[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair] — Holocaust Memorial Day

– in Westminster Hall am 12:00 am ar 20 Ionawr 2015.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Dr Coffey.)

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere 9:30, 20 Ionawr 2015

It is a privilege to have this opportunity to mark Holocaust memorial day. As colleagues will know, Holocaust memorial day falls exactly one week from today, on 27 January. I thank colleagues who supported the application for this debate, many of whom are here today: my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford North (Mr Scott), for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), for Watford (Richard Harrington), for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) and for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans). I also thank my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith and the hon. Members for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), for Dudley North (Ian Austin), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I am grateful to them for their support.

I pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust—I declare an interest as a member of the council of the trust—and I pay tribute to all that it does to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust to ensure that its lessons are never forgotten, and that we also keep in mind other holocausts that have taken place since 1945. It does very important work in giving young people the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. It does other good work as well, but that is very good work indeed. I know that many Members will have participated in those visits, as I have done. It is something that one needs to see for oneself.

This year is an important anniversary, because it is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet forces. When they arrived there 70 years ago, they found the remnants of the unique horror that had taken place there and in other death camps throughout occupied Europe. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, they found 348,820 men’s suits; 836,500 women’s dresses, all neatly folded together; pyramids of dentures and eyeglasses; and seven tonnes of women’s hair. As colleagues will know, some of the physical evidence can still be seen at Auschwitz-Birkenau and at some of the other camps.

I want to draw particular attention to the living evidence of the Holocaust in the form of testimony of survivors of the camps, many of whom were young children at the time, but who now spend their time telling groups of young people of their experiences. I pay a special heartfelt tribute to them for the work that they do.

This 70th anniversary is in some ways a special milestone in keeping such events in living memory, because the survivors are all getting older. I am always struck by their vigour, but they are getting older. It is important to keep their testimony alive for future generations to listen to and to understand what took place. I have listened to the survivors both in my constituency and elsewhere. It is a remarkable experience and a privilege to hear them. I pay special tribute to the survivors of the Holocaust in my constituency who visit schools, meet young people and tell them of their experience.

Take Alec Ward from Borehamwood. After a happy childhood in Poland, he found himself put in the ghetto at a very young age and was selected for work. His younger brother did not pass the selection and was taken away to be shot. Alec was then put to very hard work on the most meagre of ratios. When studying and reading his accounts, one wonders how he survived. He received one slice of black bread, some black coffee and half a litre of watery cabbage soup, and had very little protection from the minus 30° cold of the winter in central Europe. He was put to work on building roads and doing other slave labour. He summarises his experience of the Holocaust and remembers:

“The hangings of prisoners, the selections, the dead bodies lying at the barbed wire fences early in the morning of Jewish prisoners who tried desperately to escape...and were shot. The painful hunger and malnutrition. The beatings. The man who cried every time he saw me as I reminded him of his young son who perished at the hands of the Nazis.”

It was remarkable that Mr Ward survived, but he was eventually liberated from Mauthausen camp by the allies in May 1945.

Another remarkable man is Mr Josef Perl, who lives in Bushey, but was born in Czechoslovakia. In the spring of 1940, at the age of 10, he was crammed on to a railway wagon to be taken to Poland. On arrival there he witnessed his mother and four of his sisters being shot and falling into a pit only a short distance ahead of him. He also saw other members of his family suffer the same fate. It seems he survived only because of an air raid when it was his turn to be dealt with. He somehow survived amidst all this and he was put to work and passed from camp to camp, including Auschwitz-Birkenau. He describes his arrival at Auschwitz in memorable terms:

“There was screaming and shouting, guards were lashing out and beating anyone who could not get out of the way. Dogs on the end of short leads were barking and jumping up at new arrivals, viciously biting many of them. I saw old people, ill people, people so weak they were almost dead, come tumbling out of the wagons when the doors were opened.”

He saw a baby being thrown away by a guard

“like so much rubbish”.

Mr Perl was eventually put to work as well. Remarkably, he survived and was liberated from Buchenwald camp on 11 April 1945.

Listening to such remarkable men and women, it is hard for us to comprehend the scale of human loss in respect of those who perished and the severity of suffering of those who survived the unique horror of the Holocaust. It is important that we continue to hear their views. We know that there have been subsequent genocides since 1945 in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. Holocaust memorial day reflects such tragic events, which stand as a rebuke to the post-1945 world and remind us that genocide can still occur.

Recently, we have seen evidence of hatred and extremism closer at hand in Europe—as well as anti-Semitism—and extremism has entered the body politic in several places.

It is not on the same scale as genocide, but we know from history that hatred and extremism were the precursors to what took place in 1939 to 1945. We have seen a very extreme party—the Jobbik party—capture votes in Hungary, and, in the European elections last year, Golden Dawn captured nearly 10% of the vote in Greece. There are disturbing echoes when the deputy leader of a party such as Jobbik can stand up and call for the state to draw up a list of Jews who constitute a national security risk.

I welcome the robust statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minster that he has a policy of zero tolerance in respect of anti-Semitism. As he says, although the situation in this country is better than in many other countries, it is unacceptable that we have seen evidence of anti-Semitism here, including boycotts and attacks on Jewish charity shops and the disturbing survey of attitudes published by the Campaign Against Antisemitism recently.

I also welcome the work that is being done by the Holocaust Commission, which was launched by the Prime Minister last year and is due to report later this month. I look forward to the fruits of its work being brought forward, and I hope that the living testimony of survivors of the Holocaust will be preserved for future generations. We need to ensure that this country has a permanent and fitting memorial to the Holocaust and educational resources for future generations to learn about it.

Seventy years ago this year, the gates of the death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau opened and the world saw the full extent of the horrors perpetrated under the auspices of an extreme ideology. I hope—I am sure—that colleagues agree that we should never allow those experiences to be forgotten.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee 9:40, 20 Ionawr 2015

I congratulate Mr Clappison on securing this important debate and on his comprehensive, graphic and informative speech. As we mark Holocaust memorial day 2015, it is important not only to remember what the Holocaust was and what happened during it, but to relate it to the ills of today in this country and elsewhere. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he did that.

This year’s Holocaust memorial day is special, marking as it does the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is important, too, to remember that we mark the day in Parliament because of a decision we took, and that we did so on an all-party basis. The first Holocaust memorial day commemoration in the UK took place in 2001 because of a decision taken following a private Member’s Bill promoted by the then Member of Parliament for Hendon, Andrew Dismore. The House of Commons decided to commemorate Holocaust memorial day and has done so ever since. When the Bill was being debated in Parliament, some Members were, perhaps not opposed, but doubtful, and they questioned whether it was right to mark out one genocide. What has happened since has shown the value of having Holocaust memorial day, because we ensure that new generations know about the Holocaust while relating it to genocides that have taken place since.

