MPs mark Holocaust Memorial Day with Westminster debate

Politicians from all parties have paid tribute to the heroism and bravery displayed by the victims of Nazi persecution during the Holocaust and spoken of their experiences visiting the camps and meeting survivors.

The Holocaust was the subject of a Westminster Hall debate on Thursday, held in advance of Britain’s official Holocaust Memorial Day next Friday. The commemoration, which takes place on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, is now in its twelfth year.

Labour MP Ian Austin spoke movingly of his adoptive father, who escaped to Britain from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Holocaust with just three words of English. “It was the last time that he saw his mum and sisters, who were eventually rounded up and imprisoned, first in a ghetto, then in Theresienstadt, before finally being murdered in Treblinka,” said Mr Austin, MP for Dudley.

“I was brought up hearing stories about the suffering and the appalling cruelty...and the scale of the slaughter. That left me with a lifelong conviction that prejudice leads to intolerance, then to victimisation and eventually to persecution, and that everyone of us has a duty not to stand by, but to make a difference—to fight discrimination, intolerance and bigotry wherever we find it.”

Mr Austin and several other MPs highlighted the work of the Holocaust Education Trust, which takes British groups including politicians to visit the sites of concentration camps in Poland. “To those MPs who have not taken that opportunity, I encourage them strongly to do so,” said Conservative MP Gavin Barwell, who called the debate.

“One thing I learned from that visit was not just to regard people as victims,” he said, but to “remember what was there before”.

Mr Barwell called for Holocaust education to remain on the curriculum, questioning the logic of comments by the former Secretary of State for Education, Lord Baker of Dorking, who said the study of Nazism should be banned in favour of British history. Mr Barwell’s suggestion that the Holocaust is a vital part of British history was praised by others in the chamber.

MPs also used the debate to discuss the “insidious type of antisemitism and Islamophobia” visible at times in Britain, and call for vigilance in preventing it. “Sadly, antisemitism still lingers to this day, which serves as a further reminder of the importance of Holocaust education,” said Conservative MP Graham Evans.

Referring to the LSE students who played a Nazi-themed card game on a ski trip, he said he was most worried about antisemitism on our university campuses. He said: "Much more needs to be done” and that universities and the government should take responsibility.

“Unless we have the resolve to stop it, evil will spread as it did only 70 years ago,” added Labour MP John Woodcock.

Last updated: 12:46pm, January 20 2012