David Miliband feels ‘responsibility to testify’ family’s Shoah escape
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David Miliband feels ‘responsibility to testify’ family’s Shoah escape

Former foreign secretary told HET event he owed his life to kindness of strangers who saved his family during the Holocaust

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

David Miliband. Credit: Jillian Edelstein
David Miliband. Credit: Jillian Edelstein

Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told a 900-strong audience at a special Holocaust Educational Trust event this week that he owed his life to the kindness of strangers who had helped his mother and aunt during the Holocaust. “Without them, I wouldn’t’ be here”, he said.

Now head of the New York-based International Rescue Service, Mr Miliband pointed to a picture of his grandfather who had been murdered in a camp in south-west Germany —but his two daughters had survived.

And the politician, interviewed by the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, said: “I feel a responsibility to testify as to what I was told.”

To the young ambassadors of the HET, Mr Miliband said: “I don’t speak Hebrew, but I do know that the word for ‘history’ and the word for ‘memory’ is the same — ‘zachor’. History is what happens to other people, memory is what happens to you. To those of who have had the privilege of meeting Holocaust survivors, we have seen how history and memory melt. It’s our job to take that extraordinary history, and that extraordinary and appalling memory, forward.”

In a question and answer session after his speech, Mr Miliband spoke about the technological impact on democracy. “The process of politics since I began has changed utterly. The idea that you could have a 24 hour news conference from the president’s Twitter feed… you choose your facts to suit your opinions, rather than mould your opinions based on facts”.

He added: “Anonymity of social media breeds toxicity. The algorithms of social media make it anti-social media — the algorithms privilege hate over reason. It’s something like five times more likely that you are going to get re-tweeted if you say something hateful than if you say something constructive. Representative democracy was built on deliberation — but on the basic idea that you were entitled to your own opinions, but not entitled to your own facts”.

While he believed that the social media platforms such as Facebook and twitter should “certainly be listed as publishers, it’s obvious”, Mr Miliband observed that the algorithms which drive them were presently unregulated, and felt they should be. He added: “It’s obviously not great to have a situation of unregulated media that leaves the head of Twitter to decide whether or not the president of the United States should have a Twitter feed. This must be a matter for the public interest, mediated by legislators.”

Conservative MP Robert Halfon concluded the session, which was introduced by HET chief executive, Karen Pollock.

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