David Cameron announces new Holocaust memorial will be built in London

By Marcus Dysch, January 27, 2015
David Cameron visited Auschwitz in December

David Cameron visited Auschwitz in December

A national Holocaust memorial and learning centre will be built in central London, David Cameron has pledged.

Announcing a range of measures on Holocaust Memorial Day, the Prime Minister said Britain was making a “bold statement” about the importance it puts on preserving the memory of the Holocaust.

There will be an endowment fund to secure the long-term future of Shoah education, and an urgent programme to record the testimony of British survivors and concentration camp liberators.

An independent UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation will be formed to immediately begin work on purchasing land for the memorial and to start documenting survivors’ stories.

The projects are seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and are the result of recommendations made by Mr Cameron’s Holocaust Commission, which was launched last year as a cross-party, multi-faith group to investigate ways to educate future generations of Britons about the genocide.

The plans are ambitious, but realistic

- Commission chair Mick Davis

Speaking at the national Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in Westminster, Mr Cameron said: “Today we stand together - whatever our faith, whatever our creed, whatever our politics.

"We stand in remembrance of those who were murdered in the darkest hour of human history, we stand in admiration of what our Holocaust survivors have given to our country and we stand united in our resolve to fight prejudice and discrimination in all its forms.

“As Prime Minister I will ensure that we will keep Britain’s promise to remember: today, tomorrow and for every generation to come.”

The national project will go ahead regardless of the outcome of May’s general election.

Mick Davis, who chaired the commission, said people were dissatisfied with the current Shoah memorial garden in Hyde Park which was unveiled in 1983.

The new memorial will have a number of key characteristics, including a place for prayer, interactive elements, factual information, and details on Britain’s efforts during the Shoah.

“It should keep the memory of the six million Jews as its central focus,” Mr Davis told the JC. “But it will also feature the other victims of Nazi persecution.”

Architects and other designers will have the opportunity to bid to design the memorial. It is hoped it will be built by 2017. Three sites in London are being considered – at the Imperial War Museum, near Millbank in Westminster, and near the Tower of London.

The aim is to build the learning centre by the end of the next Parliament in 2020. Mr Davis said the plans were “ambitious, but realistic”.

Around £50 million of government funding will be made available, but he said there would be a need for private philanthropy to raise a similar amount.

Mr Davis said: “The most powerful thing for me is that all three parties have signed up for it. At the start of a hard-fought election campaign, the parties have come together and said this is above politics.

“It’s been an incredible experience. We have done this in one year exactly. The use of technology, the breadth of the learning centre, and the possibility of a research chair at a university will mark a significant step forward in terms of Holocaust education.”

Mr Davis addressed cabinet on Tuesday morning to inform ministers of the commission's findings. He is also due to speak at Labour's shadow cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

The new foundation will be led by Arts Council England chair Sir Peter Bazalgette. He said: "It is vital that the new UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation maintains the urgent momentum of this work. The prize is empathetic citizens with tolerance for the beliefs and cultures of others. But eternal vigilance is needed to instil this in every generation."

Mr Davis said the recording of testimony would begin immediately and would be “future-proofed” to ensure it could be accessed using new technologies in decades to come.

The learning centre will be built next to the memorial and will aim to attract “vast numbers” of visitors. It will include an online hub to bring together the work of existing Holocaust organisations and to extend education efforts nationwide.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: “Building on the great work already being done, the recommendations of the Commission will have a profound impact on the future of Holocaust education and its centrality in the UK.

“A fitting memorial and a state of the art educational centre will ensure that Holocaust commemoration and education reach the widest possible audience. It has never been more important than it is today for humanity to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. Only through learning about the darkest period in human history can we ensure it will not be repeated."

The commission worked with international groups including Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington during its research. There are proposals for an international summit to be held in London when the centre opens.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose parents fled Nazi persecution in the 1940s, said: “At a time of rising antisemitic attacks in Britain and across Europe, it is imperative that we remember what religious prejudice can lead to.

“I know that the Holocaust Commission recommendations will be instrumental in educating our future generations and in recording and preserving the stories of our Holocaust survivors and those who fought to liberate them.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “Sadly there will be a time when there are no eyewitnesses left. It is therefore even more important that we build the best possible facilities to educate future generations about the Holocaust and continue to tell their stories long after they are gone.”

The commission received almost 2,500 responses and pieces of evidence. It also collected ideas at a landmark event at Wembley Stadium last May – in conjunction with the JC – which featured one of the largest-ever gatherings of Holocaust survivors in this country.

It also had access to the world’s largest study of young people’s knowledge and understanding of the genocide. The research was carried out by University College London’s Institute of Education which spoke to 8,000 British secondary school pupils.

It discovered that the majority did not know fundamental facts about the Shoah and more than half believed concentration camps were mainly in Germany rather than Poland. Less than one-third of young people said they knew what antisemitism meant.

Olivia Marks-Woldman, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust chief executive, said: "The Prime Minister shares our goal, to extend the reach and impact of Holocaust commemoration and education, in order to ensure that as a nation we never forget and that survivors’ stories are not lost."

Karen Pollock, Holocaust Educational Trust chief executive, said: "As we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and liberation of the concentration camps, we are at a crucial juncture.

"The announcement of a new national Holocaust memorial with a world-class learning centre with a renewed focus on education, will place the UK among the world's leaders in ensuring that future generations always remember this tragic episode in our shared history."

Last updated: 4:29pm, January 27 2015