Holocaust Memorial Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:41 pm on 26th January 2023.

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Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 4:41 pm, 26th January 2023

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.