Deputy insists young people should visit Auschwitz rather than Westminster memorial
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Deputy insists young people should visit Auschwitz rather than Westminster memorial

Robert Festenstein is criticised by Board of Deputies President after questioning whether Memorial in Westminster 'should be there at all'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

A Deputy has slammed plans for a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Westminster claiming young people should be made to visit Auschwitz instead.

Robert Festenstein, the Prestwich Synagogue representative, told this month’s Board of Deputies plenary that he questioned the need for the £100 million project in Victoria Gardens, near the Houses of Parliament.

He said:”I think we need to talk about whether it should be there at all.

“As I understand it, the overall cost of this memorial is in the region of about £100 million pounds.

“There are already memorials to the Holocaust, the most famous of which is Auschwitz.

“Surely there can be no better way of educating people and particularly young people who are still at school that take them to the camp and showing them first-hand what atrocities were undertaken.”

Board President Marie van der Zyl proceeded to criticise calls for the communal orgainisation to hold a further debate on the controversial proposal.

With an appeal now lodged by the government against the High Court decision to block the planned national memorial she told Sunday’s meeting this “isn’t the appropriate way forward.”

Joe Millis, the Deputy for Bromley Reform Synagogue, had called for a debate to be held on whether the location in Westminster was the correct one.

The Board’s president added the current Conservative government were very supportive of the proposals, which is why they had lodged an appeal against last month’s shock High Court decision.

Van der Zyl added:” We should all stand as Jews in this community behind the government that have taken that step.

“But this is this is beyond all of us because the government has put in an appeal.

“There is now a legal process and to try to politicise or vote on on the Holocaust Memorial, I think isn’t isn’t the appropriate way forward. ”

She pointed to the fact that Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and Sir Ben Helfgott were amongst the leading supporters of the memorial plan.

She added:” I’m going to support the government and I’m really thankful to the Conservative government who have stood so, so much with the community in very, very difficult times in relation to dealing with with antisemitism.”

Festenstein also questioned the logic of having the memorial in London, suggesting those in the north of the country would be less likely to visit.

At the start of April, a legal challenge to the £100 million project succeeded as a judge quashed planning permission for the memorial and learning centre.

Mrs Justice Thornton ruled there was “an enduring obligation to retain the new garden land as a public garden and integral part of the existing Victoria Tower Gardens”.

Announcing the government’s appeal a spokesperson for the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities department said: “We remain completely committed to constructing the Memorial at this location, which was carefully selected to reflect its national significance – next to Parliament and close to other important memorials including the Cenotaph.

“We owe a lasting memorial not just to Holocaust survivors, but to the British people now and for generations to come”.

Also at Sunday’s meeting the Board President was less supportive of the actions of the local Bury Conservative Group, in relations to antisemitism allegations against several local council candidates in the run-up to this month’s local elections.

Deputy Michael Rubinstein, who had stood for election in the local elections in the Pilkington Park ward, outlined the list of allegations against several Bury Tory councillors at the weekend meeting.

The President confirmed the Board would be writing to the chairman of the Tory Party calling for them to carry out an investigation.

Van der Zyl said the Board would coordinate their action with the Jewish Rep Council of Manchester, who have already called for the Tories to carry out a “full investigation.”

During Sunday’s meeting, which took place in Bury Town Hall, Greater Manchester, Deputy Nathan Boroda, raised concerns about the cost of living crisis and called for the Board to consider leading a communal response.

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