Your Excellency, distinguished guests, today we honour the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust – humanity’s darkest hour.
We reflect on subsequent genocides, in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Iraq. And we recommit to rid the world of the prejudice and hatred that persists today.
Let me begin by thanking those who work so hard to support this work, including the Holocaust Memorial Day and Holocaust Educational Trusts, who both do so much to sustain memories and understanding.
I would also like to thank Ambassador Hotovely for joining me to host today’s event and for her remarks.
There are lots of days in your life that you remember. I remember the birth of our first child. I remember the death of our first child.
But there are 2 other days that I will never forget. One was a winter’s day 9 years ago where I had the privilege of visiting Auschwitz.
It’s an extraordinary thing to go through. And, of course, you are struck by this massive architecture of murder, these famous archways, the mechanics of deaths, the scale of murder.
But what really hits you is when you see those displays of the luggage, the suitcases piled high. The children’s toys taken from the children before they were killed. The hair taken from those that went into the gas chamber.
These are things you never forget when you see them. And it’s so important that children have the opportunity today to see first hand what this architecture of mass murder is all about.
That’s why it’s important to say, ‘never again’ and to hear this testimony. That’s why the work you do is so important.
But there is another day that I will never forget, and that was the attacks on 7 October last year.
Not long after the event, I stood in Kibbutz Be’eri. The first thing that strikes me is what a place of peace it is. Built out of nothing in the desert, inhabited by people who went to make a life and a future for themselves and their families.
But then you go house to house, and you can see the bullet holes in the walls. The blood on the floors. The cupboards where children hid before they were pulled out and murdered in front of their parents. The appalling death and destruction on what was, let’s remember, the deadliest assault on Jewish people since the holocaust.
And since then, not only have those people had to live with that tragedy. Not only have they had to live with the fact that there are still 130 more hostages in Gaza whose fate we are so worried about and who we want to see released so badly.
But there has been this upsurge in antisemitism here in Britain as well as elsewhere.
So, in my view, it has never been more important to say so clearly that we stand with Jewish people. We stand with the state of Israel, We stand with their right to defend themselves as they go through this terrible ordeal with the legacy of the holocaust. And that’s why it’s so important we are gathered here today.
Diplomacy and freedom
We gather today in the Foreign Office, with me standing before you as Foreign Secretary, to recognise that diplomacy is a profession dedicated to building bridges. To strengthening alliances. To promoting peace and freedom.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and the Holocaust
And this is a department with its own history. Today we are all telling stories about this period in history, and I want to tell you a quick story about what this department did.
Many British diplomats saved lives in the face of hatred and tyranny. I want to share with you one example.
From 1938, a brave team of Foreign Office and church officials in Vienna took huge risks, provided travel documents and baptismal certificates for Jews who were desperate to cross Austria’s borders to safety.
Reverends Hugh Grimes and Reverend Frederick Collard carried out hundreds of baptisms every day. Officials led by Thomas Kendrick and George Berry worked around the clock to exploit every possible loophole to issue travel permits and passports.
It was a dangerous business. Two members of this group – Kendrick and Collard – were harshly interrogated by the Nazis. The Jewish-born verger of Christ Church was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.
But thanks to the courage of some 25 individuals, tens of thousands of lives were saved.
Until recently, their devoted efforts were unknown. But the FCDO were determined they should not be forgotten. So last March, relatives of survivors joined us, faith groups and Lord Pickles, in unveiling a plaque at the British Embassy, opposite Christ Church.
British officials also played a role in that great rescue operation led by Jewish organisations 85 years ago.
That operation saved thousands of children from Nazi persecution in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
I’ll never forget meeting one in Number 10 Downing Street when she showed me the little pocketbook that her father had written when she got off her train. It just said, ‘be a good daughter to the country that gives you hope’.
But while many children found safety here, they paid a high price – the murder of their parents, who were not allowed to accompany them. Freedom, for those children, was indeed fragile, and tinged with what must have been deep and abiding sadness.
So, we are equally determined this story – in all its complexity – is not forgotten. Last year, during the first State Visit of his reign, His Majesty the King and German President Steinmeier paid tribute at a memorial to the Kindertransport in Hamburg.
The present day
I share these stories as we must truly grasp their lessons for today. These are once again dangerous and volatile times. We and our partners must show strength and unity if we are to defend freedom.
In March, the UK assumes an important mantle, the Presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
We will use this opportunity to explore the circumstances of the Holocaust, and highlight the nature of societies that allowed mass murder to take place. And crucially we want to emphasise that these things take place in plain sight, and we must shine a spotlight on all those who had a part to play.
We want all generations to grapple with the legacy of the past, and recognise its relevance in the present. Because with memory of the Holocaust soon to pass from our living history, we must never allow it to slip from our consciousness.
After the horrors of 7 October, we must renew our vow – never again. That is our solemn duty – today, tomorrow and always.