Communities Secretary Eric Pickles spoke about his recent Auschwitz visit when he joined politicians from across the political spectrum at a Commons reception to unveil the Holocaust Memorial Day theme for 2013.
Mr Pickles had toured the death camp site with the director of the Auschwitz museum, who said he always asked visiting groups why they had decided to go there. “He spoke to a group of South Koreans, who were on a tour of Europe, the great capitals, and had also come to Auschwitz because they wanted to understand ‘European civilisation’. And it reminded me that we can never be smug. The country that gave us Goethe and Beethoven also gave us the Holocaust.”
He was proud that HMD in the UK had grown “from nothing” since it was set up in 2001. There were 1,400 commemorative events in 2012.
Labour’s Louise Ellman and Tory Mike Freer co-hosted the reception to launch next year’s theme of “Communities together: Build a Bridge”. Others at the event included Conservatives Bob Blackman, Jonathan Djanogly and Paul Uppal, Labour’s Barry Gardiner and Alun Michael and the Scottish National Party’s Eilidh Whiteford.
“It is easy to forget that when the memorial day was first proposed, there was a lot of debate about if it was necessary,” Ms Ellman noted. “Was it the most appropriate way to remember? Now in 2012, there are not many who question the wisdom and the correctness of doing what we do.”
Survivor Sabina Miller spoke movingly about her time in the Warsaw ghetto, escaping to live for months in a ditch, begging for food and her arrest by the Gestapo — she managed to convince officers that she was not Jewish.
Mr Freer said that in his Finchley and Golders Green constituency, he came across many survivors and was always astounded by their strength.
Guests took home a book of poetry, composed by entrants to a competition based on the 2012 HMD theme of “Stand Up, Speak Out”.