Graham Evans is MP for Weaver Vale.
Today, the UK marks Holocaust Memorial Day, a national day when we remember the six million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.
On Monday evening I had the privilege of attending the Holocaust Educational Trust’s annual Lord Merlyn-Rees Lecture to listen to the historian and television producer Laurence Rees discuss his new book The Holocaust.
I first met Laurence in October 2016 at a dinner organised by the Trust but I have admired him and his work for a long time. A former Head of BBC TV History, Laurence has been making documentaries and writing books about the Nazis and the Second World War for many years. His landmark 1997 series The Nazis: A Warning from History set a new standard for how we understand this period in history, drawing on an astonishing range of interviews with victims, perpetrators and other eyewitnesses. His award-winning Auschwitz: the Nazis and the Final Solution was watched by millions of people worldwide and the accompanying book is the world’s bestselling work on the history of the camp.
Laurence’s new book is the culmination of his twenty-five year career meeting Holocaust survivors and perpetrators. It combines largely unpublished testimony with the latest academic research and to present a comprehensive history of the Holocaust.
But, why do we need another history of the Holocaust?
On the same evening that Laurence was speaking, the film Denial was being premiered in London – depicting the 2000 trial of Deborah Lipstadt in her quest to take on Holocaust denier David Irving. Yet, although Irving was humiliated in court, the challenge of Holocaust denial remains a present reality.
This assault on truth reflects the continued presence of the antisemitic ideology which, as Laurence explained, led us to the horrors of the Holocaust. As he pointed out, the Holocaust was not the result of a single moment of decision but of a series of escalations, each of which could have been stopped.
Laurence’s powerful lecture was a timely reminder of the importance of speaking out in the face of injustice, hatred and extremism. By examining the history of the Holocaust, we can see very clear and present warnings from history that apply as much today as they ever have.
That is why the work of organisations like the Holocaust Educational Trust is so important. In 2014, I was honoured to join 200 young people from North West as they took part in a one-day visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau to see for themselves the greatest single site of mass murder in the history of the world. When these young people return to their schools and colleges, they share what they have learned and go on to become Ambassadors for the Trust, speaking out and protecting the truth of the Holocaust.
On Monday evening, we also heard from Emma Coleman, a Regional Ambassador for the Trust. Emma is just 18 years old, and having taken part in the Lessons from Auschwitz Project has taken on responsibility for raising awareness of the Holocaust, and the dangers of prejudice, in her own community. We were also joined at the event by survivors of the Holocaust – men and women who had lived through unimaginable horrors and managed to rebuild their lives here in the UK. Their stories have an invaluable impact on young people up and down this country, who, like Emma, take their words and pledge to remember them, and to share them even when the survivors are no longer able to do so themselves.
It’s rare to go to a Holocaust-related event and to leave feeling uplifted. But on Monday, being in a room surrounded by people from all walks of life – teachers, MPs, historians, students, survivors – all with a common passion for protecting the legacy of the Holocaust, I couldn’t help but leave feeling inspired. There is a long way to go before Holocaust denial and ignorance becomes a thing of the past, but with so many people determined to keep fighting for truth, I am hopeful.