Cameron commits to ‘sacred, vital’ task

By Marcus Dysch, January 30, 2014
Actress Helena Bonham Carter meets Holocaust survivors at the reception at Downing Street this week

Actress Helena Bonham Carter meets Holocaust survivors at the reception at Downing Street this week

It is billed as the project that will ensure Shoah education continues in Britain for generations to come.

The details of the national Holocaust Commission revealed this week by David Cameron suggest that he will stand by his promise to guarantee the genocide will never be forgotten.

Welcoming more than 50 survivors to a Downing Street reception marking Holocaust Memorial Day on Monday, the Prime Minister unveiled the names of experts and high-profile figures who will lead the commission’s research.

He told survivors the new group had a “sacred and vital” task to carry out. “You have done a brilliant job of going to schools and telling your stories, but now we have to think about what to do in 50 years’ time,” said Mr Cameron.

“We have to think how are we best going to remember, commemorate and educate future generations of children? How can we make sure that in 2064 there is as vibrant and strong a memory as there is today with all of you standing in this room.”

The commission will include a sprinkle of Hollywood stardust thanks to actress Helena Bonham Carter’s inclusion. Westminster heavyweights Michael Gove and Ed Balls will participate and there will be rabbinic oversight from Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

The cross-party, multi-faith group will present Mr Cameron with its recommendations before the end of the year. The Prime Minister said he hoped they would produce a “quite striking” result, possibly in the form of a national memorial or museum.

Insiders said the initiative would provide a “massive opportunity” to devise “something big” to commemorate the Shoah.

Other leading figures appointed by Mr Cameron include broadcaster Natasha Kaplinsky, historian Simon Sebag Montefiore and broadcaster Samir Shah.

Regional sessions will be held around the country and a youth representative will be selected to join the group, which will be chaired by Jewish Leadership Council chairman Mick Davis.

Ms Bonham Carter, whose mother’s family is of Jewish origin and whose grandfather Eduardo Propper de Callejon saved hundreds of Jews during the Shoah, said: “I am very honoured to be asked to join this commission and do so in particular memory of those members of my family who died in the Holocaust.”

The King’s Speech star said she felt a sense of “inherited responsibility” to her grandfather.

“It is our generation’s legacy to create a living memory that will survive the survivors and forever remind future generations of the inhumanity man is capable of committing to its own kind,” she explained.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis thanked Mr Cameron for his “vision and foresight” and said: “This is a unique opportunity to shape commemoration and education of the greatest evil perpetuated by man, ensuring that we in Britain learn the lessons and do our utmost to prevent the recurrence of such atrocities against any group anywhere in the world.”

The commissioners will work in two “expert” groups. An education group will be chaired Dame Helen Hyde, a fellow of Holocaust education at the Imperial War Museum.

The group includes Professor David Cesarani, Lord Finkelstein, former Board of Deputies president Henry Grunwald, historian Simon Sebag Montefiore and philanthropist Maurice Ostro.

A commemoration group will be chaired by Arts Council chair Sir Peter Bazalgatte and includes survivors Ben Helfgott and Jack Kagan, alongside Imperial War Museum director-general Diane Lees and Holocaust Centre founder James Smith.

Last updated: 12:29pm, January 30 2014