Progressively Speaking: Challenging the 5% of Brits who deny the Shoah
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Progressively Speaking: Challenging the 5% of Brits who deny the Shoah

If five percent of Brits doubt the Holocaust took place, who will put them right?

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith
Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur

On 27 January, a man in his 80s named Gordon Spencer lit the memorial candle for Barnet Borough’s Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) commemoration.

Gordon, a member of our Alyth Synagogue, was born Gunther Spiegel in Wurzburg, Bavaria, in 1930.

He came to Britain with his mother in August 1939, a month before the Second World War broke out. His father had already escaped to London on his release from incarceration in Dachau. All the rest of his family was murdered in the Shoah.

How insulting it is to people like Gordon, and their descendants, to know, as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s independently conducted survey found, that five percent of their fellow Britons doubt the Shoah took place. Equally maddening is that 12 percent of the 2,000 people surveyed say they think the numbers murdered have been exaggerated.

Unfortunately, Gordon, and the Jewish people he represents, are not alone. At the same Barnet HMD ceremony, Fidelis Mironko, from the Rwandan Embassy, spoke about the challenge of denial in his country regarding the murder of 800,000 of his fellow Rwandans by their mostly Hutu countrymen.

Earlier in the year, I went with Remembering Srebrenica and the Joseph Interfaith Foundation to Bosnia where we, as a group of Jews and Muslims visiting together, were told that Bosnian Muslims are also having to deal with the insult of denial of what happened to them during the genocidal murder of nearly 10,000 people that took place in 1995.

Denial of the awful reality of genocide is a shared experience of oppressed people. To challenge denial, we must engage in education and sharing experience the length and breadth of the country.

The Holocaust Education Trust and others ensure Shoah education is nationwide, and we should join with others who have experienced both genocide and its subsequent denial.

It requires multiple record-keeping, in addition to the records at Yad Vashem. In our synagogue, we keep our own book recording the Shoah experiences of our members’ families – when secondary schools visit here, we can show them the Holocaust was the real experience of their neighbours.

  • Mark Goldsmith serves Alyth Synagogue
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