Holocaust Memorial Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 1:43 pm ar 2 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Deputy Speaker (Lords), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 1:43, 2 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, if I felt nervous at being a Jew, I feel doubly nervous after the worthy comments from the noble Lord, Lord Reid, which are very pertinent. I must first declare some of my interests. I am president of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel and a vice-president of the Jewish Leadership Council—and there is another long list which I will not bore your Lordships with.

I feel privileged to be part of this debate—although it seems to have taken a long time to get to the winding-up speeches. Wow; the speeches have been absolutely splendid and very moving. It is hard to pick one of them—it applies to every single one of them. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, must be one, because his memories of the Kindertransport and having lived through it are very pertinent. I am also extremely grateful to those who are not Jewish but who have come along to support and to speak. As the noble Lord, Lord Reid, so rightly said, this affects so many people, and it is nice to know that there are people other than Jews who feel as strongly as I do about this.

Let us be clear; all genocides are terrible. Every genocide is terrible. Why is the Holocaust at times singled out? In my view, it is just a genocide, but it was industrial killing. It was not just going off and killing people; it was having people going into chambers in order to be gassed and killed. That is why the Holocaust is so different, as was referred to by my noble friend Lady Ludford.

Holocaust Memorial Day is necessary so that people remember and learn from the past’s horrific events. For most people, these are events which they at best read about, or perhaps they have seen a film about the horrors. We have heard some more personalised views this morning.

In 2023, a number of Holocaust survivors passed away. They were witnesses able to share their experiences, such as, as has been mentioned, the remarkable Sir Ben Helfgott, a survivor mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and my noble friend Lady Brinton. The works of the Holocaust organisations—the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust—are to be highly commended.

Sadly, I am of an age—an age I do not always admit—where the Holocaust is more personal to me. My late mother and her five brothers were some of the 70,000 refugees from Nazi persecution who came to the UK before the Second World War, in between the wars. Her mother—my maternal grandmother—and her aunt and family, were alive at the end of the war in 1944, as far as we know. In 1945, they disappeared, completely without trace. It was mentioned earlier that it was not only the people in the camps who were killed; there were people who were alive during the war but who at the end of the war were never seen again. They lived in the small village of Szrensk in Poland.

Is it any wonder that Jews like me say—and I say the words mentioned so many times during this debate—“Never again”? Never again should that happen. Is it any wonder that Jews in Israel, the only state with a Jewish majority, have built into their psyche that they will not wait and accept that they should stand in line for the gas chambers? To my mind, that explains the Israeli reaction to the horrendous Hamas murders and abductions on 7 October, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and their relationship with the Holocaust. These were peaceful Israelis and their friends, almost all civilians, attacked in their homes by murderers, and murdered and mutilated. There were approximately 1,200 in the kibbutzim, and at a music festival, who were killed and mutilated—actually 1,200 killed. Over 200 hostages were taken—some now dead, some alive and almost forgotten.

A few days ago, I met some families of Holocaust survivors, which is always very sad and worrying. But the one who really affected me was a young woman in her early 20s who was present at the music festival in Israel on 7 October. When the murderous Hamas came and killed these innocent festivalgoers at this music festival, she found herself underneath a whole heap of dead people. She survived only because she was lying underneath this pile of dead people. How traumatising can that be? Can one wonder at Israel’s response to these horrors? No country could do nothing.

In my view, when Hamas attacked, it knew that it would get an armed response, and it welcomed that armed response, leading to untold suffering among the people of Gaza. But the people of Gaza were suffering under Hamas control; they still suffer, and will suffer while Hamas is there. Aid and building materials were misappropriated to build miles and miles of sophisticated tunnels. Have noble Lords seen those tunnels? They make the London Underground look antiquated.

What could have happened? All the money spent on underground tunnels could have been spent on making Gaza a sophisticated Singapore of the Middle East. It has a seaboard. It could have water produced from seawater and all sorts of things happening, but the money that went to Gaza was taken to build sophisticated tunnels in order to kill Jews.

It is hard to pick out all the comments made in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Pickles, talked about students, as did the noble Lord, Lord Austin. It affects so many people. What worries us, as mentioned by other noble Lords, are the denials that some of these things happened—this modern view, of which President Trump is an exponent, of fake news. There are many stories, but this one particularly worried me. I saw reposted a picture of Israelis throwing people into a pit and killing them. I looked at it and said, “But they’re speaking Arabic and they’re not wearing Israeli uniforms”. I looked it up and found it was Syrians killing the people in the pit, but it was in the media as Israeli terror. There is so much of this.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, movingly spoke about family and other genocides. It resonates when we talk about people’s stories. The noble Lord, Lord Polak, was very moving. I saw the young man he mentioned going off. I am sure he will talk for ages about his words being spoken in the House of Lords.

The noble Lord, Lord Polak, spoke about the late Lord Sacks. Jonathan and Elaine Sacks were, and she is, lifelong friends of my wife and me. They lived very near us, and we were friendly. His words would have been very resonant. He had a most marvellous turn of phrase. I mention him only because of how memories are stirred. Here we are on a Friday having a debate about the Holocaust, Israel, the Jewish community and others. I remember another debate obtained by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on a Friday, in which Lord Sacks wanted to speak. He had a problem, because the Companion says you have to be present at the beginning and the end of a debate. I remember him telling me that he had special dispensation from the most reverend Primate to leave before the beginning of Shabbat. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Polak, that it is at 4.46 pm today, so he still has a bit of time.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, spoke as a Zoroastrian. I must admit that I found it good to find that there is a minority smaller than the one I belong to. My noble friend Lady Smith spoke as a Catholic and made a very good point about other genocides. We must remember that the Holocaust was special, but all genocides are special in that people are killed.

People talk about the future and what could happen in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Some years ago, I had coffee in London with a member of Fatah, the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority and the opposition to Hamas. I asked this member of Fatah what I, as someone who has always been known for trying to find a compromise, could encourage the UK Government to provide for Hamas that it wanted in order to be part of a peaceful solution in the Middle East. This member of Fatah said to me, “Lord Palmer, they want only two things”. I asked, “What are the two things?” The answer was the killing of Jews and the removal of Israel from the map. How do you deal with that?

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, who mentioned the marches and the hate that comes from them. I will not go over all the points that he and other Members made very clearly, but there is one thing about the marches that really gets me. Let us say that a number of people go there because they are worried about the Palestinians. I understand that, but then they scream out, “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free”. They have not got the foggiest idea—or maybe they have—that “from the river to the sea” means, if noble Lords do not know, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. There was a video—I am not sure whether it was a spoof—from Utah in America in which people were asked which river it was, and they got the wrong river, which sea it was, and they got the wrong sea. The point is that, “From the river to the sea”, this chant that goes along on the marches, means the complete removal of the State of Israel. Perhaps people should remember that.

Back to Holocaust Memorial Day, which we are talking about. It is a day set aside to remember 6 million Jewish men, women and children murdered by the Nazis and collaborators, not to forget the killing of Roma, gays, the disabled and political opponents. This has been a very stimulating debate. I am glad that it was had, I hope that it will be repeated in the future, and I congratulate all those all around the House who have stimulated so much discussion today. Shalom.