The strength of the commemoration of Holocaust memorial day is that it is not an isolated event. It brings people together and provides a focus for commemorating the Holocaust and learning the lessons of it, but is not something that takes place once a year; it is part of a series of events taking place throughout the year. I too commend the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, of which I am a council member, in particular its educational work through the year with educators and students, including Lessons from Auschwitz and other programmes. We are talking not about one day a year, but about all the year.

I want to reflect on a recent event in which I took part, which has significance for Holocaust memorial day and for Holocaust remembrance. Last Sunday, I took part in a meeting of the Board of Deputies of British Jews—I am indeed a deputy—which was dominated by horrendous recent events: the murder of journalists at Charlie Hebdo, of a policewoman, and of Jews at a kosher supermarket, who were murdered simply because they were Jews. The anti-Semitic murders of French Jews did not take place in isolation—it was not one isolated event, but one of a series of anti-Semitic murders and attacks on Jews that have taken place in France in recent times, including the murder of three pupils and a teacher at a Jewish school in Paris. The cumulative effect of the murders and the series of attacks on French Jews has been for many of them to decide to leave France. We should all reflect on that.

At the meeting on Sunday, I heard excellent addresses from the Home Secretary and from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. They both pledged their support for British Jews and promised to increase security for British Jews in view of what was happening. I also watched the inspiring Ben Helfgott light the first of 70 memorial candles that are to be lit throughout the country to commemorate this year’s Holocaust memorial day and listened to his wise words. As I sat in the meeting, listening to what was being said and watching what was happening, I reflected on what it all meant.

I am shocked and outraged that we still have to concentrate on and be concerned about anti-Semitism in Europe. French Jews have felt the need to flee their homes because of their fear of anti-Semitism and their experience of killings and a series of attacks, and their sense that they were not getting support from the wider community—at least until last week, perhaps. In the United Kingdom, the situation is different: Jews are not being murdered because they are Jews, but disturbing trends must not be ignored. The Community Security Trust has monitored the numbers of anti-Semitic incidents, which are up sharply, as well as the increasing intensity of anti-Semitic discourse. Anti-Semitic comments that at one time would have been seen as unacceptable now seem to be accepted almost as the norm. Not so long ago, during a demonstration, managers at a major supermarket in London felt that a Jewish kosher counter had to be closed because of the pressure of demonstrators outside. Such things are deeply disturbing.

British Jews do not feel that they are in the same position as French Jews, and they are not. British Jews feel very firmly part of British society and themselves to be strong members of the British as well as Jewish communities. Nevertheless, a sense of unease is growing among the Jewish community here in the United Kingdom.

That should be registered, not only by other Jews but by the community as a whole. When the Home Secretary and the Communities and Local Government Secretary spoke to the Board of Deputies of British Jews on Sunday, they spoke about anti-Semitism and what had happened, as well as about how Jews and other minorities form part of the fabric of British society. We are all part of British society. As we approach Holocaust memorial day, we should all reflect on that.

The Holocaust was a horrendous event. The fact that anti-Semitism remains, that the virus of anti-Semitism has not gone, is something that should concern us all and give us all reason to reflect not only on Jews and other minorities, but on the nature of our society. An attack on minorities in the United Kingdom, whether on the Jewish community or other communities, is an attack on all of us. When we reflect on Holocaust memorial day and on the Holocaust, we should register what is happening and be determined as a society to recognise that minorities are part of our community and that anti-Semitism is not to be tolerated.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West 9:48, 20 Ionawr 2015

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Clappison on way he introduced the debate. I am not Jewish; I am Catholic, but I would have been proud to be born a Jew. As I look around the Chamber, I can see that many of us are post-war babies. We cannot imagine the horrors that took place all those years ago. For that very reason, we must never forget what happened.

The 27th of January this year marks 15 years since representatives from 46 Governments met in Stockholm to sign a declaration committing to educate, remember and research the dreadful events of the Holocaust. As my hon. Friend said, the date commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp —a place that was witness to perhaps the greatest failure of humanity ever. Holocaust memorial day also commemorates other genocides that took place in the decades after the second world war, including the genocide that took place between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia under the radical leader Pol Pot, the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, the genocide in Bosnia in 1995, and the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

It is pitiful to see that the world has not learnt enough from the Holocaust. As Mrs Ellman just said, we once again find ourselves watching such events without making a sufficiently decisive response. But the genocide in which the Nazis killed 6 million Jews still remains the most appalling failure of humanity: millions of human beings were tortured, used for forced labour and killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kulmhof, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and other places across Europe. Many of the victims underwent inhumane pseudo-medical experiments carried out by Nazi doctors in concentration camps before being sent to gas chambers.

It is now our duty to remember and to learn lessons from the terrible events of 1941-45 and make sure that we prevent genocide from happening again. Professor Gregory Stanton, who is famous for his work in genocide studies and prevention, has identified eight stages leading to genocide. The classification stage is when differences between people are not respected and a simple division between “us” and “them” is created—German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. That leads to the stage of symbolisation, when various symbols are applied to members of groups: as part of the symbolisation process, the yellow star was forced upon Jews under Nazi rule, as was the blue scarf upon people from the eastern zone in Khmer Rouge Cambodia. That leads to dehumanisation, where victims are refused any human rights, liberties, or dignity. During the following stages of genocide—organisation, polarisation and preparation—the destruction of a people is planned by the regime. That leads to extermination. What follows is the last stage, denial, where perpetrators or later generations deny the existence of the crime.

The Holocaust was more than a war crime or a genocide. It undermined the foundation of our civilisation, as it was carefully planned and executed by the authorities of Nazi Germany. That is why it is so important for us today to understand the mechanisms leading up to genocide—to ensure that we are ready to prevent it in the future by promptly punishing any hate crimes or atrocities.

As I said, the Holocaust was the greatest failure of humanity, but it was also a display of humanity at its finest. The Talmud teaches:

“He who saves a single life, saves the world entire.”

