We should support this Holocaust memorial for the sake of the victims and the generations to come

Chief Rabbi Mirvis responds to Melanie Phillips' attack on the proposed Shoah memorial in Westminster

August 09, 2019 13:12

It is human nature that, occasionally, we fail to appreciate the extraordinary blessings which have been bestowed upon us.

I never imagined, though, that, for some, this would be the case for the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, which the government intends to create in Victoria Tower Gardens. In last week’s JC, Melanie Philips became the latest of a small number of vocal critics to object.

It should not be necessary to spell out the reasons why a world class memorial to the Shoah in the heart of our capital city is not only a great blessing, but will also be a crucial expression of what it is to be British in these troubled times. It is nothing less than a sacred mission.

Within a context of rising levels of antisemitism and a downward spiral of intolerance and hate speech, the British Government has proposed an initiative, which has benefitted from cross-party collaboration in its delivery, declaring that we must do whatever it takes to ensure that the lessons of the Shoah are never forgotten. It has committed tens of millions of pounds to live up to that declaration, inviting the most celebrated architects from around the world to submit designs for a memorial and learning centre in one of the most visited and richly symbolic parts of our country.

One might reasonably ask what objection there could possibly be to such an emphatic commitment to something so important.

One apparent concern relates to the aesthetics of the memorial – something which is obviously highly subjective. Yet, for those I am aware of, for whom the design does not appeal, I have met countless individuals who believe that the 23 imposing bronze fins, creating 22 ‘gaps’ to represent the 22 countries in which Jewish communities were destroyed, will prove to be a striking and powerful addition to the iconic Westminster landscape.

The memorial will inevitably have its detractors, as do all works of art, but the design of world-famous architects David Adjaye and Ron Arad has been widely acclaimed.  

To those who question the suitability of Victoria Tower Gardens as a location, I ask: What better site could there be? The Memorial and Learning Centre will stand in the shadow of the seat of our country’s democracy, as an eternal reminder to our political leaders that the fight against hatred is a fundamental part of the responsibility we have conferred upon them.

The message that will ring out to the next generation of school children from around the country and to the millions of tourists visiting Westminster from abroad, is that ours is a nation which has embedded Holocaust memorial into our national consciousness. All this is to be achieved whilst also maintaining a spacious, green area for locals to enjoy.

The references to a 'well-funded Holocaust industry' and Jewish ‘privilege’ in the comments on the Westminster Council planning portal have only served to prove just how necessary the project is. No memorial has the power to expunge antisemitism or act as a complete antidote to the scourge of hatred.

Yet, this is a monumental educational initiative, which will deploy cutting-edge technologies and the latest pedagogical techniques, to make a powerful cognitive and emotional impact on all visitors, using the lessons of the Shoah and subsequent genocides to contribute to a more compassionate British society.

The Holocaust is the greatest stain on the collective conscience of the human race and the weight of responsibility for Holocaust memorial is for all of humanity to share.

That is why I believe that this is a significant moment in British history. Our Government is resolving to learn from the tragedy of our past in order to guarantee the rights of all people to a life of safety, dignity and freedom.

We should be emphatic in our support for this initiative, for the sake of the victims and the survivors of the Holocaust, for the sake of our country and, ultimately, for the sake of the generations to come, who will ask us to explain why they must never forget.              

August 09, 2019 13:12

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