Michael Gove is the Conservative Chief Whip and MP for Surrey Heath
There is a rallying cry in American politics so popular it has become almost a cliché. Supporters are invited to affirm their loyalty at a critical moment because it matters that they vote – for JFK or LBJ, Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan – now more than ever.
I grew up in the Church of Scotland, learning the story of the Jewish people as one of the most inspiring, moving, tragic and yet life-affirming stories of all mankind. I also learned in the Church of Scotland that every sermon needs a piece of scripture – every address needs a text – every speech needs a theme.
And my text is that rallying cry from American politics – Now More Than Ever.
We need the Holocaust Educational Trust – now more than ever.
We need to remember the unique, unspeakable evil of that crime – now more than ever.
We need to stand together against prejudice, against hate, against the resurgent, mutating, lethal virus of antisemitism, now more than ever.
A cause born in hope
The Holocaust Educational Trust was established a quarter of a century ago by men and women who knew that unless future generations were taught about the Holocaust – inoculated against the virus of antisemitism – then prejudice could recur.
They feared that the full hideousness, the full horror of the attempt to eliminate the Jewish people would – over time – as events swirled and new crimes were committed – gradually be effaced. And that would mean the erosion of one of our society’s moral defences.
They had a further objective. They wanted to ensure that Holocaust deniers would be permanently excluded from civilised discourse. They agreed with Simon Wiesenthal, that the Holocaust was not just a crime against the Jews. It was a crime against mankind. They recognised that to question that crime, to relativise it, to reduce its significance, was to become an accomplice to evil. So they set up the Holocaust Educational Trust, to ensure that we would never forget.
A history of success
Over the years, the Trust has had many successes.
Thanks to the HET the Holocaust is now at the heart of the national curriculum. And the resources which enable children to learn about that unique evil are more sophisticated and powerful than ever. Thanks to the HET, we now have a national day to remember the Holocaust. And thanks to the HET, we have superbly trained teachers across the country.
We know that nothing, however, is more effective than hearing from those who survived this crime. Thanks to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust more than 90,000 school children have had that unforgettable privilege. I feel privileged myself to have heard the testimony of those who survived the killing rage of the Nazi regime.
With the HET earlier this year – in the Department for Education, alongside civil servants and school children – I listened to Rudi Oppenheimer tell his incredible story. In Downing Street, alongside the Prime Minister, I was honoured to be able to hear Ben Helfgott tell his incredibly moving story.
For every survivor reliving the past is an act of courage – they journey back into a world of hate to ensure our children can be protected from the darkness.
There are over forty of these heroes and heroines here tonight – let us all give thanks for the wonderful work they do.
As time goes by, however, we know that the Holocaust will increasingly move from the realm of living history to just history.
Which is why we need to invest in the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust – now more than ever.
Thanks to the Trust, thousands of youngsters have had the chance to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. The experience, I know, has transformed lives and I am proud that this Government provides funding for the project in England. I must also pay tribute to the previous Government, and in particular to Gordon Brown, who secured funding for the project in 2005. Many Members from both sides of the House, some in this room tonight, have taken part in these visits and seen for themselves the impact on the young people who participate. I would also like to thank Rabbi Barry Marcus for his inspirational example in supporting the students on those visits and his courage in standing firm for what is right.
Thanks to the success of those visits, many young people have become ambassadors for the Trust’s work, growing in confidence even as they share their learning. And they have been supported brilliantly by the more than 1,000 idealistic teachers who have received training and briefing.
A united front
Since its foundation, the Trust has enjoyed the support of those of several faiths, and of none: of all political parties, and of none.
If I were to thank everyone who has been involved in these magnificent efforts, we would be here all night. So I can only mention a few.
Above all, I must thank Karen Pollock, our Chief Executive, who will be known to so many of you in this room.
Karen is an incredible, indefatigable, inspirational leader who combines the charisma of a young Barbara Streisand with the steely leadership qualities of Hillary Clinton and the moral clarity of Margaret Thatcher. She richly deserved the MBE she was recently awarded. And we need people like Karen – who fight tirelessly for what is right – now more than ever.
And I know Karen could not have achieved so much without the support and encouragement of her board – chaired by my good friend Paul Philips. Having enjoyed Friday night dinner with the Philips family I know Paul is an expert in ensuring strong personalities get along and we are all in his debt.
Can I also offer my personal thanks to Mick Davis. In the midst of a busy and outstandingly successful City career, he has found time to be the Chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, and to carry the torch for the Holocaust Educational Trust and of course for Jewish causes in general.
The Trust has been well supported at Westminster, often by those who need no introduction: we are lucky to have the support of my fantastic Cabinet colleague Eric Pickles, of Simon Hughes, a member of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Memorial Commission, as well as that of Ed Balls, also an appointed member of the Holocaust Memorial Commission and a steadfast and loyal friend of Britain’s Jewish community. It was Ed who fought to secure the opening of new Jewish secondary schools such as JCOSS and Yavneh. Of course, we former education secretaries have to stick together, but Ed’s record in supporting the community and fighting prejudice is second to none and deserves to be applauded.
