Holocaust Memorial Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 1:07 pm ar 2 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Gold Lord Gold Ceidwadwyr 1:07, 2 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I am very honoured to be taking part in this debate today and indeed to be following the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. I am also privileged, as are we all, to have heard such powerful and moving speeches.

Born a few years after the war, and only understanding in the 1960s the true horrors of the Holocaust from the safe comfort of my suburban life in England, I rather thought that it could never happen here—I still believe that—and that, even if there was a serious rise of anti-Semitism, as we have seen since 7 October, Israel, the Jewish state, was our haven and we could escape there. If our lives were truly threatened, Israel would come to our rescue, just as it did when it gave a home to those Jews who, after 1948, were expelled from the neighbouring Middle Eastern countries and when it rescued hostages from Idi Amin’s Entebbe in 1976 and 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in 1991.

Great Britain was the country where, in 1936, when Mosley’s fascists marched in London, a combination of Jews, Protestants and Catholics, all true East Enders, stopped them in Cable Street and effectively ended fascism in Great Britain. Now, nearly 90 years on, under the guise of stopping the war in Gaza, we have seen marches openly calling for the destruction of the only democracy in the Middle East and renewing anti-Semitic tropes that we have not seen here since the days of Mosley. The marches of the 1930s resulted in the passing of the Public Order Act 1936, banning the wearing of political uniforms. It is time for the Government to renew and modernise this legislation by banning the wearing of face masks in public marches and taking action against those calling for jihad and the destruction of Israel. I hope the Minister, in closing, will give us some comfort today that the Government will come forward with such legislation.

For me, the frightening lesson from the Holocaust is that, however safe and protective a society appears to be, there is no guarantee that it could not happen again, and in places where it was thought impossible for there to be such hatred. As other noble Lords have said, it is shocking that an excellent constituency MP, Mike Freer, who is not Jewish, is not seeking re-election as he fears for his safety because of his stand against anti-Semitism and his position on Israel.

The Jews in Germany pre 1933 were a thriving community. While accounting for only 1% of the population, they had strong communal organisations, were well integrated into German society, regarded themselves as true German citizens and were strongly represented in all walks of life, including medicine, law, academia and journalism. When Hitler came to power, that ended. Over the six years before the war, as the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, pointed out, more than 400 decrees and regulations stripped the Jewish population of their rights and property. From being citizens, they became outcasts. A Times obituary to Isca Wittenberg, reprinted on this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, stated:

“Isca … recalled a ‘happy childhood’ in Frankfurt—until 1933, when the Nazis came to power. ‘I was profoundly disturbed by how people, friends, could change so much one day to the next,’ she said. Local children became hostile, spitting at her. Antisemitic slogans appeared on posters in the street. She was no longer allowed to see her best friend, a girl from a Christian family who lived nearby”.

When I was at school in the 1950s, there was no Holocaust education. Today in England it is, of course, part of the national curriculum, and the work of the national holocaust trust in increasing awareness of the Holocaust, notably through its outreach programme, has been remarkable and deserves much praise. However, it seems to me that more must be done. Young people in particular are not joining the dots. They learn about the Holocaust—or, perhaps better still, hear about it—but somehow do not realise that calling for the destruction of Israel is anti-Semitism, and that Israel was born out of the Second World War to provide protection for Jews everywhere. Why do they not see that the brutality and wickedness of 7 October is a new form of hatred which cannot be condoned and must not be ignored?

Already the atrocities of 7 October, when at least 1,200 people were slaughtered—many of them children, with many women raped and abused and no sanctity given to the dead—seem to be forgotten or, at least, no longer given prominence in news reports. Just as the BBC religiously reports in each bulletin, as though by rote, that “Hamas is recognised by the UK Government as a terrorist organisation”, reference to the slaughter of 7 October and the hostages who remain in captivity is largely an afterthought, if mentioned at all.

We must not be complacent. It is a big error to assume that because the Holocaust is in the national curriculum our children really understand not only what happened but the risks that still exist in our modern lives. As through time we lose the few remaining victims of and witnesses to the Holocaust, it is the duty of each of us to educate those born since. As Jews say every year at Passover, it is our duty to remember the exodus from Egypt as though we were there. Similarly, the more we tell our children what happened less than 100 years ago, the greater the chance that we will learn from history how important it is to treat everyone equally, protect all our citizens and destroy the scourge of anti-Semitism.

It is for that reason that I applaud the Government’s stand against anti-Semitism and their unbending support for a new Holocaust memorial. I know that a number of people, some of them in this House—although fortunately not today—have questioned its location. While respecting these views, I believe that giving the memorial such prominence in being next to our mother of Parliaments shows the world how important we regard remembering the Holocaust to be. As to the growing anti-Semitism that so frightens us, our police must be uncompromising in their actions against those rising up, and our judges must give a clear, uncompromising message in their sentencing that anti-Semitic acts will not be tolerated and that those guilty of them will be strongly punished as an example to others.