Nicola Richards is the Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East.
This week on Holocaust Memorial Day we mark 75 years since the liberation of the concentration and death camps of Europe and the end of the Second World War.
That’s 75 years since the world understood the full scale and horror of what had happened as the Nazis and their collaborators tried to eliminate the Jews of Europe.
I am pleased to see that people in my constituency, as well as across the country, feel a sense of responsibility in ensuring that the memory of six million innocent Jewish men, women, and children carries on to the next generation. Today, we should reflect on how we can use our knowledge and understanding of the past to create a future in which such antisemitism, racism, and hatred is no more.
However, I know that we face a very real challenge. Despite what we know of the Holocaust, antisemitism, racism, and hatred are still a very real problem here in the UK and across the world – and rising year on year.
Two years ago I met an incredible woman: Susan Pollack MBE, a Holocaust survivor. Susan was born in Hungary in 1930. As a young girl, aged about eight years old, she remembers beginning to notice antisemitism in her home town – her brother was denied a place at university because of anti-Jewish laws, and when her uncle was murdered by fascists the attacker was sentenced to just two years imprisonment (and he actually served much less).
The situation deteriorated after the outbreak of the Second World War. Physical attacks became more common, anti-Jewish graffiti appeared on the streets, and radio stations began broadcasting antisemitic propaganda.
In 1944, a letter was issued by the council for all Jewish fathers to attend a meeting. Susan’s father was among those men who went to the meeting, but when they arrived, they were herded into waiting lorries and taken to a concentration camp. Susan never saw her father again.
That year almost all of the Jews of Hungary were deported (mostly to Auschwitz-Birkenau), and Susan, her brother and her mother were ordered to leave their home. They were sent to a ghetto, and later sent by cattle truck to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon arrival the family were separated. Susan soon learnt that her mother had been sent directly to a gas chamber, where she was murdered simply for being Jewish.
Susan survived camps, slave labour, and a death march. On 15th April she was liberated by the British Army from Bergen-Belsen. She and her brother, Laci, were the only members of her family to survive the Holocaust – over 50 relatives were murdered. Many of those who survived were the sole survivors of their families, towns, and communities.
When I met Susan, we were both standing on Parliament Square. We were at a rally where over 2000 people had gathered to stand up against a growing tide of antisemitism. I couldn’t believe that I was stood talking to a Holocaust survivor. I couldn’t believe that Susan had lived through so much, had seen antisemitism tear her family and community apart, but felt like she had no choice to protest against the same hatred over 70 years later.
Susan is brave, determined, and exudes such passion and hope for the future. But, I imagine that she found it hard that day – I wondered how she felt standing there, knowing that the age-old hatred that led to the murder of 50 members of her family is still here with us today.
In Europe and across the world antisemitism remains a problem that must be addressed. We owe it to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust to remember.
But we must do more than remember. We must stand together, and we must act – we are all responsible for shaping a world in which people from all backgrounds can live free from fear of persecution. We must share the truth of the past; we must ensure that the eye-witness accounts we have heard live on; and when we see antisemitism, racism, or hatred of any kind we must call it out.