Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]
Meeting date: Thursday, January 26, 2023
Official Report 1149KB pdf
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Holocaust Memorial Day 2023, Portfolio Question Time, Strategic Transport Projects Review 2, Budget 2023-24 (Committees’ Pre-budget Scrutiny), Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (Appointment), Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Holocaust Memorial Day 2023
- Portfolio Question Time
- Strategic Transport Projects Review 2
- Budget 2023-24 (Committees’ Pre-budget Scrutiny)
- Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (Appointment)
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Decision Time
Holocaust Memorial Day 2023
I ask those who are leaving the public gallery to do so as quickly and quietly as possible, please.
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-07477, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on Holocaust memorial day 2023. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the importance of continuing to impart the lessons of the Holocaust to each generation; considers that the Holocaust was the systematic attempt by a genocidal regime in Europe to murder all Jewish people on the continent between the years 1941 and 1945, with six million men, women and children tragically losing their lives; notes that the annual Holocaust Memorial Day will be held on 27 January 2023, and that the chosen theme for this year’s event is “ordinary people”; recognises that this particular theme has been chosen to highlight the ordinary people who were involved in all elements of, not just the Holocaust, but later genocides including in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur; acknowledges that, to better understand ordinary people, the theme has been subdivided into five categories: perpetrators, bystanders, rescuers, witnesses and crucially, victims; further acknowledges that, according to the theme, particular groups of people do not always belong to just one of the categories, with railway workers cited as an example where some in this job at the time of the Holocaust are considered as perpetrators, for driving trains to concentration camps, and others as rescuers, for hiding Jewish people; understands that the theme can be widened to include ordinary locations and sites, including schools and hospitals, as such buildings can be used to perpetrate genocide; notes that the theme also highlights that there are extraordinary individuals in all genocides, including those who were part of what it considers remarkable efforts to rescue and save the lives of people targeted by murderous regimes, and believes that underpinning the theme is the powerful narrative that everyone living today is an ordinary person, who is able to be extraordinary in their actions through making the choice to challenge prejudice, stand up against hatred, and speak out against identity-based persecution.12:48
The theme of Holocaust memorial day this year is “Ordinary People”. We know, of course, that Hitler and his henchmen—Himmler, Heydrich, Eichmann and others—were the very personification of evil. However, leaders need followers, and their leadership succeeded in visiting the horrors of the Holocaust only because of the complicity of their followers. Sadly, their followers were ordinary people.
It was ordinary people who facilitated the chilling final solution devised at the Wannsee conference, with its despicable memorial, to which Mr Carlaw referred in his remarks last year. It was ordinary people who stood by and did nothing in the early years of the Nazi regime, from Kristallnacht right through to Auschwitz, Belsen, Sobibor and the rest. It is the harsh and incontrovertible truth that the killing of 6 million people took place because ordinary people permitted it, perpetrated it or did not prevent it.
However, we also remember the ordinary people who were the rescuers: the famous, such as Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, through to the anonymous—the thousands of ordinary people in Poland who lived in the areas surrounding the Auschwitz camps and helped to harbour, and make good the escape of, the very few people who were fortunate enough to get out of that ghastly place. Those ordinary people put their own lives at risk by harbouring prisoners and helping them to make their escape to liberty.
We remember, too, the genocides that have taken place since the second world war in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and, sadly, many other places throughout the world. Each genocide starts with the abandonment and disregard of human rights, with people being punished for who they are or for what their identity is. People are punished for being Jewish, or disabled, or Sinti, or Roma, or gay. It starts in that way, but it ends up in the gas chambers because ordinary people have allowed or enabled it or, in fact, helped to carry it out.
I want to use my remarks today to remember one person in Scotland—one rescuer who, I believe, made an extraordinary contribution that has not yet been sufficiently recognised. They made a contribution to the cause of humanity and human rights through helping to secure the release of prisoners from hideous Russian gulags—Russian prison camps. That person is my old boss, Leslie Wolfson.