It is important that we remember those who, in the dreadful circumstances of Nazi propaganda and callousness, put their own lives at risk to save others. Irena Sendler, a Polish nurse and social worker, smuggled some 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto, providing them with false identity documents and safe housing. Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and member of the Nazi party, is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunition factories. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat, and humanitarian, is recognised for saving tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the second world war through his Schutz-Pass device. That hero is especially close to my heart, as I campaigned for many years to have a statue erected in his honour. I am pleased that the statue was eventually installed at Great Cumberland place in London, where it was unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen and the President of Israel. More than 25,000 non-Jews were recognised as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, which speaks volumes about the good side of human nature.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

I need to be somewhere else at 10 o’clock, so I hope my hon. Friend will forgive my intervening. Before he leaves the topic of the triumph of the human spirit, will he also reflect on one of the memories that all of us who have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau carry with us, of the number of young people from Israel carrying the Israeli flag who go round singing songs, whose spirit has not been dampened by what has happened and whose existence is a demonstration of the triumph of the human spirit over the evil that they are confronting?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. What he describes gives us hope for the future.

I am happy to see many wonderful initiatives taking place in my constituency to mark Holocaust memorial day, including a tree planting in Cockethurst park in

Eastwood organised by the wonderful Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation. As the Nobel peace prize laureate Elie Wiesel warned some years ago:

“To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice.”

I am therefore pleased to see that Holocaust memorial day has gained such momentum in the past 15 years, reaching out to thousands of people across generations and inspiring them to learn lessons from the past and keep the memory alive.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Order. I intend to call the Front-Bench speakers at about 10.40 am, leaving us just over 40 minutes for Back-Bench speakers. Five or six Members are trying to catch my eye and although I will not put a time limit on speeches at the moment I encourage Members to bear that in mind when speaking.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Llafur, Stirling 9:56, 20 Ionawr 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I will keep my remarks brief, as I appreciate that other Members want to speak. It is a pleasure to follow Sir David Amess. Like others, I congratulate Mr Clappison. I also wish to pay a special tribute to my hon. Friend Mrs Ellman, who has shown significant bravery over many years in standing up against anti-Semitism in this country and others.

I will give a few personal reflections about visits to Auschwitz and to Terezin in the Czech Republic, which I have visited a couple of times. That site is not as well known as some other camps associated with the Holocaust but a visit there can have an equally profound effect, because of the sheer cynicism that was shown there in what was, effectively, an industrial process of slaughtering people of all ages.

My first visit to Auschwitz, which I made thanks to the Holocaust Educational Trust, was an emotional experience for myself and the other Scottish MPs and Scottish schoolchildren on the trip. One thing from that trip that has stayed with me is that at the end of our visit, a young woman said, “I don’t believe this happened.” Once I had got over the initial shock, I realised that perhaps she could not understand what had happened because it was beyond her experience as a modern young person who uses electronic equipment and sees lives in colour. It was inexplicable to her. Despite seeing the evidence that the hon. Member for Hertsmere mentioned—the clothes, shoes, glasses and cases—she still could not get her mind around the Holocaust and what had happened in Auschwitz. If ever we needed evidence why the Holocaust Educational Trust needs to continue, she gave it to me that day—it came as such a shock.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Ceidwadwyr, Hendon

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz with the right hon. Lady last year. Is she concerned that the Campaign Against Antisemitism has found that one in eight people believe that Jewish people talk about the Holocaust to get sympathy?

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Llafur, Stirling

Everyone will find that shocking. Although we were not born when these things happened, we lived with the aftermath, and those of us who, like the hon. Member for Southend West, grew up in the post-war period, saw the images of the Holocaust on BBC television in black and white and had a broadening knowledge of it. That is why such debates, as well as the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and other organisations, need to be kept alive and to be re-energised.

My second thought is about going to Terezin. On the second occasion, we took two young people with us. For those who do not know much about Terezin, I should say that it was, effectively, a show camp—it had been disguised by the Nazis. They even brought the Danish Red Cross in. They dusted everything off, they painted the walls and they made it look as though this was quite a nice place to be held, but it was, in fact, a transit camp to Auschwitz. For me, that epitomises the fact that we are not talking about some random act of genocide or something that happened because of a few Nazis at the top: this was the industrialised extermination of people. That is very difficult for us to get our heads around.

None the less, some hope came out of Terezin. Despite the lives that people had to lead, the children still had art and music classes. Some of the beautiful pictures by the children, who led a horrible life, can still be seen in, for example, the Jewish museum in Prague and at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Anybody who goes to Terezin, or Theresienstadt, which is the German name for it, will see a small town that carries the weight of history on its shoulders. It is a town of sadness, even though people still live there today. The people in the town appear to carry that burden with them.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I have also visited a number of the places the right hon. Lady has been to, including the museum outside Jerusalem where tributes are paid to a lot of the people whose names have been mentioned today for the work they did. Will she join me in congratulating the Friends of Israel on the work it does, especially in Northern Ireland, where it has started going to schools to teach young people about the Holocaust and its aftermath?

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Llafur, Stirling

As the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, I like to think that, although we are not there to be apologists for any Israeli Government or any politician in Israel, the existence of the state of Israel is an important element not only in post-Holocaust history, because of the Holocaust, but in the future of the Jewish people.

I want now to talk about the visit to Auschwitz to commemorate the 69th anniversary of its liberation. It seemed a bit unusual to go on the 69th anniversary, not the 70th, but that was because of concerns about the survivors making the arduous journey—many, but not all, came from Israel. We joined politicians, clergy, rabbis, local government officials and others from across Europe, who came together under the sponsorship, and at the invitation, of the Polish President.

What struck me—I hope Dr Offord will have an opportunity to say more about this—was that we were sitting in a marquee, fully clothed in warm garments, in temperatures of minus 10 or 13° C, and listening to the words of survivors who had not had the luxury of having such clothes or the shelter of a marquee. We then went to say prayers with Christian clergy and rabbis for those who died in that awful camp. For me, that was the voice of Auschwitz—those survivors being there and saying to the world, “Auschwitz happened. We have to recognise that. It is not a figment of anyone’s imagination.” Given that it happened, democrats and people of good will across the world have to keep that flame alive and to make sure that these things never happen again.

Photo of Eric Ollerenshaw Eric Ollerenshaw Ceidwadwyr, Lancaster and Fleetwood 10:04, 20 Ionawr 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir, and to follow Dame Anne McGuire. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Clappison on securing the debate. These debates are almost becoming a ritual, and I say that as someone who comes from a faith where ritual counts.

As usual, Mrs Ellman put the emotional finger on it. When we woke up this morning—in England, in 2015—we heard accounts on the radio of children at a Jewish school lying on the floor practising for a possible terrorist attack, so there is no question but that we should be doing what we are doing today.

