The UK marked Holocaust Memorial Day at the weekend – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – remembering the six million Jews and the millions of Roma, Slavs, disabled people and others who were murdered by the Nazi government and its collaborators.
A moment to remember, it was also an opportunity to consider how we will apply lessons from this tragic past in the future.
The stunning architecture of Sir David Adjaye, announced by the government in October as winner of the competition to design a new UK Holocaust memorial, will help to create what he has called a "park of conscience" in the shadow of Parliament.
It is not only because of the enormity of the crimes that a memorial is necessary; we should also be reminded how modern civilisation across Europe collapsed so rapidly, with states becoming persecutors rather than protectors of their citizens. The Holocaust is the ultimate reminder of the need to guard against antisemitism and any form of prejudice that excludes people based on race, religion, gender or disability.
If the memorial contributes, even in a modest way, to communities across the United Kingdom becoming more inclusive, it will be a valuable investment. The planned memorial is not the first in the UK. The Imperial War Museum and the UK Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire are also expanding their exhibitions and education programmes. We welcome the intention of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation to cooperate with and support other established institutions - to ensure the whole country, not just London, benefits.
What sets the new UK Holocaust memorial apart is its proximity to the heart of government. The first act of the Nazi party was to transfer powers of the German parliament to the executive. Located in Victoria Gardens, in the shadow of the Palace of Westminster, the Holocaust memorial will be a reminder that Parliament should never be divested of its role as the bedrock of democracy, protecting our nation from sliding into abuse or tyranny.
As the architects give shape to the design, we hope the memorial will function as more than a monument to the past. "Never Again" is a slogan that today rings ever more hollow. Since the Holocaust, genocide has occurred in Cambodia, Rwanda and Srebrenica. Today millions suffer the consequence of mass atrocities in Darfur, northern Iraq and Syria. As we write, victims are being unearthed in Bosnia, Yazidi women plead for justice and Rohingya Muslims are experiencing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, all under the gaze of the international community.
When the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington DC, Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel stated: “A memorial unresponsive to the future would violate memory of the past”. We will dishonour the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis if we fail to meet the international responsibility to protect groups of people at risk of destruction today.
The UK has held a permanent seat on the UN Security Council since its creation and this position comes with significant international obligations and responsibilities.
As co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, we warmly welcome the UK Holocaust memorial in Westminster. But we would like the government to take this opportunity to go further. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum is home to a Centre for Prevention of Genocide and we would encourage consideration of the establishment of a similar atrocity prevention centre at this new memorial, where it could potentially form part of the proposed Learning Centre.
The US institution provides not only a bipartisan voice of conscience, but a valuable flow of research, early warning information and policy recommendations. These are published, shared and discussed with elected representatives and with relevant staff in multiple branches of government.
There is a gap in the UK for such an atrocity prevention centre in Westminster to fulfil a similar role. This is not a centre to advocate for late military interventions but instead it has two main functions. First to help government personnel who work overseas and in London to recognise and respond more effectively to early warnings. Second, it can identify where cost-effective steps could be taken upstream of extremist violence to prevent its eruption in the first place. Missing early opportunities to prevent is costly – both in human and financial terms.
Last year we completed a report on "The Cost of Doing Nothing", which had been started with our late dear colleague and friend Jo Cox MP. As Jo so simply put it: “Never again can we let innocents suffer as they did in the Holocaust. Never again.” Jo was not one for platitudes. She was at the forefront of ensuring words were met with action.
Establishing a centre at the new Holocaust memorial to address the challenges of hate and atrocity in our time would transform this slogan - not into a monument, but a promise. It is also keenly supported by many Holocaust survivors, some of whom attended a meeting we hosted at the Palace of Westminster last Monday to discuss the idea.
“How about looking at areas where people are sliding towards those atrocities?” asked Holocaust survivor and emeritus professor Agnes Kaposi. “The link between the past and the future should be established.” We agree wholeheartedly.