Nadhim Zahawi is a member of the BIS Select Committee, the Party’s Policy Board and MP for Stratford on Avon.
Holocaust Memorial Day falls on January 27th each year – the day Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. For many of the survivors this will be their last big commemoration. In the years ahead the Holocaust will pass from living memory to history.
The passage of seven decades has rendered those events no less unthinkable. But we must think, and we must remember.
As someone of Kurdish origin, the phrase ‘never again’ has a particular resonance for me. In my lifetime it has happened again: in Kurdistan, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Last summer it nearly happened again on the slopes of Mount Sinjar.
In Europe, the virus of antisemitism has mutated into a new form, one less contagious but still deadly. In Brussels, Toulouse and now Paris we’ve seen Jews murdered by terrorists simply because of who they were. Across France armed police stand guard outside Jewish schools.
Nor is Britain immune. Here we have a recurrent problem of anger at the Israeli Government being channelled by extremists into violence and intimidation against British Jews. July 2014, the height of the last Gaza conflict, was the second worst month of antisemitic incidents on record.
The same month #Hitlerwasright trended on twitter worldwide. Two weeks ago posters advertising Holocaust Memorial Day in East London were defaced with graffiti saying ‘killers’ and ‘liars’.
Our best defence against this poisonous ideology is education, and our best tribute to the survivors who are left is to renew our vow that what they endured shall never be forgotten or repeated.
That’s why the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust is so important. Established in 1988, the Trust’s mission is to educate young people in Britain from every background about the Holocaust and its meaning for us today. Through the Trust’s Outreach programme, over 90,000 UK students a year have the opportunity to hear the first-hand survivor testimony and take part in interactive workshops.
Their Lessons from Auschwitz Project, funded by the Department for Education, has given over 25,000 post-16 students the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau since 1999, and as the Chancellor announced this month, we remain firmly committed to funding this programme.
To mark the 70th anniversary, the Trust recently launched a free app called ‘70 Voices: Victims, Perpetrators and Bystanders’. The app explores the Holocaust through 70 first-hand accounts – diary entries, poems and writings – of those who experienced, witnessed and orchestrated it.
This is a great way of ensuring eyewitness testimony reaches a new generation and I would thoroughly recommend it to all teachers covering the period at school.
The UK Government is also determined to keep the memory alive. Two years ago the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a commission to look at what we can do to ensure a fitting memorial and educational resource for future generations. This is due to report back later this month.
In addition, the Chancellor has commissioned a special commemorative medal, designed in collaboration with the Royal Mint, the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. The design features the British connection the Holocaust and the liberation of Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division on 15 April 1945. This medal was presented to survivors at Downing Street on January 13th.
I have also tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament which pays tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and to the Holocaust survivors who continue to share their experiences with young people across the country. I urge all colleagues reading this to sign it.
But we’re not naïve. We know there is a small minority in Britain for whom all this is just so much ‘Zionist propaganda’. As citizens of this country we all have a duty to present a united front, to call them out and take them on in open debate. Because to quote Primo Levi, ‘an enemy who sees the error of his ways ceases to be an enemy’.