria Tower Gardens. There is a very strong cross-party consensus that that should be done.
There are other issues. Iran has effectively declared war on the Jewish people in Israel, and we should be doing everything we can with our international partners to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. There are so many other fields where there is practical action that we as a Government and we as politicians can take. It is a privilege to contribute to this extraordinarily important debate.
I would like to thank my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge and my friend Sajid Javid for their contributions to today’s debate, as well as all those who have spoken before me. In particular, I want to thank my hon. Friend Andrew Western, who gave a magnificent maiden speech—although I disagree with his choice of football club.
I would like to thank and pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, as many Members have, and the Antisemitism Policy Trust for their vital work. I also thank the Community Security Trust, in particular Amanda Bomsytyk and Jonny Newton, for continuing to provide protection to the Jewish community not just in my constituency, but across the country. I thank The Fed in my constituency for their “My Voice” project, which publishes the life stories of holocaust survivors and refugees who have made Britain their home. I hope to raise that in Parliament later this year, and I hope for the support of colleagues. On a final note of thanks, I pay particular tribute to Karen Pollock and Danny Stone, whose counsel is widely sought and respected across this entire Chamber, and indeed across both Houses. Their impact on me and my education should not be underestimated.
We are all ordinary people who today can be extraordinary in our actions. We can all make decisions to challenge prejudice, stand up to hatred and speak out against identity-based persecution. That is the message of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust this year, and it was the story of so many during the holocaust. Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a blind eye, believe propaganda and join murderous regimes. Those who are persecuted, oppressed and murdered in genocide are not persecuted because of crimes they have committed, but simply because they are ordinary people who belong to a particular group. This is true of genocide the world over, but particularly in the case of the holocaust.
During the rise of Nazi Germany, ordinary people had choices. Many ordinary people were in positions of power, using Jewish people to advance their disgusting ideology and taking advantage of the economic circumstances following the first world war. Many of those in power believed this ideology, but many others were ordinary people obeying orders given to them by evil people. Ordinary people were, for instance, policemen involved in rounding up victims, secretaries typing the records of genocide, and dentists and doctors carrying out evil selections.
Those who were persecuted were ordinary people too, whether Jews, Soviet civilians and prisoners of war, disabled people, Romani people, gays or many, many others. Like us, they all had families, hopes and dreams, and a want and need to get on in life, find opportunities, be happy, and to give and feel love. They wanted to read and write, to contribute and maybe even hold high office, to represent their families and communities and feel free—things we all take for granted today.
Ordinary people also stand by as genocide happens around them. They do not partake, but they also do not speak out, preferring to turn a blind eye and pretend they have not seen it. They were keen not to get involved in case they were next, watching as Jews were snatched from their homes, with anxiety heightened and thoughts swirling around their head: “I hope they don’t come for me next.” What the holocaust showed is that they will. Never in this Chamber or out there must we walk on the other side when it comes to racism and injustice. As a famous civil rights activist once said:
“We do not need allies more devoted to order than to justice”.
I imagine Jews around the world would agree that antisemitism is the oldest racism and that it needs all of us here today to lead from the front and stand against those who wish to fan the flames of hatred and division to enhance their racist agenda.
We should all follow in the footsteps of the ordinary people who did not stand by—the righteous among the nations. Many of them will say that they are not extraordinary people, despite having done extraordinary things. They will say that they did not show superhuman bravery; they just did what was right. When Sir Nicholas Winton rescued 669 children from Czechoslovakia and brought them to the UK, thereby sparing them from the horrors of the holocaust, he simply said:
“Why are you making such a big deal out of it? I just helped a little;
I was in the right place at the right time.”
I disagree with Sir Nicholas. He saved innocent children from a life of unimaginable trauma, torture and almost certain death, and gave them a life that at the time seemed impossible. I am sure we all agree that there can be no greater gift than the saving of a precious life.
We stand on the shoulders of giants in this Chamber today. Every single one of us, as leaders in our communities and constituencies, should wake up every day channelling the spirit of Sir Nicholas; doing the right thing, making the right choices, helping those who need it and standing tall in their corner when they need us. Leadership is about ordinary people rejecting division and hate. Leadership is about showing bravery in the face of adversity. Leadership is about choosing virtue over evil.
Earlier this week I visited the Terezín ghetto in Prague with the European Jewish Association. While there I heard at first hand from Gidon Lev, a survivor of Terezín, about how it was the site of the original propaganda from the Nazis. When media gathered to the ghetto, the Nazis were keen to stress that while, yes, it may be a ghetto, people were actually being looked after, and children were being educated and fed. Of course, this was all a front for the despicable treatment that was really happening to Jewish people. It was only following the work of the Red Cross that what was truly happening was uncovered.
Fake news is something we must stand shoulder to shoulder against with our Jewish brothers and sisters, from the rapid development of artificial intelligence, the digital doctoring of pictures and videos of the time, to the holocaust denial spreading like wildfire across social media. Ordinary people are still duped by fake news about the number of people murdered in the holocaust. Decades-old theories—in some cases, centuries-old—that Jewish people are somehow puppeteers of the world’s events, that they run our media, music industry and our sport and are somehow plotting against us, continue to put Jewish lives at risk.
We must never lose sight of the story of the holocaust and how ordinary people in power systemically dehumanised Jewish people so that other ordinary people could murder them on a scale that is simply hard to fathom. In short, we must always remember, and never forget. It must never happen again—not to Jews, not to anybody, not on our watch.
This week, holocaust survivor Manfred Goldberg spoke movingly in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office about the “hell on earth” he experienced under the Nazis. The tragedy is that there have been a catalogue of horrors since the Nazis perpetrated their genocidal acts. In the ’70s there was Pol Pot’s terror in Cambodia. In the ’80s there was Saddam Hussein’s desecration of Kurds in Iraq. In the ’90s there were attempts to systematically exterminate Tutsis in Rwanda, while Bosnian non-Serbs suffered a similar fate.
There have been atrocities inflicted across the world, including in Asia, the middle east, Africa and Europe, and on victims from a range of religions and races—Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian and others. Still, in the 21st century, we see further atrocities where elements of the definition of genocide are present, including targeting of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and of the Hazaras in Afghanistan. In my work as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, I have heard many survivors speak of unspeakable suffering. They relay the same message as survivors of the holocaust: we must not only call out evil, but act to prevent it from happening again.
One way we can act is by formally recognising the genocide against the Yazidis and Christians in Iraq and Syria by Daesh, as the lower house in Germany did just last week. Recognition of genocide is one of the most significant things we can do as part of the UK’s atrocity prevention strategy. Another is to identify where there is risk of genocide. We must equip our diplomatic teams across the world to spot the early warning signs where a nation is at risk of genocide. The UK can be a leader among our allies and partners in setting up early warning mechanisms, and in using our diplomatic reach—a reach that is still much regarded internationally, as I know from my work as the Prime Minister’s special envoy—to resolve disputes and tensions where we are able to do so.
The International Development Committee’s recent report, “From Srebrenica to a safer tomorrow: Preventing future mass atrocities around the world” sets out a road map for the Government to follow. I welcome the Government’s positive response, not least the development of the mass atrocity prevention hub, and look forward to further progress to fulfil our manifesto commitment to implement the Truro review fully, including recommendation 7, which states:
“Ensure that there are mechanisms in place to facilitate an immediate response to atrocity crimes, including genocide, through activities such as setting up early warning mechanisms to identify countries at risk of atrocities, diplomacy to help de-escalate tensions and resolve disputes, and developing support to help with upstream prevention work.”
I highlight Nigeria as one country with close links to the UK where I fear the risk of genocide is growing. Around 90 hon. Members attended the Open Doors 2023 world watch list launch here last week and heard how Nigeria is now the sixth highest country for persecution of Christians; indeed, it would be top if the list were based just on the number of recorded deaths. We must condemn in the strongest possible terms the ongoing attacks against Christians and moderate Muslims by Islamic extremists in that country, and call out the Nigerian Government’s repeated denial of any such targeted religious persecution and their failure to act adequately to address it and protect the targeted.
Finally, we must do more work on educating the next generation about the importance of freedom of religion or belief, so that “never again” becomes a reality for their generation in a way that, sadly, as I have said, it has not for ours. This is the ultimate upstream prevention work, and it is vital. One of the main takeaways from last year’s ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief, which I was privileged to co-host, was the inspiration of the development of education toolkits for teachers to use in primary schools, to give even the youngest children an understanding of freedom of religion or belief and of the vital importance—
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I will indeed congratulate the Holocaust Educational Trust later in my speech.
It is vital that we teach even the youngest children about the importance of not discriminating against others on account of their beliefs, just as they understand so well the importance of not discriminating against others on account of disability.
I have the privilege of chairing the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, a growing group of 42 countries whose Governments, like ours, have formally committed to protecting and promoting freedom of religion or belief around the world. It is our aspiration to see the toolkit that I mentioned, when it is developed, used in schools across our 42 countries. I am proud that the toolkit is currently being piloted in the UK, including in a school in my constituency.
As the years go by and our brave, inspirational holocaust survivors, with their testimonies, diminish in number, we must ensure that their voice is sustained, not least with young ambassadors. I pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust for the excellent work that it does in that regard.
The alliance I chair is promoting the connection of young freedom of religion or belief ambassadors around the world. We are working towards a 2023 virtual global conference engaging young FORB ambassadors, and we want to involve three groups of young people: first, young people from democratic societies like our own who have not personally experienced persecution but care about the issue and want to do more; secondly, young people in the diaspora here in the UK with ties in countries such as Nigeria and direct concerns to relay; and, thirdly and critically, young people who live in countries where there is persecution and are experiencing it themselves—places such as Myanmar, where there is already strong interest from young people, and Hong Kong, where oppression on account of religion is an increasing concern.
As we plan this virtual global conference, I would welcome contacts from colleagues, all-party parliamentary group country chairs and others with young people from across the world who may be interested in engaging with the event late in 2023. This is a way in which we here can act. Indeed, we can all do something to make “never again” a reality for the next generation, and it is so heartening that, in this Parliament, elected Members right across the political spectrum are determined to do so.
Order. There are colleagues who have informed me that they are no longer able to participate in the debate, so I am going to extend the time limit to eight minutes and see how we go.
It is an honour to rise today to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, both personally as a proud Jewish parliamentarian, and on behalf of my constituents in Warrington North, many of whom have made Warrington their home after fleeing the horrors of the holocaust and subsequent post-war genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia and Bosnia, which we also commemorate today.
This Shabbat, Jews in synagogues around the world will be reading Parashat Bo, a Torah portion described by the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks of blessed memory, as
“among the most revolutionary in the entire history of ideas” and
“one of the most counterintuitive passages in all of religious literature.”
In the passage—Exodus 10 to 13:16—Moses is addressing the Israelites before their release from Egypt. But his address is not about the freedom they will soon see, or the society they will have to build, but—repeatedly—about education and the duty of parents to educate their children about what they experienced in Egypt. The passage reads:
“Vayomer Moshe el-ha’am zachor et-hayom hazeh asher yetzatem mi Mitzrayim”.
“And Moses said to the nation: Remember this day, when you went out from Egypt”.
