January 27 marks Holocaust Memorial Day, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, where the Nazis murdered over 1.5 million victims – ordinary, innocent Jews and Travellers, dissenters and enemies of Hitler’s horrendous regime. They murdered another three million Jews. Some in hundreds of smaller death camps. Others, like my entire family in Lithuania and Latvia, they marched into nearby woods, shot them dead and buried them in pits and quarries.
The Holocaust is a permanent reminder of what hate can do if unchallenged. That is why Holocaust Memorial Day has become such a potent symbol and highly educative event – remembering the massacres of the 1940s, and leading on to the murderous destructions in Rwanda and Darfur, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A great debt is owed to my dear friends and former members of the APPG Against Antisemitism, Tony Blair and Andrew Dismore, for making this day of remembrance possible.
Every year, we are left with fewer survivors, many of them choose to speak to future generations, to warn them of the horrors that can occur and how we cannot allow this to happen again. But sadly, the number of survivors is diminishing, year by year.
In Britain, because of the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and of other charities which educate about the Holocaust, we are working – practically – with our young people. One of the tools used is the Lessons from Auschwitz programme, which each year sends two senior school pupils from every school in the country, on a visit to Auschwitz to give a reminder of the dreadful horrors of past history and when they return from their visit, the pupils share their experience with their peers.
The previous government under Gordon Brown, pledged the funding, and I am proud and delighted that this has been renewed by Michael Gove and the Department for Education. Holocaust education transcends the political divide. This is becoming more important, year on year. As memories fade and new histories are written, we risk forgetting some of the horrors of the Second World War and of the Holocaust.
This process has been speeding up in countries such as Lithuania and Latvia. In some cases, the history of the horror is becoming twisted to suit a political and antisemetic agenda – and this deeply troubles me.
This is an agenda of distorting the truth, the truth of who was the victim and who were the perpetrators – and denying this through the blanket statement of ‘a complicated history’. Of course, Stalin and his Soviet Union committed horrendous crimes against citizens in the USSR and these must be remembered to help ensure that totalitarian regimes can never commit such crimes again – but these must also be remembered separately, as a separate crime to that of the Nazis and of their vile attempt to cleanse Europe of the Jewish people.
For Jews in Europe during the Holocaust there was little complication. The truth was and still remains that the Soviet and Allied forces were the heroes and the liberators and that Hitler’s Nazis were the perpetrators and the war criminals. Any attempt to pervert this history is an attack on the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Jews from that region which were murdered, including many of my own family, who were in Lithuania and Latvia.
Many of us repeat the words ‘Never Again’. This will become an empty statement if we allow the truth of the Holocaust and of other genocides to become lost pieces of history.
Greville Janner (Lord Janner of Braunstone, QC) is a President of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and Chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust)