MPs warn of far-right rise in Europe during Holocaust Memorial day debate

Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I (Photo: AP)

Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I (Photo: AP)

MPs spoke movingly of meeting Holocaust survivors and visiting the sites of Nazi atrocities in a parliamentary debate convened to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

In what has become a tradition since 2008, politicians of all parties acknowledged the annual memorial day, which officially takes place this year on Sunday.

They used the debate to raise the question of the rise of extremism in Europe, including in Hungary with the far-right party Jobbik and in Greece with Golden Dawn, and warn of history repeating itself.

"When we stop remembering our collective history, because we no longer have first-hand accounts from people who were there, or simply because it shows the unpalatable truth about how we can turn on a minority, we risk making the same mistakes," said Conservative MP Graham Evans. "It is inevitable that they will be repeated. Evil men know that. Adolf Hitler knew it. He frequently referred to the Armenian genocide… the memory of it had all but disappeared by the 1930s.

"The world had moved on, and the vigilance against similar events had all but disappeared. History, it appeared, could simply wash the blood away.

"We cannot let people believe that, with the ending of the war, all these attitudes suddenly went away," reiterated Labour's Mark Tami. "There were pogroms in eastern Europe after the second world war. Education is clearly the key to ensuring that future generations never forget what happened."

Ilford South MP Mike Gapes also referred to the reported comments of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, deriding the Holocaust as a myth. "It is important for us in this country not to have double standards or pull our punches, but to criticise vehemently and strongly all those who foster holocaust denial internationally-in whatever position in whatever country, whether it be Hungary or in other parts of the world."

Throughout the debate, MPs repeatedly underlined the fact that "we must not be complacent".

"Just because society knows what happened before is no reason to believe that it is not capable of repeating those wrongs in the future," said Labour MP Chris Williamson. "We need look no further than the atrocities in Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia for proof of that."

Many praised the work of organisations including the Holocaust Educational trust.

"I went knowing what Auschwitz was, but I left understanding what it meant , " said Mr Evans, who visited the concentration camps in Poland with HET and pupils from his constituency in 2011. He referred to how the understanding of the Shoah had changed over the generations, recalling how as a child he met a soldier who had been at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.

"I had always thought that we had been the plucky Brits who fought the war and beat the Germans," he said. "The idea of the Holocaust had never occurred to me."

One of the points raised was the challenge of Holocaust memorial as numbers of survivors remaining falls.

"As time passes… it is important to record testimony," said Labour MP Pat McFadden. "As each year passes, there are fewer and fewer living survivors, and if we are to learn the lessons from the Holocaust before they fade into the distance, it will be important to record as much testimony as possible so that we can remain as vigilant as possible.

"As much as we might believe that those atrocities should never happen again, the danger of them happening again has not gone away."

Meanwhile, after signing the Holocaust Educational Trust's Book of Commitment, Liberal Democrat MP David Ward compared modern Israel to the Nazi regime. In remarks to Asian Image magazine, reported by The Commentator, he said: "Having visited Auschwitz twice... I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza."

Mr Ward, whose Bradford constituency neighbours that of Respect leader George Galloway, is a frequent critic of Israel in the Commons. During the height of the fighting in Gaza last year, he stated that "the blockade of Gaza amounts to an act of aggression perpetrated by the state of Israel". Last year he urged the government to support a protest "at events involving Israeli Olympians to highlight the plight of the Palestinians and to bring to public awareness the apartheid regime in Israel".

Last updated: 11:36am, January 25 2013