Penning his contribution to the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment against prejudice and racism on Monday, David Cameron warmly recalled how he had originally become aware of the HET’s activities.
“I always tell the story that when I first became a candidate, one of the first people who got in touch with me in my constituency was the guy from the Holocaust Educational Trust about what went on in schools in Witney. I was so impressed that this organisation was so quick out of the door. They made a real impression on me.”
Mr Cameron wrote that the HET’s work was “absolutely vital in making sure that we always remember what happened in the Holocaust — and that we never stop learning the lessons.
“The tragedy is that so many did suffer from persecution and prejudice, but your work will make sure we never give up this fight and build a better world.”
Browsing the comments of the 160 MPs who had thus far signed the book — marking Holocaust Memorial Day — the Prime Minister was “very impressed that one of my MPs has signed in Welsh as well as in English”.
Among an HET delegation invited to Downing Street for the occasion was London-based survivor Freda Wineman, 89, who continues to share her testimony with students. Mr Cameron told her: “It’s great that schoolchildren today are actually getting taught more about it [the Holocaust] than I was when I was at school.”
She responded that the trust did “a wonderful job” in sending out survivors to address pupils. She had received some “quite amazing” letters from students.
Also present were three graduates of the HET’s Lessons from Auschwitz project for sixth-formers — which includes a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau — who discussed their experiences with the PM. Hannah Hardman from St Cecilia’s Church of England school in Wandsworth said that “even being there, I felt that it was hard to understand the suffering that went on where we were standing. In some aspects it could have been a movie set.”
“It’s very hard to come to terms with the reality of it,” Mr Cameron agreed. He added that having visited a genocide centre in Rwanda, it was terrifying to think “that although this appalling genocide happened in the 1940s, we’re going through it again in different parts of the world. That is something we really need to focus on.”
Mrs Wineman said afterwards that she was heartened by Mr Cameron’s commitment to Holocaust education. With the number of survivors decreasing, it was imperative that those who could passed on their testimony. “It’s so different from a history book to meet a survivor. I went through four camps so I had plenty of terrible experiences.”
She added that as well as recounting “the evil that took place”, she told her young audiences “that there is still discrimination, intolerance and a lot of antisemitism. We have to fight all that. If the young generation takes up some of the work we have been doing, it will be wonderful.”
In his Book of Commitment message, Labour leader Ed Miliband wrote of “the human and emotional destruction of the Holocaust. We should combat prejudice and hate whenever we find it.”