MPs from across the political divide take part in Holocaust Memorial Day debate

Representatives discussed the importance of challenging antisemitism and Holocaust revisionism today


Almost 30 MPs from all political parties took part in a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday on the subject of Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD), noting the need to remember the attempted genocide of the Jewish people – and to counter growing antisemitism, both in the UK and globally.

The backbench debate was initiated by Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley, but involved speakers from all sides of the House, including MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP and DUP. Although Parliamentary language describes this as a debate, the nature of the event was one of complete agreement from all MPs who took part concerning the importance of HMD and the necessity to call out antisemitism. 

Mr Austin described how his own foster father had witnessed the Germans occupying the Czech town of Ostrowa in which he lived, in March 1939.

“Four days later he was put on a train to England by his mother and teenage sisters. He was the only member of his family able to leave, and it was the last time he would see them,” Mr Austin said.

“They were forced first into a ghetto, then sent to Theresienstadt, and then to Treblinka, where they were murdered on October 5, 1942.”

Noting that the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “torn from home”, he described how “a few years ago my Dad and I went back to Ostrowa. We found the flat he had lived in, and the site of his school and his synagogue.

“In 1937, 10,000 Jews lived in Ostrowa. The town had several synagogues, Jewish schools, businesses. In the single room that serves as its synagogue today, there are seats for 30 people.”

Mr Austin paid tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust “and the brilliant work its fantastic team do to teach young people about what can happen when hatred and racism become acceptable.”

The MP for Dudley North also praised the many Holocaust survivors, including Eva Clarke, Ziggy Schipper, Mala Tribich and Sir Ben Helfgott, who educate people about their experiences, saying: “I think it’s extraordinary that these heroes, many of them now in their late eighties and nineties, use their direct personal experience of these terrible events to help us build stronger communities and a more tolerant, united country.”

Joan Ryan, MP for Enfield North, spoke about how “remembrance and celebration are not enough. To truly honour those who died in the Holocaust and those who risked all to save the lives of others, we must also learn from it.

"Because tragically, the flames of racial and religious hatred continue to be found around the world. Antisemitism remains a scourge of the modern world. Hideous antisemitic tropes, repugnant conspiracy theories and malicious examples of Holocaust denial are all used by populists and demagogues for political ends around the Middle East and in Europe.”

“Here in the UK, on campuses and in Trade Unions, and even sadly, as we’ve heard, in the Labour party, pernicious comparisons have been made, have been drawn, between Israel and Nazi Germany. And in the United States we see Neo-Nazis, racists and white supremacists tolerated, excused and encouraged, by those at the highest levels. We must stand up with courage against antisemitism and racism, each and every day, wherever we find it.”

John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, described how “we’ve talked previously in debates about Holocaust denial. Let me put another term on the record, because it’s the pertinent one in this country for some at the moment; and that is Holocaust revisionism. Those who want to twist and turn what happened for their own ends. Who’d like to give some lip service – but only some – in twisting the facts, in minimising the consequences and the implications.”

Mr Mann, who famously called out Ken Livingstone after the former Mayor of London said that “Hitler... was supporting Zionism until he went mad”, went on to say that “Holocaust revisionism is the current day plague that we have to challenge and fight - rather than the ignorant and thick Holocaust deniers of the past, who were quite easy to challenge – and there are far too many of them around.”

He went on to emphasise, however, that this was “not just a British problem. I went to Majdanek this year [a Nazi concentration camp in Poland].

“I went round it and I observed in detail, in an hour, at every major exhibition there, in the gas chambers, that one could do it without even realising that the Jewish people were the target of the Nazis in the Holocaust. In Majdanek.

“And then I went to the [Lublin] Cathedral, up the tower. Didn’t need binoculars. You can see Majdanek now, as you could at the time, from the centre of Lublin. And yet not a single reference in the exhibitions to the fact that the target there, that the mass murders there, were primarily of the local Jewish population.

“Holocaust revisionism – it’s a problem all over Europe, it’s a problem in my political party, it’s a problem in this country, it’s a problem we are not facing up to sufficiently robustly or successfully.”

Luciana Berger, the Jewish Labour MP for Wavertree North, who has received large amounts of antisemitic abuse on Facebook and Twitter, told the House about how the antisemitic German paper Der Sturmer had helped spread antisemitism, prior to and during the Nazi era.

Der Sturmer ran with unceasing antisemitism, it told its readers, week after week, that Jews spread disease. The caption on every front page was ‘the Jews are our misfortune’,” she said.

“But today it is social media, with all the manifestations of modern antisemitism – ‘Jews secretly run the banks, organised 9/11, profit from wars, manipulate the media and have loyalties to foreign powers’.

“When people deny the Holocaust or have claims that Jews exploit it, we cannot be bystanders. When people online draw up lists of Jews in the media, we cannot be bystanders. When people use the term ‘Zio’ or ‘Rothschild’ instead of ‘Jew’ to cover their racism, we cannot be bystanders. Whether it’s neo-Nazis or those who think they belong to the left, we must say no and call it out loudly, as loudly as we can.”

Andrew Percy, Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole, described how after his conversion to Judaism he was targeted by a group of people on a couple of occasions.

“I was called Israeli scum… one of the individuals started to say to me ‘you should tell people before an election that you’re a Jew’,” he told MPs.

“I was then told to ‘eff off and eat my Jew Halal food, which says something about the educational levels of these people’. But the interesting thing was that it started with Israel and very clearly moved into my own Judaism.”  

Mr Percy said that this suggested an “Israelification of antisemitism which we need to be very wary of.”

Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, described how “this week many of us signed the book of commemoration downstairs, and remembering Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday is about pledging to act, to call out and to label the acts that we come across on a daily basis for what they are.

“I remember one incident, as a new MP in my first term, talking to a colleague about a former CFoI [Conservative Friends of Israel] trip to Israel. And this rather grand colleague, who’s no longer in this place, said to me ‘be careful young man, you wouldn’t be the first gentile to be taken in’.

“And I’m shamed to say I let that remark go, but it’s a remark which speaks and reflects directly the dark stereotypes of Jewish people, reflecting directly ideas of conspiracy, manipulation and deception. I’m ashamed I didn’t stand up to that – we have an opportunity on this Memorial Day to reflect on what we can do to renew our commitment to act.”

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