In the days of Solzhenitsyn, the Russian regime detained many people simply for the crime of expressing their views—the so-called prisoners of conscience. They were sentenced to many years in the labour camps, where many of them died. In the late 1970s into the 1980s, Leslie Wolfson decided to use his considerable expertise as a lawyer and successful businessman to help to extract those prisoners from Russia. He set himself a task that, at the time, looked utterly impossible or even absurd.
After a while of working in a committee to try to secure the release of the prisoners—a committee that Leslie described as a hurdle, not a help—he simply decided to do it himself and to act on his own. His method was unique. He sought to hire lawyers in Russia to act in the defence of those who were incarcerated or who faced incarceration. That was much easier said than put into practice. He made numerous visits to Moscow, some of which were almost entirely useless.
Many a meeting took place in which Leslie—who was not a drinker, Presiding Officer—was forced to match, shot by shot, the vodka that was consumed by his putative legal helpers. Never in the history of human rights campaigning has so much vodka been consumed with so little enthusiasm by a Glasgow solicitor. However, he persevered. He invited 20 Russian lawyers to visit his Glasgow home. He established many relationships with lawyers who could help. He hired them, met them, cajoled them and persuaded them. Through Sir Fitzroy Maclean, he made contact with other lawyers, perhaps of more influence.
In the first case that he took on, he succeeded in enabling a carpenter from the Caspian area called Pinhas Pinhasov to be freed several years early by helping to secure a remission of his sentence from five years to two. Pinhasov’s so-called crime had been allegedly overcharging for his services as a carpenter.
Leslie was eventually advised that Mr Pinhasov had been freed and seen in Moscow, but Israeli authorities in the United Kingdom were a bit sceptical about that, so Leslie phoned the solicitor who had been dealing with the case—a lawyer in Russia. In that call, the two of them tried to communicate in various languages, because Leslie had no Russian and his counterpart has no English. They tried French, which did not work, nor did Italian. Eventually, they found that they had a little German in common, and Leslie then heard the words uttered—which, he said, remained with him for the rest of his life—“Alles gut mit Pinhasov”. He and his wife, Alma, later met Pinhas in Israel, where he had been reunited with his family.
Leslie’s success bred success, and he was then showered with cases, which he doggedly pursued. He also helped to set up an annual legal seminar in Leningrad, attended Burns suppers in Moscow and joined associations with Russian lawyers and the International Bar Association. Although it was often difficult to discern the precise reason for the release of prisoners whose cases he took up, his aim was accomplished, which is quite remarkable. He was instrumental in securing the release of prisoners, who regained their liberty as a result.
Leslie also worked with my mother when she was a member of the European Parliament. Together, they raised the case of Wolf Zalmanson, who had been imprisoned for seven years in a labour camp. She raised a case in the European Parliament and got children from Elgin academy to write letters to Mr Zalmanson. Eventually, she and Leslie succeeded, and they met Wolf Zalmanson in Tel Aviv. She said that it was the happiest meeting of her life. She recounted a story told by Wolf about when he was in the Russian prison camp and was learning Hebrew. The prison guard said to him, “Why are you bothering learning Hebrew? You are stuck here in the camp in Russia; you are not getting out.” He said, “Well, when I go to heaven, I want to be able to converse with Jacob and Isaiah.” The prison guard said, “What about if you go to hell?”, and Wolf said, “I already speak Russian.”
Winnie is still with us at the age of 93. Leslie, sadly, is no longer with us, but his wife, Alma, might be watching today. Leslie was a man of indomitable optimism, and he was hugely warm, intelligent and civilised. Above all, he was thrawn and determined to take on a seemingly impossible task. It was his extraordinary determination and his unique idea, carried through by him in person, that helped many people to escape tyranny and retain their liberty.
The theme this year is “Ordinary People”, including rescuers who did extraordinary things. Leslie Wolfson was a leading member of the Jewish community in Scotland—a community that is so greatly valued and that has achieved so very much. I hope that I have, in this speech today, done justice to an extraordinary man whose work deserves to be remembered and respected. [Applause.]12:58
I am very pleased to speak in support of this important motion, and I thank Fergus Ewing for bringing the debate to the chamber today.
