This week I had the privilege of meeting survivors of genocide. They included Hannah Lewis, a survivor of the Holocaust, one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century and a stark example of what can happen when nations fail to uphold essential values of tolerance, respect and the right of every individual to express their faith and identity.
It was truly humbling to be able to speak alongside people who have gone through such unimaginable suffering and horror.
I count myself very privileged to have heard their stories and reflected on how we can all apply the lessons from that dark time.
I was honoured to meet Hannah Lewis, who was just five years old when the Germans began rounding up the Jews of her town Włodawa to either the nearby Sobibór extermination camp or labour camps.
She and her family were sent to a work camp in 1943, where her mother was murdered. Hannah was saved after being found starving and hiding in a trench.
When she was 12, Hannah reached London. From the utter despair that she had to suffer at the hands of the Nazis, she has gone on to create a life and a loving family who support her.
Hannah has gone on to tell her story so that we will never forget what happened to her, her family and the six million Jews who were murdered.
Tragically, the Holocaust was not the last genocide. Awful crimes against humanity have been committed in Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur and elsewhere.
It is incumbent upon all of us to remember and learn from these terrible events.
I’m pleased that there will be a permanent Holocaust memorial close to Parliament, to remind us that the process of learning from the past to build a peaceful future is ongoing, and we must not forget the depths of depravity to which humanity can sink if hatred and extremism is left unchecked.
I’m proud to live in and represent a diverse, open British society that recognises the need for harmonious community relations and the decent treatment of others. However, one of the most crucial lessons to learn from the Holocaust is that we must never be complacent.
The President of Genocide Watch, Gregory Stanton, has said the first stage of genocide is categorising people as ‘other’ – and this was certainly true in Nazi Germany.
We must never accept the negative treatment of any group of people as a result of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, transgender identity or any other such intrinsic characteristic.
In Britain we value highly the contribution of our Jewish community to the cultural, social, educational and religious life of the country and are determined to protect that community from those that would do it harm.
We work closely with the Community Security Trust – providing them with £13.4million for security measures in addition to the extensive and on-going work of the police – to make sure you can go about your daily lives without fear of threat.
We treat every incident of hate crime as one too many, and have strong laws in place to tackle these deplorable incidents.
It is incredibly important to me that Britain is a place that all of our citizens can call home.
Survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides are remarkable and it is an absolute inspiration to listen to them.
I encourage everyone this Holocaust Memorial Day to take the time to hear their stories.