I want to say one or two personal things. First, when I was elected in 2010, a previous holder of the seat and honourable Member of this House, Stanley Henig, was just about keeping Holocaust memorial day going there. In 2011, it was held in a small room in the chaplaincy in Lancaster university—the actual constituency has a minute Jewish population, so this was perhaps more of an issue in terms of the campus. Then, however, the National Coalition Building Institute, to which I pay tribute, and particularly a lady called Liz Neat, got hold of things. With the support, to be fair, of Lancaster city council, we then began to hold a much bigger event on 27 January around the war memorial next to Lancaster town hall, and we have done so ever since. My job is to read the dedication to the righteous gentiles, whom my hon. Friend Sir David Amess talked about. Next week, I am proud to say, we will be in the centre of the town, outside Lancaster castle, which has now opened for the first time—it was a prison, but that closed.

Hon. Members have paid tribute to survivors who can deal with the emotion. I pay tribute to Stephen Breuer, who turns up every time to read the dedication. This year, we are quite proud, because we are going to host one of the 70 candles mentioned by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside, which were designed by the artist Sir Anish Kapoor for the 70th anniversary.

It is perhaps more important that those things are happening, and recognised, in the small town of Lancaster—officially, it is a city—with its minute Jewish population, than it would be in other areas. Hon. Members have talked about the post-war period, and I grew up in the 1950s, after the second world war, but I do not remember any mention of the Holocaust. If we read the history—I taught history—there was some mention of the Nuremberg trials when they were going on, but there was little mention of the Holocaust when I was growing up in that part of Lancashire, certainly not in school. That remained the case until—this was another anniversary—Adolf Eichmann was put on trial, having been taken from Argentina, when these issues were suddenly mentioned again.

Quite rightly, survivors who had escaped the Holocaust and come to Britain—I think of people I met when I was a councillor in Hackney, representing Stamford Hill, which has a significant, visible Jewish population; I have talked about that before—wanted to get on with their lives, and many were able to do that. I am extremely proud about that, and I know they are proud about it too.

As I say, these things perhaps only got talked about after Eichmann. Of course, we were also involved in the cold war, so that raised other big issues. When I was a teacher in the 1980s—I have mentioned this before, but it still needs to be underlined—the Government brought in the national curriculum, and the Holocaust was to be taught at key stage 3 of the history curriculum. As I have mentioned in previous debates, we should not underestimate the arguments that went on in the teaching profession about whether the subject, which is taught particularly in year 9, was suitable and whether children of that age would be able to deal with it.

Having been a teacher for 38 years, I can tell the House that children can deal with almost anything, and they were able to deal with being taught about the Holocaust. It was quite eye-opening. I have mentioned before that when I was teaching the subject, children—sixth formers or 14-year-olds, so hardly children, really—said that they knew nothing about it until they got to the classroom. That is another reason for continuing the ritual, if we call it that, of Holocaust memorial day. The day must be recognised.

I pay tribute, as other hon. Members have done, to the Holocaust Educational Trust, and Karen Pollock particularly—she is sitting just behind me. I am thinking particularly of the trips to Auschwitz, and the school ambassadors. At Holocaust memorial events, it is incredible the way those children can describe their visits and articulate their experience, as hon. Members have done this morning.

When I was a teacher, I avoided going to Auschwitz-Birkenau; I had mixed feelings about whether it would be just a museum, and how I would deal with it, having taught it over and over. In fact, it was because of Karen nagging me that I finally went a few years ago. The emotional experience is difficult for me to articulate, as it is for everyone else. It is powerful in many ways that we might not consider. The thing that still stands out for me is the sheer scale and size of Birkenau.

Having seen school visits by Holocaust survivors—I remember one such visit to Cardinal Allen school in Fleetwood a couple of years ago—I do not think that there is anything that the children, pupils or young adults, or whatever we want to call them, cannot take in this context. Hearing someone’s experience produces an impact, and leads to questions, and I pay tribute to that work and to the survivors. I do not know how they relive those experiences again and again; I suppose it is through their determination that those things should not be forgotten. They are right about that.

We hold town commemorations, but it occurred to me that a new Holocaust Educational Trust project might be to consider individual school commemorations.

When I was teaching, it was a struggle for us, given that schools are now multi-faith, to create assemblies that covered everything, but there may well be a way to take that further, particularly as everyone is concerned about what will happen when there are no survivors to provide their testimony. Perhaps we can think about doing something as part of the curriculum within schools; the Holocaust is rightly still part of the history curriculum.

As I have said, waking up in the morning and hearing what now has to happen in Jewish schools in England gives us clarity about why we feel we must continue with Holocaust memorial day. We must take pride in the country that gave a home to so many. There is worry among my Jewish friends, but I hope that small things such as today’s debate will reassure the Jewish population of this country—those who came across to make a home here before the war and those who survived the war years and came here afterwards—and that they will still feel part of this country. Today is significant as the 750th anniversary of the first Parliament. Its duty was and still is to protect the people who live in this country.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Treasury) 10:13, 20 Ionawr 2015

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Weir. I commend Mr Clappison for ensuring that we have the opportunity to mark Holocaust memorial day in Parliament.

Holocaust memorial day was first formally marked in Northern Ireland in 2002. I was then Deputy First Minister and I spoke at that event in the Waterfront hall. I believe it is important, for me and every other representative, to continue to mark the day every year; it was not just because of the office I held at the time that I felt the burden of remembrance. Like other hon. Members, I have benefited from one of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s visits to Auschwitz, as part of the “lessons from Auschwitz” project. The only trip from Northern Ireland happened in 2007. I was struck by the number of young people from all over Northern Ireland who did not have a full sense or appreciation of what the Holocaust entailed.

We began our trip with a visit to a Jewish cemetery, and many of the children thought that we were going to see the graves of victims of the Holocaust. The children from Northern Ireland were particularly struck by the explanation that they were being brought there so they could understand that there were real, full, thriving Jewish communities living even in a town such as Auschwitz, which were wiped out—and that there were attempts to destroy and desecrate the cemetery and use its very head stones as paving stones around the town. They were struck more by the sense of Jewish communities and families being systematically destroyed—with little trace left, to this day, other than a small synagogue—than they were by the big statistics and the figure of the slaughter of 6 million.