As the motion quite rightly says, it is vital that we continue to impart the lessons of the Holocaust to each and every future generation. We know that more than 6 million individuals were annihilated. The true horrors of the Holocaust, along with subsequent genocides and persecutions across the world, must never be erased from the public psyche.
This year’s Holocaust memorial day theme—“Ordinary People”—is a huge opportunity, as it recognises the ordinary day-to-day people who became involved in many facets of the Holocaust. That is in addition to the later, well-documented genocides that happened in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia.
As the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust explains, genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. The individuals who are persecuted, oppressed and murdered in genocides often are not persecuted because of crimes that they have committed; it is because they are ordinary people who belong to a particular group.
As we approach Holocaust memorial day tomorrow, I feel that it is important to mention an immensely important part of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller history. Every June, as part of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller history month, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust remembers and commemorates the richness that Gypsy and Traveller communities bring to our everyday lives through their many and varied academic and artistic achievements.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust reminds us that, throughout the truly horrendous and hideous circumstances during the 1930s and 1940s, the Jewish people were, tragically, not the only ones to be under the inhumane sway of the Nazi regime. For more than a decade from about 1935, European Roma and Sinti people, who have often been labelled as “Gypsies” historically, were targeted for annihilation by the Nazi regime.
Last week, I was delighted to host in Parliament a group of young Gypsy Travellers, along with their parents, their grandparents and charity workers. They visited Parliament as part of a project in my region for young Gypsy Travellers who are not attending high school. Through the project, they get support with skills and qualifications that can help them through their lives. I was deeply inspired by the youngsters, who, to a person, were immensely enthusiastic and possessed a healthy appetite for learning. During a question session with them, they talked about how they feel persecuted even today. We also touched on the horrors of the Holocaust, which affected previous generations of Travellers in the 1930s and 1940s.
The reason why I mention that is that it is too easy for society to put labels on particular groups. The reality is that these are all individuals with the right to learn, the right to be heard and the right to survive. Indeed, they are ordinary people whose efforts deserve and require acknowledgement.
It is with that in mind that we should commit to ensuring equality of opportunity for every one of us in our communities. We should talk about understanding particularly marginalised groups. We should also never forget the horrors that many groups have had to endure to get to where they are today.13:02
I begin by thanking Fergus Ewing for bringing this important debate to the chamber as we mark Holocaust memorial day, which will be observed around the world tomorrow, 78 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
We remember the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis, alongside millions of others who were killed by Nazi persecution—Roma and Sinti people, disabled people, LGBT people, black people and political opponents of the regime—and we rededicate ourselves to saying, “Never again”. Yet, all too painfully, we know that, in the years since the Holocaust, genocide has happened again—in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur—and that, in our world today, identity-based persecution continues against Yazidi people, Rohingya Muslims and Uyghur Muslims.
As we have heard, the theme of this year’s memorial day, which is provided by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, is “Ordinary People”. Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people: people who turn a blind eye, believe propaganda or join murderous regimes. Genocide is perpetrated against ordinary people: people who were neighbours, colleagues and friends. Identity-based persecution can also be challenged by ordinary people: those who stand up and speak out, or those with great courage who hide and save people in the darkest of times. Thus the ordinary can become extraordinary.
Colleagues will know that I come from East Renfrewshire and have represented communities there for more than a decade. As it is home to Scotland’s largest Jewish population, I have had the honour over many years of meeting Holocaust survivors and hearing their testimony at first hand. What always strikes me is the normality of people’s lives before they were shattered by the Nazis coming to power or invading their homeland. They lived lives that we would recognise, had dreams and ambitions that we would recognise, and loved and were loved in a way that we would all recognise, yet all that basic humanity was torn apart as the Nazis dehumanised and othered them.
Today, I want to take a moment to speak about Henry and Ingrid Wuga. Henry and his late wife, Ingrid, survived the Holocaust by escaping Germany as teenagers. They had watched their ordinary lives being smashed on Kristallnacht and were abused at school and in the streets. They saw at first hand the increasing violence and brutality of the Nazis under the Nuremberg laws.
