Holocaust Memorial Day 2024

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 25 January 2024.

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Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-11789, in the name of Paul O’Kane, on Holocaust memorial day 2024. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises Holocaust Memorial Day 2024; remembers the six million Jewish people murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of others killed under the Nazis’ persecution of other minority groups; reflects on the millions of people who have been murdered in more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur; recognises that Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27 January, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp; acknowledges that the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is developed annually by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust; reflects on this year’s theme, Fragility of Freedom; understands that, in every genocide that has taken place, those who are targeted have had their freedom restricted and removed, before many of them are murdered and that, despite this, in every genocide, there are those who risk their own freedom to help others, to preserve others’ freedom or to stand up to the regime; congratulates the efforts of the Holocaust Memorial Day activity organisers around Scotland who bring people together to learn lessons from history, and understands the importance of challenging all forms of prejudice to ensure that lessons of such events are fully learnt.

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

It is a privilege to open today’s debate to mark Holocaust memorial day 2024 and to follow the debates in previous years that were led by Jackson Carlaw and Fergus Ewing, which show the strong cross-party commitment to this motion in the Parliament.

Now, as ever, i t remains incredibly important to come together to pause, reflect and remember the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis, alongside millions of others, including Roma and Sinti people, disabled people and LGBT people. We also call to mind the millions of others who lived through and survived the Holocaust but lost everything—family, dignity, health and home.

Now, as in years gone by, we recommit ourselves and our efforts to the statement, “Never again”, but we know that, tragically, since the Holocaust, humanity has not lived up to that statement in many places across the globe, including Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. We remember those people today, too.

“Never again” is a phrase that should apply not only to genocide but to the hate and persecution that surround the horrific acts of mass murder that we have seen.

The theme developed by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for this year’s commemorations is “Fragility of Freedom”. The horrors of the Holocaust—indeed, the horrors of most genocides in humanity’s collective history—do not come from nowhere. Acts of targeted mass murder are preceded by an erosion of freedoms in order to control populations and make the terrors that follow easier to perpetrate.

In the lead-up to the Holocaust, Jews and other groups that were targeted by the Nazis had many of their freedoms and rights restricted and removed. The freedom to study, work and live wherever they wanted was restricted. Jews were removed from educational establishments, had their businesses attacked and destroyed and were forced into ghettos.

The freedoms of self-identity, religion and marriage were limited, as Jews became a defined class for discrimination under the Nuremberg laws, which restricted whom they could marry. The freedom to engage in leisure and other activities was also restricted, as Jews were banned from cinemas, theatres and sports facilities.

Those are all freedoms that we often take for granted in the modern era. Although many of us cannot conceive of losing a single one of those freedoms, they are fragile, and, in recent times, our world has become a more uncertain place in that regard.

It is not only the freedoms of groups targeted by those carrying out genocidal acts that are restricted—frequently, the freedoms of all people are limited to prevent people from speaking out. During the Holocaust, the targeting of opposition politicians, journalists and dissenting voices of the Nazi regime ensured that information control and propaganda in the population stopped people speaking out and opposing atrocities. We have seen that pattern repeated in other genocides, such as that in Rwanda, where the infamous Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines spewed hatred against the Tutsis to lay the ground, through propaganda, for what would follow.

Ultimately, the Holocaust and other crimes of genocide result in the loss of that fundamental freedom—the freedom to live. Now more than ever, it is important for survivors and people born after the Holocaust and other genocides to recognise that, just because the atrocities have stopped and society begins to normalise, freedom does not always fully return, and survivors have to live with the reality of what they have experienced.

Growing up in East Renfrewshire, I have had the privilege of meeting and hearing at first hand from a number of survivors. Their children now carry on the work of telling their story, because so few survivors now remain. On Monday evening, at the East Renfrewshire commemoration event, I had the privilege to, once again, hear the story of Marianne Grant, who survived a number of camps, including Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Marianne was a painter who literally painted for her life—she was forced to record images of the horrendous experiments of the angel of death, Dr Josef Mengele. Marianne’s story is the very embodiment of the fragility of freedom.

For those who have lived through such times, freedom as it once was does not fully return. People lose livelihoods and homes. They often have no choice but to move to new countries, as so many Jewish people have done. People are restricted by the mental and physical trauma of what they have experienced. It can be hard to trust. Understandably, after all that has been experienced, it is hard for people to trust those in their new country, to trust that their freedoms will be guaranteed and to trust that they have complete freedom.

