Government accused of 'diluting' meaning of Holocaust with Westminster memorial plans

One Crossbench peer has been left furious


The government has been accused of “demoting” the Shoah after it revealed it will also commemorate victims of other international genocides at the planned Holocaust Memorial in Westminster. 

References to mass murders during the civil war in Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields in Cambodia, the killing of men, women and children in Darfur, Western Sudan, and the Bosnia War have now been added to the plans for the monument.

The government confirmed its updated ideas for the site in response to Parliamentary question in the House of Lords this week.

The move is the latest twist in the long-running debate over the memorial – first commission by the then-prime minister David Cameron in 2015 –which is due to be built in the gardens next to Parliament.

Originally conceived to “stand in remembrance of those who were murdered in the darkest hour of human history”, according to Cameron. Last week, Conservative housing minister Baroness Scott disclosed it would now include references to other mass killings.

She said: “The main focus of the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre’s exhibition content is to ensure that the story of what happened during the unique events of the Holocaust resonates with the public. 

​​“This will include raising questions about Britain’s role at the time. The content will also address genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.” 

The decision sparked an angry response from Baroness Ruth Deech who said it would “demote the Shoah”. 

The cross-bench peer, whose parliamentary question prompted the government to disclose its latest plans, added: “It would prompt generalities about hate and intolerance and would drain the presentation of the Shoah from its antisemitic origins dating back thousands of years.” 

The peer, whose late father, historian Josef Fraenkel, fled the Nazis, added: “If you’re putting all those genocides together in four small exhibition rooms, what would uninformed people gather from that? Not much. 

“They are going to put forward the message that if you see something bad going on, you must not be a bystander. If it’s just ‘don’t be a bystander’, I don’t see how that helps people understand antisemitism and the plight of the Jews.  

“Also, I think one or two of the rooms are going to be dedicated to people who helped victims, whether they were Jewish or not.

“In other words, what the planners are drawing out of this is that you must be active when you see hatred which might lead to genocide. 

“That’s all very well and true, but it doesn’t say as much about Israel and antisemitism today or indeed what Britain could have done.” 

Gary Mond, chairman of the National Jewish Assembly, also attacked the decision. He said: “The Jewish community should be fully informed as to the precise contents of the memorial and learning centre.

“The main concern is that there must be no dilution to the principle that the Holocaust was totally unique and incomparable.”

Located next to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, the memorial and learning centre is expected to serve as a powerful reminder to the UK of the Holocaust, its victims and where prejudice can lead if unchallenged. 

The latest disclosure reflects a 2020 concept design document which described part of the proposed memorial as a space to reflect “on the murder of the millions of Cambodians by the Pol Pot regime, the millions of Rwandans murdered by the Interahamwe [paramilitary group] and the thousands of Muslim men and boys murdered in Bosnia”. 

It comes as the UK Government introduced the Holocaust Memorial bill to order to progress its construction.  

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “The government is absolutely determined to complete the Holocaust Memorial."

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been approached for comment.

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