Holocaust Memorial Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:17 pm ar 2 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Ceidwadwyr 12:17, 2 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it is humbling to speak in this debate after so many powerful, exceptional speeches, which I have been privileged to listen to, and to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, as well. I also pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister; to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for his truly emotional speech; and, as others have done, to the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the CST. I declare my interests in connection with Judaism—I am Jewish—and Israel.

The Holocaust did not start with World War II. The Stockholm declaration, signed not that long ago, states that its aim is

“to ensure that future generations can understand the causes of the Holocaust”.

I will focus on the events that culminated in the 1940s. As anti-Semitism once again pervades social discourse, public debate, national or social media, and even supranational organisations, I feel that the threat posed to the freedoms that liberal, western countries have built during my lifetime, and of which I have always been so proud, and perhaps too often taken for granted, is serious.

My family were mostly murdered by the Nazis. My grandparents were fortunate enough to flee Berlin and Vienna in the 1930s.

We have always been proud of the progressive tolerance, mutual respect, interfaith co-operation and human rights legislation that has been built up in our country. The free world committed to ensuring collectively that the virus of anti-Semitism would never again be allowed to flourish. We have this anti-racist legislation, we have Holocaust education and interfaith dialogue, yet anti-Semitism has returned despite it all. “Never again” is an empty slogan without understanding the background and recognising that what is happening right now is a potential rerun of the very hatred that led to the Holocaust.

I must pay tribute to so many noble Lords who have stood up with us against what has been happening to demonise Jewish people again. I thank my noble friend Lord Pickles and I thank every noble Lord who has spoken, so many of whom are doing wonderful work: the noble Lords, Lord Stevens, Lord Austin, Lord Bilimoria, Lord Davies, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Baronesses, Lady Anderson and Lady Ludford. I also thank my noble friend Lord Polak, who has tirelessly worked to protect Jewish communities and to foster interfaith and intercommunity relations, and those who are yet to speak. I am sure they will make powerful interventions as well.

Something is happening to western democratic discourse since 7 October. The late Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, of blessed memory, warned that the appearance of anti-Semitism in a culture is an early warning of collective breakdown. He likened it to a virus, and he explained how, like all viruses, it has mutated. Throughout history, anti-Semitism has been justified in some way by recourse to the highest authority, as he explained it, within the surrounding society. There was religion in the Middle Ages and in post-Enlightenment Europe, there was science. Today, the dehumanising of Jews seems to be originating in human rights, the very source of our civilised world, so that the only democracy in the Middle East is being accused of breaching human rights, racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and even genocide. The ultimate weapon of this new anti-Semitism is quite simple. It goes like this: the Holocaust must never happen again; but Israelis are the new Nazis; the Palestinians are the new Jews; all Jews are Zionists; therefore, the real anti-Semites of our time are none other than the Jews themselves. Sadly, these are widespread views among many communities, and they are infecting the far left, academia, the media and political life. I pay tribute, as others have done, to our honourable friend Mike Freer who has suffered so greatly.

Having spent decades curing itself of the virus of anti-Semitism, Europe seems to be being reinfected by parts of the world that never went through the self-reckoning that Europe commendably undertook after the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism flourishes when people feel the world has turned upside down. Therefore, like the 1870s, when there was economic disruption and the rise of nationalism, today’s anti-immigration views are another warning of which we must take heed. We must not take freedom for granted. We must make sure that those millions did not die in vain and pray that we learn the lessons in time. We must not forget where prejudice, hatred and evil lead.

Let me end on a message of hope for the future: the Holocaust survivor Rose Schindler said that where there is no hope, there can be no survival, so I am hopeful that we will recognise what is happening and be able to intervene in time.