Holocaust Memorial Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 10:22 am ar 2 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 10:22, 2 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I welcome today’s debate and thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, for opening it. I am honoured to take part. I also applaud the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, whom I shall mention later.

The briefings from the Holocaust Education Trust and from an organisation which I admit is new to me, Protection Approaches, have been most valuable. The work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in organising the remembrance events on and around 27 January is also much appreciated, as is that of the Antisemitism Policy Trust—which ran a recent oral briefing that I was grateful to be able to participate in—of the Community Security Trust and of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

I want to start by commenting on the appalling and frightening treatment to which Conservative MP Mike Freer has been subjected, such that he intends to quit politics, remembering, of course, that two MPs have been murdered in the last few years. I send him my support and best wishes. Like me, he is not Jewish, but his support for Israel and the fact that he represents Finchley and Golders Green, with its substantial Jewish population, have led at least some of his attackers to assume that he is—and in one case to call him a “Jewish pig”. This is a clear example not only of where hatred of Israel and of Jews as a people morph into one but of the fact that we are all, truly, in this together.

Not for nothing is this year’s chosen, and inspired, theme of Holocaust remembrance the “Fragility of Freedom”. We can see it right there in the experience of Mike Freer and of others—I very much regret that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is getting abuse as well—and in the fact that the horrendous, brutal mass atrocities of 7 October perpetrated by Hamas largely on Jews, celebrated in some quarters as acts of “resistance”, have been followed by an explosion in incidents of anti-Semitism, as well as of Islamophobia, across the globe, including, sadly, in this country.

We think at this time of the 1,200 people murdered on 7 October and of the 136 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza. As my colleague Alistair Carmichael MP told the other place,

“when I read stories about a restaurant opening in Jordan called ‘October 7’, frankly I despair. It is something that has to be called out and dealt with wherever it happens”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/24; col. 464.]

I am affected, I am ashamed, by such expressions of hatred, and I, like others. must stand up and be counted. As the poet John Donne wrote:

“No man is an island,

Entire of itself …

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee”.

In opening the Holocaust Memorial Day debate last week in the other place, Dame Margaret Hodge recalled how her grandfather came to England in March 1939, was classified originally as an “enemy alien” and was sent to Liverpool to live in unsanitary conditions, Jews housed with German Nazis. A few days after he arrived, Dame Margaret’s grandfather commented:

“Because of the lack of language skills very lonely, depressed, cannot memorise, miserable pronunciation. Living like a recluse”.

Even six months later, he said that those who stayed in Vienna

“may have saved themselves from all the horrors and all the difficulties of emigrating”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/24; col. 459.]

His freedom was indeed fragile, and those remarks cause us to reflect on our treatment of refugees today, our attitudes towards their undoubted courageous struggles and dehumanising language used against them.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, whose emotions today are so understandable, has done as much as anyone in this House, or indeed this Parliament, for the cause of refugees, especially child refugees, of which of course he was one. He was reported in the Guardian newspaper to have been very relieved at the demonstrations across Germany against the far-right AfD party, saying that

“it’s a good sign that people are demonstrating and saying this was not their sort of Germany”— that was reflected in the remarks that he made earlier. I strongly support his suggestion of bringing the Berlin Bundestag exhibition to London, perhaps even to this House.

Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert has inspired much admiration over the years, and her great-grandson Dov Forman has picked up her mantle. As he tweeted recently,

“it has been alarming to see attempts to erase the specific Jewish identity of the Holocaust’s victims. The Holocaust wasn’t just a human tragedy; it was a targeted genocide of 6 million Jews. Families were obliterated solely for being Jewish … It’s crucial to remember the Holocaust for what it was: a systematic, state-sponsored pursuit to annihilate every Jewish man, woman, and child. This was the racist core of Nazi ideology, a belief in a racial struggle that justified the total destruction of the Jewish people. To honour the victims, we must speak the truth of their identity”.

As we recall and commemorate other Nazi victims such as Roma, gay men, disabled people and political opponents, and other genocides and horrors such as in Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and the Rohingya, we must not lose sight of the specific nature and intent of the Shoah.

This is not the time to enter into the controversy about the siting of the Holocaust national memorial and learning centre, but I very much welcome the prospect of such a memorial and centre, wherever located. It must provoke action, as well as reflection on the vow of “never again”.

Dov Forman also commented on how

“this dark chapter in history wasn’t only about mass murder. It was the destruction of a rich Jewish culture and civilisation that had thrived for thousands of years. To remember the Holocaust is to acknowledge both the Jewish lives and the Jewish life that was lost”.

When I visit Holocaust or Jewish museums, as recently I did in Prague, or when last year I revisited Yad Vashem, I linger over photos of people and families going about their business, living increasingly integrated lives in their European countries, as they were in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Then I realise with a shock how fragile that apparent normality turned out to be, because of hatred of who Jews are, pure and simple.

Anti-Semitism in Europe has a very long history of routine ingrained intolerance, discrimination and second-class treatment, then growing into persecution, expulsion and pogroms. But the speed and ease of the rise of Adolf Hitler, his thugs and his twisted ideology of hate is of another dimension altogether, and what is deeply frightening and instructive is how all too much of society enabled it, or at least did not resist.

I spoke earlier of the NGO Protection Approaches, which makes a strong case for an atrocity prevention strategy to combine vigilance against incipient hatred with action to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity, and to end the impunity for it. It refers to the 2022 report from the International Development Select Committee entitled From Srebrenica to a Safer Tomorrow: Preventing Future Mass Atrocities Around the World, on how the UK can show global leadership in this regard. I do not know whether the Minister can say anything in her closing remarks about what our Government can and are doing on that score to prevent what I think she called “mass murder in plain sight”.

Finally, it is up to all of us to speak up, raise the alarm, hold perpetrators accountable and seek justice. The fragility of freedom means that it can slip away bit by bit, unless we are all eternally vigilant and resolute.