Their parents made the courageous decision to send them to Britain on the Kindertransport—ordinary parents going to extraordinary lengths to save their children. They were sponsored by people in the UK and, eventually, here in Scotland, where they would come to settle, meet each other, marry and raise a family. They were sponsored by ordinary people in this country who decided to open their homes and their hearts to people in the most desperate of circumstances—something that we can all recognise from current events.
Henry and Ingrid dedicated years of their lives in this country to educating young people about the Holocaust through the Holocaust Educational Trust. In their gentle and encouraging way, they helped young people to see the Holocaust as relevant to them, their lives and their everyday experience. We owe a debt of gratitude to them and to other survivors for sharing their testimony.
As time passes, and the living survivor memory declines, it falls to each of us to tell their stories. We, ordinary people, must tell the story, call out hatred and light the darkness. We do not do that alone; we stand together with amazing organisations such as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Anne Frank Trust, the Gathering the Voices project and many more custodians of Holocaust remembrance.
Kemal Pervanic, a survivor of the Bosnian genocide, whom I have heard speak, said:
“People may think that they have nothing to do with my story. But what happened to me, could happen to them—to people like yourself. It may sound too hard to believe but this doesn’t happen to strangers who live far away. I’m just an ordinary person. These terrible things can happen to people like us.”
Let us all remember the ordinary people who were cruelly murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, and let us all look inside ourselves to find the ability to make the ordinary extraordinary.13:07
I thank Fergus Ewing for today’s debate and his touching speech. The other speeches have been fantastic, too. Holocaust memorial day is a time to remember the millions of people who were murdered during the Holocaust under Nazi persecution.
Our world is scarred by genocide and we seek to learn the lessons of the past, recognising that genocide does not just take place on its own; it is a steady process that begins with discrimination, racism and hatred that grow and spread when left unchecked. Therefore, it is the responsibility of ordinary people—every individual—to challenge discrimination on their own doorsteps. That takes courage and is easier said than done on many occasions, but it is not good enough just to talk the talk; we must walk the walk, too, because the language of hatred and exclusion has not gone away. To quote Sir Nicholas Winton, who rescued 669 children from Nazi-occupied Europe,
“Don’t be content in your life just to do no wrong, be prepared every day to try and do some good.”
Paul O’Kane has already mentioned young people, and I will focus with real pride on a few schools in towns and villages across my home constituency of Uddingston and Bellshill. The first is St Gerard’s primary school in Bellshill, which has planned a school assembly to remember all those who were murdered during the Holocaust. The primary 7 class topic is already world war two. They will start studying the Holocaust on memorial day, linking that to racism, antisemitism and prejudice, and they will also celebrate the diversity and culture within their school, in North Lanarkshire and right the way across wider Scotland.
Next, we have Brannock high school out in Newarthill. Tomorrow, its themed event is “ordinary day”. That will be led by senior pupils who visited Auschwitz, again through the Holocaust Educational Trust. The students will play three pieces of Jewish music, which I think is lovely. Every pupil at the school has taken part in Holocaust lessons and made a butterfly to represent hope—all the butterflies put together made a touching visual display.
I was delighted to learn recently that the school has been awarded level 1 vision school status. Pupils will attend Parliament next month to receive their award, and members can expect a little motion from me on the detail about how the school won—I hope that they all sign up to it.
Finally, at Holy Cross high school in Hamilton, students are considering ordinary people, talking about turning a blind eye and believing in propaganda, and about how ordinary people join the murderous regimes that facilitate genocide, as Fergus Ewing pointed out. As well as commemorating victims of the Holocaust, pupils will consider more recent genocides and the relevance that those terrible events have for today’s world. They will talk about persecution, oppression and how genocide seeks to absolutely destroy particular groups of people; they will relate that to the challenges that Roma, Tutsi and other communities still face today.