What does “zachor”—to remember—mean? The Jewish concept of remembering is not passive, but active. We tell the Exodus story to our children. We re-experience it and understand it through the elaborate rituals of the Pesach Seder. We reflect on it in our recitation of the central daily prayer, the Shema, in the laying of tefillin—a physical ritual with which to commemorate liberation from Egypt daily—and in the mezuzah, which we hammer to our doorframes. To truly remember is to act. That is as true for the story of the Exodus as it is for the genocides that we come together to commemorate today.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “ordinary people”. We reflect on the fact that its victims were ordinary people, each with their own inherent human dignity, loves, hopes, fears and aspirations—not nameless, faceless statistics, which our inability to fully comprehend the enormity of these atrocities can reduce them to. We reflect that those who committed these genocides were ordinary people, that this capacity for evil is indeed in all of us, and it is a choice, just as courage is a choice. And we reflect on the indifference of ordinary people who stood by while it happened, which was necessary for that kind of industrial-scale murder and the mechanics of genocide to be sustained. There are, of course, stories of bravery, with the kind of heroics that we see commemorated at Yad Vashem by the “righteous among the nations”, but what makes these people extraordinary is the very fact that the vast majority of people—the ordinary people—did not care enough to stop genocide taking place.
However, to reflect on the holocaust, and on the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and Cambodia, is not in and of itself true remembrance. This week I had the honour of sharing a platform with the holocaust survivor Joan Salter MBE, who has been turning reflection into action through her advocacy for contemporary refugees and her work with Freedom from Torture. We cannot commend historical actions such as the Kindertransport in debates like this and not condemn the inflammatory and hateful rhetoric used in this place and in the media about those fleeing persecution today, or about the LGBT+ and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
I was also honoured, in my capacity as an ambassador for the charity Remembering Srebrenica, to sit with members of the Movement of Mothers of Srebrenica and Žepa Enclaves. As they spoke to me about the trauma of their sons, brothers and fathers murdered in the Bosnian genocide, they also told me about their fight for justice. Many of the bodies have still never been recovered. One mother told me that she felt “lucky”, as they had found one bone of their youngest son to bury. Many of the mothers do not even have that, as mass burial pits were excavated and moved to evade detection, which prolonged the agony of those left behind. One mother spoke at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to plead for clemency for the soldier who she knew had murdered her family, for he had recently had a son and she did not want another child growing up without a father.
We cannot remember without justice, and a full and true accounting of all the decisions before, during and after a genocide, to learn, to change, and to ensure that “never again” is not an empty maxim, but a series of actions to which we can all commit ourselves. We know of cases—such as that of the “butcher of Slomin”, Stanislaw Chrzanowski—in which war criminals have evaded justice because of active collusion by the British police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the security services, who protected them and allowed them to live among the rest of us as “ordinary people”. It is time for an inquiry: the Board of Deputies of British Jews has called for one, but the Government have so far ignored its call. How can we have confidence that these things will not happen in future—perhaps with Russian war criminals—if we cannot account for how and why they happened before?
This is why education, and the education of children in particular, is so very important—from Moses and the Israelites in Parashat Bo to our contemporary society. The holocaust is rapidly fading from living memory, and so too, one day, will the genocides that followed it. The testimony of survivors, which the sterling work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust allows so many to access and experience, is an important part of our collective memory, but the survivors cannot be expected to bear this responsibility themselves and to bear this burden alone. While Elie Wiesel was right when he said that if the holocaust was forgotten
“the dead will be killed a second time”,
we remember not for the sake of the past, but for the sake of the future.
The message from today, and from this week’s sedra from Exodus, must be this: through education we can aspire towards liberation, solidarity and community, and build empathy and understanding as we march together with all people on the path out of Egypt and refuse to go back. We observe, we remember, and, inspired by our histories and our faiths, ordinary people across all our communities will act. It is in education that a good society is won or lost.
In a debate featuring successive powerful speeches, the one that we have just heard from Charlotte Nichols has to rank among the most powerful, and I congratulate her on it. I also congratulate the Holocaust Educational Trust, because it is a sign of its success that in these debates, held year after year, such enormously influential contributions are made by new generations of MPs such as the hon. Lady, who I believe has been in the House only since 2019. Clearly the process is working.
I have spoken in two of these debates previously. I find that, as I age, time seems to race along more and more quickly, so it was with surprise that I found that it was fully 10 years ago that I last told the story of two ordinary people caught up in the holocaust. I think I may be forgiven for telling it again, after this lapse of time; I have the permission of my researcher, Nina Karsov.
Some people may see Nina around the Estate, not particularly noticing anything about this petite lady that would ever make them think that, at the age of two, she was thrown by her parents from a train on its route to Treblinka in an attempt to save her life. Somehow the three of them leapt from the train. There was deep snow. Nina, a toddler, landed in it and was badly frostbitten. Her mother was killed instantly in leaping from the train, and it took her father some time to find her in the snow. They got back to Warsaw, and were taken in by separate gallant Polish non-Jewish families.
When the Nazis were closing in on the part of Warsaw where the father was in hiding, he, in order to protect those people who would have been killed if they had been caught with him in hiding, made his way across the square to the top of another building and threw himself off it so that he could not be forced to divulge where he had been kept. Nina, however, was kept safely through the war, and many years later, was able to secure for the lady she called her Polish mother recognition amongst “the righteous”, which was clearly an honour richly deserved. It has to be said that both her Polish mother and Nina herself were then persecuted by the communist regime, Nina spending two years of a three-year sentence in a communist jail before Amnesty International successfully campaigned for her to come to this country. So that is one ordinary person whom one might bump into on the Commons Estate without knowing much about her.
One person who cannot be bumped into on the Estate is my cousin Chana Broder, who now lives in Israel. Chana, her parents Abraham and Rachel, and her grandmother Rivka were holed up in a ghetto in Siemiatycze in November 1942 when they were tipped off that the ghetto was about to be cleared, so they made a run for it. The grandfather was killed, but the other four got away. They were turned away from one place after another, and eventually somebody gave them shelter for a little while, but the people who saved those four lives, as I told the House on a previous occasion, were the Kryński family.
The father was Konstanty, the mother was Bronisława and the children were Krystyna and Henryk. They were a poor farming family, and they had known my cousins before the war. My cousins had had a little convenience store in the main square of Siemiatycze, and I visited it a few years ago—it is now a flower shop. The Kryński parents went to the shop in the days before the war and, because they were very constrained economically, my cousins would sometimes say, “Mr and Mrs Kryński, take what you need for now and pay us when you can,” little imagining that, a few years later, those acts of simple kindness would be rewarded by an act of outstanding bravery.
The Kryńskis took them in for months. They hid them while their farm was occasionally searched by German troops, and they got away with it because they had constructed a bunker underneath a barn, in which the grandmother, the two young parents and my four-year-old cousin, Chana, were able to stay throughout the day. They could not stand up, so they would just sit and wait until they could come out at night.
This went on for months, until the Russians overran the area. The family were able to get out, and they were then taken in by Canada. The grandmother sadly passed away very soon after liberation, but the young parents and the little girl were able to go to Montreal, where my cousin graduated from McGill University. Both she and her mother subsequently moved to Israel, and she is still alive today.
Chana’s mother’s book, originally published in 1967 as “Out of the Depths” because of how the family had hidden underground, was republished in 2020 as part of the Azrieli Foundation’s holocaust survivors’ memoirs programme as “Daring to Hope.” For anyone who is interested in seeing how one ordinary family came through an extraordinary experience with the help of outstandingly brave people—the Kryński family were honoured with the presentation of the Righteous Among the Nations award in Siemiatycze on
I hope not to have to tell this story again for another 10 years, and I do not think I will, because this debate has been so well informed by so many MPs of older and younger generations that we are in no danger at all of forgetting what happened.
I always enjoy hearing the stories of Sir Julian Lewis. I do not care how many times I hear them.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to this debate, and I thank the Members who applied for it. I particularly thank Sajid Javid for his fine, thoughtful speech, which set the tone for the day.
I also thank my hon. Friend Andrew Western for his cracking maiden speech. He has set a high bar, so I suspect it will be a full House for his next performance. I thoroughly enjoyed his excellent speech.
This debate is part of the wider commemorations for Holocaust Memorial Day, which was established following the visit of my former colleague Andrew Dismore, the former Member for Hendon, to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust in 1999. He introduced a Bill following his visit calling for a day to learn from and remember the holocaust.
I can well remember my first visit to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust and a group of sixth formers from Baverstock School, in the Druids Heath area of my constituency. It was a cold, bitter February day and a totally chilling experience, as I struggled to answer questions from these young people and keep my own emotions under control. I doubt that I have ever experienced anything quite like it since. So it is right that we have this debate and that we have Holocaust Memorial Day, so that we learn and remember.
The holocaust had a lesser direct impact on this country than on many other places, although we should remember that the Nazis invaded the Channel Islands and that many Jews living there were sent to the death camps. The bravery of Witold Pilecki, a Polish underground resistance leader who volunteered to be sent to Auschwitz and report on what was happening, should leave us in no doubt that the allies did receive reliable intelligence reports on the scale of the horrors. Britain also accepted about 10,000 mostly unaccompanied children through the Kindertransport scheme, which is something those who make light of the plight of unaccompanied refugee children today might do well to remember.
In 1991, at the behest of the Holocaust Educational Trust, the holocaust became part of the English national curriculum. We need to remember these horrific events because still today there are those who would deny and distort the reality of the holocaust. Some seek to minimise the numbers killed and others try to blame the Jews for causing their own genocide. Jewish colleagues of mine, and others in this House, have suffered the most antisemitic abuse and threats, usually only for being Jewish. Of course, too many people fail to understand why Israel remains so important to Jews today. Hundreds of thousands of holocaust survivors left Europe for a new life in the state of Israel, established just three years after Auschwitz was liberated.
Last year, I was privileged to visit Poland with colleagues from across this House on the “march of the living”. It reminded us that for 1,000 years before 1939 Poland was the great heartland of Jewish life, but by the end of the war, it was reduced to having a handful of Jewish people. One of the most powerful memories of that visit was hearing the harrowing testimonies of holocaust survivors. But the march also teaches us that the reality is that despite its grotesque scale, the holocaust failed, and since 1945 Jewish people have survived and thrived in Israel, the region’s only democratic state.
So let us continue to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, to be active and vigilant in the face of antisemitism and to be robust in our challenge of those who would seek to destroy the state of Israel or challenge its right to exist. Finally, may I welcome the cross-party support for the holocaust memorial Bill, paving the way for a new memorial and learning centre so that we will never forget?
I congratulate Andrew Western—I know his area pretty well—on his excellent maiden speech, which was delivered with confidence and poise. I hope that he has a very long membership of this place.
I rise to speak because I have been witness to genocide. I consider this remembrance of genocide—the holocaust and genocide since the second world war—to be hugely important. May I just say a little about my own experience to put it in context?
In April 1993, I was the British United Nations commander in Bosnia and I had been there for about five months. My job was to help deliver humanitarian aid, but the best way to do that is when there is no fighting, so I spent a lot of time trying to stop the fighting. At that time, the fighting around my base was pretty horrendous. The fighting was between Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs. It was ferocious.
The European Community monitoring mission ambassador had arranged a ceasefire, but it was not working, so he asked me to go to the frontlines of all the belligerents to try to stop them fighting. On
The first people I met were Bosnian Muslim soldiers on the mountains. When I asked them to please stop fighting because a ceasefire was meant to be in place, they said, “No, no, in the village of Ahmići, women and children have been massacred.” I said, “No, that can’t be. People don’t do that in 1993.” They said that it had happened. I said, “If I go there, look, witness and come back and tell you that it hasn’t happened, will you stop fighting?” They said yes. I took myself off the mountains. It took me about an hour to get to Ahmići. I approached it from the south, from the main road. The first thing I saw was a mosque with its minaret toppled—it looked like a rocket pointing to the sky. The rest of the village of Ahmići was largely destroyed. Houses were burned down.
