Survivor shares testimony in Parliament as MPs mark Holocaust Memorial Day

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle hosted survivors of three genocides in his residence before lighting a candle for the six million Jewish lives lost, and those lost to genocides since


Holocaust survivor John Hadju gave moving testimony of his experience during the Holocaust in Parliament today before Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle led Members of Parliament in a ceremony commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.

Alongside El Sadiq 'Debay' Mahmoud Manees, who survived genocide in Darfur, and Smajo Bešo OBE who survived the Bosnian genocide, Mr Hadju spoke of the importance of educating the next generation about the Holocaust, and also reminded the audience of the brutal treatment of the Ukrainian people happening today.

The talk, hosted by Sir Lindsay Hoyle in his residence, was attended by parliamentary staff at the same time as MPs were in the chamber marking Holocaust Memorial Day and reaffirming their mission to fight hate and prejudice.

Addressing the Speaker and the gathered audience, Hadju recalled how he was forced out of his home in Hungary with his family when he was just seven years old, narrowly surviving the Nazi genocide, only to then have to flee persecution from the Soviet Union before being granted one of the last permits to come and make his life in Britain.

Clutching his teddy bear, that he has had since he was a small child, Hadju explained how he witnessed his father being taken away to a forced labour camp for Jewish men in 1943, and his mother being marched to a concentration camp in Austria in 1944. He told ashen-faced parliamentary staff how he only narrowly escaped a Nazi plan to detonate mines to destroy it and its occupants when they were freed on 18 January 1945.

He said that he hopes that after his talks, people will “pass the message around” to ensure that everyone is educated on what happens what hate is allowed to flourish: “Even today, there are over thousands of antisemitic incidents in this country, and we must make sure that [what happened in the Holocaust] is understood by as many people as possible.”

Underscoring the modern-day relevance of his testimony, Hadju said: “I give talks to schools quite often. When I get there, I say to them; all you need to do is look at the news at what’s going on in Ukraine. The same people who are doing that to Ukraine did that to Hungary. The Soviets were doing it then, the Soviets are doing it now. So, it’s absolutely vital that you learn from me what my life is about, that you learn that this must never happen again.”

Also speaking was Smajo Bešo OBE, who was born in Bosnia in 1985. His father, and several male relatives, were tortured by Serbian nationalist forces in concentration camps as Bosnian Muslims became targets of genocide.

And El Sadiq 'Debay' Mahmoud Manees gave heart-breaking testimony about the torture that he and his family suffered during the genocide in Darfur, at one point becoming overcome with emotion as he recounted the unimaginable horrors that he endured.

Speaking to the JC about why he wanted to host survivors of three genocides in his residence at the heart of the Palace of Westminster, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said: "It is a reminder to us all; the more that we can re-tell those stories, the [bigger] the impact that can have on young people to recognise that we must never ever allow this, and we must call out hatred wherever it is in the world.”

He said that in Ukraine, the Russians are once again committing “atrocities”, and said that “a new genocide is taking place in Europe once again.”

“Who would have thought, after all that we went through with the Balkans, once again that history is repeating itself in Europe?

“We must ensure that those who have played their account are held and brought to trial. One cannot believe that after the Second World War and the persecution that Jewish people that, as we say, it still continues – have we not learned anything?”

Later in the afternoon, MPs and staff gathered in the heart of Parliament to light candles for the victims of the Holocaust, and the genocides since. Former Chancellor and Health Secretary Sajid Javid joined Fleur Anderson MP, Chair of the HMDT Laura Marks, and the three survivors in lighting candles to remember those lost to genocide.

Speaker’s Chaplain Tricia Hillas led the audience in prayers for the victims, reciting one particular prayer written in 2020 by Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and Senior Imam Qari Asim, which reads in part: “Through our prayers and actions, help us to stand together with those who are suffering so that light may banish all darkness, love will prevail over hate and good will triumph over evil.”

Olivia Marks-Woldman, CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said that commemorating the Holocaust and the victims of genocides before and since is “vital” in ensuring that the lessons are learned: “Holocaust Memorial Day is for everybody of every background, faith, no faith, ethnicity, age, and the leadership from Parliament is really important because it energises communities when they know that their political leaders are taking note.

“Politicians need to know the lessons of the Holocaust and of genocides as much as other people do. They need to be speaking respectfully towards people they disagree with, and they need to be understanding the implications of the work that they are doing.

“In many parts of the world we’re seeing democracy under threat and we’re seeing people chipping away at the rule of law and at democratic institutions. For Britain to have a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in its Parliament, to have a debate on the floor of the Houses of Commons and Lords, and to have an exhibition in Parliament partnership with the Speaker is really vital.”

The Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 UK Online Commemoration is taking place this evening (Thursday 26 January) - register to join it live here.

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