Today, a PowerPoint presentation highlighting Holocaust atrocities will run continually in the main street area of the school, which all pupils will pass by. I give a special mention to a couple of sixth year pupils, Emma Murdoch and Ailish Donachie, who took part in the school’s lessons from Auschwitz programme. Those young women have been delivering presentations, and tomorrow’s will be followed by a sixth year ceremony, in which students will receive a little padlock on which they will write a message before fastening it to the fence outside the classroom area. The long-term plan is to establish a Holocaust memorial garden.
The lessons from Auschwitz programme is a long-standing tradition at Holy Cross. One of the current history teachers, Ms Lucy Ferguson, took part in it 10 years ago as a pupil; she is now encouraging her own pupils to get involved and is working with Emma and Ailish to find next year’s students to take part.
I am so proud of all the schools that are taking part in the Holocaust memorial day—the ones that I have mentioned and all the others that I have not. As I have said in the chamber previously, children and young people are everyone’s future. Our children are the leaders of tomorrow and it is our children—ordinary children—in turn, who will seek to pass on the lessons of the Holocaust to future generations.13:12
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate, and I thank Fergus Ewing for lodging his motion and securing this time this afternoon.
As the decades pass and the generations of survivors and witnesses pass, too, it becomes more important than ever to remember not only the scale of the horror, but that each person who suffered or died was a particular, unique and irreplaceable individual.
So, we remember specific people, and we mourn their loss, not because those we can name are any more important than those whose names are lost to us, but because, as humans, we respond to human stories—to stories of specific people in specific places, carrying out particular and often extraordinary acts of courage, truth and love.
One such extraordinary, and yet profoundly ordinary, human was the writer and poet Gertrud Kolmar. She was born in Berlin into an assimilated Jewish family, worked as a teacher and interpreter, and had her first book of poems published in her very early twenties. In 1938, her book “The Woman and the Beasts” was ordered to be pulped and her family forced from their home. She had the opportunity to leave Germany but, in 1941, wrote the following to a relative who had reached safety:
“Believe me when I say that come what may I shall not be unhappy, I shall not despair, because I know that I am going the way I have chosen in my heart to go ... So many of us, through the centuries, have gone that way, why should I wish a different one? Even now, in these last moments, my father thought of emigrating to Uruguay to join his brother. There is a question whether it is still possible to do that; he wanted to leave for my sake—his own life he regards as ended—but I said no. It would be something forced on me solely by external circumstances; I don’t want to run away from what I feel in my heart I ought to undergo. In the past I never knew, as I know now, how strong I am, and knowing this makes me very happy”.
In 1941, she was ordered into forced labour at a munitions factory. The following year, her father was deported and murdered. Gertrud herself was arrested at the factory in February 1943 and, on 2 March that year, she was transported, probably to Auschwitz. She was 48, and she was never heard from again.
However, she is not forgotten—not in Germany, where she is acclaimed as a great lyric poet, or beyond. In 2021, community organisers in Chicago began a campaign to dedicate the city’s Kolmar park—previously named for a German town—to her honour. One of the insights underpinning the campaign was the realisation that a new generation of young adults knew little or nothing of the Holocaust and that this unique horror was fading into cultural oblivion. Last year, the campaign bore fruit and, in September, the park was rededicated to Gertrud Kolmar.
I will finish with translated extracts from one of Gertrud Kolmar’s final poems, “We Jews”, which was written in the stark knowledge of those dark days and of the consequences of her choice to stay. She wrote:
“Only the night listens. I love you, I love you, my people,
And want to hold you warm and close in my arms
As a woman embraces her husband bound to the whipping post,
As a mother at the pondside won’t let her reviled son sink all alone.
And if a gag stifles the bleeding shriek in your mouth,
If your trembling arms are now cruelly bound,
Let mine be the cry that plummets into the pit of eternity,
Mine the hand that stretches to touch God’s high heaven ...
Oh, if I could lift my voice like a flaring torch
In the dark waste of the world. Justice! Justice! Justice!”
I, too, congratulate Fergus Ewing on securing this important debate.
In the 12 months since the Parliament last debated the Holocaust, we have witnessed reports of ethnically motivated atrocities being committed in western Tigray in Ethiopia; the murder of Ukrainian civilians and prisoners of war by Russian forces during the fight for and occupation of the Ukrainian city of Bucha, among other locations; and soldiers in the Myanmar military admitting to killing, torturing and raping civilians following an armed uprising. Those examples from three continents show that mass atrocities continue to be committed around the world.