Hon. Members have described their visits and how they looked at the suitcases and glasses, but it was the pigtails that really stuck with me—perhaps because I had a two-year-old daughter. Those things make us realise what was involved and what was destroyed, and how many were lost, including the complete families that were destroyed so that there is no one left to remember them. That is why there is a burden on the rest of us to ensure that they are not forgotten to this day.

Reference has been made to what went into achieving the Holocaust. It was not just slaughter on an industrial scale; an infrastructure was created and organised to achieve that. That all stemmed, of course, from idle prejudices that were easily and evilly exploited and manipulated. That is part of what we must remember to this day: how easy it is for anyone, even in a supposedly democratic context, to start to mobilise prejudices in that vicious, pernicious way, so that people go against the expected judgments of their system of values and ethics. We must be vigilant because of that.

Prejudice is voiced in many forms, with many excuses. It uses events to construct constant criticism, to denigrate a faith or outlook, and to generalise in a vicious and nasty way. We must be conscious of the dangers and recognise anti-Semitism’s new guises in our age, when it tries to recruit particular events and circumstances and turn what might be valid criticism of events into a sweeping attempt to dehumanise and caricature everyone of a particular faith outlook. That is why this year we must, as the Holocaust Memorial Trust says, reflect, respect and remember, and continue to learn the lessons and show vigilance.

In my constituency, on 28 January, we in Derry will mark Holocaust memorial day in the garden of reflection, which recently hosted a month-long Anne Frank Trust exhibition. People in my city will join in the same spirit that is reflected in the debate by hon. Members.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Ceidwadwyr, Newark 10:19, 20 Ionawr 2015

It is a privilege to speak in this debate and to follow such thoughtful and heartfelt speeches. So much has already been said, and I am conscious of time, so let me make a modest contribution through two stories—one personal to my family and one pertinent to my constituency—that converged at the end of last year.

A few days before Christmas, I took my parents-in-law, who were visiting us for the holidays, to a museum in my constituency; hon. Members may be aware of it. The National Holocaust Centre, a few miles north of Newark, is, remarkably, the only museum dedicated to the Holocaust in this country.

My parents-in-law are the children of Holocaust survivors. My wife’s grandfather and grandmother were Jews who lived in what was then Belarussia at the outbreak of world war two. The Nazis came to their village near Minsk, rounded up the able-bodied young men and took them to labour camps, where, as one can imagine, they experienced enormous hardship. The young men were told that if they tried to escape, their families back in the village would be killed. That threat held the line for some time until, through various back-channels, word came to the camp that every member of the village had been shot. Many had been burned to death and their bodies had been dumped in an open grave. The village had been razed to the ground; young and old alike were slaughtered. Furnished with that reality, which had been long-feared, my grandfather-in-law narrowly succeeded in escaping from the camp and spent the remainder of the war fighting the Nazis as a partisan, predominantly in the vast forests on the Polish-Russian border and in Ukraine.

At the close of the war, my grandfather-in-law returned to the smouldering, blood-stained ruins of his former village and, amid the ruins of the world he had lost and on discovering that every member of his family, including his six brothers and sisters, had been killed, found my wife’s grandmother—herself a survivor with a story equally remarkable. They fell in love, and the rest is history. My mother-in-law, my wife and my two beautiful daughters are the result.

On that wintry morning prior to Christmas, I drove my mother-in-law to visit the National Holocaust Centre outside Newark. It gave me great pride not only that the only museum in our country dedicated to that cause should be in my constituency, of all places, but that I could take the daughter of a Holocaust survivor to it. I suspect that she was proud to visit it with her son-in-law, a Member of Parliament.

Let me briefly tell hon. Members who are not familiar with it the extraordinary story behind the museum and its founders. It is worth retelling on this day. Twenty years ago, two brothers from Nottinghamshire, who were not Jewish and did not have any intimate family connection with the Holocaust but whose parents possessed a deep social conscience, visited Israel and were captivated, if that is the right word, by Yad Vashem, the great Holocaust museum that was being developed outside Jerusalem. On returning to their parents’ farmhouse in an idyllic but remote village north of Newark—the worst place, one might think, to build a museum—they conceived a remarkable vision to turn their home into a Holocaust museum. That is exactly what they achieved.

James and Stephen Smith are remarkable individuals from a remarkable family, and they are well known to those who follow this subject. They are now world leaders in their field, but they deserve further recognition. I cannot speak for their motivations—they are humble people who do not tell their story—but I suspect that they felt a moral duty to give dignity to the victims of the Holocaust, to acknowledge the crimes, to contribute to justice and healing and to preserve memory, through education, as a warning. That seems a fair summary of the ideals behind Holocaust memorial day.

I recommend to everybody a visit to that museum. It has two profound missions for Holocaust memorial day, for the commission, whose report will be published next week, and for all who do its work and preach its message. The first is the journey of the Smith brothers to ensure, as the direct memories fade away and the children of survivors, such as my mother-in-law, grow old, that the records, pictures and stories do not die and that people are always able to visit the museum and meet on this day. There are many museums in this country—many, even, in my constituency—but that museum is our conscience. If it is here for future generations, our conscience will be here forever.

Secondly, the museum reminds us of our common humanity by showing that whatever motivated the attacks on the Jews was a virus—the idea that all that matters in life is our differences. That virus takes different forms all over the world, but it is alive and well today. We see it in ISIS, in Boko Haram, in anti-Semitism in Paris and, I am afraid, in anti-Semitism and extremism in this country. It is still the major cause of suffering in the world, and it is the greatest threat to my children and the children of others, who have reaped the extraordinary benefits of an interdependent world.

I drove home from that visit to our museum to my two beautiful children—the great-grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, who were not meant to be here. I looked into their eyes as I tucked them into bed, and I thought of the Smith brothers of Laxton. I felt that in those four lives, brought together by my election to this place, there is a source of optimism. We have decisively triumphed over the evil that tried to devour our lives and those of my ancestors. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing undaunted, undamaged optimism in human beings, which the Smith brothers displayed.

The Holocaust Centre in Laxton needs our support. I hope that the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission, which is due to report next week, will recommend an endowment fund to recognise explicitly that extraordinary outlier in this cause and make a commitment to it and other projects out in the British regions, not just those in London. The Smith brothers were motivated to act. The message of Holocaust memorial day, which is not simply about remembrance or fine words, to which we are all accustomed, is that there are no bystanders in history. History flows through us; we are of it and we cannot look away. The Smith brothers acted, and I applaud them for it. That is the message that I send out today.

