Holocaust Memorial Day - Motion to Take Note

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

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 2:12, 2 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, we have been here for over four hours and I do not know whether I can quite do justice to everything that has been said. Thank you—it was an amazing debate, one that I will never forget. I want to say a really personal thank you to those people who have spoken today and for whom, either through their family history or their heritage, the Holocaust is so much more important. Those of us who, like me, do not have that in our heritage or family history cannot imagine what it is like. I thank them for actually saying what they feel today. That was the powerful part of this debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is just a hero; I have to say he is one of mine, even if he is from that side. I thank him for what he has done and continues to do. He could not have been more welcome as a child coming into this country and I thank him for everything he has done for us.

I do not know what to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson. The testimonies she brought to us, particularly the testimonies of the young people who were at that festival, are something none of us should ever forget. We should remember them when some things, particularly in the media, are said about the Jewish people and Israel today.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley: yes, he has differing views from some of us, but I thank him for what he said.

My noble friend Lord Polak spoke on behalf of Sammy Barnett. I cannot thank Sammy directly, but I can do so through my noble friend. The bravery of a young man telling his story, when perhaps he does not feel very brave and feels out of his depth, is amazing. He is exceptionally brave to tell that story, and I thank him for that. I am sorry that my noble friend’s grandchildren feel unable to go to school, or that they are even questioning whether they can do so. That is not what we want in this country.

I thank my noble friend Lady Altmann, who I have heard many times describing her private family history, for reminding us that we can still have hope. We might not think so at this time, particularly after 7 October, but we still have messages of hope out there.

The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, said that sometimes you feel helpless. We in this place should not be feeling helpless. We are really lucky: we can speak up, as we have done today, and bear witness to everything that happened on 7 October and keep talking about it, keep moving forward and keep on top of it. We should not feel helpless, and I do not want the noble Baroness to feel that way, because I think we are lucky. It is important that people in a place of influence—I hate to use the word “power”—such as this talk about things like this all the time.

I thank my noble friends Lord Gold and Lord Sterling and the noble Lords, Lord Young of Norwood Green and Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, for their testimonies. They have all made a difference today, and they are something that all of us in this Chamber will not forget.

I say a special thank you to my noble friend Lord Pickles. He seems to be everywhere that I am when we are talking about the Jewish faith and the Jewish community, and I know it is in his heart. He says that “Never again” will be listened to only if it gets into our hearts. I know it is already in his heart, and he continues to work to ensure that that happens.

I cannot answer everything, but I shall read the whole debate and then send a letter out and put a copy in the Library. However, a couple of themes came out that I found very strong. The first was that this did not start with the Holocaust or with World War II; it started with politics and people, and with debates probably like this one, although not going in the right direction. Then there was the propaganda that we heard about at Nuremberg. That is the bit that is important for us, as we move forward, to take more notice of and look more into, rather than just looking at what happened in World War II. I am sure my noble friend Lord Pickles will take that forward; indeed, he probably already is.

It is important for the whole world to realise that these things do not start slowly. We must nip them in the bud and catch them because we can see them leading to something dreadful again. My noble friend Lady Altmann brought that up, as did the noble Lords, Lord Singh and Lord Parekh. We have to learn the lessons not just of the Holocaust but of how we got there in the first place. Many noble Lords mentioned that it was not in the last century but before that, and we need to look at that as communities of the world.

The second theme that came out strongly, from the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Young of Norwood Green, the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox and Lady Smith, and my noble friend Lord Gold, was education. We go back to thanking the Holocaust Educational Trust and others—I shall speak a little more about them in a minute—for all that they do, but we must support them. We must keep the language and the stories going. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for those two wonderful stories from Naomi and Mariana, because she will remember and repeat those stories, but Naomi has gone, and I think Mariana has gone. All the Holocaust survivors who I get so much knowledge from are getting increasingly very old. That is why, as I said, we want to get the Holocaust memorial built: I want some of those survivors to still be there. I thank the noble Baroness for those testimonies; they are so powerful.

I have probably forgotten many people; I am really sorry. There are a couple of points I want to answer, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Austin. He quite rightly challenged us on the fact that Holocaust Memorial Day is now extended to other genocides. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust did that and wanted that, but some places that commemorate the Holocaust do not use other genocides. It is up to those people what they do, but there is a United Nations International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide on 9 December. Perhaps we in this House should remember that.

I am going to stop there because I am conscious of the time, but, as I said, I will go through the whole debate to see whether I can answer any other specific points. Building on the importance of education, I thank your Lordships, on their behalf, for the many tributes to the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in the important work they do. It is import that we continue to support them to do that work to raise awareness and understanding, especially among young people. The work they do is impressive and invaluable, and if any of your Lordships have not seen some of it, I suggest you talk to them. Some of the stuff they do in prisons, in particular, is very interesting.

However, there are some other people in this country who are doing wonderful things, and I do not think they are ever mentioned in these debates. I want to bring up just a few of them, if your Lordships have just another few minutes. We are greatly blessed by these institutions, which are dedicated to broadly similar aims. Holocaust Memorial Day provides a fitting moment to reflect on the work that they do. I mention first the wonderful work done by the Wiener Holocaust Library, founded by Dr Alfred Wiener. He was looking at the roots of the Holocaust well before the Second World War; we can learn from that. It is one of the world’s leading and most extensive archives of the Holocaust and the Nazi era. I expect the story of how the library came into existence and came to London is well known to your Lordships—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, knows it—but if you do not know it I suggest you look it up, because it is another inspirational story.

Just before Holocaust Memorial Day, Her Majesty the Queen became the first royal patron of the Anne Frank Trust UK. As we have heard, the trust uses Anne Frank’s tragic story to teach about where anti-Semitism and prejudice can lead if it is not challenged. From listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, we know that even young children can get close to Anne Frank’s story, when the Holocaust may be too big for them to understand at that age.

There are many wonderful institutions outside London, helping people across the country to access powerful and effective educational opportunities. The National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Newark, Nottinghamshire, is a genuinely inspirational place to which I expect many noble Lords have already been—if they have not, I urge them to go. The centre was the brainchild of Stephen and James Smith, along with their mother Marina, who in 1991 visited Israel’s national Holocaust museum and wanted to bring something back.

The Holocaust Centre North in Huddersfield is another valuable and important institution. The success of that centre is testimony to the work of the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association, and the late Lilian Black—may her memory be a blessing—and many friends of the HSFA. In 2023 the Holocaust Centre North was awarded the first King’s Award for Voluntary Service, in recognition of the involvement of survivors and members of the second and third generations, as well as friends and allies in various aspects of their work.

Heading across to the north-west of England, we see the Lake District Holocaust Project. This is an interesting project that I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, knows about, established in 2013 to remember 300 Jewish orphans who were sent to the Lake District to recuperate after the war. In June 1945 the Home Office gave permission for 1,000 Jewish orphans aged from eight to 16 to be brought to the UK for recuperation. In the end, 732 of them made the journey, with 300 arriving in the Lake District. These children had been discovered in notorious ghetto camps near Prague, but many had been used as slave labour in camps across Nazi-occupied Europe for many years. Many of the boys went on to lead really successful lives. The most successful was the late Sir Ben Helfgott—may his memory be a blessing—who was at the forefront of campaigns to introduce Holocaust education and remembrance.

There are also many smaller projects, and I mention one in particular—Learning from the Righteous, a Holocaust education charity that promotes dialogue and understanding to tackle racism and discrimination through learning about stories of resistance and rescue during the Holocaust. That is just a small sample of what is going on across this country. I hope that noble Lords do not mind me mentioning them, because they do not get mentioned very often. I want to thank them all in Hansard for their very important work. We need to keep supporting them in order for them to continue to educate our country.

I want my final words today to focus on Holocaust survivors, and the survivors of subsequent genocides. I have had the honour to hear testimony, as many noble Lords have, from survivors of the Holocaust, and from Cambodia, Srebrenica and Rwanda. I think we can all agree that listening to survivors of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides has a profound effect on us.

This year, Janine Webber shared her experiences at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Holocaust Memorial Day event. Janine was born in Lwów in Poland—now Lviv, Ukraine—in 1932. Janine shared her story and that of her family, of how she survived the Lwów ghetto, and how her uncle found a Polish farmer who was willing to hide her, which was just the start of a further ordeal. We heard about her struggle through many years to survive and how eventually, after the war, she made her way to Paris—this was all while she was a schoolgirl, and very, very brave—and then to London in 1956. Janine still lives in London and regularly shares her testimony with schools.

At this year’s Holocaust memorial ceremony at the Guildhall, we heard testimony from Mala Tribich MBE, sister of the late Sir Ben Helfgott, Ivor Perl BEM, Vera Schaufeld MBE and Antoinette Mutabazi, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi. It is our duty to ensure that their testimony is never forgotten. Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said that he believed

“firmly and profoundly that whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness, so those who hear us, those who read us must continue to bear witness for us. Until now, they’re doing it with us. At a certain point in time, they will do it for all of us”.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 2.30 pm.