On Holocaust Remembrance Day, some MPs should hang their heads in shame

Child survivors of Auschwitz
Fréa Lockley

27 January is Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 2020, this is even more poignant because it also honours the 75th anniversary since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. But as people around the world remember the victims and remaining survivors of this and all genocides, some UK MPs should hang their heads in shame.

Their hypocrisy is utterly disgusting. Because today, we know how vitally important it is to learn from the horrors of the past. Yet just last week, Boris Johnson’s government voted down Lord Alf Dubs’s amendment to help child refugees. Have they forgotten how many people whom the Nazis swept into concentration camps were also refugees? Have they also forgotten that, without Kindertransport helping child refugees reach safety, Dubs and thousands of other children probably wouldn’t have survived?

“We have a shared responsibility to fight these evils”

A statement from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT) explains that “the Holocaust shook the foundations of modern civilisation”. Because of the “unprecedented character and horror”, it “will always hold universal meaning”. As a result, it pledges to ensure:

that future generations understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect upon its consequences. We vow to remember the victims of Nazi persecution and of all genocides…

We recognise that humanity is still scarred by the belief that race, religion, disability or sexuality make some people’s lives worth less than others’. Genocide, antisemitism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination still continue.

Many people shared stark reminders of what ‘Holocaust’ truly means:

The HMDT statement also points to our “shared responsibility to fight these evils” and to “condemn the evils of prejudice, discrimination and racism”.

These principles are impossible to argue with. Unless, it seems, you’re a Tory minister or MP.

“First and foremost, refugees”

Many people also pointed out that there are still vital lessons to be learned from the Holocaust:

Jewish children’s author Michael Rosen’s latest book The Missing focuses on this crucial issue, to remind:

us that… those trying to escape nazi genocide were, first and foremost, refugees — at a time when one of them, Labour peer Alf Dubs who came here via Kinder Transport aged six, has seen the Tories vote down his Brexit Bill amendment to unite displaced children with their parents.

In the 1930s, Kindertransport enabled “about 10,000 mainly Jewish children” to escape from the Nazis. Dubs came to the UK as a child refugee and has championed refugee children’s rights ever since.

In 2016, the ‘Dubs Amendment’ established a legal way “to relocate and support unaccompanied refugee children from Europe”. This was intended to help “3,000 children from war-ravaged countries”. But in February 2017, 294 MPs overturned the amendment. Brexit threatened refugee children further.

On 8 January, Johnson’s government repealed a later amendment seeking to at least protect basic rights for unaccompanied child refugees. Although the Lords voted against this, the Tory government pushed it through.

So it seems utterly beyond belief that Johnson, Priti PatelDominic Raab, and many Tory MPs honoured Holocaust Remembrance Day. They fail, it seems, to see their disgusting hypocrisy. They also miss the abyss between doing so and pushing forward policy to stop child refugees seeking safety.

The HMDT statement also values:

the sacrifices of those who have risked their lives to protect or rescue victims, as a touchstone of the human capacity for good in the face of evil.

Can Tory MPs who voted down child refugee rights really claim to stand for these values?

Never forget

In 2003, I was humbled and fortunate enough to meet an Auschwitz survivor. She shared her story with a group of trainee teachers and I’ve never forgotten her words or what she entrusted us to do.

“Please,” she said, “make sure that no one ever forgets. Share our story because when we’re gone, we need the children of the future to know and to make sure this can never happen again.” I took those words to heart, and passed them on to every class of children I taught.

In 2003, any sense of a ‘refugee crisis’ seemed far from our shores. Before the conflict in Syria, it was something many people in the UK failed to comprehend fully. But that’s changed.

Rosen also tells young readers:

my relatives were refugees — a lot like the people you may have seen on the news recently. …

I see thousands of families that have been forced to run from new wars, driven into hiding and sometimes losing their lives. 

Today of all days, we can’t ignore the critical global refugee crisis. So I still carry the legacy of those words I heard.

Each and every refugee flees atrocities. The horror of genocide is still with us. Does scale or number mitigate the severity of genocide anywhere? When you’re humbled by the presence of someone sharing a first-hand account of genocide, you recognise that no – it doesn’t.

First, they came for…

It’s both chilling and deeply upsetting to see Tory ministers offering ‘sympathy’ on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Because today, I honour and remember Jewish people and all other Holocaust victims: disabled people, gay people, Gypsies and Roma, indeed anyone who dared to speak out.

This government destroyed the remaining fragments of child refugee rights. But we can’t ignore 10 years of hideous discrimination against disabled people. Johnson’s government also promised new legislation to erode what should be basic rights. Police powers creep daily to limit our rights to gather, protest or challenge authority. And speaking as a member of the Travelling community, we know they’re coming after us now too.

Where does this end?

The answer is too chilling to even think about. We can’t and we won’t forget how the creep of dictatorship and fascism starts. So it’s up to us to take a stand against this government with everything we have.

Featured image via United States Holocaust Memorial Museum courtesy of Belarussian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography – Wikimedia

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  • Show Comments
    1. Roman people were another group targetted by the Nazis. Approx 1/4 of all European Roma were murdered. And now UK tories want to racially profile and persecute them ;its in their manifesto. What has happened to our country?

    2. We should not forget the Communists and Socialists involved.
      German Communists were among the first to be imprisoned in concentration camps.[64][65] Their ties to the USSR concerned Hitler, and the Nazi Party was intractably opposed to communism. Rumours of communist violence were spread by the Nazis to justify the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave Hitler his first dictatorial powers. Hermann Göring testified at Nuremberg that Nazi willingness to repress German Communists prompted Hindenburg and the old elite to cooperate with them. Hitler and the Nazis also despised German leftists because of their resistance to Nazi racism. Many German leftist leaders were Jews who had been prominent in the 1919 Spartacist uprising. Hitler referred to Marxism and “Bolshevism” as means for “the international Jew” to undermine “racial purity”, stir up class tension and mobilise trade unions against the government and business. When the Nazis occupied a territory, communists, socialists and anarchists were usually among the first to be repressed; this included summary executions. An example is Hitler’s Commissar Order, in which he demanded the summary execution of all Soviet troops who were political commissars who offered resistance or were captured in battle.[

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