Photo of Lee Scott Lee Scott Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee 10:27, 20 Ionawr 2015

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Clappison on securing this debate. Like many others in this Chamber and beyond, I pay particular tribute to Karen Pollock and all the staff at the Holocaust Educational Trust for the vital work that they do—not only for all of us, but for the whole country. If we do not educate young people, I fear history could repeat itself.

Let me speak briefly about a few personal issues. Since becoming a great Member of the House of Commons[Interruption.] I mean a Member of this great House of Commons—that was a Freudian slip. Over the years, I have received death threats and anti-Semitic abuse. Most recently, just before the end of last year, I was called a “dirty Jew” and told I should die.

I saw something on TV this weekend that saddened me greatly; I do not know whether other hon. Members saw it. A French lady said on one of the news channels that she told her young child that if a man or a woman came to school with a weapon, they should not say they were Jewish. It saddened me greatly and made me reflect on some of the things I saw when I visited Auschwitz and Terezin.

What I saw also made me think of something else—I say this not only for myself; I implore other people to say it. I am proud to be British, I am honoured to be a Member of Parliament and I am proud to say that I am a Jew. That will never change. No matter how many people tell me that I should be killed for being a Jew, while I have the honour of being a Member of Parliament, I will continue to fight for all communities and all religions because prejudice against anybody is unacceptable. If we have not learned anything from history, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

This goes completely beyond party politics. I express my gratitude to Lyn Brown and the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, who came and offered their support to me when I was going through these problems recently, as did the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. I am not going to name everyone who did this, but the most encouraging thing was that I had hundreds and hundreds of e-mails from people around the whole country deploring anti-Semitism.

We live in a great country where everyone can feel safe. We have a great police force, a great protection unit, and no one should fear living in our country. These vile people who persecute others—whoever that is, whether it be Jews, Muslims or Christians—want us to live in fear. They want us to be scared of them, and they want us to get out, but they are not going to achieve it. We are not going anywhere. We are part of Britain. We have been part of Britain for hundreds of years and we will continue to be part of Britain.

In the few minutes I have left, I want to reflect briefly on my visit to Auschwitz. I am not somebody who cries easily—I have cried a few times—but I did cry when I visited Auschwitz. I have been to other camps and I have seen what happened, but it did not impact on me in the same way as it did standing there in the freezing cold—I am sure that did have something to do it. The hon. Member is perfectly right, and please forgive me for not knowing her constituency[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow North

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Llafur, Stirling

Actually, it is Stirling.

Photo of Lee Scott Lee Scott Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

We are having a great day, Mr Weir—Southend has become Basildon, Stirling has become Glasgow North. Dame Anne McGuire is right. I was wearing a thick jacket, a scarf, a thick shirt and thick trousers, and I knew that I was going home in the evening, but the people who perished there did not have that. They were persecuted because of nothing more than hatred and misunderstanding.

Whenever things are tough, everyone needs someone to blame—so, “Let’s blame the people who are the easiest to blame.” That is the importance of Holocaust remembrance day and of the work done by the Holocaust Educational Trust: to remind people and keep reminding them. When, sadly, no survivors are still alive, we have to keep on reminding people, because if we do not, I fear history will repeat itself. The onus is on us to stop that from happening.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission, Chair, Public Accounts Commission 10:32, 20 Ionawr 2015

It is an honour to follow my friend and Jewish brother, my hon. Friend Mr Scott, who made the most moving comments, and my hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, who spoke about the moving life story of his own family.

I know that Holocaust memorial day is next Tuesday, but it is appropriate that this Parliament should be talking about this issue today. On 20 January 1275, on the other side of the street, in the Westminster chapter house—one can see it through the windows—our first Parliament was founded. That is what the British people are about. Where does the word “Parliament” come from? It comes from the French word “parler”—to talk together and understand each other, and to understand our differences and try to sort them out. It is important that we have this debate to try to recognise what in human nature creates these appalling events. It is still here; there is some of it in all of us. Unless we recognise that, we are doomed to repeat history.

Solzhenitsyn said in “The Gulag Archipelago”:

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

That sort of hatred, somehow and inexplicably, rests in human beings.

After the war, a German officer, who had had a normal war and done nothing very remarkable, was being interrogated. He was in the pen with thousands of other people. He had not been the commandant of a camp or anything like that—he had fought in Germany and Russia and all the rest of it; there was nothing remarkable about him. However, when he was being interviewed, there was a gap in his war, so the American officer interviewing him asked, “What were you doing in that gap?” The German officer could have given any answer; he was being interviewed with thousands of other people. He said, “I was just working for the Einsatzgruppen.” The interviewing officer knew what they were doing. He said, “What were you doing for those nine months working for the Einsatzgruppen in Poland?”, and he replied, “I was killing Jews.” The officer said, “Well, how many did you kill?” He said, “Oh, about 90,000.”

This was just a normal person, a German officer, and somehow he had been infected with this appalling evil. It is there. Germany was the most advanced nation in Europe, with an extraordinarily successful economy, and we still do not understand why Jewish people—who were largely integrated, were a tiny proportion of the population, were making a wonderful contribution to Germany and had fought patriotically in exactly the same proportion as everybody else in Germany for their nation in the first world war—were treated like that. It is something in human nature, and it is here now.

Only last year, we had a debate on Srebrenica, which happened not 70 years ago, but in our time. Boys and men—hundreds of them—were carried out of a village and shot simply because they were Muslim. It is here now, and we have to recognise it in all of us and root it out; that is why this debate is so important. It is also important for us to proclaim that because this great and appalling act of murder was committed against the Jewish people, they have the absolute right to live in peace, freedom and security wherever they are in the world. Because they, almost uniquely, were subjected to this appalling act of genocide and torture, they deserve our special protection.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North spoke most movingly about the Jewish people who have settled in this country. We should proclaim loudly in this Parliament, on the day of our 750th anniversary, how much we value the contribution of Jewish people to our nation. This is a people who came here and sought shelter, often from pogroms at the end of the 19th century —although, as my hon. Friend said, some have been here for centuries—and they have given so much to our country. They have integrated so well, and they are an object lesson to all immigrant communities.

Although my hon. Friend has talked about a particularly horrible incident, I do not personally believe there is much anti-Semitism in this country; there certainly should not be. We are a tolerant nation and we welcome our Jewish brothers and sisters; we welcome them for the contribution that they make. However, this debate is an opportunity to say that we shall never forget what happened to them in the past, and in never forgetting, we hope that we can stop it from happening again.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 10:38, 20 Ionawr 2015

It is an absolute privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. Members on both sides of the House have made very moving and powerful contributions, sharing stories, memories and facts that should never be forgotten. As has been said, it is a matter of deep shame that despite the proclamation of “Never again” after the Holocaust, from the killing fields of Cambodia to the desert sands of Darfur, to the mountains and savannahs of Rwanda, we—the international community—have failed to prevent genocides from taking place.

