OPINION: Westminster Holocaust Memorial will be reminder of past horrors

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OPINION: Westminster Holocaust Memorial will be reminder of past horrors

Westminster memorial will be permanent reminder political decisions have far-reaching consequences, say Lord Eric Pickles and Ed Balls.

MP Robert Jenrick (right), with the late Holocaust survivor Sir Ben Helfgott and his grandson Reuben at Victoria Gardens in Westminster in July 2021.
MP Robert Jenrick (right), with the late Holocaust survivor Sir Ben Helfgott and his grandson Reuben at Victoria Gardens in Westminster in July 2021.

A new national Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in the heart of London was first mooted in 2015 – today, six and a half years later – we are thrilled that Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament will be the home of the national Holocaust Memorial & Learning Centre.

The Memorial will honour the six million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered in the Holocaust, and all other victims of Nazi persecution. The co-located learning centre will also focus on subsequent genocides.

This Memorial also respects the men and women whose lives are a testament to the endurance and the strength of the human spirit – the inspiring survivors.

In a world where Holocaust denial, distortion and revisionism is on the increase, we have a duty to provide the unvarnished facts.

The Memorial will stand as a reminder of the horrors of the past and will encourage reflection on their implications for British government and society, both at the time and subsequently.

The view of Parliament from the Memorial will serve as a permanent reminder that political decisions have far-reaching consequences.

The exhibition will address the complexities of Britain’s ambiguous responses to the Holocaust, and encourage visitors to critically reflect on whether more could have been done, both by policymakers and by society as a whole.

Proposed design of Westminster Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens

The Memorial will be an opportunity for all of us to reflect on a crime unique in human history.

One where six million innocent people – men, women, children, babies – were sent to their deaths just for being different, just for being Jewish.

It is also a chance to reflect on the hundreds of thousands of Roma, thousands of gay and disabled people murdered by the Nazis. It is important that we not only focus on how they died, but also how they lived – as fathers, as mothers, as sons, as daughters, as brothers and sisters who loved and hoped and dreamed, just like everyone of us.

We have a duty to ensure that we all understand how this evil was allowed to happen; how so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and perhaps more importantly how so many others stood silent.

It is not enough to just listen, learn and remember – remembrance without purpose, without action changes nothing.

The Holocaust may have reached its climax at Treblinka and Auschwitz, but it started in the hearts of ordinary men and women.

When the true horror of the Holocaust was revealed we collectively said ‘never again’ but we have all seen the madness that can sweep through nations – Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur – they shock our conscience, but they are the extreme of a spectrum of ignorance and intolerance that we see every day; the bigotry that says another person is less than my equal, less than human. These are the seeds of hate that we cannot let take root.

The words “never again” have become synonymous with the Holocaust and are a challenge to us all to reject hatred in all of its forms, including antisemitism, which has no place in a civilized world.

We must confront the reality that around the world, antisemitism is on the rise. The recent conflict between Israel and Gaza saw the Community Security Trust record over 628 of antisemitic incidents from 8 May to 7 June this year.

This record wave of anti-Jewish hate was accompanied by violent rhetoric and extremist incitement online, and anti-Israel demonstrations and rallies across the country.

We know that we’ll never be able to wipe out hatred and we won’t entirely erase the scourge of antisemitism, but the exhibition and education offered by the new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre will ensure that we are all aware of where hatred can lead.

Lord Eric Pickles and Ed Balls are co-chairs of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation.

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