Holocaust Memorial Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:16 pm on 26 January 2023.

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Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee 4:16, 26 January 2023

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.