The theme for Holocaust memorial day this year is keeping the memory alive, which is particularly appropriate, as we have heard, given that a week from now marks 70 years to the day that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the red army. The SS knew they were coming and attempted to destroy the evidence of their heinous crimes. They built bonfires of documents detailing their atrocities. They blew up crematoriums II and III and set fire to Kanada II, the barracks that held property plundered from the victims. The Nazis did not want us to know about the systematic, state-organised murder of Jews, Roma Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, communists and socialists. However, by keeping the memory alive, we reaffirm that they are not forgotten. The voices of the 11 million echo still across this Chamber and, indeed, the world. Those voices will be heard.

About 1.5 million children were murdered during the Holocaust, and the young suffered the most brutal treatments, tortures and punishments, often for the smallest offences. A 16-year-old boy, Czeslaw Kempisty, was hanged from a post for several hours with his hands twisted behind his back. What was the reason? He had thrown some turnips to famished Soviet prisoners of war. Thirteen-year-old Halina Grynstein was shot for approaching the camp fence to exchange words with another prisoner. Seventeen-year-old Benkel Faivel was shot in the head by an SS guard for trying to pass a piece of bread to a woman prisoner. Those were small but very real rebellions. They shout against the idea that the victims of the Nazi Holocaust were passive.

Everyone in this Chamber will have heard the stories of the Warsaw ghetto uprising—the Jewish community held out longer in Warsaw than the entire Polish army did to protect their borders against the Nazi army—the Bielski partisans and the Sobibor uprising, but I want to talk also about the small acts of resistance, which are not as well known. In that way, when we think of Auschwitz and remember the emaciated bodies, the piles of corpses or, indeed, the shoes, suitcases, artificial limbs and human hair plundered from victims, we also remember the vital acts of resistance: a prohibited conversation, the passing of some bread or the throwing of a few turnips to starving prisoners. Those acts showed a real determination on the part of the prisoners, including children—and they knew full well the price that they could pay for their actions—to retain their basic humanity.

Some of the most unforgivable actions in Auschwitz were the experiments by the so-called camp doctors, including the notorious Josef Mengele, who inflicted inconceivable levels of suffering on children with his quasi-medical experiments. Eva Mozes Kor describes her arrival at Auschwitz with her identical twin, Miriam:

“Everything was moving very fast...I noticed my father and my two older sisters were gone. As I clutched my mother’s hand, an SS man hurried by shouting, ‘Twins! Twins!’…Once the SS guard knew we were twins, Miriam and I were taken away from our mother, without any warning or explanation. Our screams fell on deaf ears. I remember looking back and seeing my mother’s arms stretched out in despair as we were led away by a soldier. That was the last time I saw her…”

Eva remembers her introduction to life at Auschwitz:

“The first time I went to use the latrine located at the end of the children’s barrack, I was greeted by the scattered corpses of several children lying on the ground. I think that image will stay with me forever.”

During their time at Auschwitz, Eva and Miriam were put through many brutal surgeries and experiments. Their survival was a miracle in itself; only a few twins were left when the camp was finally liberated. Eva is still with us. She founded the Holocaust museum and education centre in Indiana and CANDLES. That is the acronym for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors, an organisation whose dedicated aim is

“to heal the pain; to teach the truth; to prevent prejudice.”

What a remarkable woman! I pay tribute to her.

In many ways, simply refusing to give up and die in spite of it all was the ultimate act of resistance—living on, like Eva. However, resistance came in many different forms and shapes: active and passive, violent and non-violent, and written and spoken. I shall now tell another story. In the spring of 1943, 19-year-old Ester Wajcblum arrived at Auschwitz and was assigned to work in the munitions factory, where she met Regina Safir and Ala Gertner—women who were engaged in resistance activities. Together with Roza Robota, they began smuggling out gunpowder.

The Sonderkommandos were Jewish prisoners who worked in the death camps. Their duties included guiding new arrivals into the gas chambers, removing the bodies afterwards, shaving the victims’ hair, removing their teeth, cremating their bodies and disposing of the ashes. Due to their knowledge of the camp’s inner workings, the Sonderkommandos were marked for certain death—it was a choice of die on arrival or die in four months’ time. As the time of the Sonderkommandos’ execution approached, they planned their revolt. They fashioned crude grenades by using sardine tins filled with the smuggled gunpowder and, on 7 October 1944, the workers of crematorium I began the revolt. That was followed by uprisings in crematoriums II and III. Crematorium IV was victoriously blown up. However, the SS guards counter-attacked and brutally suppressed the uprising. About 200 of the Sonderkommandos were rounded up and executed with a single shot to the head.

The gunpowder was traced to Ester’s munitions factory—Ester, Regina, Ala and Roza were betrayed. They were tortured: they were beaten and raped and electric shocks were applied to their genitals. But they never gave up the names of people who were not already dead. On 5 January 1945—so close to liberation—the four women were hanged in front of the women’s camp. Their last words were:

“Be strong and be brave.”

As we reflect on the Holocaust and consider the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, we all have a duty to use these memories as a catalyst to rid us of the cancers of racial hatred, intolerance and discrimination. We should be immensely grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which do vital work in keeping alive and accessible the stories and lessons of the Holocaust as the number of survivors, sadly, dwindles over time. I join others in commending their work and that of Karen Pollock and Olivia Marks-Woldman in particular.

However, each of us has a responsibility to keep the memories alive and to challenge and defeat the politics of racism and hate at every turn. Evil must be resisted, and if the people of whom I have spoken could resist the evil that they faced, despite their apparent powerlessness, that tells us that we all, as individuals, have a part to play in combating evil. It also tells us how much more responsibility there is on the state to fight all forms of racism and the politics of hate, whether at home or abroad. We must hear the voices of the past and keep their memories alive.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 10:48, 20 Ionawr 2015

I am glad to join other hon. Members in thanking Mr Clappison for initiating our discussion. I also thank all hon. Members for drawing on their understanding of the past and their personal experiences, conversations and visits in order to give such thoughtful speeches.

