Luke Hall – 2020 Statement on Holocaust Memorial Day

Below is the text of the statement made by Luke Hall, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, on 23 January 2020.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day.

This debate is taking place on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps throughout Europe, which brought an end to the murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children by Nazi Germany. But as we know, it did not bring an end to the scourge of antisemitism. Today, sadly, we see antisemitism on the rise once more in this country and across Europe and the Americas. It is a mark of a civilised society that people of different faiths, different cultures and different traditions can live together in harmony. If we are truly to value Holocaust Memorial Day, we will do it by remembering this lesson: that we must show tolerance and respect for other people in order to live in peace. That is why it is vital that we all rise to the challenge and rid our society of this age-old hatred.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember all those murdered by the Nazis: the 6 million Jews; the thousands of Roma and Sinti; the political prisoners; those with physical disabilities and mental illness; and those persecuted for their sexuality. It is a day when we remember the 2 million victims of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the almost 1 million victims of the Rwandan genocide. It is a day when we remember the 8,000 Muslim men and boys murdered in Srebrenica 25 years ago. On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember them all.

The enormity of the numbers can make it seem almost impossible to relate to individual victims. That is made even harder because the names of many holocaust victims have been lost to us. In Nazi Germany, Jewish men and women were forced to change any name believed to be Aryan to Israel for men and Sara for women. Others, in the camps, had their names stripped from them and replaced by a tattooed number. Personal names that had been handed down from father to son and from mother to daughter were lost or replaced.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust has launched a social media commemorative project that will generate the name of an individual who was murdered by the Nazis, allowing us to honour those victims by giving them back their name. Today I will be honouring Johannes Degen. He was born in Germany on 8 July 1900 and was murdered by the Nazis for being a Jehovah’s Witness. I hope that all Members will take the time to take part and visit the trust’s website.

Survivors are at the heart of holocaust commemorations. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to sit before a survivor and listen to them describe their experience can be in no doubt about the terrible truth of what happened. Sadly, to this day there are still people who insist that the holocaust never happened.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)

The Minister is absolutely right that as these wonderful survivors come to the end of their lives, we need to have a record of their testimony. The exhibition at the Huddersfield holocaust memorial centre, which was ​opened by Lord Pickles, is a wonderful resource. We have those recordings, and children and other people can learn and remember.

Luke Hall

I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting that on record, and I completely agree with what he said. Survivors are the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, and the testimonies that we hear are a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.

I wish to take the time to share a little of the story of Auschwitz survivor Lily Eberts. In 1944, when she was just 14 years old, the Nazis deported her and her family from her Hungarian home town to Auschwitz. She was with her mother, brother and three sisters. On their arrival, they were split up, either directed left or right. Lily’s mother, brother and sister were told to go right and they were taken to the gas chambers and crematorium. Lily and her two sisters were directed the other way. They never saw the others again. The only possession that Lily was able to keep with her on her journey was her gold pendant, given to her by her mother, which, remarkably, survived the camp with her, hidden in the heel of her shoe.

Seventy five years have passed since liberation. Lily is now a proud great grandmother. She still wears the tiny gold pendant and shares its remarkable story with all those who will listen. Any gold arriving in Auschwitz was stolen by the Nazis, so Lily believes that her pendant is unique in that it was the only gold to enter and leave the camp with its rightful owner. Like Lily herself, it survived against the odds.

Many Members of this House and many millions of people from around the world have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and have seen the thousands upon thousands of shoes, of all shapes and sizes, piled on top of one another. Many of those shoes, like Lily’s, hold the memories of those last murdered in Auschwitz. Hidden in the soles of those shoes are notes and photos—the last possessions of men, women and children murdered by the Nazis.

I pay tribute to the eye witnesses for their resilience and their bravery. They are still, even in their 80s and 90s, sharing their testimony in schools across the country with the Holocaust Educational Trust. We are also hugely grateful to the next generation of Holocaust Educational Trust ambassadors—thousands of young people who have heard testimony from survivors and who have visited Auschwitz and returned to share what they have learned. They are doing incredible work, taking on that responsibility and commitment to carry the legacy and stand up to hate today.

Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)

Further to that point and, indeed, to the intervention of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), will the Government play their part in working with schools to bring the life of the work of the trust to every part of our kingdom? It is vital that the next generation understand that the future is, in part, shaped by what we learn from the past.

Luke Hall

I absolutely give that commitment, and I thank my right hon. Friend for the opportunity to put it on the record. That is why we should pay particular tribute to the next generation of volunteers who are really taking on that legacy and serious responsibility.​

Although Auschwitz is synonymous with the holocaust, few people are aware of the Arolsen archive, the world’s most comprehensive archive on the victims and survivors of Nazi persecution. The collection has information on around 17.5 million people and belongs to UNESCO’s memory of the world. Apart from the paper records, the archive has 3,000 personal possessions belonging to former inmates of concentration camps. Thanks to the #StolenMemory campaign, the archive has returned precious recovered items to family members. Members can imagine the immeasurable value that these items have to their families—they are often the last remaining traces of parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters.

Decades after the Nazis had confiscated a watch from his father, Jean-Pierre Lopez held it in his hands and wound it up again. He reported that it was extraordinary. He said that it seems to still work perfectly even after 74 years. In 1944, the Gestapo had arrested his father, José Lopez, as an anti-fascist and deported him as a forced labourer. He managed only just to survive, ending up with typhus and a body weight of just 40 kg.

The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “stand together”. It is a reminder for us to stand together, with each other and with our communities, to remember the holocaust. It is also a reminder that during the holocaust and subsequent genocides, communities themselves were deliberately divided, with individuals persecuted because of their identity, and that, despite the dangers of doing so, some people chose to stand together with those targeted, to challenge the divisive actions of genocidal regimes. We must remember their bravery and sacrifice and be inspired by it. We also must make sure that we stand together to challenge hatred and prejudice wherever we find them today, which is why this Government are so proud of the support that they give to holocaust education remembrance.

The incredible work of the Holocaust Educational Trust is of massive value. Every year, the trust takes thousands of young people to Auschwitz-Birkenau and trains hundreds of teachers across the country. The Government have provided £2.2 million to the trust’s “Lessons from Auschwitz” project and £1.7 million for visits to Bergen-Belsen, the camp liberated by British troops. We also provide £1 million a year to the Holocaust Memorial Day trust to deliver the annual memorial day and thousands of local events across the country. We have been funding the charity Remembering Srebrenica since 2013, including with a further £400,000 this year. The charity uses the funding to raise public awareness of the 1995 genocide, with the aim of creating a diverse movement of people coming together to challenge hatred and intolerance.

Despite that education and the support of successive Governments and people in the United Kingdom, it is a sad fact that antisemitism has spread like a virus far into UK politics in recent years—even into the very building in which we stand. When the Chief Rabbi unprecedendently feels the need to speak about his fears during the general election campaign, when Jewish councillors and Members of Parliament are subjected to such campaigns of hatred that they feel they have no alternative but to stand down, when dangerous conspiracy theories become so widespread on social media that the ​public start to believe them and write in to our offices with the most offensive lies, we must shake ourselves and remember that this is not normal; this is wrong. I urge all Members to play their part in turning the tide of antisemitism.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con)

The sad truth is that there are people elected to this place in the recent general election who have shared antisemitic conspiracy theories and breached the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti- semitism. It is all very well people apologising, but the real evidence that they have changed is their taking some action over what they have said—owning it and showing that their apologies are more than just words.

Luke Hall

First, I thank my hon. Friend for his work as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism. I agree that people should take action. We are proud to support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which unites experts and 34 member states behind the need for holocaust education, remembrance and research. In 2016, the IHRA created a working definition of antisemitism, which is now internationally accepted. The alliance seeks to ensure that no one can shirk responsibility for their words by playing with semantics, but it will succeed only if organisations sign up to the definition and support it. The IHRA definition is already used in guidance for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, to help them to identify hate crime. I urge public organisations in the UK to sign up to the IHRA definition.

I will finish by saying a few words about the holocaust memorial and learning centre we plan to build in Victoria Tower gardens next to Parliament. We are fortunate that the foundation delivering the memorial is headed up by the right hon. Eric Pickles and the right hon. Ed Balls. By placing the memorial and learning centre next to Parliament, we ensure that it will serve as a permanent reminder that political decisions have far-reaching consequences.