I went about a mile to the end of the village, and asked my soldiers to check through. There were a few houses that had not been touched. Later, I discovered that they were houses owned by Bosnian Croats. Some soldiers said that they had crosses on the door to identify them, but I never saw that.
A third of the way down, we went into a house and saw the remains of a man and a boy burned at the doorway. The soldier said, “Come round the back, sir.” We went in the back of this house and there was a charnel —it was like a charnel house. When I first saw it, I did not understand what it was. Then the smell hit me. I was horrified. It looked to me like a couple of women and a few children. They were burned and on their backs. They had obviously died in agony. One had an arched back and their eyes were still there—gosh. We just rushed out and were sick. We went on and found the skull of a baby further down. Mostly, though, people were hidden because, after being shot, killed or burned, the roofs had come down on top of them, so we did not find many of them. A day or so later, I found a whole family: mother, father, son and daughter, all dead in a row. The daughter was holding a puppy. She was killed by the same bullet that killed the puppy.
We reckon that about 120 people were killed at Ahmići. I buried in a mass grave what we thought were about 104 people, mainly women and children—Bosnian Muslims, by the way. The holocaust is also about Bosnian Muslims.
I went on the international media and said, “This is genocide. It is the classic definition of genocide: deliberate targeting of a people.” They did not agree with me to start with at the United Nations, but a couple of years later they did, and Ahmići became part of the genocide and was defined as genocide.
I have given evidence in the war crimes trials—five trials, to be honest—and I am still in shock that it happened. My men could not believe it, and they too are still in shock. I am going back at Easter. I will be representing all of us in this House when I lay a wreath at the village of Ahmići for the 30th anniversary of the massacre. I also lay a wreath to the memory of Dobrila Kalaba, my interpreter. When we discovered the village, she interpreted for me. A couple of months later, the Bosnian Croats shot her dead. We put up a memorial to her. She was a Bosnian Serb.
I will finish by saying two things. If the theme this year is ordinary people, it is dead right, because ordinary people suffer, and ordinary people carry out some of these atrocities. Strange circumstances make ordinary people do very vicious things. I must say that I have met people, and even had dinner with them, before they carried out such things, and they were very normal people.
My final point is that the reason why we have this debate and why we must remember the holocaust is that memory fades. We must ensure that future generations do not lose the fact that man can be really inhuman to man.
It is an absolute honour to follow Bob Stewart and to hear again his powerful testimony about what he witnessed. He is right that we simply must never forget. His speech is one of many excellent speeches in this debate.
I will speak about the 1943 uprising at Treblinka, where very ordinary people with very little hope rose to destroy the machinery of death and to escape. Treblinka, as we know, was created for the sole purpose of exterminating the Jewish people. It was not capable of holding many people for long periods. There were no forced labour factories. In little more than a year, an estimated 925,000 people were murdered.
The people who fought back had personally seen tens or even hundreds of thousands of innocent people being murdered. They had been forced to cut off the hair of their fellow victims just before they entered the gas chambers and sort through the clothes of the newly dead. They had to pick through the ashes from every day’s thousands of corpses to remove fragments of bone, which were crushed and burned again so that no evidence of this enormous evil would be left. They had been forced to do all that, to endure all that, and still they had the strength to plan, to work together, and to fight for their right to live.
I believe it is important that we understand just how difficult and extraordinary any form of resistance was within the camps, because we know that the control by the guards was almost absolute. All the prisoners knew of the immediate brutality that would be inflicted upon resisters if they were caught. But it was more than that. The Nazi regime sought to break the very spirit of the prisoners—not only their hope, but their solidarity among themselves. Chil Rajchman, who survived Treblinka after taking part in the uprising, said that the victims
“were so abused, victimised…that they wanted to die… Our vision was overcast. We did not know what was happening to us… The whole world forgot about us. Our lives were worthless.”
Despite the devastating impact of years of unceasing trauma, courage and solidarity remained and could not be broken. In the summer of 1943, news came to the camp of the Warsaw ghetto uprising a few months earlier, so against enormous odds, plans for an uprising to destroy Treblinka began. The guards had built an armoury and selected a Jewish locksmith to work on the lock. He was able to make an extra copy of the key and pass it to the organisers. Others were brought into the conspiracy, including the Jewish boys of just 12 or 13 years of age who had been given the weekly task of cleaning up after the camp guards. The uprising began on
Of the 840 people in the camp that day, only 200 fully escaped the pursuit, and just 100 survived the rest of the war. Let us remember that those who rose up in Treblinka were ordinary people willing to die that day so that others would have a chance to live. They were not bound together by training or ideology, but were thrown together in the midst of utter horror. Their desire to survive and resist came from within and from each other. We must remember them. As a country, we must try to match just a fraction of their resilience as we stand against atrocities in our own time, because—as we know and as we have heard—people in this world are still systematically murdered because of their identities.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the start of acts of genocide in Darfur—horrific crimes against humanity that have happened on our watch. In Darfur, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, rape has been used as a weapon on a massive scale, and millions still endure forced displacement. Every year on Holocaust Memorial Day, we say, “Never again”, but I genuinely believe that saying and believing that requires us to act. Atrocities continue regularly in Darfur, and the people accused of those crimes against humanity have faced no justice. We need to recognise that, instead of being put on trial, some of those implicated in Darfur have built careers on the murder and destruction that they planned and organised. Many remain in positions of power and prosperity in Sudan today.
I absolutely welcome the Government’s statement at the UN Security Council yesterday calling on the authorities in Sudan to act. I hope that justice for the atrocities in Darfur is a primary UK objective as we continue to support the movement of Sudanese people who wish only for peace and democracy. We must always remember the victims of the holocaust, and we can never rest content until justice is done for the victims in Darfur and those everywhere else in our world where genocide again threatens our humanity.
My thanks to my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid for bringing forward the debate and my commendations to Andrew Western on an excellent maiden speech.
I want to tell the House the story of an ordinary person who became extraordinary through her love and courage, who did not look the other way and who eventually laid down her life for her commitment. When Jane Haining was arrested by the Gestapo at the school where she worked in Budapest one morning in April 1944, she told the children in her care:
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back by lunch.”
She did not come back. Instead, from one of Budapest’s police stations, Jane was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Unlike the 12,000 Hungarian Jews who were arriving daily to the horror of Auschwitz, Jane’s journey started not on the cobbled streets or Budapest or the Someşul Mic side town of Cluj but in the rolling farmland of my native Dumfriesshire. Her so-called crime, unlike the Hungarian Jews she arrived with, was not her ethnicity but her faith and courage. Like almost all who arrived at the camp at that time, Jane died within a few weeks—at just 47—in conditions that few can comprehend. She was the only Scot to die in the holocaust.
Jane had, in a very literal sense, given her whole life to others. As a young girl in Dunscore in eastern Dumfriesshire, she had given it to her younger sisters for whom she had become the carer on the death of her mother. After her graduation from Dumfries Academy, where she had excelled in languages, she worked as a secretary in Paisley and Glasgow before finally finding her calling as a missionary in the Church of Scotland.
From June 1932, Jane was the matron of the Scottish Mission School in Budapest, a boarding house for Jewish and Christian girls. Life and work at the school was overtly Christian, but Jewish parents were keen to see their daughters attend the school not only because of the quality of the education but because of how the girls were accepted. As one commentator noted:
“Jewish girls who came here were not seen as second-class pupils. They were just welcome.”
That must have felt precious to the pupils and their parents as the persecution of the 1930s become more prevalent and pernicious.
Even before the start of world war two, the Church of Scotland had repeatedly advised Jane to leave Budapest, but she refused. After her final visit to her home in Scotland in 1939, she wrote
“if these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me now”?
It is a testament to Jane and a reminder of our capacity for good that her concern was always the children’s needs, not her own safety. Her courage and selflessness, though, cost Jane her life.
When the Nazis swept into Budapest in March 1944, Jane was arrested within a month. Her crimes, according to the Gestapo, included that “she had wept” when, as prescribed by law, she had sewn yellow stars on to the pupils’ clothes. Her sympathies for the Jewish people had been revealed to Nazi authorities by the son-in-law of the cook at her school, whom she had scolded for eating food intended for the girls in her care.
Jane was rightly recognised in 1997 by Yad Vashem as one of the righteous among the nations. She is also recognised as a national hero in Hungary. It was there in 2019 that I, as Secretary of State for Scotland, had the privilege of leading thousands of people through the streets of Budapest on the march of the living, an annual event to mark Hungary’s Holocaust Memorial Day, which movingly that year was dedicated to Jane and started in a street named after her.
Here in the UK, Jane is remembered with a cairn outside Dunscore parish church, and an informative exhibition within it. For those wishing to know more about her life, I encourage them to look to Mary Miller’s book on Jane’s life, “A Life of Love and Courage”, to find out more. While her life, like all those taken in the holocaust, cannot be restored, it can and must be remembered, and I would certainly like to see it remembered more fully and more widely.
As the holocaust and its victims move further into memory, it is right that we do more to ensure that current and future generations comprehend the scale of the horror, but also the impact of each individual loss, and through Jane’s example—the example of an ordinary person—remember that for all the evil in the world, if we do not compromise or look away then, like Jane, there is always something that each individual can do to combat it. As Rev. Aaron Stevens of St Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest eulogised:
“Jane Haining’s service and sacrifice shows that caring for people from different backgrounds in no way compromises our faith. In fact, it just might be the fullest expression of it.”
May God bless Jane Haining. She was truly a light in the darkness, and may her light shine even brighter in the future.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this important debate. I also thank Sajid Javid and my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge for jointly sponsoring the application, among other MPs. As a fellow Greater Manchester MP, I was particularly pleased by the maiden speech from my hon. Friend Andrew Western. I am keen to associate myself with his remarks about cricket, because he and I are known to enjoy a match or two at Lancashire county cricket club, although I should declare an interest as a member of that club.
Before I go into the main segment of my speech, I pay tribute to the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region, as well as the Jewish Leadership Council, and in particular Marc Levy, for all the work they do in celebrating the Jewish community in our city region and shedding light on antisemitism for the vile racism it is. There are also such organisations as the Jewish Labour Movement, which has done a lot of work within my party, and I am grateful to it. Several Members on both sides of the House have mentioned the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and I have noticed that many, including you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are wearing a badge from the trust. The Holocaust Educational Trust is well known for all the work it does in educational establishments across the country.
We have come a long way since the horrors of the holocaust, but it is important to remember and reflect on the atrocities and the lives taken. I had the privilege of listening to the testimony of Ike Alterman at the Yom Hashoah commemoration at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester last year. His story of surviving in four concentration camps was remarkable. Although tragically his family did not survive, as one of the Windermere children he was able to build a life here in Britain from almost nothing.
At a local level in my constituency, I am grateful to Councillor Dena Ryness and Stockport Council for organising the civic event in my town for Holocaust Memorial Day, where we come together to remember all those people whose lives were tragically taken from them. I will be attending the event in my constituency tomorrow.
My constituency of Stockport is in Greater Manchester. The region has the second largest Jewish community in Britain. In Greater Manchester the Jewish community is thriving and outward-facing but, like Jewish communities in the rest of the country, it has to deal with appalling hate crimes, both in person and online. The hate has sadly persisted, and there was a report last year on the rise in crimes against the Jewish community in Greater Manchester, which was covered by local and national media and must be tackled.