That is why it is so important that, every year on Holocaust memorial day, this Parliament plays its part in remembering and discussing the systematic, bureaucratic and state-sponsored persecution and murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. To put that into perspective, that would be equivalent to more than Scotland’s entire population being murdered within a few short years. In addition, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 11 million other people were murdered during the era of the Holocaust.
As the theme of this year’s Holocaust memorial day is “Ordinary People”, it is vital to remember that, before the war, both victims and perpetrators were what one might call ordinary people.
It is 60 years since Hannah Arendt published “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” after witnessing the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a major figure in the implementation of the Holocaust. Arendt found Eichmann to be an ordinary and rather bland bureaucrat, who, in her words, was “neither perverted nor sadistic” but “terrifyingly normal”. She certainly did not mean that evil had become ordinary or that Eichmann had committed a normal crime; she concluded that, rather than being a sadistic monster, he performed evil deeds due to lacking the ability to empathise. He obeyed orders and conformed without any critical evaluation or concern for the consequences of his actions. Indeed, in “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”, Daniel Goldhagen described how an ordinary police battalion—police battalion 101—carried out horrific murders with the same lack of critical evaluation.
That is exactly why Holocaust education remains of critical importance. It allows us to examine warning signs that indicate the potential for mass atrocity while raising questions about our own behaviour when faced with situations of prejudice, discrimination and dehumanisation.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Holocaust
“reveals the full range of human responses—raising important considerations about societal and individual motivations and pressures that lead people to act as they do—or to not act at all.”
As Fergus Ewing’s motion rightly states, the Holocaust also teaches us about the capacity of ordinary people to take extraordinary risks to save others from being murdered. Those honoured as the “righteous among the nations” at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, are non-Jews who protected Jews, including people sometimes unknown to them, when hostility and indifference prevailed and the penalty for harbouring Jews was the execution of one’s entire family. Unlike others, they did not fall into a pattern of acquiescing to the escalating measures against Jews.
The list of well-known people honoured as the “righteous among the nations” includes people such as Oskar Schindler, Princess Alice of Battenberg and Frank Foley, among many others. Church of Scotland missionary Jane Haining from Dumfriesshire was matron at the predominantly Jewish girls home of the Scottish mission in Budapest. In 1940, when Scottish missionaries were ordered to return home, Haining refused to leave, as she believed that her child charges needed her more than ever. That exposed her to great danger, and she was eventually arrested for working among Jews and deported to Auschwitz, where she sadly succumbed to starvation and the terrible camp conditions.
Teaching young people about the Holocaust enables them to develop an awareness of not only how violence and hatred can take hold but the power of solidarity and resistance. Many teachers in many Scottish schools already do vital work in providing a solid education on this difficult subject, as Stephanie Callaghan mentioned. Scottish Government grant funding to the Holocaust Educational Trust for the lessons from Auschwitz programme goes a long way. However, I agree with calls to make learning about the Holocaust a statutory requirement in the Scottish curriculum, as is the case in England and much of Europe.
The Holocaust lays bare the darkest recesses of human behaviour, and that should be recognised in our school curriculum. We must acknowledge that education is one of the most powerful weapons in the prevention of mass atrocities happening over and over again. It helps us to understand the circumstances under which it becomes possible for ordinary people to commit extraordinary acts of evil and for enough people to be indifferent bystanders to enable it to happen. By acquiring knowledge of the Holocaust, we learn about human weaknesses and possibilities in extremis and can question our own behaviour if ever confronted by such evil.13:21
I thank Fergus Ewing for bringing this debate to the chamber today. As is stated in the motion, this year’s theme for Holocaust memorial day is “Ordinary People”, in recognition of the way in which ordinary people were involved in all elements of the Holocaust. The theme of “Ordinary People” has been broken down into five categories: perpetrators, bystanders, rescuers, witnesses and victims.
