By Eric PICKLES, MP and Communities Secretary.
IT IS thanks to our protection of liberties that so many religions are free to worship in the UK, and that we debate ideas instead of forcing them into the shadows. We live in a country that fights against censorship.
This also means it is still possible to pick up a copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
A liberty at odds with the Nazis, who wanted books to be burnt, and for history to be erased. I am proud to live in a country where thought and speech is protected, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow the fact that Herr Hitler’s 720 page book sold more than 4,000 copies last year.
Despite the passage of time, we cannot unlearn the lessons that are most acutely felt by the survivors of the Holocaust. Those who question the need for a Holocaust Memorial Day need only remember Anders Breivik’s murderous spree in Norway, which was inspired by Mein Kampf.
Our vigilance is always being tested, and having a dedicated day for remembrance is just one way we can ensure the Nazi ambition to “remove memory” is never achieved.
This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day adopted the emotional theme of ‘Journeys’ – taking us to the gas chambers of Auschwitz and the killing fields of Cambodia. I have been fortunate enough to meet some of those who endured such journeys over the years.
Most recently, I met Eva Clarke. I heard about her mother’s experience of being sought out by the Gestapo in a cinema screening. How she was later piled into a cattle cart, destined for Mauthausen. It was there on the cart she gave birth to Eva as a guard scornfully told her she could, “carry on screaming”.
I was also told about the experience of Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines, who along with 700 other children, was given a new start by Sir Nicholas Winton. Rebuilding her life in Britain has never changed the life she left behind, but it is thanks to people like Lady Milena that our country has such a rich history of tolerance and gives a voice to the millions who were not so lucky.
In this free country, most of us are able to walk down the street unharmed. But the murders of Lee Rigby and Mohammad Saleem last year served as harsh reminders to us all that we still have a struggle on our hands. The Holocaust reminds us that it is ordinary people, just like you and I, who can allow tolerance to turn into torture and oppression almost overnight.
The day we turn a blind eye is the day another Auschwitz becomes a possibility. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust, the importance of remembering that horrific event is being passed on from generation to generation. As one of the Trust’s ambassadors said to me last week: “We cannot blame society. We are society.”
It is our collective responsibility to remain vigilant and keep the voices of the Holocaust alive, even after they have faded. Whether that be through listening to ancestors tell their parents stories; introducing children to Anne Frank’s diary; or visiting Auschwitz.
They are all powerful lessons for our children. The Prime Minister’s new commission will also consider new ways of commemorating the Holocaust, the members of which were announced on Monday.
Holocaust survivors have helped make Britain great. You are academics, soldiers, families, and most importantly of all, many of you have become true Brits. The renewed circulation of Mein Kamp, while unsettling, is a consequence of our refusal to repress even the most horrific of histories.
Unsettling as it is, it serves as a powerful reminder to us all to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with survivors, and pledge that Hitler’s vision will never again be resurrected.
Not on our watch.