In the Online Safety Bill, work has been done to clamp down on online racial harassment and bigotry, but it is clear that social media companies and tech giants must go further and do a lot more to ensure that this issue is controlled. Bigotry is still bigotry, even if it is typed. I had the privilege of being on the Bill Committee. Lots of organisations got in touch with us. In particular, I highlight the contribution of Mr Danny Stone MBE, the chief executive of the Antisemitism Policy Trust. He was quite helpful to me and other Committee members on both sides of the House.
I recently visited the site of Europe’s most recent genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as part of the International Development Committee delegation. I heard at first hand real and growing fears that the renewed weaponisation of hate speech and polarisation will lead to even more violence. We must all reflect. It is clear that Governments across the world must do more.
Last year the International Development Committee produced the report “From Srebrenica to a safer tomorrow: Preventing future mass atrocities around the world”. The report provides a concrete and practical road map for how Britain can show global leadership in preventing genocide and crimes against humanity. That includes establishing a national strategy on the prevention of mass atrocities and ensuring that all embassies, high commissions and diplomatic posts receive atrocity prevention training, with priority countries receiving specialist support and training and adequate resources.
Last week I signed the book of remembrance in Westminster Hall on behalf of the people of my constituency. Like everyone in this House, my message was “never again.” In order for us to do good on our promise of never again, we must commit to more than just words.
I associate myself with the sentiment of Navendu Mishra on social media companies doing more. They simply do not do enough, but they have the resources to do so. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Bob Stewart for his moving speech. Every time I hear him speak about his experiences, there is never a dry eye. I congratulate Andrew Western on his maiden speech. He was doing so well up until the fifth minute—as a Manchester United fan, I am sure that we will have many sparring sessions inside and outside the Chamber, but I wish him well.
I thank my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid, Dame Margaret Hodge and all Members who have contributed to ensuring that we have this really important debate. I pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust for all its work, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Community Security Trust. I also visited a school in north London and got to see at first hand the sad situation of our children—and they are our children—who are struggling to be educated without fear. I wish we did not have to live in a society where that is the case. I am sure that we will all work together to make that so.
I thank Solihull Council, which had its civic reception this morning as part of its holocaust remembrance events. I urge all Members to spend some time going through the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website, to read the stories of those who survived and those who perished—the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.
“Never again.” So many times we have heard that phrase, and when speaking not only of the holocaust but, sadly, of subsequent genocides, such as those in Rwanda, Cambodia and Srebrenica, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove said. I am a patron of Remembering Srebrenica. In the week that the doomsday clock moved 10 seconds closer to midnight, and when incidents of mass murder and atrocities are unveiled with too much regularity—whether in Ukraine, Xinjiang or in the stories of harrowing abuse suffered by the Rohingya communities—this debate seems particularly poignant. Sadly, that list was not exhaustive. One thing is clear: we cannot be complacent. We cannot assume that it will never happen again. We cannot forget.
The theme today is ordinary people. I want to speak about the extraordinary Paul Oppenheimer, who settled in my constituency after the war, in the village of Marston Green. He was born in Berlin in 1928 and lived in my constituency after the war for over 40 years. In 1940 his family moved to Amsterdam and, within six months of the German invasion, the persecution of the Jewish communities in Holland had started. He was only able to complete one term in the local grammar school before the Nazis banned Jewish children from attending non-Jewish schools. In January 1942, it was decreed that Jews could only reside in Amsterdam, and from April 1942 it was decreed that Jews must wear a Jewish star. The Nazis then went block by block, clearing Jewish families and taking them by train to the Westerbork transit camp, before they were sent on to other camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor and Bergen-Belsen.
The Oppenheimers were exempt from wearing the yellow star by virtue of a small piece of fortune. In 1936, Paul Oppenheimer visited England with his parents. During their visit, his sister, Eve, was born, and therefore she had entitlement to recognition as a British subject. It was due to Paul’s father’s foresight in registering Eve as a British citizen that the whole family were treated differently, with blue exemption cards. They were kept in the slightly—slightly—better star camp, where they did not have to shave their heads, could wear civilian clothes and would often be protected from the random beatings and shootings, by virtue of that citizenship.
But they were not safe from the unsanitary conditions, and disease was rife. Paul lost his mother and father to disease in 1945, but he and his brother and sister eventually survived and found their way to England. Later in life, Paul checked to see what happened to those who were sent on transit trains to camps from Westerbork. Of the 34,143 people who left Westerbork for Sobibor camp, only 19 survived. Of the 58,380 who left for Auschwitz, 854 survived.
The thing about this story is that, in line with the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day this year, you would never have known it about Paul. He started as an engineering apprentice in Marston Green in my constituency and ended up working in an automotive company on braking systems for passenger cars. In fact, he was so good that his work on anti-locking brakes, which are standard in cars today, earned him an MBE in 1990. It was only when he got that award and journalists started asking him about his life that the horrors he had seen and his story became clear. Paul was the ordinary neighbour. He was the ordinary co-worker. He was the one who ploughed his efforts into rebuilding his life here in Britain. Paul settled in my constituency of Meriden. He brought up his children just streets away from where I live. That is when it hits us how the extraordinary evil of the holocaust touched the lives of so many ordinary people.
As I conclude, I wonder about all the Pauls who did not survive and all the Oppenheimers who did not make it to a place of safety, all the engineers who did not make it, all the doctors, intellectuals and artists, and all the great contributions that could have been made. They were not just a loss to their families; they were a loss to humanity, at the hands of a warped and evil ideology. Whether it is Xinjiang, the Rohingya community or Ukraine, one thing is clear: we must all come together and work with our international partners as a coalition of free, democratic countries and make sure that “never again” is not just something we say but something we live by.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge and Sajid Javid on securing this Backbench Business debate. I thank the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove for his powerful speech.
I thank the Aegis Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust for their constant work to ensure that we always remember the holocaust and all those who died and that we bring that memory into action for what is currently going on around the world. I thank Digby Stuart College at Roehampton University in my constituency for all the work it does on education about the holocaust, and I look forward to its commemoration event in May. I thank all the members of Wimbledon Synagogue for their warm welcome of me whenever I visit for events. I am sad that they have to have security outside the synagogue all the time. It is a reminder to me every time I visit of the growing antisemitism in our country, which has been highlighted by Members and is the reason for us holding this debate here and now.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Western on an assured and excellent maiden speech; I look forward to hearing from him many times in future.
I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity, vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine.
My experience of working in Bosnia during the war and speaking to the relatives of those who died in Srebrenica drove my work with refugees before I became a Member of the House and drives my work now on the prevention of genocide, to ensure that when we say, “Never again”, we mean never again. We are also ordinary people but we have extraordinary power to make legislation to put that into action. This year is the 75th anniversary of the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, about which there will be lots of soul-searching during the year. I hope that all hon. Members will be part of that, as I am sure I will be: what legislation do we need to ensure that “Never again” means never again?
I join hon. Members in remembering the 8 million people killed during the holocaust and all the survivors, especially those we have lost recently, including Zigi Shipper, who we lost last week on his 93rd birthday. He was a survivor of the Łódź ghetto and the Auschwitz and Stutthof concentration camps. He arrived in the UK in 1947 and spent many decades sharing his testimony in schools across the country. He was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2016 for his work with the Holocaust Educational Trust.
I also pay tribute to all the ordinary people who shared their stories and who I read about growing up, because they had such an influence on me—people such as Anne Frank, Corrie ten Boom and Primo Levi. Their work educated me, shocked me, chilled me, connected me and inspired me. Indifference is all it takes for the spirit of the Third Reich to be resurrected. As holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said:
“Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil.”
How can we ensure that we are not indifferent?
Last year, I visited the Srebrenica memorial with a cross-party group of MPs, including Bob Stewart. Some 8,000 people, mainly young men, were herded together, taken for a long walk and murdered. Their shoes and clothes were left and are displayed at the memorial, which is a chilling memory of each of them. I saw the video footage of the young men leaving on that walk—they looked like a group of young people going off with bags on their shoulders to walk through the forest for a picnic, not knowing where it would lead them. We met the grieving relatives—the mothers who will never forget and whose whole lives have been blighted by the terror. The row upon row of graves is a shocking sight.
Last September, I visited Kyiv where, on
Every year, we rightly stand here and say, “Never again,” but right now, around the world, atrocities are being committed in Ukraine, against the Rohingya people, against the Uyghur people, and in Tigray. There are several ways to take action to ensure that we mean never again. First, we can create a new pathway outside the UN Security Council to recognise potential and actual genocide. As the International Development Committee and the UK Government have pointed out, the Security Council is failing to act in response to mass atrocities, because Russia and China continue to use their veto to block declarations of genocide and referrals to the International Criminal Court. One way to do that would be to allow time on Report for the Genocide Determination Bill.
Secondly, the Government should take very seriously the recommendations of the “From Srebrenica to a safer tomorrow: Preventing future mass atrocities around the world” report from the International Development Committee. That is a very welcome piece of work by parliamentarians, with strong recommendations about how we can support and strengthen the work of our UK missions. I welcome the new office for conflict, stabilisation and mediation and the mass atrocities prevention hub. These are great moves, but we need to go further to provide early warning and effective reaction to the risk of genocide in areas around the world.
There is always more to be done. My time working in Bosnia during and after the war taught me that we can never take peace for granted. We need to build peace every day. There are words in the playground or on the bus, there is discrimination in the workplace and there is antisemitism online. These must always be challenged and opposed. Holocaust Memorial Day is not just about speeches and gestures. It is about honouring the 6 million victims with our actions, not just our words. I would welcome all Members joining the all-party parliamentary group on prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity, and I look forward to working together to ensure that we, ordinary people though we are, can take extraordinary steps as legislators in the years to come.
It is a pleasure to follow the speech of Fleur Anderson. I pass on my congratulations to Andrew Western on his maiden speech. He will remember it forever, because we all do. We all do it once, and he will remember it forever. He is clearly going to be an asset to this House as well as to his party, and I look forward to debating housing issues with him over the time he is here. I wish his team every success tomorrow night.
I thank my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid for securing this debate, as we remember the 78 years since the end of the holocaust. For me and for most of us, it is incredible to think of 6 million people being murdered because they were people, and it is important to remember that the holocaust was not an isolated event. It was systematic state-sponsored persecution by the Nazi party and its affiliates. It began in 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, and went all the way through to 1945, when the second world war concluded. I hope to take a bit of a different tack during this speech, because if we ask how we can understand how ordinary people could do such atrocities to ordinary people, we need to understand what led to it in the first place.
Antisemitism is not new, and it was not new in the 1930s. Jewish people have been subjected to antisemitism throughout Europe since the middle ages. The hatred escalated significantly after the great war, when the reparations on Germany and its allies were extreme, and we had the Wall Street crash and the depression, which led to rampant inflation in Germany and the collapse of the Weimar republic. This led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party as he assumed control of Germany.
It is unclear to me what was behind Hitler’s hatred towards Jews. Why did this man decide that he hated Jews? However, it is quite clear that Hitler held the Jewish community responsible for the defeat of Germany in world war one. Why? It is because someone had to be to blame. That was clearly what we now call fake news —vicious propaganda, enabling the national feeling to be against the Jewish population of Germany and beyond. It was completely wrong, given that Jews were fighting on the side of Germany in defence of their country during world war one, including Otto Frank, who fought at the battle of the Somme.
After Hitler came to power, he wasted no time in using the Government to target and exclude Jews from German society, claiming they were inferior. Any book that contained ideas threatening to the Nazis was banned, and a concentration camp was immediately created for political prisoners, initially holding 200 communists. By 1935, the anti-Jewish movement had gained momentum. Jewish newspapers could no longer be sold, and Jews were stripped of their citizenship and other basic rights. In September 1935, the Nuremberg laws were passed by the German Parliament, which meant that many of the Nazis’ radical theories were institutionalised, and legal grounds were created to justify the prosecution and persecution of the Jewish community.
