Parliament falls silent as MPs commemorate 80 years since Holocaust recognition

Seven Holocaust survivors joined Speaker Lindsay Hoyle for breakfast ahead of the deeply poignant minute of silence in the House of Commons


The House of Commons fell silent this morning as Speaker Lindsay Hoyle led MPs in commemorating 80 years since the Holocaust was first acknowledged by Parliament.

With Holocaust survivors seated in the viewing gallery overlooking the chamber, MPs stood in solemn silence to commemorate what the Speaker described as the "tragic and sombre event" of 80 years ago today.

The day started in Speaker's House where seven survivors enjoyed a lively breakfast with Speaker Lindsay Hoyle overlooking Westminster Bridge and the Thames.

Shortly after 9am, alongside representatives of the British-Jewish community, they made their way to the chamber for the deeply emotional silence, where one survivor said he felt like he was representing the 1.5 million children whose lives were taken by the Nazis.

Stephen Frank BEM, who survived two camps and the Theresienstadt ghetto, told the JC: "It was extremely moving. Mr Speaker spoke from his heart, and it was very meaningful."

Fellow survivor Mala Tribich was emotional when she emerged from the chamber. The original declaration in Parliament took place on 17 December 1942, and Ms Tribich's mother and sister were murdered just three days later.

"That was very real," she said. "I don't normally get emotional, and certainly not in front of other people, but that was very hard."

On 17 December 1942, Jewish Labour MP Sydney Silverman asked Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden if he would make a statement on the Nazi plan to "deport all Jews from the occupied countries to Eastern Europe and there put them to death before the end of the year".

Mr Eden replied: "Yes, Sir, I regret to have to inform the House that reliable reports have recently reached His Majesty's Government regarding the barbarous and inhuman treatment to which Jews are being subjected in German-occupied Europe."

It was then that MPs first learned that Jews were being exterminated, and they were so stunned that they stood in silence. A journalist at the time wrote: "I can tell you there were many eyes which were not dry and there was not, I dare swear, a throat without a lump in it."

80 years later, before any other business was conducted, seven survivors went into the House of Commons and saw Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, and MPs from all parties gathered to remember the horrendous events that they suffered through less than 100 years ago.

Seated above the government benches, they listened in silence as Mr Speaker described the enormity of what happened there 80 years ago today, and observed as MPs felt the weight of both the past and the future as they stood in silence, just as their predecessors had done.

Speaking ahead of the commemoration, Speaker Hoyle said: "It's important to me that people who survived the Holocaust, who survived the concentration camps - it was important to meet them here today. They're the last, and that's why it's so important to me to meet them and make sure we never forget, and that's what today's about. That hatred and the Holocaust not be forgotten."

To further underscore the importance of today, the Speaker gave special permission for photographers to be present and for television cameras to film the gallery.

Speaker Hoyle added: "To have those people coming in to witness the House being in silence again, to have the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition; that's how important today is to Parliament."

Olivia Marks-Woldman, CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, told the JC why today was so important: "There's a myth that many people in Britain didn't know about the Holocaust until after the war. The moment of silence really shows the enormity of how incorrect that myth was.

"The symbolism of recreating that and marking the anniversary firstly is to show a little bit of history that we don't necessarily know, but it is also symbolic that today when Holocaust distortion and denial are on the increase that politicians from all parties are standing to acknowledge the enormity of the Holocaust."

She added: "For survivors, who have come here to this country and rebuilt their lives, to be welcomed by the Speaker into his private chambers and into the House is very special."

With antisemitism rising across the UK, survivor Yvonne Bernstein felt that this moment was extremely important: "I've always been lucky because I haven't suffered too much from antisemitism, but I think it's good because this shows we're just ordinary people. Being Jewish doesn't make us different."

Today was just the start of Holocaust commemorations in Parliament; throughout the month of January, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust will hold an exhibition for MPs and visitors to learn more about it, and other genocides since. On 27 January, the nation will come together to light candles in memory of all those murdered by the Nazis less than a century ago.

Ms Marks-Woldman told the JC: "Today in the House of Commons, parliamentarians are acknowledging and remembering the Holocaust. In just a few weeks times, everybody has the opportunity to do that and to learn more about the past, and take action in their communities for a better future."

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