Holocaust survivors have joined MPs to back a move to open an atrocity prevention centre at the new national Holocaust Memorial being built in Westminster.
At an event attended by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, on Monday, Martin Stern, a Terezin camp survivor, stressed the need to for the new memorial in the shadow of Parliament to commemorate modern-day atrocities such as those in Rwanda and Bosnia, as well recording the slaughter of six million Jews in the Shoah.
“There are people who feel that the Holocaust is unique and should not be used for any other purposes - I strongly disagree,” said Dr Stern. “The whole point of putting a Holocaust Memorial right next to the Houses of Parliament is to teach a lesson and if that lesson is not applied in the future it invalidates the Holocaust Memorial.
“Nobody can bring back the six million who were killed – all we can do is work upon the future.”
A short film, made by the Aegis Trust, was shown at the event and featured survivors Agnes Kaposi, Steven Frank, Hanneke Dye and Simon Winston arguing the case for an atrocity prevention centre.
Addressing the meeting, which took place in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day, the Home Secretary said: “It was very important to be here today.
“I know what an important week this is -remembering the Holocaust and having the opportunity to think about genocide, what happens then, and how we stop it happening in the future.
“It is not enough for us to read about it in history books or to see it in films, the stories of survivors are so powerful.”
Recalling her own visit to Auschwitz, Ms Rudd praised the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, before adding:” We know this sort of terrible genocide doesn’t take place in a vacuum.
“It takes place after the build-up of hate, of antisemitism, of the type of violence that we still see around the world.”
Also speaking at the event, which was hosted by Labour MP Alison McGovern and Tom Tugendhat MP, co-chairs of the the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, were Lord Alf Dubs, Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, and Philippe Sands QC.
Lords Dubs spoke of his “guilt” at visiting refugee camps in Bangladesh during the 1980s and then failing to take any action to help.
He said: “I took people to these camps and what did I do? I said a few things. That’s an example of what we should not be doing – looking and then walking away from it.
“The purpose of what we are doing here today is trying to influence policy so that we can intervene before genocide happens.”
Sir Peter stressed how important he felt the learning centre would be for the Westminster Holocaust Memorial.
He said 112 survivors accounts had been filmed for use at the learning centre in what he called “future-proof video”.
He said: “In my opinion Holocaust denial in the digital world we live in is going to increase rather than decrease. It is my greatest fear.
“When we did those interviews we had a young person aged 18 physically witness them. And we had passports and the personal address details of survivors as well.
“We wanted young people to witness something that was real and can’t be denied.”
Dr James Smith, president of the National Holocaust Centre and chief executive of the Aegis Trust, added: “No memorial can begin to represent the enormity of the destruction of the Jews under the Nazis, but the proposed UK Holocaust Memorial right next to the mother of parliaments can be a powerful statement in our country’s response to the legacy of the Holocaust.
“However, challenges both at home and abroad of white supremacism and violence based on identity demand that the UK Holocaust Memorial be more than a statement. I welcome the intention of the UK memorial to work with established Holocaust organisations. Together we must find ways to better understand how hatred, atrocities and genocide can be prevented.”