Many of us in the chamber and listening today will be aware of the poem “First They Came”:
“First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist”
“Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me”
It was written by Pastor Martin Niemöller, who was a complicated figure. Initially an antisemitic Nazi supporter, he was later imprisoned in a concentration camp for speaking out against Nazi control of churches. After the war, he encouraged Germans to take responsibility for Nazi atrocities. He was an ordinary person, a bystander, a witness, a victim. We should look back, remember, learn and change.
We learn from the testimony of survivors such as Lily Ebert. Her quite remarkable book, “Lily’s Promise: How I Survived Auschwitz and Found the Strength to Live”, was co-written with her great-grandson. It is an incredibly moving story about Lily’s early life in Hungary and how she survived the concentration camp when so many others, including her own family members, were exterminated. She found the strength to live. She is an ordinary person, but she continues to inspire others today.
My parents served King and country in the second world war. I well recall my mother’s conversations when she would speak of that time. She was a young Wren during the time of the blitz. My father, an Army field cameraman, was embedded with the 14th Army in the far east fighting the Japanese in Burma. He saw close up the horrors of war.
My mother spoke of seeing the stark images that began to appear in cinema newsreels after the liberation of the camps. She described seeing those horrific images on the screen for the first time and how they were so shocking and vivid. Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald—those names are forever associated with dehumanisation, never to be forgotten.
Generations since have been taught of the near destruction of a culture and images of horror, and they have been taught through the important work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and others that Paul O’Kane mentioned. At time for reflection in the chamber on Tuesday, we heard from Holly Cameron and Aidan Coleman, Holocaust Educational Trust ambassadors who spoke so eloquently.
As Pastor Niemöller reminds us, it was not only Jewish people who were subjected to the worst treatment of fellow humans but people from groups that were different—those who had different opinions and those of a different race and sexual orientation. The liberal democratic structures that we have built in the post-war era are vulnerable and fragile and need to be cherished.
Since the Holocaust, we have witnessed genocides in the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Today, humanity is still inhumane to humanity. In Afghanistan, we see the unequal and oppressive treatment of young girls and women who have been forbidden from learning, and in Ukraine a nation fights for its survival in an unprovoked conflict. However, the world has come together in an unprecedented way to unite to support Ukraine, recognising the will to avoid a war that is touching every corner of the globe, and supporting free people who are backing a democratic Government. Even in the darkest of times for humanity, the flame of the best in humanity flickers.13:25
I express my thanks to Fergus Ewing for lodging this important motion and for highlighting the significance of Holocaust memorial day, as other members have done. Maggie Chapman spoke about those whose names we remember and those whose names we do not. I commend to my colleagues in the chamber and anyone who is listening the Auschwitz memorial Twitter page, which every day remembers all those names. It is important to be able to look across the chamber and see members united in paying our respects to the millions of people who lost their lives as a result of Nazi persecution as well as those who perished in the genocides that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
As Fergus Ewing and Alexander Stewart have said, this year’s theme for Holocaust memorial day, “Ordinary People”, is particularly poignant. It shines a light on the measurable and devastating impact that the Holocaust and later genocides had on the ordinary lives of the ordinary people who were persecuted and murdered. As we are so painfully aware, the victims of genocide were singled out for no other reason than who they were or the group that they belonged to: Jews, disabled people, Gypsy Travellers, Roma, Sinti, LGBTI, black people and others. History has taught us that the Nazis and their collaborators targeted anyone who they perceived to be different, thereby claiming the lives of millions and millions of people.
Ordinary people facilitated those genocides. Ordinary people participated and turned a blind eye. Yet, in the darkest period of the atrocities, as Beatrice Wishart has said, ordinary people, at great risk to their own lives, helped to rescue others and went to extraordinary lengths to provide safety to those who were most at risk. For those acts of immense courage, we should all be for ever indebted.