For many groups, the entrenched stigma and hate that are drilled into people through those periods remain, and their freedom remains less than that of their fellow citizens. For example, it was not until many decades later that gay men who had been imprisoned by the Nazis and around the world gained full rights and stopped being viewed as criminals.

The legacy of hate hurts not just those who survived but members of persecuted groups who are born long after. In the context of the Holocaust, Jews in our communities, including in East Renfrewshire, still have to face the vile words and actions of antisemitism and Holocaust denialism. For many, the lessons of the Holocaust—the ways in which Jews and others were victimised, othered and expelled—have still not been learned.

It is incumbent on us all, as representatives of the people of Scotland in this Parliament, to stand up and to recommit to combating antisemitism, racism, hatred and attacks on people’s freedoms without equivocation. This year, let us once again redouble our focus on protecting those fragile freedoms, watch our own words and deeds, and watch the words and deeds of others, whether in our community, in this Parliament or elsewhere, so that we do not allow the fragile freedoms to shatter any further.

We must ensure that we, with one voice, say, “Never again”, and that we have a Scotland where all people can walk free of hatred and fear. [



Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

I thank Paul O’Kane for bringing this important debate to the chamber. We often say those words at the start of members’ business debates on all manner of subjects, but, in this case, it is especially true—critically so, given that the importance of this subject should not be underestimated.

About 20 years ago, my wife and I visited Oswiecim in the south of Poland—the site that we know in English as Auschwitz. We took my teenage daughter there to witness the inhumanity that occurred on that site. No one could fail to be moved by the memorials and the industrial scale of the slaughter that took place there and elsewhere, not just in concentration camps but in towns and villages across Europe—events that resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews and millions from other groups in horrific circumstances.

The horrific events of the Holocaust are the most significant example of genocide in modern times, but the act of genocide is, unfortunately, nothing new in human history, and it continues to the present day. It has been estimated that 43 genocides could have occurred between 1956 and 2016, resulting in perhaps 50 million deaths. On this Holocaust memorial day, it is important that we recognise genocides that have taken place in Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia and, here in Europe, Bosnia in the 1990s. In 1995, I visited Bosnia as part of an aid convoy with Edinburgh Direct Aid—an organisation that has delivered humanitarian aid to many war zones and nations that are affected by crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, its work is still badly needed.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust memorial day is “Fragility of Freedom”. Commemoration means nothing if we do not truly learn lessons and take steps to stand against genocide, wherever it occurs. That is the primary lesson. It can happen anywhere, to any group. There is always that risk. In the words of Dutch Jew and Holocaust survivor Hajo Meyer, “Never again, for anyone.”

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defined genocide for the first time as any of five acts

“committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

The five acts are killing members of a group, causing them serious bodily or mental harm, imposing living conditions that are intended to destroy the group, preventing births and forcibly transferring children out of the group. A key point is that victims are targeted not randomly but because of their real or perceived membership of a group. The International Court of Justice has a key role to play in assessing cases that might constitute the crime of genocide, and it continues that important work to this day.

In combating genocide, we must always be aware of how it starts. Dehumanising language, comparing whole groups of people to animals and calling for extermination, mass slaughter or collective punishment are signs that we need to be alert to, and we need to expose and combat such behaviour whenever it arises. In Rwanda, the Tutsi people were described as cockroaches. More recently, ethnic groups have been described as human animals. Incitement to genocide is recognised as a separate crime under international law—a crime that does not require genocide to have taken place to be prosecutable. Those who call for the wholesale destruction of a people, their forcible transfer or collective punishment are guilty of that crime.

The 10 stages of genocide have been identified as classification, symbolisation, discrimination, dehumanisation, organisation, polarisation, preparation, persecution, extermination and denial. Awareness of how that process works allows us to recognise it and call it out. We must be alert to and challenge all forms of hatred and prejudice, including antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism.

Nothing is more important than the need to expose and root out the signs that lead to genocide. Preventing the recurrence of the Holocaust begins with an understanding that it can happen to any group, anywhere. At this time of year, we also take time to celebrate our national poet. Although the two are not often linked, it is perhaps worth reflecting on Burns’s words:

That Man to Man the warld o’er

Shall brithers be for a’ that.

