Holocaust Memorial Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:21 pm on 26 January 2023.

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Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:21, 26 January 2023

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.