OPINION: ‘No other memorial site comes close to its symbolism and significance’

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OPINION: ‘No other memorial site comes close to its symbolism and significance’

Ed Balls and Lord Pickles, co-chairs of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation, reject criticism of the proposed Westminster Shoah memorial by Jewish peers.

Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott with new co-chairs of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, Sir Eric Pickles (left) and Ed Balls (right) 

Photo: John Rifkin
Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott with new co-chairs of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, Sir Eric Pickles (left) and Ed Balls (right) Photo: John Rifkin

Writing exclusively for Jewish news, the co-chairs of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation, Lord Eric Pickles and Ed Balls, respond to criticism from eight Jewish peers this week. 

Here, they explain why the proposed Westminster Holocaust Memorial and Learning centre at Victoria Tower Gardens is the perfect place to remember those who were killed:

We have no doubt that Victoria Tower Gardens is the best place to build a Memorial to the Holocaust, and a Learning Centre.

The site sits firmly on the street of power and government in London: stretching from Parliament along Whitehall, passing Downing Street and the great ministries of the Second World War. Here the British response to the Holocaust was formulated and enacted.

The Memorial’s close proximity to Parliament will remind visitors of the importance of democracy in defeating tyranny, and remind legislators that Parliament has the power to protect or oppress its citizens. No other site comes even close in offering this unambiguous symbolism.

The Gardens are already the home to memorials that celebrate the fight against slavery, inequality and injustice. A Holocaust Memorial is a perfect fit to this long established theme of the Gardens.

The Learning Centre will look at the Holocaust through British eyes and examine subsequent genocides in an honest way. At a time when other counties are attempting to rewrite history, Britain has a chance to set an example of truthfulness.

It would not be prudent to expend public money on a fruitless search for a non-existent better site.

Members of the House of Lords are perfectly entitled to object to any development. Particularly if they have properties nearby, or their place of work is adjacent, which in the case of the proposed Holocaust Memorial and subterranean Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens is clearly the case. Their rights are no different from any other citizen and are bound by the same rules and procedures as everyone else.

Front view of the chosen design for the Holocaust memorial.

The letter reproduced in the Times on Tuesday signed by a number of peers betrays a misunderstanding of the status of the drawings, recently released by UKHMF, they do not represent a formal planning application, but part of the consultations leading up to a formal submission which are some weeks away. The design will be modified following the consultations.

The letter also makes a number of suggestions for alternative sites for the Memorial, these might have been sensibly debated two and a half years ago at the time the announcement to Parliament in January 2016 by the then Prime Minister, selecting Victoria Tower Gardens.

An international competition for a design for a Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens was announced in September 2016. The competition was site specific and attracted entries from distinguished architects from around the world. The winning team lead by Sir David Adjaye was announced in October 2017. In March this year we were appointed to oversee the construction of a memorial and learning centre on Victoria Tower Gardens.

None of these facts will have gone unnoticed by their Lordships, who as lawmakers know the importance of acting timely and prudently. It is not timely to revisit a decision taken two and a half years ago, nor would it be prudent to expend public money on a fruitless search for a non-existent better site.

Ed Balls and Lord Pickles

Victoria Tower Gardens is a much neglected park. It has poor drainage, which leads to trapped surface water in inclement weather creating mud during winter and hard dusty surface in summer. The grass is not hardy, nor the garden particularly well maintained. Only the fully ambulant can take full advantage of the seated views by the riverside.

The development will improve the drainage to the benefit of the ground surface and surrounding trees offering them a more secure future. We will sow grass suitable to the parks heavy use and make the riverside walks friendly to wheelchair users.

The development will enhance the Park offering improved views of the River Thames and the Palace of Westminster. The Memorial takes up 7% of the surface of the Park, the Learning Centre will be below ground, an attractive gentle slope will add to amenity of visitors.

We will continue to talk constructively and offer sensible solutions to matters such as traffic and security.

This Memorial is for the whole nation and future generations. One we can all be proud of.

A permanent challenge to our Parliament to learn the lessons of history and play its full part in making sure the tragedy of the Holocaust can never be repeated.

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