Sir Keir Starmer drew on the Pesach story of the four sons when he spoke at a Holocaust Memorial Day event on Friday hosted by the Wiener Library.
And after discussing the importance of survivor testimony, he finished his address with a blessing in Hebrew.
The Labour leader joined special envoy for post-Holocaust issues Lord (Eric) Pickles and New London Synagogue’s Rabbi Jeremy Gordon as a speaker. Cantor Jaclyn Chernett sang a memorial prayer.
Dr Toby Simpson, director of the Wiener Library, told nearly 350 viewers on Zoom that the readings from its archive of testimonies that would be heard were deposited decades ago, soon after the events they recalled. They included accounts by those who did not survive because, he said: “We must not turn away from the hardest truths about the Holocaust, or about the world in which the Holocaust happened.”
Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, said many Jewish constituents had emailed him to explain how their families’ experience during the Holocaust had shaped their lives on certain issues. “Many of those accounts go on to express shock and disgust at the persecution of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang,” he said.
“Others call for a more compassionate welcome for child refugees and draw on the experiences of those who escaped the Nazis on the Kindertransport. I will always keep fighting on those issues, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is what the lessons of history implore us to do.”
Lord Pickles recalled a survivor, Ivor Perl, telling during their visit to Auschwitz: “It was a day like this, a beautiful spring day when I was separated from my family. The sun was out, the birds were singing, butterflies were fluttering down the lines of separation. Don’t let anyone tell you the Holocaust occurred in the darkness and the snow. It occurred in broad daylight.”
Rabbi Gordon said “scraps of redemption” could be found amid the wreckage of what was our “greatest human failure”, and testimony was important because it “recalls the survival of hope, even in the shadows of deep inhumanity”.
Starmer stressed that learning from survivors was a privilege that future generations will not get. “Instead it will be up to us to protect institutions like this library, to protect the truth and continue to recount these testimonies. zichronam livracha, may their memories be a blessing.”
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