Christine Jardine’s speech for Holocaust Memorial Day

Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day tomorrow, here’s Christine Jardine’s speech from the Commons debate last week.

It is an honour to take part in this debate in remembrance of an event that, in its own way, challenges the power of words adequately to express the horror and sorrow of the holocaust.

Three years ago I visited the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel. As I was taken around that remarkable monument, the experience was at times emotional, as well as inspiring and thought-provoking throughout. It is a dark, oppressive space—a tunnel in a hillside—and as we travelled through it, guided as we were by a holocaust survivor, the personal testimonies we heard and the things we saw represented to me one of the bleakest periods in modern history—indeed, human history.

When our tour focused on the concentration camps, my mind was flooded with thoughts of the survivors I have been privileged to meet as we heard the testimonies of the suffering. I also thought about the young people I know who have visited what remains of the concentration camps across Europe, and about their reactions.

My daughter, who was born more than half a century after the war ended, visited because she felt she had to but, unlike other places of historical importance she has visited, it is something she rarely talks about. Like many, we took her as a child to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, and she was fascinated. When we came home she fell in love with the words of that youngster who lived her life hidden because it was the only life she was allowed. Hers were informative, moving words.

When my daughter has visited other memorials she has talked about them, but not when she came home from visiting Theresienstadt, which represented something more. She faced up to the fact that it was all real; that this was where so many stories, like that of the little girl living in a loft whose powerful words she had fallen in love with, had ended; and that if that horror were ever to return, many of the people she loved would meet the same fate. Perhaps it was a similar feeling that moved Andrew Dismore on his visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and we should thank that visit for enabling us to dedicate a day to holocaust remembrance, but how do we adequately remember an event when its sheer horror challenges everything we want to believe about humanity and ourselves? How?

Perhaps Yad Vashem points the way. It is a tunnel in a hillside through which visitors proceed. In near darkness, they hear and see the emotionally numbing truth and heartbreak of the holocaust, but then, like all tunnels, the light at the end begins to grow until they emerge into the sunlight—it is a completely apt and quite deliberate metaphor.

In remembering the holocaust, we should take that metaphor to our hearts and remember that, unlike the many millions who hid in darkness or died in the bleakest of circumstances, and unlike the many victims of war and genocide in the past and in the current day—like those in Srebrenica and the Rohingya—we live in the sunlight. We should cherish that, and we should think of them every day that we enjoy it.

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3 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Jan '18 - 1:39pm

    Christine is an asset.

    The day of remembrance is very poignant.

    I am very concerned about the reports I read and stories we hear, about the rise in antisemitism.

    I do see comments online that are very worrying. Really strong, anti capitalist ideology is adding to an already strong element of the anti Israel tendency, the two combine, in an anti capitalist and anti Israel rant , common in such far left circles, that equates business with bank rolling Israel, as well as a nasty hatred already there , particularly on the far right or the new alt right joining them too, though less as they are fuelled by anti Islam most.

    There is far too much hate and hot air in politics now. The latter has always been common, the former was rare once.

    I am unable to support Labour, even as a constructive friend , an ex member, as long as these elements are there, and troubling many in the Jewish community.

  • Helen Dudden 26th Jan '18 - 6:19pm

    I know about comments from one Party. Working to make life easier for those young people sleeping on our streets, those families and vulnerable people needing a home, also, those working find housing so difficult to obtain and afford. The NHS struggling to make life easier. There is also a need to improve respect in some areas for women. High poverty levels is another issue.
    As with the above article and the others that have been written since. There is much needing to change.
    I light my candles, and remember, change starts with me and with others that stand for human rights, whatever your beliefs.

  • I have to echo Lorenzo’s comment, both in my admiration for Christine, and how happy I am that we have her in Parliament, but also my growing concern that there is a growing kernel of anti-Semitism from people who are absolutely convinced that not only are they the ‘good guys’, but who are a bit too quick to believe all of the conspiracy stories.

    Here in Scotland, I’ve particularly noticed that some people who, reasonably, have concerns for the people of Palestine, but are a bit too quick to believe any convenient anti-Israeli propaganda, regardless of truth, and find themselves interacting with full-blown anti-semites and sharing their propaganda via social media without quite realising that their ‘good guy’, anti-establishment memes are highly offensive. When challenged, they’ll complain about how we’re oppressed by the main-stream media, the corporate elites, and probably something about neo-liberalism.

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