By Joseph Willits
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To commemorate Holcaust Memorial Day this coming Friday, yesterday evening the Holocaust Educational Trust hosted its annual Lord Merlyn-Rees Memorial Lecture at Portcullis House. Whilst the keynote address was given by historian Sir Ian Kershaw, its guest speaker was Francis Maude.
Maude praised the work done by the Holocaust Educational Trust in its Lessons from Auschwitz Project in educating young people thoughtfully, and enabling them to return from their visit with a sensitive awareness of the actual event. Perhaps the most crucial lesson learnt from the Holocaust Educational Trust's project, is being able to apply the horrors of Auschwitz, to proactively fight prejudice in all forms on their return.
There were three main points made by Maude in his speech:
- He spoke of the "coldness" and "horrendous industrial scale" with which a genocide of Jews was carried out by Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Perhaps alluding to current atrocities today, for example in Syria, the Holocaust wasn't carried out "in anger, surge of fury, or rage".
- It is always important to remember, said Maude, that this genocide was carried out in "living memory" in a "European country where we thought our values were shared, and are shared now".
- Maude concluded with a warning about tolerance, in a much broader sense, even outside the actions of Nazi Germany. Tolerance he said, wasn't "enough to answer prejudice and bigotry … to just accept", and that the word itself had a dimension of coldness about it. His message, and that of the Holocaust Educational Trust, was to fight prejudice "proactively by active intervention". This approach was crucial he said, because "hatred can take root and flourish very quickly", and will do so again albeit in different forms.
Historian Sir Ian Kershaw also concluded with a similar point, that as the Eurozone crumbles, "economic nationalism" and a hatred of one another has the potential to resurface given the difficulties people across Europe are facing. This he said, was a good enough reason for markets to be united, and give meaning to the Eurozone as a counter to a rise in devastating nationalism.
In October of last year, I was invited by the Holocaust Educational Trust, to accompany them and many students from north London on their Lessons from Auschwitz Project. Together with the students were London MPs Bob Blackman, Nick de Bois and Matthew Offord. In a Westminster Hall Debate about Holocaust Memorial Day last Thursday, both Blackman and Offord recalled their visits to Auschwitz. Both men represent constituencies (Harrow East and Hendon) with significant Jewish populations. Blackman said that a positive to his visit, as someone who was "never taught about the Holocaust" at school, and had to learn from the experience of friend's families, was the participation of students from all faiths:
"I was struck by several things. None of those young people were Jewish. There were Hindus, Muslims and Christians, but no Jewish children. I think that that was good, because it meant that it was not just Jewish people learning about the Holocaust, but everyone from every religion."
Blackman's comments are central to the idea, both outlined by the Holocaust Educational Trust, and the Government, that prejudice and bigotry are best defeated when communities fight this battle on each others behalves.
Matthew Offord congratulated Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell in securing the Westminster Hall debate. Offord applied the same logic of students of all faiths learning about the Holocaust, to MPs who do not represent constituencies with large Jewish communities, or are not of Jewish heritage:
"I thank him [Barwell] because some cynical people would say, “Why didn’t someone with a large Jewish population in their constituency request this debate?” However, success to me is not just introducing a Holocaust Memorial Day Bill or simply securing a debate; for me, an MP with many Jewish constituents, success is seeing so many hon. Members from constituencies without Jewish constituents or any kind of Jewish heritage here today … This debate reinforces for me that Holocaust memorial day is not just for people who are Jewish; it is for everybody who has concern, in whatever form, about the Holocaust. In my constituency, we commemorate Holocaust memorial day with contributions from the Bosnian community and from Cambodians and Rwandans."