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Why Holocaust Memorial Day is important

We have to honour those who showed bravery in the face of the supreme moral test that was the Holocaust, says the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

    This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day marks the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I know that many readers of the Jewish Chronicle still bear ineradicable scars — mental and perhaps even physical — of Hitler’s attempt to eliminate world Jewry.

    This government is determined that the genocide of six million Jews will never be forgotten. We will build a Holocaust memorial and learning centre beside Parliament to serve as a reminder of the depths to which humanity can sink, and the importance of standing together against bigotry and hatred. 

    When the Holocaust began, there were some who had the moral courage to act. This week at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office we posthumously honoured eight people with Hero of the Holocaust medals.  Among them were British diplomats who together saved thousands of Jews by issuing the travel documents that allowed them to escape the Nazis. John Carvell in Munich, Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes and Margaret Reid in Berlin and Sir Thomas Preston in Lithuania did whatever they could to help Jews to reach safety.  

    But, in truth, not enough people followed their example: only a relative handful responded to what was a supreme moral test. And seven decades later, we cannot say that antisemitism, the oldest of hatreds, has been eradicated. Nor can we claim that genocide is a thing of the past.

    As recently as 2016, the United Nations concluded that Daesh had inflicted the “crime of genocide” on the Yazidi people in northern Iraq. 

    Even today, the truth about the Holocaust is distorted and sometimes denied. The most grotesque comparisons are drawn between Zionism and Nazism, including by public figures who should know better.

    Hence the resounding importance of the commemoration this year; the tragedy is that it remains profoundly necessary.

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