First Holocaust Memorial Day event for 10 Downing Street staff
HMD 2019Number 10 remembers

First Holocaust Memorial Day event for 10 Downing Street staff

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill addressing civil servants during specially-arranged Number 10 event

Number 10 Downing Street
Number 10 Downing Street

Jewish civil servants have arranged the first ever Holocaust Memorial Day commemorative event for staff at Number 10 Downing Street.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill will speak at the event on Wednesday as attendees hear testimonies from a Holocaust survivor and Eric Eugene Murangwa, a former international footballer who survived genocide in Rwanda.

Sedwill’s own grandfather was part of the British Army when it liberated Bergen-Belsen and told Jewish News he had been “personally struck by the power of these survivor testimonies, and how the lessons of the Holocaust still have resonance to us working in Government today”.

HMD commemoration across government departments has been growing in recent years, with coordination efforts led by policy official Michael Livingston while he was at the Home Office.

Livingston, a Scottish Jew who now works in the Prime Minister’s Office, said he was proud that Number 10 colleagues would this year have their own event, as opposed to previous years when Downing Street has only hosted public-facing HMD receptions.

“This is part of a wider programme launched last year to ensure that as many people in government, including ministers, special advisers and civil servants, can hear the testimonies of Holocaust survivors,” he said. “In 2019, these events cover every major government department.”

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson MP, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP, Lord Chancellor David Gauke MP and Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP hosted events in their own departments this week, seeking to link the lessons of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides to the work their teams do today.

Writing in a civil service blog, Claire Moriarty, the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), whose brother Patrick is the headteacher at JCoSS, said she felt a personal connection to HMD.

Growing up in “a strongly Jewish part of north-west London,” against the backdrop of the war, she said: “The Holocaust was very much part of that history. Many of my friends’ families had very strong views, rooted in experience: most had lost relatives in the Holocaust. The mother of my best friend at infant school had come to England through the Kindertransport.”

She added: “It wasn’t something that was talked about directly. We didn’t hear from the Holocaust survivors in our midst. I don’t recall ever hearing a personal testimony during my schooldays, despite the ready access to those who could have offered it.

“It was of course a time of greater reticence, when feelings were often considered off-limits. But it still seems extraordinary that events so terrible, which gave rise to the definition of both crimes against humanity and genocide, were not held more centrally in our minds. Because talking about it is part of the insurance against it happening again.”

Karen Pollock , Chief Executive, Holocaust Educational Trust welcomed the initiative, commenting: “Whether you’re a civil servant or student, Member of Parliament or member of public, the opportunity to hear from a Holocaust survivor is one of the most memorable experiences you can have. We are delighted that we’ve been able to support Number 10 in this special commemoration, joining Government departments, local communities and of thousands of schools around the country  in becoming witnesses to the Holocaust.”

read more: