The Holocaust is the clearest warning from history of what happens when we leave prejudice unchecked

January 27, 2013 7:00 am

One day each year, on the 27th January, we in the UK remember the victims of the event we know as the Holocaust with a national memorial day. Holocaust Memorial Day, the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death and concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, is a chance to honour the six million who were murdered in what the Nazis termed the final solution.

I was one of the MPs that first supported the Bill for a national day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust to be created.  The Holocaust is a unique event in history – industrial means were used by an apparently ‘civilised’ people to murder on an unprecedented scale.  It was perpetrated not by a handful of monsters but by tens of thousands of willing participants, and a society that supported terrible persecution of minorities.  It is important to hold this in mind when we talk about the modern day lessons of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Memorial Day events all around the country, in schools, colleges, and universities, act as a timely reminder of the importance of equipping our young citizens with the knowledge to make sure an event such as the Holocaust cannot happen again.

And it is important that young people today are made aware of where racism, bigotry and hatred can lead. In recent years, in democratic European countries we have seen a rise in acts of public racism and antisemitism: In Greece, the rise of the Golden Dawn Party, elected legally at the ballot box, has caused alarm around the globe for their overtly racist policies. In November, the leader of the Hungarian ultra-right Jobbik party publicly advised his government to draw up a list of Jews in public life as they posed a “national security risk”.

The parallels between these two examples and the antisemitic policies of the Third Reich should not need pointing out, but they do support the case for the importance of educating young people about the Holocaust today so that they might fight bigotry, racism and inhumanity in the future. I fully believe that education is the most effective way to achieve a more tolerant society. Since 1999, the Holocaust Educational Trust has run the Lessons from Auschwitz Project, where two post-16 students from every school in the UK have the chance to visit Auschwitz as one stage of a four-part educational course. I was lucky enough to accompany students on a visit in 2011 as Shadow Secretary of State for Education. I am incredibly proud to say that Lessons from Auschwitz was granted funding by the last Labour Government, and pleased that it continues under the current Government.

Although 18,000 students and teachers have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Holocaust Educational Trust, there is a limit to how many can travel to the site.  This is why the Trust bring Holocaust survivors into schools across the UK share their personal testimony.  To date, over 60,000 students have heard from a survivor.  Those students that have borne witness to this darkest chapter in our shared history will ensure that the Holocaust is not forgotten.

Even those students who have not had the privilege from hearing from a Holocaust survivor will still learn about the tragedy, as the subject is compulsory in England for Key Stage 3 students.  I am immensely supportive of this.

I believe that education is the strongest antidote we have to ignorance, bigotry, intolerance and ultimately racism. Hearing the personal testimony of a Holocaust survivor is an immensely powerful experience, and will help safeguard our society from these threats.  The Holocaust is the clearest warning from history of what happens when we leave prejudice unchecked – it is up to each of us to challenge it in today’s society.

Stephen Twigg is the Shadow Education Secretary

  • Monkey_Bach

    Any sane person would agree that whipping hatred and prejudice towards perfectly innocent minorities is always a cowardly and bad thing to do which can lead to disastrous results and massive loss of life in holocausts and pogroms.This being the case shouldn’t politicians of all stripes – including far too many Labour politicos – stop stoking hatred and prejudice towards the sick, unemployed, disabled, large families, single parents, and sundry benefit claimants in order to justify slashing the social security budget? Shouldn’t the Labour Party admit and apologise for its culpability in thousands of deaths inflicted on the sick and disabled persecuted by Atos, and promise to abolish the WCA test immediately if ever returned to office? Shouldn’t this home grown catastrophe be faced up to and ended? Eeek.

  • JoeDM

    It is to our shame that we see increasing anti-semitism across the UK and europe. It is as though the Holocaust is forgotten or wilfully ignored by some groups.

    • treborc1

      It’s not forgotten what it is of course is History and History is like telling people of another time and not something we would do. But from Hard working, to the sick the disabled all you need is enough people or just one person to have a mantra and the people to believe it.

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