Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. It takes place on January 27 every year so that we never forget the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust, under nazi persecution and in the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
I marked the event with civil, community and political leaders across the city at Liverpool Town hall on Friday. Today, I will be attending the national commemoration. Parliament held a powerful debate last week in which due recognition was given to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which plays such an important part in helping the next generation understand what happened and the important lessons to be learned for today.
You can watch my speech in full by clicking here.
In my speech I noted that it sometimes feels beyond our ability to comprehend that humans are capable of inflicting such horrors on other humans. And yet even after the greatest annihilation in history – the Holocaust – we have witnessed horrors in our own times in Cambodia, in Rwanda, in Bosnia. More recently still we see the plight of the Rohingya in Burma, driven from their homes, their villages in flames.
We celebrate the lives of survivors, like Susan Pollack MBE, who I had the privilege to share a platform with at Labour Party conference in Liverpool a few months ago, because each survivor’s testimony aids our understanding, adds to our history, and helps educate our children. Susan was in Belsen when the British liberated it, and still visits schools to talk about her experiences at the age of 88.
Of course, the Holocaust didn’t start with the gas chambers. It began with words. The words expressed the warped racial theories – many of which were commonplace in Britain as well as Germany, and could be heard on the left as well as on the right – of eugenics.
Words fed the conspiracy theories, like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, they helped turn centuries of antisemitism into race-hate laws and facilitated the recruitment of millions of people into supporters of the industrialised mass murder of their fellow human beings.
This is an aspect of the Holocaust that we need to learn the most from.
How many thousands of people in the civilian police, the railways, the civil service never challenged what they knew to be happening, never questioned the plans they were helping to implement, looked the other way?
At what point could it have been stopped?
Today, we must not be bystanders.
Social media is full of antisemitism – the conspiracies that Jewish people run the banks, organised 9/11, profit from wars, manipulate the media, and have loyalties to a foreign power. The Jew-hating, conspiracy theorist David Icke can fill stadiums, and speaks to millions. List are compiled of Jewish people working in the media or Jewish MPs and circulated as evidence of conspiracies.
Whether it’s the neo-nazis, or those who think they belong to the left, we must call out this antisemitism as loudly as we can.
What we learned from the Holocaust is that once hate has taken hold, and the air is filled with the sound of smashing glass and the march of jackboots, it is too late to question the words.