By Lord Tariq Ahmad, Minister for Communities
THE RAILWAY tracks. The children’s shoes. The wrought-iron slogan, Arbeit Macht Frei (Work sets you Free) – “free” was the last thing experienced by those who entered these gates.
No matter how much you read about what happened 70 years ago, no matter how many heart-wrenching stories you hear from survivors, nothing prepares you for the overwhelming grief felt walking the well-trodden path to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
I have just visited for the first time in my capacity as minister for communities.
The charismatic Rabbi Barry Marcus gave me a personal insight into Auschwitz, what went on and how it claimed the lives of 1.3 million innocent people. Britain, and the world, should never forget the generations of people who had their lives extinguished at the hands of a brutal dictator.
Nor should we fail to recognise this genocide was perpetrated simply because of the victims’ faith. Equality, respect and fairness must be the pillars of any society, which is why it is with great concern we see there has been an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain and Europe over the past year.
Anti-Semitism or discrimination of any kind is not something our government will tolerate. At home and abroad, we are fighting to ensure that no matter what your faith or background you are free to live your life without fear of persecution.
This year the government is chairing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, through which we are working to further international cooperation on Holocaust education; to fight the evils of Holocaust denial and denigration; and do all we can to avert future genocides.
Last year my department supported a record 2,000 Holocaust Memorial days across the UK and the Holocaust Commission, launched by the prime minister, will report its findings shortly in ensuring Britain has a permanent memorial. Education is the key to fighting discrimination and through funding projects such as the Anne Frank Trust we are ensuring that young people embrace positive attitudes, personal responsibility and respect for others.
Nazism’s poisonous ideology rose from the ashes of a fragmented society, where people’s fear of difference was corrupted by a warped view of the world. Divisive politics and bigotry have no place in any civilised society and must never be allowed to take root again. A core objective of my department is to support strong and cohesive communities where people feel they belong.
By coming together we are seeking to tackle extremist views and make sure Britain is the best it can be – tolerant, fair and united, rooted in respect of our history, our traditions and in our dealings towards each other.
Though this country has just been through financial hardship not seen since the great depression, we have continued to invest in projects which make a better society and are seeing early signs of recovery and growth.
Through our Near Neighbours campaign, 576 projects have brought faith communities closer together, with those participants feeling a greater sense of togetherness as a result. The Big Iftar saw mosques and Islamic centres across the country mark Ramadan in July by throwing open their doors to cook meals for the whole community.
The Jewish community took the programme to heart, hosting multi-faith iftars in synagogues across Britain. In our country, nobody should be harassed or attacked because of faith or background and no victim of hate crime should be afraid to report it. Such victims will have our support and those found guilty of an offence will face justice.
We have incredible examples of faith groups who, while retaining their distinctive religious identity, work to creating integrated communities; countless individuals who, while devout of faith, are passionate and loyal citizens of our country. And we stand united against bigotry: the government’s support of the anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim Hatred groups provides two working examples of how we seek to address it.
Next month we will also publish a paper looking at the progress this government has made since 2010 in tackling anti-Semitism, not only demonstrating the great strides Britain is making towards eliminating discrimination in society, but also encouraging other countries across the world to take the issue as seriously as we do.
The shadow cast by the Holocaust is dark and long. But out of suffering there must be hope. Much work is still required for peace to come. To achieve it, we must work together against tyranny wherever and whenever we find it.
• Lord Ahmad visited Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust