Downing Street hosts first ever Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration with genocide survivors

Prime minister's staff hear from Shoah survivor and survivor of the Rwandan genocide


Downing Street has hosted its first ever Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration - as part of a wider programme to ensure as many civil servants and across Government hear survivors' testimonies.

Wednesday's reception, which was opened by Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, saw staff hear moving testimonies from Steven Frank, a Shoah survivor and Eric Eugene Murangwa, a survivor of the Genocide in Rwanda and a former international footballer.

The event is part of a wider initiative driven by Michael Livingston, a Downing Street Senior policy adviser and Civil Service Jewish Network official.

The aim is to ensure staff at every major Government office linked the lessons of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides to the work of their departments.

This was the first year that every major Government office had staged an event - with the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) continuing to act as a key partner at 15 events over 20 government departments.

Sir Mark said: “I am proud that every Government department is now holding events to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

“Hearing a survivor share their personal story leaves a lasting impact and it is so important that those of us shaping public policy have the opportunity to do so.

“My own grandfather was with the British Army when it liberated Bergen-Belsen and I have been struck personally by the power of these survivor testimonies, and how the lessons of the Holocaust still have resonance to those of us working in Government today.

"I am grateful to the members of the Civil Service Jewish Network who have driven this crucial programme of commemorations."

"Whether you're a civil servant or student, Member of Parliament or member of public, the opportunity to hear from a Holocaust survivor is one of the most memorable experiences you can have,” said HET Chief Executive Karen Pollock.

“We are delighted that we've been able to support Number 10 in this special commemoration, joining Government departments, local communities and of thousands of schools around the country  in becoming witnesses to the Holocaust."

Mr Livingston – who has worked in the fields of national security and counter-terrorism -  previously staged an event with a survivor when he worked in the Home Office and had seen the impact it had.

He decided to expand the initiative across all of Whitehall with the Holocaust fading from many people’s memory.

Over the past week, the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Lord Chancellor David Gauke and Environment Secretary Michael Gove have hosted their own events which featured survivors speaking to staff.

These receptions are intended to be more personal than the bigger official Holocaust annual commemoration events, which dignitaries attend.

Prime Minister Theresa May was not able to attend Wednesday’s reception due to the urgent Brexit negotiations, but she had a private meeting with Mala Tribich, who survived Auschwitz, in April, which lasted more than 20 minutes.

The Downing Street event had particular significance as it coincided with the 80th anniversary of the arrival of Mr Livingston’s own grandfather Friedrich, or Fred, Weiss  in the UK as a refugee from Nazi Europe.

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