Holocaust survivors are simply remarkable individuals. Having witnessed the absolute worst of humanity, they could be forgiven for spending the past 75 years doing everything possible to forget what they experienced. But instead they have dedicated their lives to remembering.
At an age when most of us would retreat to the sofa, they spend their 80s and 90s touring schools, offices, village halls and community centres so that as many people as possible can hear their testimony first-hand.
It is truly incredible work, and I was delighted to see last month’s New Year Honours list recognise 12 survivors for their tireless efforts.
But the years take their toll. For many, this month’s 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz will be the last major anniversary they are able to mark. In recent weeks, we have mourned the loss of Leslie Brent, Hermann Hirschberger and Heinz Skyte – may their memories be a blessing. And the time will inevitably come when the Shoah slips beyond the realm of living memory.
That is why it is so important that those of us who remain continue to remember.
Why we as a nation must always mark Holocaust Memorial Day. And why I, as
prime minister, am absolutely committed to building the National Holocaust Memorial and Education Centre right in the heart of Westminster.
Because even though the Shoah was a crime so unprecedented it required the creation of a new word – genocide – simply to describe it, its perpetrators wished for it to be left unnoticed by the history books.
As the Red Army’s 322nd rifle division closed in on Auschwitz, retreating Nazis destroyed the gas chambers and crematoria in a desperate attempt to cover up their crimes.
Despite their enthusiastic participation in the slaughter, they didn’t want the world to know what they had done.
They wanted us to forget.
Today, a growing number of antisemites seek to continue that dismal work.
They downplay the scale of the killing, draw false equivalence with the contemporary world, even outright deny that what happened, happened.
We cannot let them gain a foothold. Because if we allow the likes of Buchenwald, Belsen and Babi Yar to become simply obscure names on a map, we not only betray the memory of those who died there.
We will, in airbrushing the Holocaust from history, succeed where the Nazis failed and offer succour to the thugs and bigots who are the modern-day bearers of that twisted ideology. So we must remember. But we must also act.
After all, speak to anyone who survived the Holocaust and they will tell you that it did not begin with the gas chambers or the pogroms. It began when antisemitic slogans were daubed on a Jewish shop window.
When a Jewish child was abused on a bus. And when ordinary, law-abiding people chose to turn away and do nothing.
So as we look ahead to Holocaust Memorial Day and to the 75th anniversary of liberation, let me make this promise to Jews right across Britain.
As long as I am prime minister, I will never allow this country to forget what happened 75 years ago. I will do all I can to see that we continue to learn the lessons of the past.
And the government I lead will stand with you and fight alongside you so that the darkest of nights is never again allowed to fall upon the Jews of the world.
We owe those incredible survivors nothing less.