A recognition that people of any ethnic group are not animals is a good place to start.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Having participated in or observed these debates for 17 years, it is difficult at times to think how to bring a fresh perspective to the debate, so I congratulate Paul O’Kane on his speech. It has been a privilege to work with him since he was elected in 2021 and with others to ensure that there is a genuine cross-party approach to the way in which we remember—and ensure that the country remembers—the events of the Holocaust.

In the same way, I congratulate Ben Macpherson on the successful event that he held this week on yet another example of the fear that the Nazis engendered that led to so much loss of life.

I wonder, colleagues, when you put up your Christmas decorations. I am quite late in the day in doing so. I still have a real tree, which, this year, went up on Saturday 16 December—it very often goes up on the weekend before the week of Christmas. Bear in mind that date—16 December 2023.

Last year, I saw the latest movie adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front”. I think that many of us might, at some stage or another, have seen a version of “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Indeed, the title is a phrase that has worked its way into the common language.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” was originally a book that was written by Erich Maria Remarque, who was a veteran of the first world war. It sold 2.2 million copies in its first 18 months. It is a book about the futility of the loss of life in the first world war, but it was detested by the Nazis. The author of the book found that it was banned. It was burned on Kristallnacht, and he had to flee the country. He moved to the United States and, actually, had a very glamorous life. He had affairs with Hedy Lamarr and Marlene Dietrich, and he married Paulette Goddard. They left $20 million to the commemoration of events of the Holocaust.

Back home, the Nazis arrested Remarque’s sister, Elfriede Scholz. In the judgment of the court, it was said:

“Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach—you, however, will not escape us.”

On 16 December 1943, she was beheaded by the Nazis for the crime of being the sister of a brother who wrote a book about the first world war that the Nazis detested. The fragility of freedom.

In “A Village in the Third Reich”—a book that I commend to everybody—you can read about the village of Oberstdorf, one of the world’s first skiing tourist resorts, which benefited from massive international tourism, including Jewish tourism, and about how an insidious little clique in the village imposed the will of the Nazis to ban the Jewish community. There was subtle resistance throughout, but people there found themselves to be persecuted, arrested or shot for any collaboration or effort to save Jewish people. The fragility of freedom.

In last year’s debate, I referred to Danny Finkelstein’s magnificent book, “Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad”. It is about his grandfather, Alfred Wiener—the inspiration for the Wiener Holocaust Library, which supplied the exhibition that Ben Macpherson hosted in the Parliament this week—and his grandmother Grete, who were in Germany, and his grandparents Dolu and Lusia Finkelstein, who were in Poland. It is about the remarkable journey that the Wieners had through Nazi Germany and the heroic efforts of his grandmother to save his mother and her two sisters, as they moved through the concentration camps to Bergen-Belsen.

In Bergen-Belsen, Grete Wiener did everything to save her three daughters and, in the end, they got out; they got out near midnight on 24 January 1945. The Wieners crossed the border to Switzerland and to freedom. Grete had triumphed: she had protected her girls through the long years of Nazi occupation and terror, kept them alive through the valley of death, given them every last crumb of food and seen them to safety.

Alfred Wiener had managed to go to New York, and Camille Aronowska, who was based in Switzerland but learned of the prospective exchange, informed him of it. He also received a telegram from the Red Cross, which said that his wife, Margarete Wiener, and the children had escaped from Germany to Switzerland. However, there was a final bit, which said:


She had done and given everything that she could to save her daughters in Bergen-Belsen and was so weakened by the experience that she literally died on the train as they escaped from that climate. The fragility of freedom.

Whether we are talking about Elfriede Scholz, the community of Oberstdorf, the Wieners, the Finkelsteins or Marianne Grant, whose daughter mentioned this, too, Primo Levi said:

“It happened, therefore it can happen again.”

The fragility of freedom.

We must remember, and we must ensure that, although Primo Levi worried, it can never happen again, even though we know that that is such a difficult task and statement to honour.

Photo of Michael Marra Michael Marra Labour

I thank colleagues for their very fine speeches, and I thank Paul O’Kane for giving us the opportunity to renew, in this annual debate, our Holocaust remembrance through reflection and witness. The need for that becomes ever more pressing year by year, as members of the generation who lived through the Holocaust pass. Their witness must not be lost with them.

The Holocaust is history’s greatest horror. It was both the confluence of ancient hatred and industrial modernity and the fullest expression of nationalism, which was given form by an efficient and ruthless state that tore down the doors of family, faith and fraternity and replaced the human dignity of the soul with collated lists of category, of statistics and of method and calculated means. That project begat the most notorious statistic of all—6 million dead.

