When hatred is rearing its ugly head, we must remember how it can end

It is crucial that we mark the anniversary of Parliament acknowledging the Holocaust was taking place

December 13, 2022 15:27

There is rarely a quiet moment in the House of Commons. The chamber is designed to be deliberately adversarial, and members are seated a theatrical two sword lengths apart. However, there are some things that are so important that members from opposite sides of the house put aside their differences and come together.

80 years ago this week, MPs did exactly that. On 17 December 1942, on hearing the British Government’s first public recognition that the Holocaust was taking place, MPs stood united for a moment of silence. This solemn gesture was proposed to the Speaker by a little-known Labour MP, William Cluse. The Speaker replied pithily that this ought to be a spontaneous action of the House as a whole. MPs were then urged up by a Conservative, Sir Waldron Smithers. Contemporary newspapers report that MPs remained standing for over a minute and that ‘there were many eyes which were not dry’. This was reported to be the first moment like this in the history of the chamber.

MPs were so shocked and disgusted by what they had heard, they felt compelled to stand, in the words of William Cluse, in "protest against disgusting barbarism".

Almost 80 years later to the day, we too put aside our party differences to work together as trustees of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Like those MPs in 1942, we feel compelled to stand against hatred and prejudice. The work of HMDT is essential in ensuring that all people, regardless of background, remember the Holocaust, and the heart-wrenching failure of humanity not to learn its lessons. We are painfully aware that genocides have happened more recently in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. In learning the horrors of recent history, we implore people to work to ensure that they are never repeated.

This too is the message we hear so often from survivors. It is a privilege as trustees of HMDT to have met so many of the extraordinary men and women who survived the Holocaust and now give their time to sharing their testimonies. They often tell us that the reason they revisit the trauma of the past, is to ensure people today learn from their suffering and work to ensure such horror never happens again. We owe it to them to work for a safer world.

This is why it is appropriate that Mr Speaker will lead MPs in marking the anniversary of that initial, spontaneous gesture with another moment of silence on Thursday. In making this solemn gesture, MPs remember those who were murdered, they honour those who survived, and they make anew a solemn pledge to do all they can to ensure the horrors of the Holocaust never happen again.

In a world where hatred and prejudice are rearing their ugly heads anew, this message is timely. In China, Uyghur Muslims are being singled out and imprisoned in so called re-education camps. We commend the work of the Board of Deputies of British Jews to bring to the world’s attention to the plight the Uyghur people. Their call should serve as a chilling reminder that we should all play our part in the face of this brutality.

We are also seeing the horrific attacks on the people of Ukraine, following its invasion by Russia last February. We are appalled by Russia's flagrant disregard for human life and their attempts to wipe out the Ukrainian language and culture. MPs have been steadfast in their support for the Ukrainian people. Only a few months ago, the Ukrainian ambassador was given a place of honour in the Speaker's Gallery, where Holocaust survivors will similarly be hosted during this moment of silence.

We have also seen an alarming rise in antisemitism in the United Kingdom in recent years. As a Christian, and a Muslim respectively, we see it as our common duty to call this out. There is no place for this scourge in our society and we pledge to do everything we can to work against it.

A key part of tackling antisemitism, and other forms of hatred is through education. This is why the work of HMDT is so important. It ensures that all people in the United Kingdom, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, or part of the country they are from, have an opportunity to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. There will be activities across the country culminating in the Light the Darkness national moment. Individuals will place candles in their windows and public buildings will light up in purple. Like MPs solemn silence a month earlier, this is an opportunity to remember those who were murdered and to stand against hatred today.

Holocaust remembrance is a duty for all people, a time to come together for quiet reflection. MPs from all parties stand in silence to do exactly that. It is fitting that the whole country will do the same this January to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2023.

Tulip Siddiq is the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, and John Howell is the Conservative MP for Henley. They are both trustees of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

READ MORE: MPs to mark 80 years since parliament learned of Holocaust

December 13, 2022 15:27

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive