Each of us should reflect on the times we’ve looked the other way

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘don’t stand by’. It challenges each of us to think about our individual responsibility to tackle discrimination and hatred and our collective responsibility as a nation in a volatile world to uphold human rights and the rule of law.

Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis – among them one million Jewish children. It was pre-meditated slaughter on an industrial scale never before witnessed in human history. Alongside innocent Jewish men, women and children were political prisoners, Romanis, slavs, gay people, Jehovah’s witnesses, Russian prisoners of war and many others.

They met their fate on the streets, where they were beaten to death; in concentration camps, where they were often worked or starved to death; and, most chillingly, in the gas chambers of the Nazi death camps, before their corpses were incinerated in the ovens.

We might reflect today on the unique crimes of the Nazi Holocaust, but we should never avert our eyes from the most uncomfortable truth of all: that its perpetrators were not unique. They were ordinary men and women, carrying out acts of extraordinary evil. And even as the sickly smell of burning human flesh was carried to surrounding homes – there were those who looked the other way.

If the Holocaust demonstrated the very worst of human nature, its survivors represent the very best.

Through the courage of so many survivors of the Holocaust, we are able to reflect on its horrors so that we might learn the right lessons as we strive towards a world free from hatred, persecution and genocide.

One of my constituents, Ivor Perl, received the BEM for services to Holocaust education and awareness. On accepting the honour, Ivor said: “I think I can speak for most of us when I say that when I give talks I feel all the victims are there behind me looking over my shoulder and as such I accept this honour on their behalf as well”.

Another resident of Ilford North, Bob Obuchowski, would surely be among them. Bob lived in Clayhall and passed away in 2014. His ‘double act’ with his daughter Sue Bermange was almost legendary, as Sue supported Bob to share his testimony.

With the onward march of time the number of survivors left to bear living witness to the crimes of the Holocaust diminishes and so with every new generation comes an even greater responsibility to make sure that their warning from history is never forgotten.

I’m proud of the Jewish community I represent in Ilford North. Chabad Lubovich, led by Rabbi Sufrin, has expanded its activities within Redbridge and out into Essex. I recently attended shul with Redbridge United Synaogue, which now meets at the Redbridge Jewish Community Centre.

Sinclair House is the largest community centre of its kind in western Europe, delivering social, welfare, education and community programmes to more than 2,000 people every week. Wohl Ilford Jewish Primary School, Clore Tikva Primary School and King Solomon High School provide high quality education to children from all our diverse communities, while maintaining their proud Jewish heritage and traditions.

And this week, as we do every year, people from all parts of the community will gather at the Holocaust Memorial Garden in Valentines Park in Ilford to pay respects to the victims of the Holocaust.

Though the Jewish community in Redbridge and elsewhere continues to thrive, we cannot be complacent about the threat posed by modern antisemitism.

Successive reports published by the Community Security Trust shows a continual increase in antisemitic incidents across the United Kingdom – including violent attacks. Last year, a delegation from the APPG visited France, to look at the rise in antisemitism, where thousands had taken to the streets to pronounce “Je Suis Juif” in the wake of the murder of Jews on the streets of Paris.

Closer to home it is for every citizen to reflect on those occasions where we have looked the other way: when someone was called a name, when someone was bullied, beaten or even murdered, because they were different. The genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur should rest on the consciences of powerful nations who chose to look the other way.

Yehuda Bauer said: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” It is fitting for the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day and an exhortation for every citizen to act against hatred and injustice.

About the Author
Wes Streeting is Labour MP for Ilford North.
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