In 1949, Theodor Adorno said:

“To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.”

Where could beauty be found in a world that is capable of such horror? Was it not trite to find form? Was it not whimsy to seek prose?

How do you write about the Holocaust? That was a question that the late novelist Martin Amis, who died in May last year, walked around for most of his literary career. He was a late stepfather to Jewish daughters, and the Holocaust gained ever greater salience in his writing, although it had been a feature of it from his early career. His 2014 novel, “The Zone of Interest”, features the idyllic life of a concentration camp commander and his wife, who live just over the wire. Of course, we all live just over the wire. For days and even months, we can avert our eyes, yet we cannot avoid—as they could not—the stench of decay.

The Holocaust draws writers and readers in ever greater numbers. Colleagues have cited some of those works already—they include popular books such as “The Tattooist of Auschwitz”. We also have films such as “One Life”, which is an account of the heroic service of Nicholas Winton and his role in the Kindertransport programme. Such works open the hearts and the minds of audiences, and they prompt the biggest and most essential of questions: “How?”, “Why?” and, most urgently and repeatedly, “Could it happen again?”

It was in Amis’s “The Zone of Interest” that I first encountered this quote from W G Sebald on the Holocaust:

“No serious person ever thinks of anything else.”

Amis wrote of the exceptionalism of the Third Reich: it is our duty as elected politicians to see glimpses of it everywhere. Does our state stray too far? Will artificial intelligence make racism ever more efficient? Is our justice blind? Are we truly free?

On Tuesday night in this Parliament, the German consul general recalled the first expulsion of the Jewish Poles in 1938, in what is known as the Polenaktion. She was discharging the most solemn duty of the German state. She also told us of the hundreds of thousands of Germans who, in recent days, had gone on to the streets of their cities and towns to stand in the face of rising fascism, the far right, nationalism, ethnic hatred and economic alienation, and of time looping and history repeating itself. Never again. Never again.

We speak today in the livid aftermath of the largest and most deadly assault on Jews since the Holocaust. On 7 October, Hamas slaughtered the innocent and raped and tortured 1,269 Jews because they were Jews. It did so in the hopeful knowledge of the horror that would be visited upon innocent Palestinian people.

History tells us that we cannot give up on peace, no matter how forlorn or how remote a prospect that may feel. That is our remembrance.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

I thank Paul O’Kane for leading this year’s debate.

Since I was first elected, I have spoken in a number of Holocaust memorial debates. Today, I had a look through my notes from those earlier speeches. One of the core purposes of the day is to remind us of the need to work proactively to ensure that something like the Holocaust could never happen again. Those seven years of notes made for pretty depressing reading.

In 2017, I spoke about how fascists create their own alternative reality, then set about making the rest of society believe in it. That alternative reality is a hateful false reality, in which some people are less than human.

We are all familiar with how the Nazis went about systematically dehumanising Jews, Slavic people, Roma, LGBT people, disabled people and others, and with the importance of media support to their success in doing that, which Paul O’Kane referred to in his opening speech.

We are a century on from the start of the Nazis’ rise to power, but have we really learned the lessons of the darkest period in human history? A century ago, the owner of

The Daily Mail aligned himself with Hitler and ran the headline, “Hurrah for the blackshirts”.

The first time I spoke in a debate such as this, seven years ago,

The Sun

—this country’s biggest-selling newspaper—had recently published a column that described refugees crossing the Mediterranean as “cockroaches” who should be stopped by gunships—language that caused the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights to intervene to point out that that was exactly how the Nazis had described Jews and other groups. Today, we see dehumanising language being used against the desperate and vulnerable people who are crossing the English Channel, against trans people, against Palestinians and against other marginalised groups.

The Holocaust did not start with gas chambers, the Rwandan genocide did not start with machete-wielding gangs, and the Bosnian genocide did not start with the massacre at Srebrenica. They started with dehumanising language and misinformation, with extremists pushing the limits of debate, and with efforts made to suppress the voices of the groups that were being targeted. Can we really say that the 21st century United Kingdom is doing all that it can do to live up to the commitment that the Holocaust must never happen again?

Seven years ago, Donald Trump had just taken office and major publications in the United States were running puff pieces on neo-Nazis with headlines such as,

“Meet the dapper white supremacist riding the Trump wave”— the “dapper white supremacist”. This year, the prospect of Trump returning to the White House is a distressingly realistic one. How must the Jewish community in America feel when his first election was quickly followed by events such as those at Charlottesville, where uniformed white men held a torch-lit march chanting,

“Jews will not replace us”?

