Your Member of Parliament for Harrow East

Andrew Percy MP

Holocaust Memorial Day

“It is an honour to follow so many emotional speeches. I commend my hon. Friend Gavin Barwell for his perseverance in ensuring that we could have this debate and for securing it from the Backbench Business Committee.

My problem with the holocaust is thinking about 6 million people being systematically murdered. It is easy to picture one person being murdered—we can see a photo of them, talk to their friends or read about them—but one cannot even envisage or contemplate 6 million people lying in a row or filling a hall. It is unimaginable. I am privileged to represent the people of Harrow East, where we have, if not the biggest, one of the biggest Jewish communities in the whole country. I have had the privilege of meeting refugees of Kindertransport and people who came here before the war or who escaped the atrocities of the concentration camps. All of their stories are deeply emotional. I have had the privilege of going to schools where they have spoken and have talked with them about their feelings about the holocaust.

 

One of the things about the holocaust and what the Germans and the Nazis did to the people of many countries across Europe is that they attempted not just to wipe out the whole of the Jewish population, but, to dehumanise them in the first place. They took away their humanity and their emotions, and the thing that I find really hard to contemplate is how it was allowed to happen and how people could tamely go into concentration camps and gas chambers and be wiped out. I also find it hard to contemplate how people across the world, if they knew what was going on, did not take the affirmative action required to prevent many unnecessary deaths.

I, like others, commend the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. One of the things that I feel very badly about is that, when I was at school, we were never taught about the holocaust. It was not spoken about. It was never part of our history lessons or of anything that we knew about. Fortunately I grew up among Jewish children and families, so we heard about it, but it was never really spoken about, which is deeply distressing.

I had the ordeal—privilege is not the word—of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau last year with the Holocaust Educational Trust and students from my constituency. I was struck by several things. None of those young people were Jewish. There were Hindus, Muslims and Christians, but no Jewish children. I think that that was good, because it meant that it was not just Jewish people learning about the holocaust, but everyone from every religion. The way in which the trip is built up is remarkable. When we visited the village of Oswiecim and went to the green, which is surrounded by trees, we queried what terrible things could have happened there. Then, however, we realised that it used to be the site of the biggest synagogue in Europe. It was wiped off the face of the earth, together with the Jewish population of that town, which now has no Jewish people.

From our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, several things that other hon. Members have mentioned—the hair, the shoes and other things—come to mind, as well as particular parts of the death camps and concentration camps. As people go round, the educational group leaders show what happened and explain it all. It came together for me when we were in Birkenau and the leader of our group said, “You must remember: the people who did this were not mad. They were evil, they were systematic, but do not allow the belief to exist that they were mad.” We must always remember that, because it is the key issue.
When we look at the maps of where people were transported from to get to Auschwitz-Birkenau, we can see how many were involved. This was not a few mad individuals; this was a systematic approach by large numbers of people who were evil. They were evil because they directly participated in it, or they were evil because they did nothing to prevent it. We have to remember the whole process of what happened.

As we strolled across what could be a park anywhere in the world to contemplate what evils were done in that pleasant area, I pictured, as we looked at the railway tracks, what it must have been like for people who had been transported for many days from different parts of Europe to arrive there, having been told that they were going to a work camp and that they would be given reasonable amounts of food, that they would be treated properly and that it would be a better life for them. How must they have felt, when the doors opened on those railway carriages and they stepped out on to the platform, to see the camp? One can then start to envisage the full horror of what befell them, as they were separated and marched off to death or, in some cases, to work.

Of course, some of the people who perpetrated these evil deeds have paid the price, but by no means all have. We must always pursue those people, whoever they are, wherever they are, so that they suffer the consequences of their actions. However, we also need to get to grips with the reality of why this happened. How could it possibly have come to pass? We have to remember the economic circumstances in Germany that led to the rise of the Nazis. That is not an excuse, but it is a reason why they were allowed to perpetrate their evils.

I declare a bit of an interest in this regard, because my wife’s family were German Jews who came to this country at the beginning of the last century and, historically, my mother’s family were French Jews who came to this country at the start of the last century. We should remember that anti-Semitism in this country was rife right up until the second world war, and that many of the families who chose to come here forsook their religions, as did mine, and changed their names for fear of the anti-Semitism and discrimination that took place at that time. We still have to confront that because, even today, Jewish children going to and from schools have to be escorted and have security outside the schools. Jewish graves are desecrated and synagogues are damaged. We must always remember that every single hate crime is a crime against this country and against humanity.


I commend this debate for the raw emotion there has been and for the solid examples that have been quoted of what we must do. We must never forget that the holocaust took place, and we must never allow people to forget the rationale and the reasons people make the excuses. I commend the work that is being done by the Holocaust Educational Trust and Karen Pollock and her team. I trust that we can educate our young people, so that never again will that systematic approach ever be allowed. I can accept that, unfortunately, there are evil people in the world who will commit atrocities almost on a systematic basis, but we must never allow such systematic approaches to death ever to happen again”

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