Earlier today I heard the story of Susan Pollack. She is a Hungarian Jew who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen Belsen, but lost fifty members of her family. And now she’s dedicated many years to telling others what happened to her; it’s not easy to relive your unbearable tragedy, and we salute her courage.
The Greater London Authority’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony was held today at City Hall. We heard from retiring Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who reminded us that it is all too easy to blame the ‘other’. We also met two London teenagers, Lucy Hamwijk and Callum Devine, who shared the experience of their visit to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust. Seeing the concentration camp through the eyes of innocent young people really drove home the simple evil of this inhumanity.
Rabbi Sacks and Lucy and Callum talked about the continuing relevance of the Holocaust and its lessons. The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, which will be recognised on 27 January, is Communities Together: Build a Bridge. Communities the world over must reach out to one another in a spirit of understanding and respect to find their common humanity.
It is a theme that gives even greater meaning to the Statement of Commitment, which participants in Holocaust Memorial Day Trust events read from as part of their activity. I share it with you now:
• we recognise that the Holocaust shook the foundations of modern civilisation. Its unprecedented character and horror will always hold universal meaning
• we believe the Holocaust must have a permanent place in our nation’s collective memory. We honour the survivors still with us, and reaffirm our shared goals of mutual understanding and justice
• we must make sure that future generations understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect upon its consequences. We vow to remember the victims of Nazi persecution and of all genocides
• we value the sacrifices of those who have risked their lives to protect or rescue victims, as a touchstone of the human capacity for good in the face of evil
• we recognise that humanity is still scarred by the belief that race, religion, disability or sexuality make some people’s lives worth less than others’. Genocide, anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination still continue. We have a shared responsibility to fight these evils
• we pledge to strengthen our efforts to promote education and research about the Holocaust and other genocides. We will do our utmost to make sure that the lessons of such events are fully learnt
• we will continue to encourage Holocaust remembrance by holding an annual UK Holocaust Memorial Day. We condemn the evils of prejudice, discrimination and racism. We value a free, respectful, and democratic society