Across Europe, the far-right surge that appeared to have subsided a few years ago has begun again. A left-to-right broad democratic front may have taken back the Government in Poland, but fascists have just won a shock victory in the Netherlands on a platform that demonises Muslims in exactly the same way as the Nazis’ early platform demonised Jews. Sweden’s centre-right Government is entirely dependent on fascist members to stay in office, and Italy’s Prime Minister leads a party that traces its lineage straight back to Mussolini.

Germany has just been rocked by revelations that senior figures from the AfD party attended a meeting with neo-Nazis that included a presentation on how they could go about deporting people who are not ethnically German if they ever took power, which is not a distant prospect when the AfD is currently polling in second place nationally and in first place across swathes of eastern Germany. The cordon sanitaire is fraying and, in a clear and distressing parallel with Germany’s ruling parties a century ago, mainstream politicians who are desperate to hold on to or get into government are co-operating with the far right and with those who trace their roots back to the fascists who brought about that dark period in our history.

When you treat fascism as simply another political view, you have conceded legitimacy that it does not deserve and should never have. Its ideas become an acceptable part of mainstream discussion when inciting genocide is not an acceptable or legitimate point of view, and believing that you can win the argument by giving those people at platform for debate and then challenging them misunderstands the problem.

Fascism is not rational. Fascists and others who advance dangerous and lethal agendas are not interested in winning the debate. They just want to implement their wicked world view, and they are not going to play by the rules that the rest of us follow in a liberal and democratic society because they do not want a liberal and democratic society in which their argument might win a battle of ideas. We cannot ever allow them to win again.

Today, we remember the victims of humanity’s worst crime, when 9 million people, including 6 million Jews, were slaughtered in the Holocaust. We must think seriously about how we turn our determination never to allow that to happen again into a practical reality. It is not enough not to be a racist or a fascist; we must all be active anti-racists and anti-fascists. That is the only way in which our statements of “Never again” can truly mean something.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

It is a privilege to rise to speak for my party on the important occasion of our annual commemoration of the Holocaust. I am grateful to Paul O’Kane for leading the debate, which has been characterised and punctuated by thoughtful and moving contributions, not least from Jackson Carlaw and Michael Marra.

As we have heard and will hear again this afternoon, the Nazis engaged in the most horrific and barbaric acts. There was the mechanised slaughter of 9 million people, 6 million of them Jews—a genocide that killed two thirds of Europe’s Jewish population. Entire communities, huge segments of entire races and, indeed, anyone who the Nazis declared to be either deviant or defective were rounded up and shipped to camps such as Auschwitz and Belsen to be murdered.

As we have heard in speeches such as that of Ivan McKee, today is also an important opportunity to remember the victims of other genocides around the world—in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur—all of whom were tyrannised, oppressed and tormented simply because of who they are.

Monsters are real. They might wear business suits or military uniforms, but we see the evidence of their works in the bleaker chapters of human history, and today we mark the darkest chapter of all. The horrors of the Holocaust are a grim and tragic reminder of what can happen when we fail to recognise and challenge those monsters, and when we turn a blind eye to them. Horrific acts of this kind are enabled by the passivity of those with the power and the agency to act and to stop them, but who choose not to.

Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz, warns us against that when he tells us:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

The haunting memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, standing as it does at the heart of Berlin, symbolises the particular horror that can occur when those in power become corrupted and when domination trumps any sense of service to one’s fellow human being. There is no limit to how bleak things can become.

We should acknowledge that the Nazi regime was made possible only by the blind capitulation of thousands of otherwise normal people. The Nazis were successful at mass murder because they desensitised it, normalised it and buried it under the drudgery of bureaucracy. They inured every level of government and the military to atrocity using endless layers of bureaucracy that reduced millions of precious lives to the lines of a ledger book.

As we have heard many times today, the theme of this Holocaust memorial day is “Fragility of Freedom”. The word “fragility” rings scarily true just now. We have seen democratic institutions tested the world over. Some of them are facing tests still now. Authoritarianism is on the rise, and war has returned to continental Europe.

