Holocaust survivors and educators have welcomed plans for a new national Shoah memorial and cutting-edge learning centre that will “transform the way Holocaust education is delivered”.
David Cameron announced on Holocaust Memorial Day that the Government will commit £50m towards the projects and a endowment fund to secure the long-term future of Holocaust education in the UK.
These were among are the recommendations of the prime minister’s Holocaust Commission which has spent the past year examining what more Britain can do to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust. A public call for evidence received more than 2,500 responses from survivors, community organisations and young people.
Speaking at today’s national commemoration marking 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Cameron said: “Today we stand together – whatever our faith, whatever our creed, whatever our politics. We stand in remembrance of those who were murdered in the darkest hour of human history, we stand in admiration of what our Holocaust survivors have given to our country and we stand united in our resolve to fight prejudice and discrimination in all its forms.”
Saying he had the full support of Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in accepting the recommendations, he told the 1,000-strong gathering at Westminster Central Hall: “As Prime Minister I will ensure that we will keep Britain’s Promise to Remember: today, tomorrow and for every generation to come.”
It will fall to the new United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Foundation, headed by Arts Council England chair Sir Peter Bazalgette, to take on the recommendations.
There is currently a memorial in Hyde Park but many believe it is not well enough known. The Commission – chaired by JLC chair Mick Davis and including leading figures from the worlds of politics, business and showbusiness – called for a “prominent” memorial in central London “to make a bold statement about the importance Britain places on preserving the memory and stand as a permanent affirmation of the values” of Britain.
Possible sites for the memorial and learning centre include a new wing of the Imperial War Museum, at Potters Field near London Bridge, or at the Millbank complex alongside the Tate Britain museum, according to the Commission’s 60-page report.
Sitting alongside the memorial will be a state of the art learning centre which could see virtual reality technology used to recreate the streets of 1930s Germany. BAFTA-winning British production company Atlantic Productions has also offered to work with Auschwitz-Birkenau to use their laser scanning technology to create a permanent digital record of the past.
The facility will also aid teachers and be responsible for developing a physical campus and online hub “bringing together a network of the existing Holocaust organisations and supporting them in driving a renewed national effort to advance Holocaust education”. There will also be an urgent drive to record testimony.
Among the commissioners were actress Helena Bonham Carter, broadcaster Natasha Kaplinsky and representatives of all three main political parties – Michael Gove, Ed Balls and Simon Hughes. Survivors Ben Helfgott and Jack Kagan was also part
The importance of education was emphasised by the initial results of the world’s largest study of secondary age people’s knowledge of the Holocaust which showed more than half thought the killing sites were in Germany rather than in Poland.
The research of 8,000 youngsters – conducted by University College London’s Institute of Education – also revealed less than 1/3 knew what “anti-Semitism” meant – compared to more than half who knew what “Islamophobia” meant and 90% who knew what “homophobia” meant.
Commission chair Mick Davis – who presented findings to the cabinet and shadow cabinet this week – said he was “overjoyed” the recommendations had been accepted by all political parties.
He said: “I have no doubt that, if properly implemented, the recommendations in this report will create a compelling memorial and greatly enhance this country’s existing educational effort for the future.”
Miliband said: “At a time of rising anti-Semitic attacks in Britain and across Europe, it is imperative that we remember what religious prejudice can lead to.”span>
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who also sat on the Commission, said: “Building on the great work already being done, the recommendations of the Commission will have a profound impact on the future of Holocaust education and its centrality in the UK.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “The announcement of a new national Holocaust memorial with a world-class learning centre with a renewed focus on education, will place the UK among the world’s leaders in ensuring that future generations always remember this tragic episode in our shared history.” HET’s regional ambassadors were among those that called for a memorial in their submission. One of them, Lucy Hamwijk, said she hoped this week’s news “will help us spread our message even further”.