In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Elie Wiesel said: “What all victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them; that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours; that while their freedom depends on ours; the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”
On the occasion of Holocaust Memorial Day and on all days, we must remember the victims and honour the survivors.
Survivors like Ben Helfgott, who endured the ghetto, two labour camps and three concentration camps before coming to England in August 1945 as one of ‘The Boys’.
He went on to become a successful businessman and champion weightlifter who participated in the Olympics and held the title of British lightweight champion for seven years.
And Peter Lantos, who survived Bergen Belsen and lived under communist oppression in Hungary before defecting to the UK. In Britain, he established a hugely successful career in academic medicine, during which he contributed to the understanding of diseases of the nervous system. Since his retirement, he has gone on to re-establish himself as an author and playwright, including writing the book Parallel Lines, his account of his childhood experiences during the Holocaust.
Holocaust survivors have led fulfilling and rewarding lives in the UK. They have had successful careers, full and happy personal lives. Those who have rebuilt their lives here have made this country a richer, more tolerant place, making an invaluable contribution to society.
But for many Holocaust survivors, perhaps their greatest fear is that we should forget them. Forget what they went through, forget what the world witnessed and turned away from.
This is why so many of them have dedicated their lives since the Holocaust to telling and re-telling their stories.
Certainly, denial of the Holocaust represents a danger to its memory but lack of knowledge and understanding, perhaps born out of disinterest, is equally worrying. There are countless organisations doing excellent work to plug this gap and they must be supported.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is paving the way in the implementation of national policies and programmes in support of Holocaust education, remembrance, research and the sharing of best practices.
I am honoured to lead the delegation of the UK in my role as the government’s Post Holocaust Issues Envoy.
It was IHRA that first adopted the working definition of antisemitism that was subsequently adopted by government as well. And next month, in co-operation with the Holy See, IHRA will hold a conference for public policy-makers from across the world at the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome focusing on refugee policies from 1933 to the present day.
In the UK, the government is leading the way in Holocaust remembrance by pledging to build a new National Memorial and Learning Centre to the Holocaust in Victoria Tower Gardens alongside Parliament.
Establishing a landmark of national significance on this site will highlight the importance and relevance of the Holocaust to the UK’s history. But it will also affirm the UK’s commitment to stand up against prejudice and hatred, inspire reflection and compassion, and encourage visitors to respect and embrace difference. It will be a lasting monument of which we can be immensely proud.
On Holocaust Memorial Day, we should always reflect on what happens after genocide, not just in terms of the trauma and coming to terms with the past but also our own responsibilities following such crimes.