If we look even at modern-day Germany, we will be alarmed and heartened in equal measure. The rise of Alternative für Deutschland, the far-right nationalist party in Germany since the Nazi era, is deeply concerning. However, just last weekend, and in recent days, tens of thousands of Germans have taken to the streets to protest right-wing extremism, following reports that senior AFD members were present at a meeting at which the mass deportation of millions of not just immigrants but anyone who they did not deem to be properly German was discussed. That was a chilling echo of the past.

We in the Liberal Democrats and members across the chamber stand with those who took to the streets in defiance of that extremism. We must never be complacent. We must always remember the consequences of that complacency.

I have previously told the story of when I spent some time in hospital, and a man in the bed opposite volunteered his belief that the Holocaust was a hoax. In the argument that followed, he revealed that the basis of his position was rooted in the videos that he had seen on YouTube. Challenging antisemitism and Holocaust denial falls to each of us, wherever we find it, as does educating our children and young people about the horrific reality of the genocides that have taken place across our world.

The fact that today we are living among many of the communities that the Holocaust sought to extinguish, and that we stand united across the chamber in our remembrance of those awful events and in our opposition to the twisted ideologies of which they were born, is evidence that the Nazis failed. That sort of darkness will always fail, but only if we stand unflinchingly together, united, and resolute against it.

Photo of Jackie Dunbar Jackie Dunbar Scottish National Party

I thank Paul O’Kane for securing the debate on this important issue, and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for all the work that it does. I also thank Paul O’Kane in advance for hosting the Scottish national Holocaust event next week, when the Parliament will welcome pupils from Northfield academy in my constituency, who I believe will be speaking at the event. I am always pleased to see young folk from Aberdeen coming into our Parliament.

As the motion notes, the theme of this year’s Holocaust memorial day is “Fragility of Freedom”. Over the past few years and across the world, people’s freedoms feel much more fragile.

When I was younger, I remember thinking of the Holocaust as a one-off tragedy—an act of unspeakable evil, carried out by evil folk, who just kind of disappeared at the end of the war. Over the years—especially the past few years—I have come to realise that the Holocaust and other genocides are at the end of what tends to be a long journey. I have come to realise that the folk who carried out those acts were not always evil—that they were once quite ordinary, and that many went back to living ordinary lives. I have come to realise that saying, “Never again,” is, sadly, just an aspiration rather than the promise that it should be.

I have also come to realise how many challenges the groups that were targeted in the Holocaust continue to face. Can any of us say, hand on heart, that, in the past few months, we have not seen, at home or abroad, any bigotry and discrimination that is aimed at Jews, Gypsy Travellers, those with disabilities, or the LGBT+ community? I cannot say so. I think that those things are becoming more common and, in some circles, are starting to be seen as acceptable.

That situation is very dangerous, and we need to challenge it whenever and wherever we see it, because, before the death camps, there was the discrimination, the dehumanisation and the turning of folk against their own fellow man. I fear that we are not doing enough to prevent that from happening again.

When the details of the Holocaust first emerged, folk reacted with horror, and the world said, “Never again.” However, in the years since, and with varying degrees of recognition, we have continued to see that sort of atrocity. We saw mass killings in Guatemala and said, “Never again.” We saw them in Bangladesh and said, “Never again.” We saw them in East Timor and said, “Never again.” We have seen them in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Zaire, Darfur, Iraq, Syria and Myanmar, and we keep saying, “Never again.” In the years to come, when that list is, inevitably, even longer, will we just keep on saying, “Never again”?

Looking ahead, instead of just saying, “Never again”, we need to say, loudly and clearly, what we are saying today—as individuals and as a nation, at home and abroad. When we see discrimination, dehumanisation, persecution, and mass killings, we need to call those for what they are and call for them to stop. That is the least that we can do to show that we have learned the lessons of history, and to make “Never again” a reality.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Due to the number of members who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[

Paul O’Kane


Motion agreed to.

Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

It is an honour and a privilege to contribute to this debate to mark Holocaust memorial day 2024. I warmly thank Paul O’Kane for securing parliamentary time for such a poignant and sobering topic. We come together each year in remembrance, so that the Holocaust may never again be repeated.

A tragedy is now unfolding in the middle east. Israel has suffered the worst terror attack in its history at the hands of Hamas, and Palestinian civilians in Gaza are experiencing a humanitarian disaster.

What to say, after 1,200 Israeli men, women and children were slaughtered in 24 hours? Where to begin, after the rising tide of antisemitism that we have witnessed in recent months? Understandably, as we commemorate Holocaust memorial day, we look to the past. The devastating events in Israel and Gaza since October 2023 have shown us that we must also look to the horizon.

