Be a light in the darkness: a new generation must stand up against atrocities
With the turning of each year, the number of people who experienced the obscenity of the Holocaust diminishes. Gradually it is moving from living memory into the history books.
This year’s theme for Holocaust Remembrance Day “Be a Light in the Darkness” anticipates that change. It asks a new generation to stand up and shine a light on what depravity humankind is capable of.
Our images of the Holocaust are black and white grainy films or photographs. This should not fool us, for the Holocaust took place on bright sunny days as well as in the darkness of a Polish winter.
In 2018, I went on the “March of the Living” an annual event that visits various sites in Poland associated with Jewish life and the Nazi Death camps of WW2, ending at Auschwitz.
I was on the same coach as my friend Ivor Pearl, a survivor accompanied by his daughter and granddaughter. He was good company, we shared the same dry sense of humour. He teased me mercilessly throughout the visit.
I know he will not mind me saying that I only saw him look frail once, which was on the separation ramp at Auschwitz. Here, families were broken apart; parents from children; husbands from wives; younger siblings from older ones. One line led to the gas chamber, the other hard manual work.
I am a member of the International Council for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, I had visited the ramp many times, and for Ivor I think it was the second time. The first being in 1944.
Seeing his distress, I went over to talk to him. He told me something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The day was a bright and warm early Spring day, blue skies with a light breeze. Ivor said: “It was a day like this when I arrive at Auschwitz. Don’t believe all that guff about the birds never singing at Auschwitz. The birds sang, the sun was out and butterflies fluttered along the lines. Death came on sunny as well as dark days”
The new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre due to start construction this year, next to Parliament, will be part of Britain’s contribution to shining a light in the darkness.
The Holocaust happened in plain sight, with plenty of eye witnesses. The final stage of any genocide is denial. Accompanying the growth of Antisemitism is an increase of Holocaust denial, distortion and revisionism right across Europe and beyond.
The new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre due to start construction (subject to planning permission) this year, next to Parliament, will be part of Britain’s contribution to shining a light in the darkness.
Working in conjunction with partners in the USA, Europe and Israel, the Learning Centre will address directly Antisemitism and Holocaust denial with the simplicity of truth and facts.
The learning centre will examine the UK’s reaction to the Holocaust. It will relate incidences that we should feel proud of with incidences we should feel ashamed of.
We will record the success of the Kindertransport, but remind visitors that it was Kinder because we would not let their parents into Britain. Few of the children would ever see their parents again, who would be mostly murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.
The Centre will also examine subsequent genocides, in particular: Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Darfur. Remembering the dead not as statistics but as individuals.
Facing up to the past has never been more important. Across Europe there are countries seeking to rewrite history, obscuring inconvenient truths and attempting to paint themselves as purely the victims of the Nazis. Our Learning Centre will set an example by facing up to our failures as well as our triumphs.
Rt Hon Lord Pickles is the UK Envoy on Post-Holocaust Issues.