I also want to mention two other Labour colleagues whom I admire.
Ian Austin who, at the Westminster debate to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in 2012, spoke movingly of his adoptive father, who escaped to Britain from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Holocaust. The stories he was brought up with left him with a lifelong conviction that prejudice leads to intolerance, then to victimisation and eventually to persecution, and that everyone of us has a duty to fight discrimination, intolerance and bigotry.
And last but not least, I want to acknowledge the contribution of Pat McFadden, who drew attention at the Holocaust Memorial Day in 2013 to concerns that as each year passes, there are fewer and fewer living survivors, and if we are to learn the lessons from the Holocaust before they fade into the distance, it will be important to record as much testimony as possible so that we can remain as vigilant as possible.
We thank them all.
We need to join hands across parties and stand together against hatred and prejudice as one – united – British family. Now more than ever.
A Commission to Remember
Next year is the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and the liberation of the survivors. Realistically, this is the last major commemoration at which significant numbers of survivors will participate. That raises the question: how do we preserve the immediacy of the Holocaust in the longer term?
That is why the Prime Minister announced, at this dinner last year, that he would set up the Holocaust Commission, to consider how the Holocaust should be remembered in our national life. It has been a privilege to serve on that Commission and its work is needed – now more than ever.
So let me thank the HET for its vital role – through moral leadership and intellectual heavy lifting – in making the Commission happen and sustaining its work.
The Commission will be making a series of significant announcements early in the New Year and I know there will be a central role for the Holocaust Educational Trust in ensuring we remember in the right way.
We should never forget what we are commemorating. Wars generate crimes, conflict breeds horrors but no crime is as wicked as the Holocaust, no horror as enormous.
As the War progressed, the rumours grew. Among the Allies, they were often discounted. During the First World War, there had been exaggerated claims of German atrocities. The Allied leaders did not wish to repeat that error. There was also a reluctance to believe that even under the Nazis, the Germans could have descended to the uttermost depths of barbarism. It was only when the Allied armies liberated the camps that the full horrors were revealed.
Men, women and children gassed, incinerated and erased from the earth. The clothes stripped from their backs, the gold stripped from their teeth. This slaughter was committed not in frenzied moments of passion, as reason was clouded by emotion. It was planned and executed by the consciously reflective bureaucrats of an efficient modern state. It was a twentieth century Government’s policy to eliminate the Jewish entity – and that meant carefully timetabled, thoughtfully industrialised, officially minuted mass murder.
When those camps were liberated the soldiers of the British Army saw that there had been no exaggeration of human suffering, for that would have been impossible. Human language was almost incapable of describing the Holocaust.
As a result, there was a profound reaction. Theodor Adorno concluded that there could be no poetry after Auschwitz. He was convinced that the bestiality of the death camps had done permanent damage to our civilisation. One can understand why he took that view. If Germany, the nation of Bach, Beethoven and Goethe, one of the greatest centres of high culture, could have fallen into the abyss, then man truly was a wolf to man.
The SS Einstazgruppen who murdered their way through Poland and Russia, shooting every Jew they found as though they were dealing with bacilli, the commandants of the camps where murder became a matter of production line efficiency, the ideologues who shaped and defended this policy to destroy the lives of millions were professors of law, doctors of philosophy, students of Heidegger and men of culture.
And alongside the German National Socialists who commissioned these unspeakable crimes were the Vichy Milice, the Romanian Iron Guard, the Hungarian Arrow Cross, the Croat Ustashe and the hundreds of others who committed themselves to eliminationist antisemitism.
Faced with evil on this scale there was an understandable insistence that we had to atone for these crimes and escape from this abyss. That meant there must be a moral recovery for the peoples of Europe. And that recovery could only come if we committed ourselves to ensure that confronted with these crimes we would all pledge – “never again”. Mankind must study evil and confront evil, so that there could never be another Holocaust.
On one point, in that immediate aftermath of war, everyone was agreed. Antisemitism could have no place in a civilised society. The articulation of prejudice towards the Jewish people was the gateway which led to Auschwitz by way of Nuremberg – exclusion and then extermination.
Before the war, antisemitism had been alarmingly commonplace. In Britain, even respected writers such as T.S.Eliot and Graham Greene had regularly, almost casually, indulged in antisemitism. That would surely now cease. Adorno might be refuted. Poetry would still be possible, but it would be purged of the poison of pre-war antisemitism. Belatedly, mankind had developed new sensitivities.
Or so it seemed, back then.
Today, across Europe, there has been a revival of antisemitism which the enormity of the Holocaust should have rendered forever unthinkable.
In France, in July of this year more than 100 Jewish citizens had to be rescued from one synagogue and another was firebombed. The leader of an antisemitic party – the Front National – is France’s most popular politician. Heroes of popular culture – like the comedian Dieudonne Mbala Mbala – try to make hatred of Jews a badge of radical chic.
