Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. It is an honour to have the Holocaust Educational Trust Book of Commitment.
On Thursday 21st January there was a debate in Parliament to recognise Holocaust Memorial Day. You can read my speech:
Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) for securing this important debate. It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles).
On 1 November 2005, the UN General Assembly designated 27 January as international holocaust remembrance day. In Britain, we mark it as Holocaust Memorial Day, and we have done so since 2001. It is a national day of commemoration of the millions of Jews and others killed during the holocaust. The lives of 6 million Jews and many other minority groups who perished at the hands of the Nazis must be remembered. It is a time of remembrance for all the victims—the Roma, the gays, the Sinti, the mentally and physically disabled—as well as all the victims of more recent genocides.
Genocide does not take place on its own; it is a process that can begin if racism, discrimination and hatred are not challenged and prevented. Today, we are part of that remembering, as well as part of that challenge and prevention. Over the coming week, there will be commemorations, services and events across the UK. Such remembrance is as important now as it has ever been.
I speak as one who has been moved by the tragedy of the holocaust. I have had the privilege to speak to survivors from Auschwitz-Birkenau. The scale of their suffering shows the savagery of which humanity is capable, but the survivors show us how magnificent and courageous the human spirit can be. As each year passes, however, there are fewer survivors able to share their testimony. By educating future generations, we are ensuring that their memory lives on, and that the holocaust never becomes another detail of history.
The work of organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Commission is therefore vital in keeping these memories alive. The holocaust is perhaps the greatest moral lesson against racism, hate and prejudice, and the establishment of a new holocaust learning centre and national memorial is an important part of that.
Holocaust Memorial Day does more than commemorate and recount the human suffering; it is also a time to pledge that it will never ever happen again. In recent years, Europe has seen a rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, fuelled by the rise of extreme right groups in countries such as France, Hungary and Greece. I and others have been troubled by the reports of French Jews moving to Britain in search of safety. We should not, however, imagine that Britain is free of anti-Semitism; we know only too well that it is not. We must stand up against prejudice and discrimination of any kind, whatever form it takes, and we must heed the lessons of the holocaust.
Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Given the increase in both anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic attacks, will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the incredible work done by the Community Security Trust and Tell MAMA to ensure that the words “Never again” actually ring true?
Joan Ryan: I absolutely join my hon. Friend in paying such a tribute and in giving such support. All the organisations we have mentioned today need and deserve our support.
We must do all in our power to prevent future genocide around the world. The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Don’t stand by”. Elie Wiesel said that he “swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
The holocaust saw many examples of heroism, sacrifice and altruism. I would like to mention the late Sir Nicholas Winton, who sadly passed away last year. He organised the safe passage of children from Czechoslovakia to Britain before the war broke out. His act of magnanimity saved the lives of at least 669 children and thousands of their descendants.
It is inspiring too, that World Jewish Relief, which was instrumental in rescuing tens of thousands of Jewish refugees through the Kindertransport, last week committed itself to supporting the integration of Syrian refugees into the UK. The organisation will provide employment and language support to some of the 20,000 Syrian refugees that Britain accepts.
Finally, as we approach the centenary of the Balfour declaration, it is my view that the holocaust truly demonstrated the need for a state for the Jewish people. I would like to reaffirm the state of Israel’s right to exist.
We must speak up and not be bystanders in the face of genocide and persecution. We must have courage and not look the other way. I do not underestimate how hard that can be, but it is easier if we all speak up, stand together and accept that we must not stand by. I pay tribute to the Jewish community here in London and the UK for their significant and positive contribution and engagement. They will not bow down to anti-Semitism and discrimination, and we will stand with them.