It is unimaginable in this day and age how the vast majority of Germans were coaxed into believing that Nazi ideology, but members of the general public were clearly unaware of the growing indoctrination until it was too late. They had adopted a strong stance against the entire Jewish community, and therefore could justify Hitler’s actions. Despite the shocking morals, Hitler was a calculated and systematic man, carefully thinking through his long-term plan before enacting it. He was able to persuade the German people by providing free radios that played only antisemitic programmes, ensuring that all children’s books depicted the villain as a Jewish character, showing posters blaming the Jews for every evil, and introducing strong censorship on all anti-Nazi media.
The whole House will be aware that in 1939 world war two was declared, as Germany took over Czechoslovakia and began the invasion of Poland. Simultaneously, the Jewish restrictions became even more constraining and discriminatory. By 1940, the Nazis had begun deporting German Jews to Poland, where they were forced into ghettos and concentration camps. They were brutally tortured and their human rights completely violated. Devastatingly, 1940 saw the first of an onslaught of mass murders of Jewish people.
The situation became graver and graver, and in 1942, the Nazis’ discussions were centred around their “final solution”, a despicable plot to kill every European Jew. At that point, Jews were not allowed to own pets, leave the house without police consent, buy newspapers and eggs or attend school, among all sorts of further restrictions. Once Hitler took control of Hungary, a year before the end of world war two, he began deporting 12,000 Jews to Auschwitz every day to be killed. That continued until 1945, when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. Sadly, 6 million Jewish people—two thirds of European Jews—had lost their lives. That shattered communities, and provided the few who outlived the war with experiences that scarred their lives for ever.
But before we get too comfortable, we should remember what was going on in this country. The British Union of Fascists was around before world war two, led by Oswald Mosley, an MP in this House, and he modelled it on Nazi Germany. The BUF was fuelled by antisemitism, inspired by the Nazis, and Mosley held huge rallies in this country, pushing a strong nationalist and fascist agenda. Unemployment was very high, poverty widespread, and homelessness rising. Someone had to be to blame, and Mosley blamed the Jews. It could have happened here. Sensible action took place by the Home Secretary, and once war broke out the BUF was banned and its members became enemies of the state. But we must never be too comfortable that this could not happen again, even in this country. I will end with one line from Zigi Shipper, who made this important point: do not hate.
I thank Sajid Javid for securing and opening today’s debate. I congratulate Andrew Western on his fantastic maiden speech and look forward to hearing more of his contributions in the Chamber.
It is a great privilege to speak in this debate marking Holocaust Memorial Day 2023. It is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the part that we play as parliamentarians in upholding democracy. I would like to place on record my thanks to the Holocaust Educational Trust for the important work it does in educating the public on the horrors of the holocaust and other genocides, and to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. I have signed the book of commitment again this year on behalf of my constituents, as have many Members. I would also like to pay tribute to holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper, who recently passed away, sadly, on his 93rd birthday. I would like to express my condolences to his family.
Each year’s theme gives us pause for thought, and perhaps none more so than this year’s theme of ordinary people. It was ordinary people who stood by and allowed the holocaust and other genocides to happen, taken in by propaganda or too frightened to speak up. They share some degree of responsibility. It is ordinary people who grow up to become authoritarian leaders or parts of the machine that perpetrates these massacres. It was ordinary people who fought back at great risk to their own lives, who provided shelter to the persecuted Jews, Roma, disabled and LGBT people, who resisted the regime in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe. It is ordinary people who have overturned corrupt regimes, fought for change for themselves and others. It is ordinary people who are the victims of genocide and who are the survivors. Nothing sets victims apart from survivors other than some chanceful set of unique circumstances that allowed them to survive or unfortunately put them directly in harm’s way.
Too many stories and names are lost to the passage of time, but all the seemingly small personal stories from those who experienced persecution or tried to resist, make one larger picture when they are pieced together. Those small pieces are meaningful—the stories of lives that were lived or stolen. They are just as important as the whole, and the whole is what we look to when we remind ourselves why we cannot be complacent and cannot allow history to repeat itself.
It is some of the lesser-known stories of ordinary people that I want to speak to today: two women who ended up in Rutherglen, in my constituency, at some point in their lives. Dorrith Sim, who passed in 2012, was born Dorrith Oppenheim in Kassel, Germany in 1931. Her early childhood was happy, comfortable and carefree. It was Kristallnacht, or night of the broken glass, in Kassel that marked the beginning of a difficult road for the young girl. Dorrith was seven and a half when she boarded the Kindertransport and made her way to a new life in Scotland, having to leave her parents Hans and Trude behind. The only English she knew was “I have a handkerchief in my pocket.”
Hans and Trude were deported to Auschwitz in October of 1944. They were never reunited with their daughter. She stayed in Edinburgh with her foster parents, until she married Andrew at 21. The couple lived in Rutherglen in their early marriage, as well as Dundee and Prestwick later. Dorrith wrote a book in later life, titled “Handkerchief in my Pocket”. It was very important to her that future generations of children understood what she, and so many children like her, had been through.
Rita Strassmann, later McNeill, was another Rutherglen resident who arrived in Scotland with the Kindertransport. She was born in 1930 in Hanover and was just nine when she was arrested by Nazis, alongside her mother. She was able to escape, with the help of her aunt, but unfortunately her mother was left behind. It was the last time Rita saw her. Years later she was given a small booklet—she forgets from where—that informed her of her mother’s fate. She was shot as she was marched, with other victims, to Riga from the concentration camp she had been taken to. Rita said she did not do well at school. No doubt the trauma of leaving her mother behind, en route to a concentration camp, deeply affected her. She worked in a bank after school, and later as a receptionist for her husband’s medical practice.
Rita and Dorrith were friends. As adults, they both would go to meetings to connect with others who had come to Scotland on the Kindertransport. They both described feeling Scottish, but Rita said, “Still German blood in my veins, Jewish German blood in my veins.” It is clear that those early traumatic experiences shaped them and can never be erased. They were two ordinary women who had experienced something so unthinkable and out of the ordinary to us here today.
I am sure many of us have ordinary men and women in our constituencies with a deeply personal connection to the holocaust or other campaigns of persecution. The men and women who fought for today’s freedoms, while inspirational and brave, were ordinary people. As ordinary people too, we must continue to uphold those values. We cannot allow the seeds of hatred to spread and grow. There will always be those who perpetrate hatred. Each one of us must take seriously our responsibility to call hatred out wherever we see it and show that we will not tolerate it.
I feel immensely privileged to be called to take part in what has been an outstanding debate this afternoon that has shown this House at its best. I particularly commend the contribution of my right hon. Friend Bob Stewart.
Before turning to the appalling events of the holocaust, I want to speak about another European genocide that took place in Europe in the 20th century: the holodomor. Ninety years ago, during the winter of 1932-33, the confiscation of crops led to the death of millions in the Soviet Union, mainly Ukrainian peasant farmers. It is hard to say how many Ukrainians died, but it was probably at least 7 million. The almost universal view of historians is that the famine was man-made, inflicted as a deliberate policy by Stalin to force Ukrainian farmers into collectivism. His regime wanted to break the resistance of Ukrainian identity and culture, which it viewed as a threat to Russian Soviet rule.
Entirely unrealistic quotas for agricultural production were set. When not achieved, all produce was confiscated, and mass starvation followed. At the height of the crisis, around 25,000 were dying every day. Bodies piled up at the roadside and at railway stations as people tried desperately to flee but never made it. With the return of Russian aggression towards Ukraine, surely now is the time for us to formally recognise the holodomor for what it was: an attempt at genocide directed against the Ukrainian people.
Turning to the holocaust, I want to talk about my constituent, Mala Tribich. She was born in 1930 in Poland. In 1939, her family were forced into a ghetto, but she and her cousin Idzia were taken in by a Christian family in another town. They lived in dangerous and vulnerable circumstances, constantly at risk of discovery. Idzia was moved to live with another family and was never seen again. Her death remains a mystery to this day. Back in the ghetto, Mala’s family were living in increasingly appalling conditions, crammed in the corner of a room with many other families. Her mother and sister were taken away and imprisoned in a synagogue. They were brutalised, starved, shot at, and then taken away and murdered in nearby woods.
By this time, Mala was in the ghetto with her father and brother and had become caregiver to her five-year-old cousin, Hania. When the ghetto was liquidated in July 1943, the two children were put in line to board lorries going to concentration camps. Mala bravely asked one of the SS guards if she could return to the ghetto. Incredibly, he said yes, but as she turned to go back she was told that the permission to re-enter applied only to her, not to little Hania. Mala was faced with the agonising choice of either leaving this vulnerable little girl behind to certain death or staying with her, losing her family forever, and potentially losing her own life. In the end the guard relented, and they were both allowed back. The Nazis inflicted these appalling choices on millions of people during the holocaust.
Mala and Hania were in the ghetto for another year, until November 1944, when they were put into cattle trucks with no food or water and transported first to Ravensbrück concentration camp and then to Bergen-Belsen. They arrived to scenes of unspeakable horror, with bodies strewn around the camp and thousands dying of starvation and disease. Somehow, those two little girls survived and were liberated from Bergen-Belsen on
I feel that I just do not have the words to do justice to that story, but I wanted to tell it to the House today because I believe that one of the reasons the personal testimony of survivors such as Mala has so much power is that it reminds us of the individual people behind the horrific statistics—the ordinary people who, before the rise of the Nazis, were living such ordinary lives, just like us, with the same hopes and aspirations, no doubt the same anxieties and irritations, and the same strengths and weaknesses.
My 92-year-old constituent told her story to a gathering in Woodside Park synagogue at the weekend, as she has in hundreds of other settings over many years. She told it with incredible poise, dignity, courage and resilience. The gathering was hosted by the shul in partnership with the Barnet Multi Faith Forum, and people of all faiths and backgrounds were there to remember the holocaust and its victims, and to pledge to root out anti-Jewish racism wherever it emerges. That is a commitment I repeat to the House today, because we must never, ever let this appalling history repeat itself.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate on Holocaust Memorial Day. Let me start by commending Sajid Javid for introducing it—he set the scene very well and succinctly, with a focus on the issues—and all the right hon. and hon. Members who have made contributions straight from the heart. I have been moved by many of them.
I commend Andrew Western for his maiden speech. His words were well chosen, and they were the words of someone who will make good contributions in this House. I look forward to his speeches on housing or whatever it may be; I am quite sure that he will add much to our debates. I wish him well and we are very pleased that he is here.
I have always been a supporter and a friend of Israel —that is no secret. I was before I came here, when I was in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and now that I am here I am a supporter of the Friends of Israel. I unashamedly put that on the record.
I also commend Bob Stewart. His words, as always in this type of debate, were very pertinent. I understand why his soldiers followed him and why he could lead as he did. If I had been one of his soldiers, I would have followed him as well—I suspect we all would. I commend him for all that he does and for the service that he gave us in Northern Ireland. We recognise that he and others, gallant Members that they are, contributed much to the peace that we have in Northern Ireland. I thank him for that on the record.
The right hon. Member for Bromsgrove referred to how we are made in God’s image. I believe that with all my heart. Whenever I speak as chair of the APPG for international freedom of religion or belief, I speak equally for those with Christian faith, those with other faiths and those with no faith. That is what it is about, and that is what the right hon. Gentleman and others—including the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham—referred to. It is really important that we recognise where we are.
