David Miliband said this week that his family’s experiences during the Nazi era may have influenced his politics — “standing up against oppressive power”.
Delivering the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lord Merlyn Rees memorial lecture at the Houses of Parliament on Monday, the Labour MP said he was part of a “transitional generation that has gone from the Holocaust being a close memory to now providing a sense of perspective and responsibility. My parents were very conscious that this was an important part of our story.”
His father and grandfather left Brussels in 1940, while his grandmother and aunt remained during the Nazi occupation. “People thought the women would be okay. They went to a small village and presented themselves to a Catholic family who sheltered them.”
Education Secretary Michael Gove was sitting quietly among the audience of 200 when the event’s host, Radio 4 presenter Martha Kearney, spotted him and asked him to speak.
“I came along because it’s rare that any politician has an hour during which they don’t talk and only listen,” Mr Gove responded. “I am a great supporter of the work the HET has done and continues to do.” Paying tribute to the previous government, Mr Gove said the trust “wouldn’t be in the position it is now if it wasn’t for my predecessors”, highlighting the support of Ed Balls, among others.
Journalist Danny Finkelstein, chair of Conservative think-tank Policy Exchange, also praised the opposition, saying: “Even though I worked for William Hague, I have respect for Gordon Brown.
“I’m very protective about politicians in this country — democratic liberals. I’m a process liberal and that’s definitely related to my parents’ experiences. My parents were driven out of their homes and their property was taken by people with big ideas.”
Mr Finkelstein said that Shoah experiences were an open subject in his family. “We do talk about it. My mother has been willing to talk about it to us and the grandchildren.
“I remember my four-year-old telling my two-year-old that Hitler tried to put granny in prison.
“My mother and her sister saw Anne Frank and her sister arrive in the Bergen-Belsen camp. It’s a very important fact of the Holocaust.”
Young HET ambassadors from across the country spoke about visiting Auschwitz.
Imogen Dalziel, a Birmingham university student who intends to undertake an MA in Holocaust studies, joined the HET programme in 2009 and has continued to work with the trust.
“We have such vast technology and the media to contend with,” she said. “Every day, racist and prejudiced comments are published on websites where Holocaust deniers try to spread their venomous accusations.
“With an increasing number of young people using the internet, we need an increasing number of people to stand up, challenge deniers and educate people on the true horrors of the Holocaust.”