I remember our own Jane Haining, who refused to leave the children she looked after and so perished with them in the gas chambers. Fergus Ewing gave us an insight into the work of Leslie Wolfson in Russia. We think of all the human rights defenders—past, present and future—who have faced and are facing atrocities around the world. It is understandable that we wish to contain those abhorrent tragedies to the past and to think of them as something that could never conceivably happen again. However, as Stephanie Callaghan reminded us, regrettably the hateful attitudes that people drew on to sow the seeds of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides continue to blight our society. Kenny Gibson gave us a stark reminder of the continued violence in places around the world, including the massacre in Ukraine. Beatrice Wishart reminded us about the women in Afghanistan and Iran.
It is for that reason that we remain absolutely resolute in our commitment to tackling hatred and prejudice in all its forms, whenever it may arise. That is why we will shortly be publishing our new hate crime strategy, which sets our priorities for tackling hatred and prejudice in Scotland. Lived experience has been, and will continue to be, at the heart of our approach to tackling hate crime. We are grateful to those who have shared their experiences of prejudice and hate crime in order to help to inform the development of our strategy. Our vision is for a safe, resilient and inclusive Scotland, where everyone lives free from hatred and prejudice, and our new strategy will set out how we will work collectively towards that goal.
Many speakers today have highlighted the role of education and the brilliant work in our schools, and we heard that immense work is going on across all the schools in many of our constituencies. I know that we will all agree that education to ensure that we can effectively tackle hatred and prejudice in Scotland is incredibly important.
Paul O’Kane reminded us of the work of Henry and Ingrid Wuga, whom I had the great honour to meet in this Parliament. That was many years ago, but we will never forget their story, because they told us their story and they continue to tell it.
This week, we had the privilege of hearing from two of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s lessons from Auschwitz project ambassadors. Their reflections demonstrate the power of Holocaust education to support our children and young people to develop as compassionate, confident individuals and responsible members of society.
A few years ago, the Scottish Government funded young Gypsy Traveller community members to go to Auschwitz to learn about the Sinti uprising and the work that is being done. Alexander Stewart, who is smiling away, has written to me on issues around the group that he spoke about. I am working on a response and I will get that to him as soon as I can.
This evening, alongside the First Minister, I will attend an event that is being organised by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and hosted by Paul O’Kane here in the Scottish Parliament. I very much look forward to the valuable opportunity to commemorate the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, as well as to demonstrate our commitment to tackling present-day hatred and prejudice. I thank the organisers for their tireless dedication in ensuring that the victims continue to be honoured. Yesterday, Paul O’Kane and I were reflecting on the immense work that Kirsty Robson does, so I think that we should give her a shout-out for that.
Tonight’s event provides an opportunity to hear directly from survivors of both the Holocaust and the Bosnian genocide. Those are ordinary people, like Gertrud Kolmar and Jane Haining, who experienced tremendous suffering but displayed remarkable resilience in the face of dire circumstances.
We remember in many ways and, for me, poetry has always been a powerful learning tool. Beatrice Wishart reminded us very clearly of the poem “First they came”, so I will draw the chamber’s attention to a poem that I look at now and again, which reminds me about how such things can happen in ordinary ways. It is a poem by Michael Rosen, who has written a book that has been used in schools across the land for the past couple of years—“The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II”.
In his poem, “Fascism: I sometimes fear...”, Michael Rosen says:
“I sometimes fear that
people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress
worn by grotesques and monsters
as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis.
Fascism arrives as your friend.
It will restore your honour,
make you feel proud,
protect your house,
give you a job,
clean up the neighbourhood,
remind you of how great you once were,
clear out the venal and the corrupt,
remove anything you feel is unlike you...
It doesn’t walk in saying,
‘Our programme means militias, mass imprisonments, transportations,
war and persecution.’”
As I conclude, I offer a final reflection. Genocide does not come out of nowhere, as Michael Rosen demonstrated in his poem. It is a result of years of unchallenged prejudice and hatred. As we reflect on this year’s theme, if we take away only one thing, it should be the recognition of the responsibility that we all have to challenge prejudice and hatred wherever and whenever it occurs. Let the Holocaust and other genocides be stark warnings that what happened before can happen again, and let us make sure that it does not.13:33 Meeting suspended.
14:00 On resuming—
PreviousFirst Minister’s Question Time