PM to mark 80 years since parliament learned of Holocaust

On 17 December 1942, Parliament spontaneously fell silent after Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden confirmed that the Jews of Europe were being exterminated


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to mark 80 years since Parliament first confirmed that the Holocaust was taking place as the House of Commons is set to fall silent in a poignant act of remembrance.

In a speech to the House of Commons on 17 December 1942, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden confirmed that the Jews of Europe were being exterminated by Nazi Germany, and in what was believed to have been a first for the House of Commons, the chamber spontaneously stood in silence in a deeply emotional moment.

On Thursday, 80 years later, House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will lead a one-minute silence marking the occasion, and Holocaust survivors will be present in the Speakers Gallery.

Speaking about the anniversary, Sir Lindsay Hoyle said: "It takes a lot to quieten the House of Commons, but 80 years ago MPs were spontaneously stunned into silence after it was confirmed that the Nazis were responsible for the systematic mass murder of the Jewish population in Europe.

"It was a moment like no other and was described by one parliamentary correspondent as being 'like the frown of the conscience of mankind.'

"Given the genocides that have occurred since and the horrific war crimes that are taking place in Ukraine now, it is important that we mark this significant anniversary with the people who survived the Holocaust."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be in attendance in the commons chamber, as will the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer.

Olivia Marks-Woldman, CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, added that it was "a great privilege" for survivors to be invited to join in the MPs’ moment of silence.

"It is immensely fitting that people who 80 years ago were suffering such appalling cruelty will now be honoured in the heart of our democracy," she said.

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."

He proceeded to read to the House of Commons a joint statement with the governments of the UK, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the USA, the USSR and Yugoslavia, and the French National Committee which read: "The German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule has been extended the most elementary human rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler's oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe.

"From all the occupied countries Jews are being transported, in conditions of appalling horror and brutality, to Eastern Europe. In Poland, which has been made the principal Nazi slaughterhouse, the ghettoes established by the German invaders are being systematically emptied of all Jews except a few highly skilled workers required for war industries. None of those taken away are ever heard of again. The able-bodied are slowly worked to death in labour camps. The infirm are left to die of exposure and starvation or are deliberately massacred in mass executions. The number of victims of these bloody cruelties is reckoned in many hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children."

"The above-mentioned Governments and the French National Committee condemn in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination. They declare that such events can only strengthen the resolve of all freedom-loving peoples to overthrow the barbarous Hitlerite tyranny. They re-affirm their solemn resolution to ensure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution, and to press on with the necessary practical measures to this end."

Mr Silverman then asked Mr Eden to confirm whether just those giving the orders would be subject to "retribution", or whether those carrying out the orders would be as well, to which the Foreign Secretary responded: "I would certainly say it is the intention that all persons who can properly be held responsible for these crimes, whether they are the ringleaders or the actual perpetrators of the outrages, should be treated alike, and brought to book."

MPs went on to pose a few questions to Mr Eden, after which Labour MP William Cluse asked whether the House could "stand as a protest against this disgusting barbarism".

Speaker FitzRoy replied that this was a matter for the House itself, which prompted Conservative MP Sir Waldron Smithers to wave the MPs up, and they stood in silence.

Percy Cater, the Daily Mail’s Parliamentary Correspondent at the time, wrote: "One after another MP stood until all, in their hundreds, sombre-garbed and sombre-faced ranks, were on their feet. 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, four Holocaust survivors will stand in the House of Commons gallery to watch as MPs mark the historic moment.

The survivors set to attend include Retired GP Alfred Garwood who survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and went on to found the Child Survivors’ Association of Great Britain, John Hadju MBE who survived the Budapest ghetto, Steven Frank BEM who survived Westerbork and Theresienstadt, and Joan Salter MBE who escaped being deported to Auschwitz from Paris after her mother arranged for them to be smuggled out of Paris in a laundry van in the dead of night.

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