Experts argue that genocides do not simply happen; they are the culmination of a series of circumstances or events. They begin with the persecution of a particular group of people simply for who they are and escalate to annihilation—of lives, religion and culture. In a diary entry dated Saturday 20 June 1942, Anne Frank wrote:

“That is when the trouble started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees.”

She listed many restrictions in her everyday life, from having to turn in her bicycle to being forbidden from using swimming pools. She said:

“You couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that, but life went on.”

As other members have touched on, the theme for this year’s Holocaust memorial day is “Fragility of Freedom”. Anne lost her freedoms before she, ultimately, lost her life. The lives of millions of Jews were curtailed before they were brutally cut short. We must understand what precedes genocide and how the seeds of hatred and prejudice are sown, so that we might prevent it from happening again and again.

The conflict in the middle east must not become part of the culture wars that are waged on streets and screens. The nuance and complexity of crisis cannot be effaced for social media likes and views. With the rise of antisemitism incidents across the UK, Europe and the US, I worry that we have reached a tipping point—we cannot allow the clock to turn back.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I offer my apologies to my colleagues: I was not scheduled to speak today, because I have been off sick with a chest infection. However, I have made it to the chamber because how could I not speak in today’s debate? In a Parliament of 128 MSPs who are eligible to speak, this debate, given its importance, should have been oversubscribed. I will not take up too much of members’ time, but I will make two additional points over and above the eloquent and moving speeches that we have already heard today. One point will cast our eyes back in history, but the other point, I hope, will cast our eyes towards the world that we live in today.

The first point is that, in addition to the 6 million Jews who were exterminated—and that is the word that we should use—the events of world war two led to the victimisation, persecution, torture and death of some 9 million non-Jews as well. It is often described as the era of Holocaust because it extended far beyond the systematic targeting of Jews. Catholics, disabled people, Roma people, gay people, communists and freemasons. I am not Jewish, but I would not have stood a chance. Indeed, to this day, the forget-me-not badge is worn on the lapels of many a mason across the world in remembrance of those who suffered. Those three simple words, “forget me not”, could not be more apt to today’s debate.

Of course, the Nazis saw many people as threats for religious, cultural, ethnic, social, racial, political or sexual reasons, or saw them simply as a burden on society because they failed to sign up to Hitler’s growing fascism and violent nationalism. Many of those people were sent to camps and wore inverted red triangles. I know that because, on a recent visit to Brussels just a few weeks ago, I went to the museum of military history and I stood face to face—through a glass cage—with a pair of those striped pyjamas that we often see in Hollywood films. Those red triangle badges were on the pyjamas—they were real, not a prop. Someone had lived in and worn that item of clothing.

The second and perhaps more pertinent point that I want to make today has already been made—the Holocaust did not happen overnight. “Forget me not” means as much today as it did then, because Tess White is absolutely right—it was a creeping hatred and a series of events that led to mass murder. Of course, Kristallnacht, which Jackson Carlaw referred to, kicked off overt mass violence against Jewish people and their businesses, but that was the culmination of many months, if not years, of systematically targeting them. The boycott of their businesses was almost discreet when it started—the gossip columns of newspapers, the caricatures of Jews in satirical cartoons, the verbal abuse in the street and blaming them for things that happened in bygone years or, indeed, faraway places. Then the political rhetoric crept in.

Let us not forget that the Nazis were voted in democratically by their people. Germany was an unsettled country that had a nostalgia and an appetite for its former strength and glory. Opportunistic politicians promised that restoration of glory, which, of course, gave way to Hitler, who promised leadership and restoration of economic success and glory once again.

Oh, friends, how history repeats itself. The stab-in-the-back myth that is often referred to blamed Germany’s losses in world war one on betrayal, not on the battlefield. The communists, socialists and Jews were supposedly to blame for that almighty fall from power. Radicalisation of thought crept in. It started with boycotts, protests and placard waving, perhaps driven by political ideology or perhaps even well-meaning expressions of disapproval. It starts with blaming everyday people for the actions of Governments and army chiefs in faraway lands.

Looking at the polls across the European Union, we see the balance swinging and shifting in a dangerous direction. The parallels are true. Antisemitism is as creeping and dangerous today as it was in 1930s Germany, less than a century ago. Underneath it all, whether it be age-old, medieval, true antisemitism, antisemitism cloaked in modern outrage over other horrific events of war and conflict or simply a wider hatred and othering of those on the margins of society, the sentiment, causes and complacency are the same.

