Eric Pickles – 2014 Speech on Holocaust Memorial Day


Below is the text of the speech made by Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities, on Holocaust Memorial Day on 28th January 2014.


So far this afternoon, we have heard about journeys punctuated with suffering, with immeasurable loss, and with the scars which still bear their memory.

Journeys to a new life are by no means easier – but nonetheless I hope they have brought some healing, and the chance of a new start.

This year is particularly poignant. 75 years have just passed since Kristallnacht – and as we have just heard, 20 years have passed since the start of the Rwandan genocide.

Time does not stand still to allow us to remember. And as time passes, persecution and hatred remain a threat. Which is why our vigilance can never rest.

As Josef Stalin said,

“A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths are just a statistic.”

This is once day dedicated to remembrance reminds us of the people and the stories – not the statistics.

The walls of the gas chambers cannot talk – and the grass of the killing fields have no voice.

Human experience is the best memory.

Your resilience allowed you to journey on; not to forget, but to rebuild your lives again.

Journey’s like Ben Helf-gott’s (Helfgott), who went on to captain the British weightlifting team in the Melbourne and Rome Olympics (1956 and 1960).

Or like Anita Lak-sar Wall-fish’s (Lakser-Wallfisch) – who believes her talent as a cellist saved her from a certain death. She went from the discomfort of playing for SS officers – to co-founding the English Chamber Orchestra.

Or a journey like Kitty Hart Moxon’s – who endured 2 years of concentration camp life and survived the death marches. She trained to become a nurse in Britain. Despite all she had been through – Kitty retained her humanity to care for others, and tend to the sick.

Their new lives couldn’t erase the past, but decades after the Third Reich, they have been victorious over the Nazis, and they are incredible achievements in the face of adversity.

‘Seeing is believing’

And visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau with the Education Trust is one of the most powerful ways of doing so.

The Trust also brings survivors into schools, to share their testimony – and now it is falling to their children pick up the baton and ensure their legacy never fades.

Incredibly, David Herman, survived 5 separate concentration camps – an experience that his daughter Julia Burton now retells in schools. Making sure her father’s story, and the words of a Grandmother she never met, is never forgotten.

Alongside the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Education Trust – there are many other ways we combat anti-semitic, anti-muslim, and other hate crimes.

The Anne Frank Trust uses her moving diary to educate others.

Show Racism the Red Card has got top footballers behind it.

And Tell MAMA brings unacceptable Muslim attacks to light.

Their vigilant work stops the cracks of intolerance forming in today’s society.

Reminding people of why the holocaust happened – is something our Prime Minister truly believes in.

In September, David Cameron announced the formation of the Holocaust commission.

The commission will consider the best way to commemorate the holocaust for future generations.

The road back to Auschwitz is taken by steps. Small acts of intolerance can be very powerful. That is why we must always be vigilant.

We are lucky enough to live in a largely tolerant society. But only a thin veneer separates us from committing such betrayals. Like the anti-semitic salute by a footballer.

We only need to look at recent atrocities in the Central African Republic to see – that one spark of intolerance quickly spreads to an untameable fire.

Our neighbours, friends and school teachers can quickly become our enemies.

Like Kemal Pervanitch’s teacher – someone who he considered a role model – quickly became his torturer.

Kemal has poignantly said before,

“I was a victim. Then I was a survivor. But all I wanted to be was a human being again.”

In spite of the circumstances – those who have rebuilt their lives here have made this country a richer place, A more tolerant place, You make it the great country we are all proud of.

I’d like to end with a quote. One which I think captures our responsibility –

In Joel 1:3, he prophesises –

“Tell it to your children, And let your children tell it to their children, And their children to the next generation.”

Pledging to keep doing just that is what we all must do.

We must continue to remember.