The head of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust has described as “shocking” a survey showing the extent of hate speech in the UK today.
As the poll results were announced, the daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton – who saved hundreds of Jewish children before the war – compared the “dehumanising language” of the Nazis to that seen in 2018.
It follows a YouGov survey of 2,100 people last month, in which more than a quarter reported witnessing hate speech in the last year, with one in ten witnessing five or more incidents.
Giving examples, many reported hearing anti-immigrant or anti-refugee rhetoric, racist abuse or anti-Muslim comments – hate speech can refer to a person’s race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability or gender.
Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said the findings were “shocking” and pertinent, given the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2018 is ‘the power of words’.
She said: “It shows just how prevalent hate speech is today, and how powerful our words are. We know the repeated use of words normalises dangerous language and allows hatred to take root, which can ultimately lead to persecution.”
She added that Holocaust Memorial Day was “about remembering the atrocities of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, but also about finding ways to make sure they can never happen again… Recognising the power our words have is an important first step”.
Of the respondents who said they had witnessed hate speech, four in ten said it was based on the person’s race or ethnicity, 59 percent said they saw it on social media, 41 percent said they heard it in the street, 23 percent cited public transport and 24 percent said they’d seen it in a pub or shop.
Barbara Winton, whose father was nicknamed the ‘British Schindler’ after it came to light that he had rescued 669 children from Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, drew comparisons to the pre-war environment.
“In 1939, as today, there were those including mainstream media who used dehumanising language against refugees fleeing destruction and violence and seeking shelter in Britain,” she said.
“Against that current, my father set out to change views and encourage compassion by writing to papers and magazines to present the moral and humane case for accepting vulnerable refugee children and giving them a home. He used the power of words to stir consciences. His rallying cry then seems to me to be just as relevant today.”
Joan Salter, 77, who was separated from her Polish-Jewish family during the war, likewise remarked on the recent “splintering of social cohesion” and “the growing willingness to express extreme views and the ability of some to act out their intolerance with violent acts”.
She said: “The lack of respect for those of different cultures means we live in dangerous times. We each have a responsibility to learn the lessons of the past, and not allow hatred to take root.”