I want to speak about ordinary people, which is the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day. I think that is touching and very fitting. I want to illustrate it with a story from the youngest member of my staff, who just last weekend came to London with her boyfriend for a birthday present. They did a tour of Westminster through the tours office here and then they spent some four hours in the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. The Imperial War Museum is not often mentioned, but it should be, and I want to try to illustrate that today.
The weekend with her boyfriend was, of course, always going to be something special for my young member of staff. I would not have been particularly aware of the Imperial War Museum—perhaps because, as I have said, it is not highlighted as often as it should be—but when she regaled us with what she did during that weekend away, she became fixated on the museum. She told us that while her boyfriend had been enamoured of the guns and tanks, as boys are, almost three hours of her time was spent in the section that commemorated the holocaust. Describing it to us in the office, which she did very eloquently and in great detail, she said that she had gone in expecting to see a focus on Anne Frank, but instead was struck by the mountains of, in her words, “ordinary people”. She took the time to read every single post, and to look up on her phone the accounts for which she wanted more background. She studied history at school, but she said that looking at these “ordinary people’s stories” had a greater impact on her than her history GCSE course.
What is most notable is the fact that visits to the Imperial War Museum are free, and so is the information that is so vital to our young people, in giving them a sense of the despicable nature of what history books cannot tell us in words alone. They are able to take in so many displays, each one telling vital individual stories that drive home, or give a glimpse of, the horror that was suffered by so many. For me, that has reinforced the importance of taking children to museums and showing them displays of this kind, to allow them to feel the repulsion and the revulsion and to understand exactly what the figure of 6 million—the 6 million who were murdered—means in an individual setting.
Earlier, I said to Margaret Ferrier that to get an idea of what that figure means, she could imagine walking from Stranraer to Orkney without meeting anyone. The population of Scotland is 5.6 million. It is like walking across Northern Ireland three times and a bit without seeing a single person. That encapsulates what it means to have 6 million people no longer here. It really hits home.
We must also underline the importance of those who said nothing and understand the role that compliance plays. Our young people need to understand that no man is an island, and that we all bear a responsibility to stand up for what is right against what is morally wrong.
In her succinct and powerful speech, Theresa Villiers referred to the war in Ukraine. When I heard the girls in the office discussing it, some of them were a bit gung ho about us sending troops, while others said that we were doing what was right. One of them, however, said that she could not really take in the idea of her 17-year-old nephew having a gun in his hands. However, that is the reality of war. Good people must stand up and do the right thing, and for us ordinary people to do nothing can never be an option.
Many of my constituents, like those of other Members, have visited Auschwitz and come back incredibly moved and perhaps even a bit traumatised by what they have seen, but they have received the message of Auschwitz, which is, “It can never happen again.” One of my sons went there with his friends, and that was the visit that made the difference for them, as it did for my constituents who took the time to do the same.
When we think of films like “Schindler’s List” and other blockbusters, the human impact is clear to us, but some young people do not watch war films. We need to ensure that every child is educated, not just in the facts and figures, but in the individual stories that touch people’s hearts and change their outlook. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: we must continue to fund educational visits to Auschwitz, and also arrange visits to the Imperial War Museum here in London. It holds some treasures, but it also has a focus on history and on what we must make sure never happens again. There, people can see and touch the atrocity, and build the determination that it will never be repeated.
I have that determination, as, I think, has every other Member who has spoken today, but do our children have it? Do our grandchildren? If they do not, are we prepared as a Parliament to put our money where our mouth is and fund educational awareness for this world, and, in particular, this great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
I thank my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid for securing this debate.
Nobel laureate and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel famously said
“whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness”.
Seventy-eight years on from the liberation of the former Nazi extermination and concentrations camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, as we gather here today to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, those words could not be more important.
As a society, we have taken the incredible work of organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust for granted. The trust and its incredible staff have worked day in and day out for the past 30 years to ensure that as many people as possible have the honour of being able to sit in awe and listen to a holocaust survivor tell their testimony. Today, through the Holocaust Educational Trust’s annual webcast, tens of thousands of schoolchildren from across the country logged on to hear the testimony of holocaust survivor Ruth Posner BEM.
It is sad but true that we are the last generations who will know the holocaust not as a historical period but as something that happened to someone we met or knew. With holocaust survivors now in their 80s and 90s, we, the people who have heard their testimony, have become their witness. We must now carry the mantle of continuing their legacy.
If holocaust denial and distortion can thrive when there are survivors as proof, what will happen when there are none? If antisemitism and hatred can thrive even while survivors warn where it can lead, what will happen when there are none? And when individuals say that Jewish people should not have their own homeland, when survivors are still retelling how no other country would accept them, what will happen when there are none?
In the past month, we have seen the release of two shocking reports. First, two weeks ago, the Tuck report on antisemitism in the National Union of Students found that it was a hostile environment for Jewish students. I have heard stories from my Jewish staffer of what he and his friends experienced at NUS conferences, and it is truly shocking. Secondly, just last week, we received the campus antisemitism report from the Community Security Trust, which found that antisemitism at UK universities has risen by 22% to its highest recorded total. Put simply, Jewish students on UK campuses are receiving death threats and abuse while the National Union of Students, their supposed representative, invites an accused antisemitic rapper to its conferences. How can the Jewish community hope for a better future when this is what its children are having to put up with?
I pause to recognise the amazing work of the Community Security Trust and the Union of Jewish Students, which are on the ground at universities to protect and represent Jewish students. I also thank the Antisemitism Policy Trust and declare an interest as the co-chair of the APPG against antisemitism. Sadly, the work they do only becomes more important as time goes on.
I was recently at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and saw a Nazi-era antisemitic book that is currently on sale online. Just last year, we were reminded again that antisemitism is alive and kicking thanks to Kanye West, the now disgraced rapper turned Hitler fan. There is nothing cool, and certainly nothing acceptable, about that. I live in hope that, one day, he might realise that. He has more followers on social media than there are Jews in the world, which puts this debate starkly into context.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ordinary people. It is strange to use the word “ordinary” in the same sentence as the word “holocaust.” There is nothing ordinary about the unprecedented attempt to murder all European Jews and to extinguish their culture, history and traditions. This cannot be ordinary, yet the holocaust was only possible because ordinary people did not speak up when hatred was taking over.
It was ordinary people who met at the Wannsee conference to discuss the need for the final solution, which is the term given to the extermination of the Jewish population. It was ordinary people who rounded up the Jews of Europe and forced them into ghettos. It was ordinary people who drove the trains on their journey to the camps. It was ordinary people who thought of their work at death camps as just that—nothing more than work. They would finish their shift and go home to their families and children, who often lived just a few hundred metres away from the camp perimeter. Most importantly, it was ordinary Jewish people who had their humanity stripped away for the crime of being Jewish.
As the late Rabbi Lord Sacks said:
“Jews were hated in Germany because they were rich and because they were poor, because they were capitalists and because they were communists, because they kept to themselves and because they infiltrated everywhere, because they believed in a primitive faith and because they were rootless cosmopolitans who believed nothing. Hitler believed that Jews were controlling both the United States and the Soviet Union. How could they be doing both? Because they were Jews.”
I end this speech by paying tribute to Zigi Shipper BEM, who sadly passed away last week. I am proud to be, as Elie Wiesel put it, his “witness.” I had the pleasure of meeting Zigi many times and I will never forget his charisma, strength and big smile, which he always had on display. I witnessed the eruption of applause when he finished delivering his testimony, having transported students in a school in London through time, painting a picture of the fragile child who was lucky to survive this all, not least the death march where he developed typhus. When he finished speaking, he was a legend, a mensch. He was one of the many capable of condensing the pain of those involved into a service to better the world. At the end, he was treated like a celebrity and he loved it. He high-fived all the students down the aisle of the hall on his way out, and those students will never forget it. I echo the words of his grandson, Darren Richman, who wrote:
“Shaping minds—in a very real sense—changing the world, and I have no doubt the world was a better place for having had Zigi in it.”
May his memory be a blessing.
I call our final Back-Bench speaker, Robin Walker.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a great honour to speak in this debate, and I apologise to those Members whose speeches I may have missed, including Andrew Western, who made his maiden speech. I congratulate him on that and look forward to reading it in Hansard. I was meeting a group of young people who have autism, and as we debate this issue of the holocaust it is striking to think that people we would now describe as neurodiverse were also victims of the holocaust.
As Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, I wanted to join so many Members who have spoken today, from so many parts of the House, in paying tribute to the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust, as they make a profound difference in our schools. The work they do in bringing the testimony of survivors directly to children in schools is vital in informing our understanding of one of the most terrible examples of human behaviour in history, but it is so much more than that; it inspires an understanding not just of history—my subject at school and university—but of poetry, literature, music and so much more that children can benefit from. The work they have done to make sure that the voices of that generation of survivors that we are sadly now losing are perpetuated and protected for the future is essential, as we all recognise the importance of educating about the holocaust and dealing with the difficult issues it raises for the students of today.
The trips that those bodies have organised to take students directly to Auschwitz, to see for themselves the reality of the horror undertaken there, are also an important part of their work. In all our constituencies, up and down the country, events are taking place tomorrow that will bring together the pupils of today and the testimony of holocaust survivors, and civic and religious institutions. As my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid said in his excellent opening speech, this is something that should matter to people of every religion and every community. It was fantastic to hear him speaking out in that way.
I wish to touch on a recent event we had in Worcester, which was a reminder that although the holocaust was a peak of the terrible antisemitism and mistreatment of Jewish people, it was not isolated in history as an incident of antisemitism, bias and appalling behaviour against them. We recently held an event to commemorate the expulsion of the Jews from Worcester in 13th-century England. We brought representatives of Jewish communities from across the midlands together in Worcester, at the site of the former Jewish ghetto, to unveil a plaque, and to hear a profound speech and an apology from the Bishop of Worcester for the role that the Church played in that incident. It is important to remember that context and the long history of antisemitism that built up to the terrible events of the holocaust.
Today there is a very small Jewish population in Worcester, but the lessons of the holocaust are relevant to everyone in my constituency. I am very proud that schools such as the King’s School Worcester, RGS Worcester, Christopher Whitehead Language College and Sixth Form, and Nunnery Wood High School, will be holding holocaust memorial events and engaging in that event with our university, with civic dignitaries at the Guildhall in Worcester, just a few hundred yards from where that Jewish ghetto stood.
I very much look forward to hearing from Mindu Hornick tomorrow. She is a holocaust survivor who will be addressing that group. In paying tribute to the many profound speeches that we have heard from all parts of the House, I think it is very welcome that the Government have made the commitment about the holocaust education centre sitting at the heart of our democracy. That will benefit generations of schoolchildren in the years to come.
I just want to say to those on the Front Bench that the small number of people who are taking part in the holocaust memorial service in Portcullis House will not be able to be here for the wind-ups. I know that they will understand exceptionally why that is the case.
Before I begin my speech, I wish to thank Sajid Javid for the way he opened the debate, which set the scene for a day of powerful speeches, including the exceptionally good maiden speech from Andrew Western.
It has not been comfortable listening to the speeches today. Hearing these other contributions has probably been challenging for all of us, but we do need to hear these things. We need to know and to remember exactly what happened. I am grateful to be able to stand here again today representing the SNP in this debate. I am grateful, too, for the support provided by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust, and to MPs for the work they do throughout the year, making sure that the lessons of the past remain at the forefront of our minds. That is ever more important as the years pass.