The virus is spreading across other European nations. In Germany Molotov cocktails were lobbed at one synagogue. In Belgium a cafe displays a sign saying “dogs are allowed but Jews are not” while a doctor refuses to treat Jewish patients. And in May of this year four people visiting the Jewish Museum in Brussels were killed by a jihadist terrorist.
We must all remember where this leads. Now more than ever.
And we must not think that Britain – gentle, tolerant, civilised Britain – is immune. CST, the Community Security Trust, monitors instances of antisemitism throughout the UK.
It is careful to distinguish between explicitly antisemitic incidents and more general protests about Israeli policy. The latter, even if many of us would regard them as profoundly misguided, are legitimate expressions of opinion in a democratic society. But once they transgress into antisemitism, all legitimacy ceases. When banners at pro-Palestinian rallies carry slogans such as “Stop Doing What Hitler Did To You” or “Gaza is a Concentration Camp” then a line has been crossed.
In July this year, CST recorded 302 antisemitic incidents, a fivefold increase from July 2013.
In 101 of those cases, there were explicit references to the Holocaust including attempts to equate Israel’s actions in self-defence with Nazi crimes. On our streets our citizens have marched with swastikas super-imposed on the Israeli flag.
Devaluing the holocaust devalues our humanity.
We need to be clear about what is going on here.
There is a deliberate attempt to devalue the unique significance of the Holocaust, and so remove the stigma from antisemitism. The historian Professor Deborah Lipstadt has spoken out about the way in which Holocaust comparisons are used “politically, glibly”. She explains that Holocaust denial now takes the form of “comparisons of Israel to the Nazis”. These are “terrible and outrageous and most importantly incorrect. You can believe that Israel was wrong to go into Gaza, but to call it a Holocaust is wrong.”
And even as this relativisation, trivialisation and perversion of the Holocaust goes on so prejudice towards the Jewish people grows.
The Tricycle Theatre attempts to turn away donations which support the Jewish Film Festival because the money is Israeli and therefore tainted. In our supermarkets our citizens mount boycotts of Israeli produce, some going so far as to ransack the shelves, scatter goods and render them unsaleable. In some supermarkets the conflation of anti-Israeli agitation and straightforward antisemitism has resulted in Kosher goods being withdrawn.
We need to speak out against this prejudice. We need to remind people that what began with a campaign against Jewish goods in the past ended with a campaign against Jewish lives. We need to spell out that this sort of prejudice starts with the Jews but never ends with the Jews. We need to stand united against hate. Now more than ever.
The oldest hatred and the latest threat
I believe that in the face of this prejudice there has – so far- been insufficient indignation: an insufficient willingness to recognise that civic freedom is indivisible: that an attack on one is an attack on all.
The British rightly pride themselves in their long and relatively peaceful political evolution based on a widespread acceptance of British values. But this can have an unfortunate consequence: complacency in the face of threats from those who care nothing for peace, democracy or British values. Antisemitism is an obvious early manifestation of the growing threat and we are all in this together.
It is because the Government takes the threat so seriously that the Prime Minister has set up the Extremism Task force.
We know that in the twisted world view of Islamist extremists antisemitism is a central strand, but we also know that when Islamist extremists embrace violence they have us all in their sights.
That requires a robust approach from us – at home and abroad.
Because we know that the jihadist terrorists responsible for horrific violence across the Middle East are targeting not just Jews and Israelis but all of us in the West.
They hate Israel, and they wish to wipe out the Jewish people’s home, not because of what Israel does but because of what Israel is – free, democratic, liberal and Western. We need to remind ourselves that defending Israel’s right to exist is defending our common humanity. Now more than ever.
And we are all in this together in another way.
Our duty to the past, our promise for the future
There is an iron law in history – the more secure the Jewish people are in a nation, the freer and happier that nation is. Throughout world history, the test of which nations are most advanced and most liberal is the security of the Jewish population. Whether it’s been the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, England at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries or America now – the health of a country’s Jewish population is a badge of freedom.
And the corollary of that is when a Jewish community feels less secure in any nation then that nation is moving into darkness. Whether it’s counter-reformation Spain, nineteenth century Vienna, central Europe in the Thirties or Russia in the last decade.
So the question for all of us is how secure is Britain’s Jewish community, how secure do Jews feel across Europe? And what are we doing to make them feel more secure.
We should never allow darkness to encroach again. We must – all of us – stand firm for our precious freedoms and stand alongside our Jewish neighbours. Now more than ever.
In 1945, our forebears thought that some good might be rescued from the Nazi’s terrible legacy: surely the Holocaust would discredit antisemitism for ever. We now know better. Mankind has not developed new sensitivities. Instead, we live in a world full of horrors, where man is still a wolf to man.
That makes this organisation even more indispensable. And it is why your support is still so crucial – without your direct financial support, the HET cannot lead the way. Hitler tried to reduce a race to dust and ashes. The Holocaust Educational Trust is determined to ensure that neither his evil nor their sufferings will be forgotten. Santayana said that those who forget history are condemned to relive it. God forbid, but the Holocaust Educational Trust exists to help to ensure that no-one forgets: that no-one will ever forget: that is why you are needed – now – more than ever.