Holocaust Memorial Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 10:16 am ar 2 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Llafur 10:16, 2 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, this is an emotional day for me. I welcome the comments made in the very interesting, important and solemn introduction. I agree with every word that was said.

It is possibly appropriate to reflect on the film that has come out recently about Nicky Winton, the person who saved 669 Kindertransport children from the Holocaust. It was a film that drove me to tears. I am sorry for pausing here—I find this a very difficult occasion. I watched the film, and I thought the actor who played Nicky Winton got his part perfectly. It was a very emotional film. I was asked to write a review of it, and I found it difficult to judge it other than in terms of the emotions that it generated. He was a person who, when there was a serious issue that needed something done about it, decided that he would actually do it. He did not walk away, having said it was awful; he said he would do it, and he saved a lot of lives. Of course, many other lives were saved when Kindertransport children came from Germany and Austria, and some from Poland. Some 10,000 of them were accepted by this country. Your Lordships will know that there is a plaque off Central Lobby commemorating the event and thanking the people of Britain for having given us safety. It is worth having a look at that plaque if you have not already seen it.

I spent the first three days of this week in Berlin because of events to do with Kindertransport and Holocaust Memorial Day. I will say a little about this, because it is probably not so well known in this country. The events were supported by both our ambassador to Berlin and Germany’s ambassador to London. There were two features. One was an exhibition in the Bundestag called “Auf Wiedersehen”, which commemorated certain Kindertransport children. It was well documented and very poignant, with some letters written by them to their parents before the war started, and letters written by their parents to them. It was a powerful exhibition, and I commend it to the House authorities. We should move that exhibition to London and show it here. It is a real eye-opener, showing what happened and bringing back memories. It is not just a matter of 6 million people dying in the Holocaust; everyone was an individual. This exhibition shows exactly what these individuals went through.

There was also a memorial event at the Reichstag, to which I was invited along with Hella Pick, another Kindertransport person. We saw a very solemn event indeed. The president of the Reichstag, who had made several speeches in the time I was there, made a powerful speech drawing attention to what had happened, the tragedies of the Holocaust and the number of people who were exterminated in the camps.

Germany has come to terms with its past in a most commendable way. For the Reichstag to have such an event and to have speeches—two concentration camp survivors spoke and gave powerful testimony of what had happened to them—was a powerful symbol to me of a country that was determined to understand its past, atone for its past and reflect on its past and the lessons of it for the present time. We should be aware that Germany has done that. Most of us in this country do not think of German efforts as regards Holocaust Memorial Day, and I do not mind repeating that I think we should pay tribute to the Germans for the way in which they have come to terms with it.

I join in tributes paid to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for the work it does every year to commemorate—I had a candle in my window last week on the appropriate day, as advised by it. The Holocaust Educational Trust and the Anne Frank Trust also helped us to remember a very solemn day and make sure that we learn the lessons of the past as best we can. Unfortunately, as we look at the world today, we see that we are not learning lessons very quickly; we could learn them much better.

There has been a deplorable, regrettable, appalling outburst of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in this country—indeed, the Germans say that it is the same in their country. We need to work out better ways of commemorating the event and making sure that Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are swept away as best we can. I think that all of us in public life have had a certain number of abusive messages and such things—not just this week but over time. I shall not repeat some of them, because it just encourages people to do more of that sort of thing, but some of them were not very nice.

I want to end on a brighter note. Just before the pandemic, I was invited to talk about the Holocaust and the Kindertransport at a school in Tower Hamlets. It was a maintained school but one which I think was made up pretty much of all Muslim boys. Their project was the Holocaust and the Kindertransport. There were 300 or 400 boys. The first question asked by one of them was, “What do I say to people who deny the Holocaust ever happened? How do I deal with it?” I thought that was a terrific question to come from a Muslim boy in Tower Hamlets. It was terrific to find that the school was doing a good job. If that sort of educational can spread from our schools, it is a sign that we will go quite a long way towards tackling both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.