Lord Pickles warns of ‘sinister’ age of indifference over Shoah remembrance
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Lord Pickles warns of ‘sinister’ age of indifference over Shoah remembrance

UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues was speaking at the Association of Jewish Refugees’ two-day conference, alongside Communities Secretary James Brokenshire

Joe Millis is a journalist

James Brokenshire with Kinder. Credit: Adam Soller Photography
James Brokenshire with Kinder. Credit: Adam Soller Photography

Lord Pickles yesterday expressed fears we are entering a ‘sinister’ age of indifference when it comes to Holocaust remembrance.

The UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues was speaking at the Association of Jewish Refugees’ two-day conference, Remembering & Rethinking: The International Forum on the Kindertransport at 80.

Lord Pickles said that as the number of survivors declined, “we are going through a very strange time. I think we are entering into an age now of indifference.

“We are used to dealing with Holocaust deniers, but I think the age of indifference offers a more putrefied world than Holocaust deniers.”

He always imagined Holocaust deniers, whether they were 16-year-old girls or an old man, “as a 40-year-old man, living with his mum and who has never had a girlfriend – a very strange bunch”.

Lord Pickles speaking at the AJR event. Credit: Adam Soller Photography

However, Lord Pickles added, “what I am seeing now is something more sinister – total and unqualified indifference. People say: ‘so what if six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Who cares, it was so long ago. Stop being morbid, stop wallowing in ancient death’.”

He stressed that “facts no longer have a power to shock”, adding that “we need to adopt a new set of skills and we need to think what the age of indifference means”.

While praising the UK, France and others for the way they dealt with Holocaust remembrance, Lord Pickles said that “unfortunately, though, history is often forgotten or rewritten”, attacking Hungary for its approach to its pro-Nazi wartime leader, Miklós Horthy.

And he singled out the Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán, which, he said was “minimising the country’s participation in the Holocaust and rehabilitating war criminals”, such as wartime leader, Horthy.

“Hungary was the first European country after the First World War to put in place legislation that restricted Jewish participation in higher education. Hungary passed racial laws like the Nazis in 1938 and 1939.”

He said it was therefore essential that the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre was located next to Parliament in Victoria Tower Gardens, despite significant opposition by residents in the area, architects and organisations, such as the Royal Parks, a charity which looks after Victoria Tower Gardens.

“I can’t emphasise enough the importance of the location of the memorial. Its location is the whole point of it,” Lord Pickles said.

Also speaking at the event was James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whose father-in-law was rescued by Berlin-based MI6 agent Frank Foley.

He said the “Kindertransport has shaped us as a country. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. It’s something we remain very proud of, yes. But equally, we can be proud of the incredible contributions of the Kinder to the life of this country.”

He added: “The Kindertransport is a story of great pride, yes. But it is also marked with deep sadness at every turn. It provokes painful questions. Why only children? What happened to the parents? What became of brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles?

James Brokenshire speaking at the AJR event. Credit: Adam Soller Photography

“Sadly, we know that the Kinder were often the only surviving members of their family. It is a painful legacy – but one we must remember.

“And the Holocaust has had a monumental impact on our country’s history, our democracy and our values. Even today, it continues to shape us: from people like me with connections to survivors and refugees, to our society at large as we continue to stand up and challenge the scourge of antisemitism

“That is why it is right that we remember the Holocaust – and have a Memorial here in Britain,” stressing that “as we mark the anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen – by British troops so wholly unprepared for the horrors they found – it is important we all reflect on what they confronted there”.

Brokenshire went on to “reassure our country’s Holocaust survivors, Kinder and refugees that this important Memorial will be delivered, because we remain determined that our country stands together against the hatred, ignorance and bigotry that led to the Holocaust and other genocides”.

The Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre had to be “next to our Houses of Parliament, at the heart of our democracy, standing as an important reminder of parliament’s power to oppress – and its duty to protect”.

The AJR conference, in the plush surroundings of Lancaster House next to Green Park, also heard from Ambassador Michaela Küchler, the German Foreign Office’s Special Representative for Relations with Jewish Organisations, and a host of other speakers, including Syrian refugee Abdulazez Durkhan.

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