It is a dangerous assertion to believe for just a moment that the Holocaust was a thing of the past. A Holocaust, in some shape or form, could happen again. Forget it not.

Photo of Siobhian Brown Siobhian Brown Scottish National Party

I echo the thoughts of the other members in the chamber and thank Paul O’Kane for lodging the motion, which gives us a valuable opportunity to speak about the importance of Holocaust memorial day.

The horrors of the Holocaust are a stark reminder of the inhumanity and violence that hatred and prejudice can wreak if left unchallenged. I thank all the members for their powerful, thought-provoking contributions. Despite the political differences that we might have, it is deeply touching to see the chamber united in commemorating everyone who perished during the Nazi atrocities, as well as the millions who were persecuted in the genocides that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

This year’s theme for Holocaust memorial day is “Fragility of Freedom”. It reinforces the importance of opposing those who threaten the essential freedoms that underpin our society. As history tells us, genocide begins with the erosion of basic liberties. In Nazi Germany, the Jewish, Roma and Sinti people were initially banned from participating in activities that we take for granted, such as attending places of entertainment and enrolling in academia. As we are painfully aware, those cruel and prejudicial acts sowed the seeds of the mass extermination of millions of people.

This Holocaust memorial day marks the 30th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. That tragedy began with restrictions on people’s freedom, as they were instructed to stay indoors and not leave their homes. That created an environment for soldiers and the civilian militia to murder indiscriminately, resulting in the deaths of 75 per cent of the Tutsi population.

We must, of course, also pay tribute to the acts of extraordinary bravery in which people put themselves at great risk to preserve freedom and protect the lives of others by providing food, medication or sanctuary to those targeted for persecution. We should forever be indebted to them for those acts of immense sacrifice.

When we reflect on those tragedies, it is tempting to view them as so abhorrent that we could never possibly allow them to be repeated. We cannot turn a blind eye to the challenges that we face today. We know that there are people whose freedoms are being curtailed and who experience hatred and prejudice because of who they are and the group to which they belong.

That is why the Scottish Government, in our commitment to combating hatred and prejudice, has embarked on an ambitious programme of work. Last November, I spoke at our tackling hate crime and building cohesive communities conference, at which we launched our hate crime strategy delivery plan. The delivery plan shapes how we work in collaboration with our partners to enhance protections for those who are most at risk, while taking meaningful action to prevent hate crime from happening in the first place.

Putting people and communities with lived experience at the centre of our policies is at the heart of our approach, and that is essential to the delivery of our actions. We want to foster communities where everybody feels empowered, included and safe, and we want to address the societal attitudes that lead to the perpetrating of hate crime.

It is unacceptable for anybody to live in fear or to be made to feel as if they do not belong. Preventative work that builds strong, respectful and cohesive communities can stop the narratives that foster prejudice from taking hold.

We are clear that there is no place for hatred or prejudice of any kind in Scotland’s schools. I am sure that members on all sides of the chamber will fully recognise the vital role that schools play in helping our young people to value a diverse and respectful Scotland, supporting them to become responsible and truly global citizens, and helping to counteract prejudice and intolerance. It is essential, therefore, that our curriculum continues to support learners to develop their understanding of others’ beliefs, cultures and traditions alongside their own. Our aspiration is that they feel equipped to go out into the world, to be citizens of the tolerant and inclusive Scotland of which we all want to be part.

This following Tuesday, I, along with the First Minister, will be participating in the Holocaust memorial day Scottish ceremony. I commend our partners at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for their continued efforts in organising the event, which will also be attended by Peter Lantos, who is a Holocaust survivor. Chantal Mrimri and Sabina Kadic-Mackenzie, who escaped the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia respectively, will also be in attendance. I hope to see as many members there as possible, as we stand in solidarity to honour all those who have suffered.

In my final reflection, I remind members that, while the Nazis began consolidating their power, the German journalist Fritz Gerlich warned:

“The worst thing we can do, the absolute worst, is to do nothing”.

This year’s “Fragility of Freedom” theme provides possibly the most poignant illustration of the importance of heeding those words.

It is only through remaining unwavering in our opposition to all forms of hate, and in striving to protect freedom at any cost, that we can prevent genocides in the future, and instead build a better world for everybody.

13:37 Meeting suspended until 14:30.

14:30 On resuming—