Douglas Alexander: Fighting anti-Semitism is more important the harder it gets

Douglas Alexander: Fighting anti-Semitism is more important the harder it gets

13 Doug AlexanderDouglas Alexander MP , Shadow Foreign Secretary

In a church in Glasgow near my home, there is a small stained glass memorial to Jane Haining.

She is depicted as an angelic figure, immersed in study and surrounded by children. A testament both to how she lived her life, but also to the tragic circumstances in which it ended. Not enough people know her story.

So, for Holocaust Memorial Day, I wanted to play a small part in honouring the life of a woman who embodied the best of humanity at the worst of times.13 Plaque for Jane

Jane Haining was a farmer’s daughter, born in 1897 in the south of Scotland. At the age of 35, she left her home to work as matron to the Scottish Mission to the Jews in Budapest. Jane was on holiday in Britain when the war broke out, but instead of seeking shelter at home, she returned to Budapest.

After the Nazis invaded Hungary, she is said to have wept as she was forced to sew the yellow star of David onto her children’s uniforms.

It was this very public display of sympathy that made her a target of the Gestapo and in May 1944, Jane, along with the daily transport of around 12,000 Hungarian Jews, was sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Her murder at the hands of the Nazis reminds us that it is often the most personal of sacrifices that become the most public symbols of resistance.

13 Jane Haining
Jane Haining

Today is not 1939, nor are the Jews in Europe facing anywhere near the same level of threat as that they experienced then. But the truth is that the terrorist attacks in Paris this month have shown that the old virus of anti-Semitism is today finding new hosts.

When I travelled to Paris after the attacks and met with the French Foreign Minister, his call for solidarity extended beyond cooperation on counter-terror.

It was a call to Europe to show a united and determined front against the politics of hatred, anger and division.

In the days after the tragic attack in the kosher supermarket, many of us will have reflected on what personal sacrifices we would make to defend against this virus spreading even further. I am clear that this is our shared task – it cannot be left simply to the Jewish community and it cannot be confined to reactive security measures alone.

As the situation in Europe worsened, Jane Haining was summoned back to Scotland.

She refused. She replied: “If these children need me in the days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in the days of darkness?”.

This line still delivers an important lesson for us today. Speaking out against anti-Semitism is a responsibility we all have. And during days of darkness, this responsibility is greater than ever.

That is why this week, I will tell my children the story of Jane Haining and teach them that to stand up to anti-Semitism is more important the harder it gets. But stand up we must.

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