Holocaust Memorial Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:10 pm ar 2 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 12:10, 2 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton. This year’s theme, the fragility of freedom, is very poignant and relevant, and I join in with the thanks for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust for their vital work in ensuring that we never forget the scourge and horror of the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews and other groups of people in the Second World War. I thank them and others, including the group Protection Approaches and the Lords Library, for their briefings. Along with other Peers, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. His voice and life are an example to us all.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, talked of the importance of recognising the 10 stages of genocide, both in the past but also in our modern-day world. I pay my respects to the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis because of who they were, what they believed, and the community they came from. Voices from the past, such as Anne Frank, can continue to tell their story to new young generations, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, reminded us. We, our children and our grandchildren, must never forget. The voices of survivors have been vital, and this year we heard of the death of Sir Ben Helfgott. He spoke both of his experiences as a child in Buchenwald and Terezin, but also of his life after he arrived in the UK, and how he recovered—but never forgot—and helped others. His life and achievements were extraordinary. May his memory be a blessing.

In my contribution this morning, I will look at three of the other groups who were destroyed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, and how their fragility of freedom continues to this day.

Over the night of 2 to 3 August 1944, 2,897 Roma and Sinti people, mostly women and children, were killed at Auschwitz; 2 August is the day that the Gyspy, Roma and Sinti people mark their memorial, but it is important that we remember them too today. It is estimated that up to 500,000 Roma and Sinti people were murdered or died as a result of starvation or disease during World War II. Many more were used as forced labour, or subject to sterilisation or medical experimentation.

Today, the Gypsy and Roma community faces a very fragile future across Europe. Last autumn, research by the EU Council found that members of the community were suffering shocking amounts of bullying in the education system, prejudiced reporting by the media and threats to their legal status and rights, including as a result of recent legislative changes. We too in the UK have had legislation that affects the legal status and rights of our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community, and research also shows that GRT children are the most bullied community in our schools.

Hitler murdered 250,000 physically or intellectually disabled people in the T4 programme. People ask where God was in the Holocaust, but Pastor Martin Niemöller’s longer 1946 version of his famous confession, which starts

“First they came for the Communists”,

says:

“Then they did away with the sick, the so-called incurables”.

He wrote and spoke movingly about how his church initially supported the Nazis in euthanasia, then slowly realised it was wrong but remained silent for too long, after which he was imprisoned by Hitler. As a Christian, it is hard to hear. That is the truth of his famous confession, what he had to live with, and that is why, after the war he publicly called on the German people to understand the impact of their silence. He spent the rest of his life talking to people around the world about how dangerous bystander silence was, including visiting South Africa and then Rhodesia. He said we all have a duty to stand up for people being persecuted, even and especially when we disagree with their views. That is a hard thing to hear today, when our society is so divided.

This is not just history for disabled people. The fragility of freedom is close to us now. In the pandemic, “do not resuscitate” orders were placed on disabled patients’ files without their knowledge or their families’ consent. Thankfully, as soon as it was uncovered, the Government and the NHS issued clear instructions to stop. But be in no doubt—certain people, chosen by this grouping, died because they were discarded. Those with underlying conditions were also denied intensive care, and some were even told there was no point in taking them to hospital. Many disabled people, including me, heard from others arguing against lockdown that they were going to die soon anyway, so there was no point in trying to protect them.

LGBT people were also targeted by Hitler and the Nazis in the Holocaust. On 6 May 1933, the Nazi-run German Student Union and SA raided and looted the Institute for Sexual Science, renowned for world-leading research on LGBT people, which was run by Magnus Hirschfeld. It promoted acceptance for gay people and pioneered surgeries for transgender people. Some trans people worked there as staff, and some of those employees, most famously Dora Richter, disappear from the historical record after that raid and are assumed to have been murdered by the Nazis during or after the attack. Four days later, the archives and library of the institute were burned on the Opernplatz. Dr Hirschfeld, himself both gay and Jewish, was away on a speaking tour at the time, and lived in exile in France until his death in 1935. During the Holocaust, gay and transgender people were deported to concentration camps and murdered.

The freedom of LGBT people is increasingly fragile today. The level of murder and physical attacks grows year on year, and Uganda last year made being LGBT not just a criminal but a capital offence. That is the beginning of the ninth level of the stages of genocide.

All noble Lords who have spoken have said why this year’s theme is very pertinent. Genocide and crimes against humanity are never inevitable and can often be prevented. That is why we have to remember the 10 stages of genocide, reflect on them in our lives and society today, and never be bystanders again.