Holocaust Memorial Day

Mike Wood: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way during such a moving and powerful speech. Like her, I was extremely moved by Ms Pollack’s testimony, although that was at a Conservative party conference. Does she agree that the declining number of holocaust survivors is another reason why it is so important for their recorded testimony to have a central role in the new learning centre?


Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important intervention. I have seen the testimonies that are housed at Yad Vashem. That project, which is funded in part by Steven Spielberg, has done so much to capture the stories and the background. For every single person who perished, there is a whole history and a family who have been affected up to the modern day. It is critical for those testimonies to be at the centre of every holocaust memorial, however it may be presented—in particular, the new national memorial that we are due to have—in order to have an impact on the next generation.

It is important to recognise that the holocaust did not start with gas chambers. It started with ideas, with books, with newspapers, with films, with torchlight processions, with speeches. It culminated in crematoria, but it began with words. It had its roots in the warped racial theories of the 1890s, and in conspiracy theories such as those in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Nazis did not invent antisemitism, but they modernised it, made it the state religion, and turned an industrial state into a machine for killing every Jew in Europe.

We should ask how that happened. How was such a thing possible in a civilised European country? One answer lies in the compliance of the civilian population. In the past year we also lost the writer Primo Levi, who was in Auschwitz. He wrote:

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

That is the aspect of the holocaust from which we need to learn the most: not the SS, who enjoyed the torture and killings, but the thousands of people in the civilian police, the railways and the civil service who never challenged what they knew to be happening, who never questioned the plans that they were helping to implement, who looked the other way. They saw those trains heading east, but they never wondered why no one ever came back, even for a day. At what point could it have been stopped? Surely the lesson for us today is that unless we challenge the words, it is much harder to challenge the deeds. We cannot be bystanders. We cannot walk by on the other side.

In the 1930s it was Der Stürmer, which ran from 1923 onwards with its unceasing antisemitism. It told its readers week after week that Jews spread disease, and the caption on every front page read “The Jews are our misfortune!”. Today it is social media, with all its manifestations of modern antisemitism: Jews secretly run the banks, organised 9/11, profit from wars, manipulate the media, and have loyalties to foreign powers.

When people deny the holocaust or claim that Jews exploit it, we cannot be bystanders. When people online draw up lists of Jews in the media, we cannot be bystanders. When people use the term “Zio” or “Rothschild” instead of “Jew” to cover their racism, we cannot be bystanders. Whether it is the neo-Nazis or those who think that they belong to the left, we must say no, and call it out as loudly as we can. Every single time, it must be challenged swiftly and without favour, no matter where it rears its very ugly head.

I will end with another quote from Primo Levi:

“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”