Holocaust Memorial Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 10:06 am ar 2 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 10:06, 2 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it is with respect and solemn reflection that I move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Holocaust Memorial Day is all the more poignant this year as we reflect on the Hamas terrorist attack on the people of Israel on 7 October. One of the 1,200 people murdered by Hamas was 91 year-old Moshe Ridler, who escaped from a Nazi camp in Ukraine and was sheltered by shepherds before liberation, and who came to live in Israel in 1951. Moshe was murdered in the Holit kibbutz, just over a mile from the border with Gaza. His bungalow was hit first by a rocket-propelled grenade and then by a hand grenade. To his 18 children and great-grandchildren, may his memory be a blessing. His death reminds us that the work of organisations such as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust has never been more important.

Holocaust Memorial Day is intended first and foremost to remind us of what was done to the Jewish people during the Holocaust. An attempt was made to annihilate the Jewish people in their entirety; an attempt to take anti-Semitism to its bitter and horrific conclusion. It is impossible to stand here today and not reflect on 7 October, which saw the deadliest attack against Israel since the state’s establishment in 1948. We witnessed the mass murder of over 1,200 Israelis by Hamas, the mass rape of women and young girls, and the abduction of 240 hostages. It is incumbent on us on Holocaust Memorial Day to speak the truth and to repudiate the attempt to level false charges against Israel. We must remember what was done to the Jewish people in the Holocaust and sound the warning of the threat that a resurgent anti-Semitism poses to them once again today.

The significance and meaning of the Holocaust came to be better understood through the heroic efforts of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who lost 49 members of his family to the Nazis, and who coined the word genocide. Three years after the Holocaust ended, and largely in reaction to what had been done then to the Jewish people, the newly formed United Nations defined genocide as a crime committed with

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

Tragically, since the convention was agreed, there have been other genocides, in Cambodia, Srebrenica, Rwanda and Darfur. This year we mark the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis. It is very much in the spirit of remembering the Holocaust that, on Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the victims of those genocides too.

Since the 7 October attack by Hamas, countries across the world have experienced a shocking increase in anti-Semitism. The Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom, has recorded over 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents since 7 October. This is the highest total on record, and, sadly, this increase is reflected across Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia.

The theme for 2024 is the fragility of freedom, highlighting that in every genocide that has taken place those who are targeted for persecution have had their freedoms restricted and removed before many of them were murdered. Holocaust Memorial Day is a time to reflect on how freedom is fragile and vulnerable to abuse, and to consider how to strengthen freedoms across the world.

The Nazi regime was characterised by the brutal oppression and persecution of the Jewish people and other minorities. The Nazis aimed to completely exclude Jews and other minorities from everyday life. Between 1933 and 1938, over 400 anti-Semitic laws were enacted. These laws limited every area of Jewish life. By 1935, the Nuremberg laws had changed who could be a German citizen. As a result, Jews and others lost their rights to citizenship, which not only stripped them of the right to vote but made them stateless. This meant that they could not get a valid passport for travel between countries or acquire a visa to leave Germany. With no escape, many met their deaths in Nazi concentration camps.

It is natural to presume that liberation, when it came at the end of the war, brought great joy. But for those Jewish men, women and children who survived, it also brought home the immensity of their loss. An extraordinary effort was needed to pick up the pieces of broken lives and to start over again. Many were lone survivors. Entire generations were murdered—grandparents, parents, children and cousins. Liberation day was the first day survivors were forced to confront reality. Up until then, survivors had expended all their efforts on the struggle to survive from one moment to the next. They had deflected attention from the world they had lost—their family and friends, their occupations, their neighbourhoods and their possessions. All of these had been taken from them long before liberation, but now they were forced to face the emptiness and try to build something new. Many did, with great success, but for some, such as Primo Levi, who wrote so powerfully about his experiences, it proved impossible to come to terms with the immensity of their loss.

Today, we also mark the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi. Tutsis who survived the 100 days of slaughter in 1994 had to rebuild their lives. Many returned to communities where their attackers still lived, in some cases as close neighbours. Returning home, they searched for missing relatives, only to find strangers living in their houses, their communities in ruins, and reminders of their families and friends who had been brutally murdered. Liberation meant physical freedom for many, but it also brought home enormous loss, from which many survivors never recovered.

Last week, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust hosted the annual Holocaust Memorial Day at the Guildhall. It brought home to me how privileged we are to hear first-hand from witnesses to the Holocaust and from witnesses to subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Srebrenica, Rwanda and Darfur. Sadly, the number of first-hand witnesses to the Holocaust decreases every year.

The Government remain committed to the creation of a new national memorial, and we are pleased that MPs overwhelmingly supported the Holocaust Memorial Bill. If enacted, the Bill will remove a statutory obstacle that has prevented the building of a new memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens. Our aim is that the completion of that memorial should be witnessed by Holocaust survivors.

In March, the UK assumes the important mantle of the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. We will use this opportunity to explore the circumstances that led to the Holocaust and to highlight the nature of a society that allowed mass murder in plain sight. We will also use the opportunity to reflect on the use of artificial intelligence in Holocaust distortion.

I pay tribute to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and to its CEO, Olivia Marks-Woldman OBE, and her team, which delivers the annual Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony and thousands of local activities across the country. Similarly, I thank the CEO of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Karen Pollock CBE, who works tirelessly to ensure that the next generation learn of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust and can visit Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of the very successful Lessons from Auschwitz programme.

I look forward to noble Lords’ reflections. As always, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the survivors and their families. I beg to move.