Jeremy Hunt: I'll never forget my Auschwitz trip

Foreign Secretary says visiting the death camp was a “life-changing experience”


Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has spoken of his “life-changing experience” of visiting Auschwitz, admitting: “I’ll never forget standing on that railway platform where so many human beings’ fate was decided by a simple instruction to turn left or right.”

In his keynote speech at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration, Mr Hunt recalled his 2006 visit to the German Nazi death camp in occupied Poland in the company of the “inspirational” Rabbi Barry Marcus.

“I’ll never forget Rabbi Marcus singing in Hebrew as we reflected on the horror of what was around us,” he told the packed audience at the Westminster event. “Nor will I forget the remarkable Polish guide who never once referred to Jews being killed: she always used the word ‘murdered’.”

Mr Hunt raised the haunting spectre of “the broken human beings were among the handful of survivors of the 1.3 million people who had passed through the gates of Auschwitz” including the acclaimed author Primo Levi and the “other remarkable people who summoned enough strength to preserve their dignity in defiance of relentless efforts to extinguish the last embers of their humanity”.

But in a carefully executed talk, Mr Hunt also raised the issue of the need for “moral clarity” as he recalled standing at the railway track at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

He said: “And a question that troubled me as I tried to take all this in is, would I have looked away? Would I have done the right thing?

“With three young children that I have now whose lives are just beginning, what would I have done?”

In his new role as Foreign Secretary, Mr Hunt said it was therefore an “incredible privilege to honour” Major Frank Foley, the M16 agent and Foreign Office employee who risked his own life to save 10, 000 Jews by working undercover in Nazi Germany as a passport officer.

A new bronze bust of Maj Foley was unveiled, which will stand in the Foreign Office building.


“We should reflect that it was not the state as a whole, but remarkable individuals like Frank Foley who did the right thing, made the correct moral choice, often in defiance of the rules,” said Mr Hunt.

“So here I ask: what would each of us have done if we had been in his place?

“Frank Foley died in 1958 having observed the code of his profession and kept silent about his service. Four decades passed before Michael Smith wrote his biography and he began to receive the posthumous recognition.

“In 1999, Yad Vashem decided to honour Foley as one of the Righteous Among Nations.

“One of the Jews he saved happens to be the father-in-law of my cabinet colleague, James Brokenshire. Others include the grandparents of an SIS officer who is serving today.

“Thanks to Foley, many people were spared the ordeal that Primo Levi endured and chronicled.

“But even as we take pride in the memory of Frank Foley, we should never lose sight of the hard truth that when the crucial moment came and the moral test was posed, there were too few people like him.”

The Rt Hon Lord Pickles also spoke at the ceremony, warning of the continued popularity of outright Holocaust denial and rising antisemitism. He praised the government’s decision to build the £50 million Holocaust memorial in Westminster as a permanent reminder of the Shoah.

In a further powerful speech, Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to the UK, spoke of the debt he personally owned to the bravery of Harry Irons, the RAF Bomber Command veteran who passed away last November.

Ambassador Regev recalled how bombing raids mounted by Mr Irons in the daring Magdeburg Raid had saved the lives of his grandfather, Joachim Freiberg, who was living as a slave labourer with his family under the brutal Reich regime.

But in a further observation, Ambassador Regev also said now was the time to “talk honestly” about the deaths in the Nazi camps that may have been avoided had the state of Israel existed a decade earlier than its 1948 birth.

He said: “Had the League of Nations mandate ended a decade earlier, had the state of Israel been established in 1938 and not 1948, how many more Jews of the six million could have been saved?”

But Ambassador Regev also recognised that were it not for the efforts of the Allied Forces, the Nazis “did not succeed” in their desire to murder every single Jew.

Also delivering moving speeches at the event were Holocaust survivor Mala Tribich MBE and Holocaust Educational Trust ambassadors Abbie Rawlings and Jaya Pathak.

Ms Tribich was asked by Mr Hunt to unveil the bust of Maj Foley.

In her own speech, Mala recalled: “When we arrived in Bergen-Belsen, it was overcrowded. We entered the main camp and it was like something out of hell. There was a smog and smell and skeletal figures shuffling along like zombies. There were dead bodies everywhere. Typhus was rife.”

The memorial prayer – El Male Rachamim – was recited by Rabbi Harry Jacobi.


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