This year’s theme of ordinary people should give us all pause for thought. We can all visualise these ordinary people—ordinary people living ordinary lives in ordinary places, until their world turned and suddenly they were snatched away and thrust into unimaginable horror. However, that did not happen overnight, and we have heard that very clearly today. These things creep up. There is a growing intolerance and a deliberate othering of groups until the tide has set. The uncomfortable truth that we need to confront is that these ordinary people were not only the victims of the holocaust; they were also the bystanders—the people who watched what was happening—and the people who carried out and facilitated these murderous acts of genocide.
Holocaust survivor and author Primo Levi said:
“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
That is what we need to guard most against, as that intolerance creeps forward. We need to be frank about that. There is a growing tide of intolerance, a growing enthusiasm for conspiracy and a growing denial.
We have heard today about the other genocides, which we must recognise and must remember. We also need to remember the plight of the Uyghur Muslims, who are so horrifically treated in China, and the Daesh genocide against the Yazidis, Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq.
I was fortunate to be at an excellent local event on Monday evening. I am privileged to live in a constituency where the majority of the Jewish population in Scotland lives, and our vibrant, diverse community in East Renfrewshire is far the better for it.
During a holocaust memorial event hosted by East Renfrewshire Council in Calderwood Lodge—the only Jewish school in Scotland, based on a joint campus with St Clare’s Primary School, which means it is part of the only Jewish-Catholic joint campus in Europe—in that exceptional place, we heard from some exceptional young people, including the host, Kirsty Robson, who has worked very hard on holocaust remembrance since she was herself a pupil at Barrhead High not so long ago. We heard from current Barrhead High pupils, including Sol Duncan and Lily MacPherson. They are involved in the Lessons from Auschwitz project. We also heard from Samantha McKeown from Mearns Castle High School, who has been working with the Anne Frank Trust. All those young people were articulate, thoughtful and very clear about why we need to learn from the past.
We also heard from Gillian Field, one of the daughters of Henry and the late Ingrid Wuga, East Renfrewshire residents who have lived lives very far from ordinary. After both arriving, separately, on the Kindertransport, they later fell in love and married, and they dedicated their retirement to talking to young people about their experience. The testimony of Henry and Ingrid Wuga has shaped many young lives all over Scotland, and their daughters Hilary and Gillian are now continuing that work, making sure that their testimony and lived memory are still spoken.
Clearly, neither the Wugas nor their daughters could by any estimation be described as ordinary, but the extraordinary efforts they make to share the reality of the holocaust really matter, and matter more and more with every year that passes. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to tell the tale of what happened for someone who went through the holocaust. It is hard for us sometimes even to listen to those tales, but it is important that we make the effort to do so.
In my local area, this week is work experience week for S4 pupils. I am very fortunate to have had Charlie Henry-Newall, an S4 pupil at Williamwood High School, on placement with my team this week. Charlie was at that event with me and has also been my researcher for this debate; I place on record my sincere thanks to him for the insight and care with which he has performed that task. I also thank another young person who was at the event, a former St Ninian’s High School pupil, Holly Edgar, who every year of her own volition writes an excellent blog post about holocaust remembrance for my website.
I would like to dwell on what I heard from someone else there that evening. Rabbi Moshe Rubin, the Senior Rabbi of Scotland, talked about a visit he had made to Auschwitz and the photographs he saw there—so many photographs, he told us, of ordinary people whose lives had been wiped out simply because of their identity. It was utterly devastating for us in the audience to hear from him that he looked at those photos wondering whether any of them were members of his family, who he knew had been murdered there, but then realised that he would just never know.
I visited Yad Vashem a number of years ago and saw pictures there of many victims of the holocaust; it was striking and stark, even with no family connection. It was actually quite difficult to look at the photographs, because there were so many of them, and they looked just like me and you and all the people we know. There were lovely little faces, young children with chubby cheeks whose lives had been snuffed out; young adults who should have had their lives in front of them; older people who had no chance whatsoever of surviving the horrors to come. The act of acknowledging and remembering the individual people, alongside recognising the incomprehensible number of lives lost, is really important. As well as the number, we must remember the individual.
I thought about that recently when a good friend of mine shared photos she had taken on a street in Holland during a visit. It showed brass cobbles called Stolpersteine, which means stumbling blocks, placed near entrances to paths. They are memorials to the people who lived there and were killed by the Nazis. This type of memorial is attributed to Gunter Demnig, who cited the Talmud saying that,
“a person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten”.
The names of the people remembered in my friend’s photograph are Kaatje Engelander, Machiel de Brave, Leentje de Brave-Italiaander, Abraham van Leeuwen, Esther Eva van Leeuwen-van Lier, Joseph Jules van Lier and Heintje van Lier-Buitenkant. They all deserve to be remembered.
I make no apology for concluding my speech by speaking once again this year about the life of the only Scot to be remembered as righteous among the nations. I was delighted to hear David Mundell speak so eloquently about Church of Scotland missionary Jane Haining. We could all do with listening to more contributions about Jane Haining and reflecting on the way she lived her life. Jane was a school matron in Budapest, as we have heard, and she refused to leave her charges, even though she had been repeatedly encouraged to do so. She knew the risks of her decision to stay there, but she stayed none the less. She said:
“If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?”
Jane Haining died at Auschwitz. She was a brave and principled woman; an ordinary woman who displayed extraordinary love and courage at the very worst of times. She deserves to be remembered, just as all those who were so cruelly murdered simply because of their identity must be remembered with love and as individuals. That is how we best halt creeping intolerance and hatred, and prevent it from happening again.
It is an honour to speak for the Opposition in this important debate. Tomorrow, we will mark Holocaust Memorial Day and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, when the full magnitude of the crimes committed by the Nazi regime were revealed to the world.
Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the 6 million Jews murdered during the holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi persecution and during more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. It is our intergenerational duty to tell future generations the truth about man’s inhumanity to man, so that we can fight to prevent it from being repeated.
I congratulate Sajid Javid on securing the debate and on his excellent leadership of it. I was particularly struck by his call for us, as policy makers, not just to reflect—as we have done in this excellent debate—but to do, by acting in the space of misinformation, fake news and the rising hate that we see in our communities. I hope he has seen during the debate, as I certainly have, that we have met his call to shine a light on the hatred we see today. There has been an extraordinary number of tremendous contributions. I will try to cover them all, but I will call on two in particular that illuminated the debate: the speech by my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge and that of Bob Stewart.
As we have heard, the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day this year is “ordinary people”, and there could not have been a more powerful or poignant introduction to such a debate than that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking, who exhorted us to keep those stories alive so that we can fight hate today. That must be right, and that idea subsequently coursed through the debate.
The right hon. Member for Beckenham commanded the UN forces in Bosnia and, of course, played a leading role in Northern Ireland, so I stop and listen whenever he talks about human rights. I have bugged him personally to ask him different questions about his service. When he spoke today, it felt as if time stopped. It was a harrowing story—one that would be too much to ask anybody to retell or rethink, never mind speak about publicly—but it enriched the debate beyond imagination. We are so grateful that he was able and willing to do that.
On the theme of ordinary people, the other defining feature of the debate has been the extraordinary contributions that colleagues brought to life. I will name all the Members and their constituencies, because it is important to do so. The right hon. Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) and for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers); my hon. Friends the Members for West Ham (Ms Brown), for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) and for Stockport (Navendu Mishra); and the hon. Members for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti), for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) all mentioned stories connected to them, to their communities or to people who they have seen during their work as parliamentarians.
What I took from that is the extraordinary spread across all the nations and regions that make up our wonderful country. Those people came to our country from extraordinary suffering, enriched in their own ways, and kept those stories alive. As the hon. Member for West Bromwich East said, as they start to pass on, that is now our duty. My hon. Friend Steve McCabe talked in the same vein about the Kindertransport, and about Eve Leadbeater, who came to Nottingham as a two-year-old on the Kindertransport. She spent her life in Nottingham as an educationalist improving opportunities for all our children there. She was a loved part of our community. She passed away last March.
I associate myself with the remarks from my hon. Friend Fleur Anderson, and the hon. Members for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and for Worcester (Mr Walker), about the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust. I hope that they have seen today’s debate as an appropriate tribute for the work that they will do not just tomorrow, but on all the other days of the year.
I make special reference to my hon. Friend Andrew Western and congratulate him on an excellent maiden speech. I have known him for a long time, not just because of our shared football and cricket preferences, but because he has been a brilliant council leader and someone I have admired for a long time. I cannot wait to see the impact that he makes in this place.
I will make a few points of my own. The numbers can overwhelm you: 6 million Jewish people murdered, more than a quarter of a million disabled people murdered, up to half a million Romani murdered, more than 1.5 million people in Cambodia murdered, and 1 million people in Rwanda murdered. As Jim Shannon said, those are overwhelming numbers, but each number is a real person: a mother, a father, a son or a daughter. They were people who loved and were loved. They would have been people who would have become their nation’s Picasso or Byron; young people who did not yet know that they loved science but who would have made discoveries that would have transformed humanity; political leaders who would have fought for hope and inclusion; and people who would have started businesses that would have enriched the lives of thousands. All those lives and all that potential was taken away in the name of hate. The hon. Member for Meriden made that point well. It is our most profound responsibility that we remember them and that we honour their memory by each generation telling their story to the next.
That starts with our children. My hon. Friend Charlotte Nichols gave a beautiful exposition of Exodus on that theme. I had the privilege of joining the year 9s of the Nottingham University Samworth Academy in Bilborough as they met holocaust survivor Henri Obstfeld, who talked today’s children through his experiences as a child. It was so powerful to see them engage with this wonderful man, to contrast what they heard from him with their own lives and to think about the world as they see it today. It gave me pause to reflect on my visit with friends to Dachau as an 18-year-old and contrast our freedoms as we travelled around Europe with the names and pictures of boys of a similar age who never had the same chances. The educational work that we see at NUSA Bilborough and across schools is a practical demonstration of what we mean by passing knowledge down the generations. I commend Mr Townsend, the teacher, and the school for taking part in the programme and wish them well for the holocaust studies that they are undertaking over the next few days. We need that in every classroom in every school up and down the land. We also need it to be available to all of us.
I turn to the national holocaust memorial and learning centre, which is a crucial way in which we can appropriately memorialise the holocaust and cascade our knowledge down the generations. The project has been challenging to say the least, but I reiterate the commitment that I made in an urgent question on the matter in July on behalf of the Opposition and the commitment made yesterday and previously by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition. We support the project wholeheartedly. We were encouraged and cheered to hear what the Prime Minister said yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions about imminent legislation for the memorial. That is so welcome. We look forward to supporting that legislation when we see it. I hope that the Minister will say more about when we will see that.
I and hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of others have seen such work done well in this country already. Beth Shalom, the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in north Nottinghamshire, houses the country’s only dedicated holocaust museum. It was born of the Smith brothers—Stephen and my good friend James—who visited Yad Vashem some 30 years ago and identified the need to better understand, discuss and teach issues relating to the holocaust in this country. From that idea and understanding sprung a whole museum and centre with permanent exhibitions, a learning space and beautiful memorial gardens. It is with great joy that I and, I think, colleagues read that funding from the Heritage Fund alongside the Arts Council, the Pears Foundation and many other foundations and individuals will lead to a major redevelopment of that facility so that it can continue to meet the challenges of the current day in telling those stories of the past. I encourage all colleagues to visit and to urge their schools to either visit or engage with its online material. The remarkable Smith brothers also formed the Aegis Trust, which colleagues mentioned, in response to the crisis in Kosovo. They work all around the world to prevent genocide. It is with great pride that I can tell the House that their model in Nottinghamshire was used to develop the Kigali memorial centre, providing a place of remembrance and learning about that genocide. It has been visited by Presidents and Prime Ministers and is an important example of the work that we can do to tell the story as well as of Britain’s place in the world.
When the other place debated the matter last week, it was said that it would be nice to think of this as a debate that we are having in the past tense, with antisemitism consigned to the dustbin of history; with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities facing no prejudice; and disabled people living without hate. But that simply is not the world that we live in. As colleagues have said, the Community Security Trust’s findings were stark, with 786 antisemitic incidents across the UK in just the first half of 2022: the joint fifth highest it had ever recorded. In addition, there was a 22% increase in university-related incidents to a total of 150 in the last two years. I reflect with pain that we have seen that hate in the Labour party, and I restate our commitment to tearing it out by its roots.
We also see that hate crime against disabled people has increased by nearly 45% and that hate crime against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities remains under-tackled and rarely understood in this country. As Fiona Bruce said, we see these risks of genocide around the world, and as she put so powerfully, we must play our role in tackling that in any way we can. When we memorialise the holocaust, we talk about the past, but we feel the echoes in the present day. Tomorrow will be a solemn moment of remembrance, but it should also act as a call to action.
I will finish with my reflection on the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, “ordinary people”. It is a reminder that while those who author murderous regimes are history’s most evil people, their work is reliant on the mass participation of significant numbers of ordinary people—people who participate, people who turn a blind eye, people who share in the propaganda and people who stand by. That is, as Hannah Arendt said, the “banality of evil”, and that is how such evil acts are committed by such seemingly ordinary people. It is important that our children and we as adults learn about this. I think about bystander training, because there are increasing levels of hate in our community. Having that bystander training means that people know what to do for the best. I still believe, as I know colleagues across the House do, in the fundamental goodness of people, especially our British people. They want to do the right thing, so we must support them by giving them the tools and resources to do so.
To conclude, this has been an outstanding debate: one about humanity’s past, but that calls us to action in the future; one about sadness and grief, but also about the inspirational stories of defiance; and one that tells us about the worst in humanity but spurs in us the best.
It truly is an honour and I feel humbled to reply to this powerful and moving debate. I truly think that we have seen the Chamber at its best: serious, compassionate, collegiate and learning from the past, but looking to the future. I start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid for securing this debate and for his powerful speech that set the right tone. I also pay tribute to him as the first Muslim to start this debate.
There have been so many powerful speeches. I feel bad at mentioning just a few, but I start by paying tribute to the maiden speech from Andrew Western. It was an assured performance. I am delighted to hear that he has interests in housing, as I am one of the housing Ministers. I look forward to getting to know him in the future. There have been so many powerful testimonies about family members and constituents. I pay particular tribute to Dame Margaret Hodge, who gave such moving testimony about her own grandmother. She also talked about Frank Foley in the British embassy in Berlin, who bent the rules to get thousands of Jews out.
I pay tribute to the Father of the House, my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley who talked about his own extended family. I thank my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb who talked about the importance of upcoming Bills such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions Bill and the holocaust memorial Bill. Charlotte Nichols gave a powerful speech, and I was struck by her words that we need to remember for the future. My right hon. Friend Sir Julian Lewis talked movingly about his staff member Nina Karsov, who works here on the estate. She was thrown from a train as a two-year-old on the way to Treblinka, somehow survived, but later was imprisoned for two years in communist Poland. If anything does, that shows that these tragic and dreadful events are not one-offs, but sadly happen again.
My right hon. Friend Bob Stewart gave an immensely powerful speech talking about his time as the United Nations commander in Bosnia, where he was witness to the genocide at Ahmići. He rightly said that ordinary people suffer, but they also carry out such atrocities.
My right hon. Friend David Mundell and Kirsten Oswald talked powerfully about Jane Haining, the only Scot to die in Auschwitz. Her devotion to the children under her care was truly remarkable. My hon. Friend Saqib Bhatti talked about his constituent Paul Oppenheimer, an ordinary man with an extraordinary experience. I was struck by the words of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, who said how difficult it was to conceive of the numbers—6 million is a number, but it represents real people.
I was struck by the words of my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers, who talked about the enforced starvation of Ukrainians under Stalin in the Soviet Union. Many hon. Members talked about the importance of education, including my hon. Friend Mr Walker and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Nicola Richards, who talked powerfully about education. I was struck by her words,
“whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness”.
By joining and by contributing to this debate we are all playing our role in keeping the memory of the holocaust alive.
In the United Kingdom tomorrow, on Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the 6 million Jewish men, women and children murdered during the holocaust. We remember hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti; the 250,000 disabled people who were murdered, and many more sterilised; the 10,000 to 15,000 men accused of homosexuality who were sent to concentration camps, and up to 40,000 more who were brutally mistreated in prison. We also remember the 1.5 million to 2 million murdered in Cambodia; the 8,000 Muslim men and boys murdered in Srebrenica; the 1 million Tutsi murdered in Rwanda; and the 100,000 to 400,000 men, women and children murdered in the ongoing conflict in Darfur, which Ms Brown talked powerfully about.
As we have heard, the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “ordinary people”. Thankfully for all of us, there have been and are so many ordinary men and women willing to stand against hatred, and those who demonstrated extraordinary bravery in their efforts to protect and save Jews. Their selfless acts represent the best of humanity. Two women who epitomised that selflessness were Ida and Louise Cook. Between 1934 and 1939, these two women were regular visitors to the opera houses of Germany and Austria. But they also went there to save Jewish lives. They said,:
“The funny thing is we weren’t the James Bond type. We were just respectable Civil Service typists.”
When asked why they did it, they replied,
“because it was the right thing to do, nothing more, nothing less.”
There are countless other examples from many more genocides and tragedies. Those people are beacons of inspiration for us all. They should serve as a powerful reminder to everyone that people have choices. Unfortunately, just as there were people who showed the best of us, there were ordinary people who actively participated or were complicit. The choices that people make across the world today, tomorrow, next week and next month are the choices that will help us to live in a world without genocide. We would all like to think that we would have stood up as one of the “extraordinary”, but it is important to realise that we all have the capacity to look the other way.
I want to touch briefly on two topics, one of which is the UK holocaust memorial and learning centre, which Alex Norris mentioned. I am delighted to say that the UK Government are committed to the creation of a new national memorial and that, at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, the Prime Minister confirmed that the Government intend to bring forward legislation to remove the statutory obstacle to the memorial being built in Victoria Tower Gardens. We will do that as soon as parliamentary time allows.
It would be remiss of me not to mention antisemitism in this debate. Antisemitism and hatred did not end with the defeat of Nazi Germany. We have heard that just last week, the Community Security Trust—the UK’s leading organisation monitoring antisemitism—published a report outlining a 22% increase in antisemitism on university campuses in 2020 to 2022 compared with the two years prior to that. That is truly unacceptable.
I pay tribute to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and its CEO, Olivia Marks-Woldman, to the Holocaust Educational Trust and its CEO, Karen Pollock, and to their teams. I should add that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, of which the UK was a founding member, conducts vital work to strengthen, advance and promote holocaust education and remembrance. The Government are proud to have backed the IHRA’s working definition of holocaust denial and distortion in 2013, its working definition of antisemitism in 2016 and, more recently, its working definition of anti-Roma racism in 2020. The UK has the honour of chairing the IHRA next year, and I thank those working hard behind the scenes to ensure its success.
Given that the Minister mentioned antisemitism in universities, may I draw her attention and the attention of the House to the excellent work of the Council for At-Risk Academics, which was founded in 1933 to rescue eminent academics who were being barred from German universities and has functioned ever since? Tomorrow, I hope to meet a young female academic who has been enabled to come to the University of Southampton by CARA, doing the work that it started back then. A lot of good work goes on in universities, including more than 100 of them affiliated to CARA that fund CARA fellowships to enable rescued people to continue with their academic career and one day, hopefully, go back to a free Afghanistan, among other places.
I thank my right hon. Friend for updating the House on that important work.
I am grateful for some of the actions being taken by His Majesty’s Government that the Minister has outlined, but I want to push her on one more. In 1988 the Conservative Government set up the Hetherington inquiry, which led to the War Crimes Act 1991. That meant that for the first time, Nazi war criminals living in the UK could be prosecuted for war crimes, but those prosecutions have rarely taken place. I gave evidence in my speech of cases where the police, the CPS and British intelligence services covered up Nazi war criminals living in the UK. Could the Minister commit to making representations to His Majesty’s Government for an inquiry into this, as called for by the Board of Deputies, as one of the actions to take away from today, so that we can learn from this and ensure it never happens again?
I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. In the interest of giving my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove some time, I suggest that we sit down and talk about that following the debate.
We cannot allow one of the darkest chapters in history to be forgotten. I am reminded of the words of the Spanish philosopher George Santayana, who said in 1905:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Before I call Sajid Javid, may I say what an honour it is to have chaired this debate? I thank all hon. Members who have taken part. A few years ago, I went to Poland to visit Auschwitz. I cannot hear the haunting but brilliant theme music to “Schindler’s List” without reflecting on that visit and the possessions of those who had their lives brutally cut short in that concentration camp by acts of extraordinary evil. We remember them on Holocaust Memorial Day today, and we remember the extraordinary acts of courage of people who helped to defeat that regime and of people today who suffer at the hands of other rotten regimes around the world.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your powerful words. I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister for her words on behalf of the Government about their continued strong commitment to fighting prejudice of all kinds, and especially for confirming to the House the desire to bring forward a holocaust memorial Bill as soon as possible. I thank Alex Norris for his contribution. He showed, once again, that the whole House is united on the importance of what we have discussed today—of remembering the holocaust and subsequent genocides, and of learning from them.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members from every party and both sides of the House who have contributed today; we have truly shown the House at its best, with everyone united in calling for an even stronger fight against prejudice and hatred. In particular, I congratulate Andrew Western on his excellent maiden speech, which was one of the best that I have heard. It was delivered with real confidence and he spoke eloquently about his desire to fight hatred and prejudice. I wish him all the very best in the House.
Clearly reflected in all hon. Members’ contributions was the theme set by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust: the role of ordinary people in the holocaust and subsequent genocides. The 6 million people murdered in the holocaust and the millions murdered in subsequent genocides were ordinary people, but many of the people who facilitated and perpetrated those murders were also ordinary people who were somehow corrupted. We were reminded by hon. Members that that could happen again if we do not do everything we can to fight it.
Many hon. Members also rightly referred to the extraordinary people—the survivors—many of whom are thankfully still in our midst. As was said, however, with the passing of each survivor, we can see that the responsibility on all of us in this House grows. Having listened to this excellent debate, however, I am very hopeful for the future.
I congratulate Andrew Western. Although I did not hear his speech, it was clearly brilliant, given the tributes that he has received.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered Holocaust Memorial Day.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. After the abominable Windrush scandal, in which black Britons were detained, deported, denied healthcare, denied housing and denied education, successive Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries came to this House and said they would accept in full the recommendations of Wendy Williams’s inquiry into the scandal and that they would compensate the victims.
This morning, from a written statement slipped out quietly, this House finds out that in fact only half the compensation has been made and that Windrush recommendations have been dropped. This tramples on the hopes of the Windrush generation and anyone who believes in our shared multicultural future. Have you had any indication at all that the Home Secretary expects to come to this House and make a statement in full about why she has now decided to deny the hopes of the Windrush generation?
I thank Mr Lammy for his point of order and for giving me advance notice of it. As he knows, the next business I am going to take is the Adjournment of the House, so there will be no statement today and the House is not sitting tomorrow. However, I do ask that the Treasury Whip on duty ensures that Home Office Ministers are made absolutely aware of the point of order he has made.