A coalition of survivors, historians and politicians has called on the Government to scrap the proposed £102 million Westminster Holocaust memorial and use the funds to establish a new Jewish Museum in central London, the JC can reveal.
Dozens of prominent figures including historian Sir Simon Schama, cross-bench peer Baroness Deech and veteran Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley have signed an open letter urging the Government to “combine the two” in one “splendid” centre after it emerged this week that the Jewish Museum in London is shutting its doors indefinitely.
Actress Dame Maureen Lipman, broadcaster Gavin Esler and architect Barbara Weiss have also signed their names to the letter.
London's Jewish Museum, Britain’s leading showcase of the community’s culture and heritage recently announced plans to sell its Camden premises and said it is seeking a more suitable location in the centre of the city.
The announcement prompted fresh calls from Jewish and non-Jewish figures alike for the Government to mothball its controversial Westminster memorial project.
In the letter, the group states: “It is reported that the Jewish Museum in Camden is to close indefinitely for lack of funds. At the same time, the Government is forging ahead with its controversial plan to spend over £102m on a memorial and a small ‘learning centre’ in Westminster to illustrate Britain's action and inaction in relation to the Holocaust.
“What is the better use of funds - to present the tragedies and triumphs of continuing Jewish life in Britain over the centuries, as the Museum does? Or on a politicised perspective on our worst tragedy set in isolation from our survival, which is the theme of the ‘learning centre’?”
It continued: “An obvious solution is to combine the two in one splendid Jewish Museum in central London dealing with Jewish history and the Shoah in context.
“This would end the toxic debate about the government project and has the potential to provide a world-class, cohesive thriving centre for generations to come.”
Other signatories of the letter include Lord Carlile, Sir Richard Evans, president of the National Jewish Assembly Gary Mond, and Lord Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.
It is also signed by Holocaust survivors Anita Lasker Wallfisch, 97, and Joanna Millan, 81.
Several Jewish community and Holocaust education organisations have expressed their dismay over the Jewish Museum’s intention to close its doors.
In a statement to the JC, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said: "We are very sorry to hear of the imminent closure of the Jewish Museum. Their exhibitions have been of huge value in informing the Jewish community of its origins and history as well as educating wider society about the rich history of our UK Jewish community.
“There is now an opportunity to re-imagine the museum for the 21st Century and we look forward to a successful and sustainable future for this important institution.”
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust said it was “terribly sad” to hear of the museum’s closure but the work it has accomplished has been "truly remarkable."
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which has spearheaded the Westminster memorial project, has been approached for comment.