Pickles reflects on the talents lost in the death camps

By Jennifer Lipman, February 2, 2012

A month after visiting Auschwitz, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told the national Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony that the Shoah had deprived Europe of "people who would have become household names.

"Those shoes weren't meant to go to a death camp," he said, recalling the piles of footwear from victims of the Nazis. "They were meant to go on family outings, go to work, to pick children up from schools."

At Auschwitz, Mr Pickles had also assessed the progress of the restoration project at the memorial, to which Britain has pledged £2.15 million.

More than 100 survivors were joined at the central London ceremony by schoolchildren and human-rights campaigners.

TV news anchor Emily Maitlis and journalist Jonathan Freedland hosted the event, which included survivor testimony, poetry and performances by an east London youth community choir.

Those shoes were not made to go to a death camp

There was silence in the room as Stanmore Synagogue cantor Jonny Turgel, the grandson of survivors, sang the memorial prayer, El Male Rachamim.

Six candles of remembrance were lit and video messages of support from politicians and faith leaders were showed to the audience.

Margaret Olmer - who arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport at the age of eight - was pleased the government recognised the need to continue Holocaust education.

"I try to come to this ceremony every year," she said.

The HMD Speak Up, Speak Out theme was echoed in an exhibition organised by the HMD Trust, featuring artworks for children and displays about the Nazis and subsequent campaigns of genocide, including Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia.

Olivia Warham, director of the democracy campaign group, Waging Peace, had laid out copies of chilling drawings by Sudanese children who escaped the genocide in Darfur. "It is incredibly relevant to be learning about the Holocaust today," she said. "We need to understand that it is not just something that can be placed in history."

Former Commission for Racial Equality vice-chair Aubrey Rose felt it "wonderful that they have extended this beyond the Jewish people. Terrible things happened since 1945. The exhibition is splendid and it gives you thoughts about problems that you probably had not thought about before."

Last updated: 3:07pm, February 2 2012