While listening to all the individual stories told by the shadow Minister, Lyn Brown, I noted that we often think about those times in terms of victims and perpetrators, but it is important to remember that among the group of people who were meant to be victims were those who refused to be victims, those who resisted, those who escaped and those who survived through it all and gave us the individual testimonies, which have been handed down the generations to today, and among the group of people who were the perpetrators were those who dissented and those who protected their fellow citizens, either through diplomatic channels, as Sir David Amessmentioned, or simply by protecting their neighbours. I have heard a story from one of my Hungarian friends of how her mother protected their piano teacher during the Holocaust. From such stories, we remember the hatred and we can despair of it, but we can also draw hope.

Many hon. Members have reflected on their visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau through the agency of the Holocaust Educational Trust and other bodies. I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau as a young man while I was inter-railing in the autumn of 1992, and there was hardly anyone there. I, too, was shocked by the paraphernalia and the remains of death, which the hon. Member for Hertsmere mentioned—the piles of glasses, the suitcases and the discarded passes—and by the sheer scale of the machinery of death, as Eric Ollerenshaw has said. One can appreciate it only by walking up to the now-familiar brick railway arch at the entrance to the death camp itself at Birkenau, as I did 23 years ago, and standing there, looking at the vast expanse of land and asking, “How could people do this?” People have to see it for themselves, but once they have seen it, it is not something that they want to see again.

The array of commemoration plans proves that the passage of time does nothing to impair our collective memory. It is our duty to recall the horrors and lessons of the Holocaust and to keep the stories of the survivors alive. It should not, and will not, fall to the survivors and their relatives to keep the memory and lessons of the Holocaust alive, especially as the voices that offer such significant witness to the Holocaust’s atrocities are gradually fading. If we do not encourage everyone to remember, it will be no wonder if many start to forget.

Today is also about remembering genocides since 1945, as well as remembering the persecution of the Jews and other minorities by the Nazis and their collaborators. As has been mentioned, Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, is also the 20th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica. I recall, as will many hon. Members, the dreadful events of 20 years ago when the full horror of the Bosnian civil war was beamed into our living rooms every night for three years, and the ghastly phrase “ethnic cleansing” became part of the language of war-zone reporting. Such things took place in modern Europe during our lifetime, half a century after the continent had last been convulsed in a war in which civilians were the main casualties.

Following our debate on the subject last year, when I mentioned Bosnia, I went, in April, to Srebrenica with a delegation of British youth leaders. I was shocked by what I saw there, including photographs in various exhibitions and the cemetery at Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 obelisks mark Muslim graves. I met some of the survivors, including the mayor of Srebrenica, a man in his 30s who is the only male survivor of his class. I ask my male colleagues to imagine being the only male survivor among the people with whom they went to school. I met Hassan, whose twin brother was killed. Imagine the horror of that. I met a remarkable group of people, the Mothers of Srebrenica, who are keeping alive the memory of what happened to their husbands, fathers, sons and uncles. Women spoke to me of the other side of genocide, which has not been mentioned today. We have spoken about the death that is caused by genocide, but those women told me of the acts that were perpetrated against the survivors, particularly the women, many of whom were raped, humiliated and robbed of their dignity. We must not forget that aspect of genocide.

We will always remember the innocent lives that have been lost, no matter where that happened, whether it was in the killing fields of Cambodia or the churches of Rwanda. An understanding of history is important to ensure that we learn from the past in education, policy and how we, as individuals, treat others. The Holocaust Educational Trust, which most hon. Members have mentioned, is now in its 27th year of educating children through “lessons from Auschwitz”, which is surely the most poignant way to help children understand what happened. We revisit painful memories and shocking scenes not merely for the sake of doing so, but to ensure that history is never repeated.

This year, the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day will be “Keep the memory alive”. Pledging to keep the memory alive is a way in which we can pay tribute to those who have lost their lives and those who have lived a life beyond those terrible experiences. As we utter those immortal words, other words associated with holocaust remembrance come to the fore. “Never again” is a phrase often uttered in such debates, but night after night our television screens are filled with images that show man’s inhumanity to man. Mrs Ellman mentioned the terrible events that have occurred in Paris during the past month. Just as it was appropriate for people to say, and to hold up signs that read, “Je suis Charlie”, it is appropriate for those of all denominations and none to hold up signs that read, “Je suis Juif”.

We need, more than ever, to ensure that never again means never again. That is why the Holocaust Commission, which was announced by the Prime Minister, will report on its recommendations on Holocaust Memorial Day a week from now. The importance of the commission cannot be over-emphasised at a time when the link to those who survived the Holocaust is becoming ever weaker. The current generation of young people will be the last to have the opportunity to hear at first hand the testimony of holocaust survivors. That was brought home to me only yesterday when my Department hosted its annual holocaust memorial day, and our special guest, Auschwitz survivor Susan Pollack, was unable to attend because her husband and fellow survivor Abraham had sadly just died. That is why I ask all who are present to pay tribute to holocaust survivors who bear testimony in schools and colleges across the country. It is because of people such as Susan that the commission is tasked with ensuring that future generations never forget the Holocaust, and that the stories of survivors are not lost when they can no longer bear testimony.

I join many colleagues in paying tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, and in particular their chief executive, Karen Pollock, who has been key in ensuring that holocaust education has been at the forefront of our efforts to ensure that we reflect on and, we hope, learn the lessons from the past. Holocaust education brings to life the names, the memories and the identities of those who suffered; not only the 6 million Jews and many other minorities who were persecuted between 1933 and 1945, but the more than 1 million Cambodians who were murdered by Pol Pot, the 1 million who died in Rwanda, the hundreds of thousands who died in Darfur and the thousands who were killed in Bosnia.

Holocaust education reminds us that behind the statistics were real people, who lived, loved and laughed, and who might have gone on to be mothers, fathers or even Nobel laureates. That is why we continue to support the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. I thank its chief executive, Olivia Marks-Woldman, and her team for their work to ensure that we all remember. This year, the trust has commissioned the artist Anish Kapoor to design candles that have been placed in 70 locations around the country. My colleague the Secretary of State will take one of those candles to Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of the 70th anniversary commemorations next week. I pay tribute to the Anne Frank Trust and to Sir Andrew Burns for their work on making sure that people remember the lessons from the past.

As has been said, such events repeat themselves, and the UK is experiencing a reported increase in anti-Semitism. We must say clearly that that is completely unacceptable in modern Britain. It is important never to stand aside when we encounter prejudice and hatred of any kind. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said,

“I swore never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.”

Today, reflecting on our democracy, as Sir Edward Leigh has said, our duty is to remember the past, and never to be silent about prejudice, bigotry and hatred in our own time.