Holocaust Memorial Day Speech

This is a difficult subject to speak about both because it is well chronicled and because the horror and scale of what happened make our words seem ill suited to the task. 

The numbers are unimaginable. The industrial organisation of the killing process so horrific.  The ideology behind it so abhorrent.

Perhaps that is why the stories of individual survivors like Susi and her sister are so important.  Maybe it is only at the human individual level that we can find some sense of the loss, grief and suffering that mark these terrible events.

I visited Auschwitz Birkenau in 2006 with pupils from Parkfield School in my constituency and a number of other school pupils from around the country.

It is hard for me to describe what I saw there. A room full of human hair.  A room full of shoes.  Suitcases, packed in hope and expectation, carefully labelled for a journey people had no idea would be their last.  Most of this is in Auschwitz which was a pre war military camp and therefore has its original buildings still standing.

The sister camp, Birkenau, is different.  On a vastly greater scale, very little left, the meaning comes from what you don’t see rather than what you see. On the watchtower you look out at the vast camp and get a sense that here, was the centrepiece of the killing of millions. And still today it is surrounded by the Birch trees which gave the camp its name.

Holocaust Memorial Day exists to ensure we remember.  To ensure that as the Second World War fades in time, the lessons we should draw from this do not.  January 27th 1945 was the date the Russian army liberated Auschwitz Birkenau.  The Allies already knew what was happening but only as they defeated Germany from East and West was the full horror exposed, despite desperate efforts by the retreating Nazis to destroy evidence.

In this country the Holocaust Educational Trust works with schools and colleges to teach young people about this period.  It organises visits to Auschwitz Birkenau of the kind I went on a few years ago.  And it asks survivors like Susi to go to schools and colleges to speak to young people.

This is crucial work.  In 2005 the Government in which I was a Minister supported this work with funding of £1.5 million.

But it is about more than learning history.  It must also be about resolve.  The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “Speak Up, Speak out.”

This comes from Pastor Neimoller’s poem which begins,

“First they came for the Communists, And I did not speak out, because I was not a communist.”  He goes through the same story with the socialists, the trade unionists, the Jews and then concludes
“Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me”.

It is always easy to look inward, to think that what happens to others is not our concern.

Indeed international politics has often been founded on the idea that what happens within borders is not something we should interfere in and that the international community only has a duty to act when one country invades another. But that cannot be so. Borders are not more sacred than human life.  There cannot be absolute rule within borders. We who are able do have a duty to protect.  The Holocaust was seventy years ago.  But the issues it gives rise to are still very much relevant to today’s world.

So my plea to today would be to remember and reflect yes, but also take to heart this message of “Speak up, speak out.”

Pat McFadden MP speaking at the Holocaust Memorial day debate around the theme of 'Speak up Speak out' at Wolverhampton College - posted on 27 January 2012.


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