Good morning all,
I am grateful to be given the opportunity to speak today, and I would like to thank David Tasker for organising this important event, and The Hastings Academy for their inspiring contributions.
Today we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom. We come together to remember the millions of lives lost during one of the darkest periods in human history. Standing in solidarity, recognizing the suffering and resilience of those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust and the long-lasting impact on the Jewish community.
Holocaust Memorial Day is an important day for recognition, and reflection on how hatred and prejudice can plague modern society. It stands as a reminder of those who endured the Holocaust and pays tribute to its survivors.
Soviet soldiers were the first to liberate concentration camp prisoners, in July of 1944 when they entered the Majdanek camp in Poland, they would later enter the Auschwitz-Birkenau on the 27th of January 1945, where they liberated the largest Nazi death camp, which now marks Holocaust Memorial Day.
When freed from Auschwitz many of the survivors were too frail to digest food and could not be saved despite allied forces, doctors, and relief workers efforts to feed them. The liberators made great attempts, but many camp survivors died. Within a few days of being released, half of the prisoners who were found alive perished. A saddening quote from survivor Viktor Frankl speaks to the theme of this year fragility of freedom:
"Timidly, we looked around and glanced at each other questioningly. Then we ventured a few steps out of the camp. This time no orders were shouted at us, nor was there any need to duck quickly to avoid a blow or a kick. 'Freedom,' we repeated to ourselves, and yet we could not grasp it."
Despite regaining his freedom, the extent of his physical abuse, malnutrition, emotional humiliation and torture left him unable to comprehend the concept of freedom and the meaning of life, a concept he explored for the rest of his life.
As we reflect upon the atrocities of the past, it is crucial to recognise that the Holocaust serves as a reminder and will continue to leave a permanent mark on humanity. Holocaust Memorial Day also holds to account the detrimental consequences of hatred, prejudice, and indifference. The Holocaust urges us to remain tolerant and advocate for the rights of every individual, regardless of their background.
With fragility of freedom as the theme of this year, it could not be more important to look at the world around us and the conflicts that have been taking place in both the Ukraine and Gaza, following Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel and the slaughter and torture of hundreds of innocent Israeli Jews
We are almost 2 years on from the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, with at least 10,000 civilians, including over 560 children, having been killed and more than 18,500 injured since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It is important that we do not forget about the Ukrainians who deserve freedom and peace.
We have seen the awful unfolding of the conflict in Gaza. The Government is working via all diplomatic channels—bilaterally and collectively in the region—to ensure that this conflict, which has cost so many lives already, be brought to a halt. The lives of Israeli Jews must be protected, and Hamas must be stopped - to achieve a two-state solution, and peace and freedom for all involved.
I am appalled at the rise of anti-semitism in this country, and at the abuse towards Jewish MPs and the extra security measures they have to take. We must defend democracy.
Holocaust Memorial Day is not only a time for reflection but also a call to action. We must learn from Genocides that followed the Holocaust, and work to ensure peace in our country and abroad. To stop discrimination, hatred, and persecution in all its forms. By remembering the Holocaust, it shows commitment to building a world where diversity is celebrated, and every life is valued.
It is something very special to have Emma van Dam with us in Hastings today, and to hear her personal story of the Holocaust. It is vital that these stories are shared in order for us to understand not only the true horror, but also that of human strength and resilience, and ultimately, hope.
In closing, let us remember that we all have a shared commitment to justice and compassion. As we pay homage to the victims of the Holocaust, we must continue to fight for the eradication of antisemitism and persist in upholding the freedoms of Jewish individuals across the globe.