Diana Johnson – 2022 Speech on Holocaust Memorial Day

The speech made by Diana Johnson, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, in the House of Commons on 26 January 2022.

I start by paying tribute to all those who have secured this debate and those who have already spoken so movingly, thoughtfully and powerfully. I say to the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), who opened the debate, how moved I was by what he disclosed about the comments made to him and his family. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) that the solidarity of the House is with the right hon. Gentleman and his family. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) for all her work in this area, over so many years.

Today marks the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Today, we remember those 6 million Jewish men, women and children murdered during the holocaust, alongside millions of other people killed under Nazi persecution and in all subsequent genocides. This Holocaust Memorial Day is as important as ever in marking the memory of those terrible events.

I was reflecting that I visited Auschwitz some years ago with the Holocaust Educational Trust. One of my most striking memories is of the huge piles of luggage, dolls and toys, shoes and other ordinary, mundane items, which were probably those that meant the most to the people who were murdered in that camp. I will always remember that about Auschwitz—the ordinary and mundane alongside the most evil.

The holocaust is fading from lived memory, with the gradual passing of those who suffered and survived and of those in the greatest generation, who fought the Nazis and liberated the camps and Europe. It is up to all of us to ensure that this history and its lessons are never forgotten. I, like many others, pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust for the brilliant work that it does, and to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, as well.

After the events of recent years with covid, I look forward to once again meeting Hull’s remaining Jewish ex-servicemen and the community in Hull who gather every Remembrance Sunday to mark these events, and the immense contribution of the Jewish community to our country and to our very survival. As a member of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, I am proud of the work that we do in maintaining the graves of so many Jewish ex-servicemen and women who fell while defending our country.

As we know, we need to be vigilant as there are those who still seek to deny the facts about the holocaust, a form of fake news spread for decades by antisemites, challenging whether the holocaust actually happened or the magnitude of it, and more recently questioning the internationally agreed definition of antisemitism. Remembering what happened in the holocaust is even more important, as we have seen a rise in antisemitism abroad and here in the United Kingdom. The first half of 2021 saw the highest number of antisemitic incidents in a six-month period recorded by the Community Security Trust. It is important that we note the work that trust does, day in, day out, providing security and keeping the people of the Jewish faith safe.

We must ask ourselves, why is that trust still required and why have we failed to combat the pernicious hatred of Jews that lingers, particularly online? Online disinformation often parrots long-standing antisemitic tropes that demonise Jewish people as happened in Germany in the 1930s; now they are spread by digital technology. The right hon. Member for Newark set out some shocking statistics about what can be found on social media platforms. This House must do something about that. Other hon. Members have talked about antisemitic messages around the covid anti-vaxxers, which are sadly too prevalent on social media.

We must be aware of the different forms that antisemitism takes in the United Kingdom. It is no longer just the far right and skinheads trying to sell National Front publications in Brick Lane. Shamefully, in recent years my party allowed the stain of antisemitism to find a home in the party. Under the leadership of the current leader of the Labour party, we are working very hard indeed to combat that.

The horror of the holocaust has reshaped our understanding of international law, human rights and collective security after 1945. We have a responsibility to people throughout the world to protect them from persecution, but I regret to say that we have too often failed. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on human rights, and we are only too well aware of the growing breaches of human rights around the world. We know that too many genocides have been carried out since the holocaust—in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, to name but a few—and we should also be shamed by the current genocide being carried out against the Uyghurs in China, the plight of Christians in some countries, what happened to the Yazidi women, and what is happening now to the women in Afghanistan. Of course, there is also the stain of Islamophobia, which is still around in our communities and institutions and which needs far more attention. It is the “othering” of groups that we need to be vigilant about and take action to tackle, and we need to recognise where that “othering” can lead.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “One Day”, but we must continue the work to eradicate antisemitism and hatred, in this country and throughout the world. Antisemites, of whatever variety, are invariably the enemies of peace, freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Only by defeating them, and all those who peddle hatred and prejudice, can we live in confidence that we will never see another holocaust.