House of Commons silence to echo across nation

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House of Commons silence to echo across nation

A minute of quiet next Thursday will mark the day 80 years ago when a hushed House was told about Holocaust

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

MPs observe a minute of silence in the House of Commons.
MPs observe a minute of silence in the House of Commons.

MPs will stand in silence next Thursday to mark 80 years since Britain publicly recognised the Holocaust was taking place in Nazi Europe.

The Government’s shocking announcement on 17 December 1942 prompted a spontaneous moment of silence, reported to be the first in the history of the Chamber.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, will lead a one-minute silence to commemorate the grim anniversary at the start of business on 15 December at 9.30am.

To add to the occasion’s poignancy, MPs will be joined in the Speaker’s Gallery by four survivors of the Holocaust and representatives of Britain’s Jewish community.

The Speaker said: ‘It takes a lot to quieten the House of Commons, but 80 years ago MPs were spontaneously stunned into silence after it was confirmed that the Nazis were responsible for the systematic mass murder of the Jewish population in Europe.

‘It was a moment like no other and was described by one parliamentary correspondent as being “like the frown of the conscience of mankind”.

‘Given the genocides that have occurred since, and the horrific war crimes that are taking place in Ukraine now, it is important that we mark this significant anniversary with the people who survived the Holocaust.’

Olivia Marks-Woldman, CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust said it was “a great privilege” for survivors to be invited to join in the MPs’ moment of silence.

“It is immensely fitting that people who 80 years ago were suffering such appalling cruelty will now be honoured in the heart of our democracy,” she said.

Back in 1942, then Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told a hushed House that ‘reliable reports’ had confirmed ‘Hitler’s oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe…’

His shocking statement led Labour MP William Cluse to suggest that the House should ‘stand as a protest against this disgusting barbarism’.

Speaker FitzRoy replied that this was a matter for the House itself, which prompted Conservative MP Sir Waldron Smithers to wave the MPs up.

Percy Cater, the Daily Mail’s Parliamentary Correspondent, wrote at the time: ‘One after another MP stood until all, in their hundreds, sombre-garbed and sombre-faced ranks, were on their feet. I can tell you there were many eyes which were not dry and there was not, I dare swear, a throat without a lump in it.’


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