Meeting date: Thursday, January 26, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 26 January 2017
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, Hate Crime, Improving Scotland’s Planning, Children and Social Work Bill, Business Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Holocaust Memorial Day 2017
- Hate Crime
- Improving Scotland’s Planning
- Children and Social Work Bill
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
Holocaust Memorial Day 2017
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-03204, in the name of Jackson Carlaw, on Holocaust memorial day 2017. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament recognises that 27 January 2017 marks Holocaust Memorial Day; believes that the day should serve as an opportunity for learning institutions, faith groups and communities across Scotland, including in Eastwood, to remember the six million men, women and children murdered by the Nazi regime in occupied Europe; notes that the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 is “How can life go on?”; understands that this theme aims to look at the aftermath of the Holocaust, subsequent acts of genocide and the challenging questions that such actions continue to raise for individuals, communities and nations about their responsibilities in the wake of such criminal acts; values the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project, which gives two post-16 students from every school and college in Scotland the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau; celebrates the Holocaust survivors who subsequently made Scotland their home and thanks them for their contribution to Scotland as a nation, and recommits to ensuring that anti-Semitism in all its forms is challenged without fear or favour.12:45
I am advised that there will be 146 train journeys tomorrow between Glasgow Central or Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh Waverley stations. I usually travel by train, as many colleagues do. Think about those 146 journeys and reflect on the fact that, in May 1944, it took just 147 train journeys—one more than the number of daily commuter trains across the central belt—to transport around 500,000 Hungarian Jews to their murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
The ingrained image is one of a constant stream of trains over several years hurtling across the European landscape in a grotesque feat of organisation. The truth—far more prosaic—is that it took just 147 rail journeys, which were non-prioritised, slow and lumbering; more often than not, they lasted days. They were among the most hellish rail journeys of any that have ever been undertaken. The appalling truths of the traumas that were endured on those packed cattle wagons are so awful that those who survived them rarely allowed themselves to speak directly and in detail of their experience ever again—of the baseness; of the collapse of dignity and person; of the sheer awfulness, confusion, foreboding and death.
Trains arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau at all hours—some in darkness and some while the sun shone. All who disembarked were disorientated and found that they were immediately segregated by gender and age without so much as a moment to gather their thoughts or to say goodbye to loved ones. Those who were fit enough to work—deemed, in Nazi terminology, “useful”—were often marched straight to the opposite platform and, within hours, transported to Nazi forced-labour work camps where many would ultimately be worked and starved to their graves.
The rest—mothers, the elderly, the infirm and, as can be seen in the photographs that are now displayed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, young children who were holding hands and skipping with joy to be free of the trains—began their final short walk, which was not much longer than a stroll down and back up the full length of the platforms at either Glasgow Queen Street or Edinburgh Waverley, to their murder in the Auschwitz gas chambers. There were 6,000 or so people per train. In less time than it will take us to participate in this debate, Jews arrived by train at Auschwitz-Birkenau, were processed, were marched to their execution and were gassed. Their bodies were then roughly stacked before cremation. From their arrival to their death in less time than the length of this debate—that was industrialised murder on a scale never hitherto seen.
The origins of the Holocaust began in Hitler’s pre-war Germany. The Holocaust, as a term, came into being after the events; no one person ever saw the Holocaust in its entirety. Over the years, in different ways and in multiple countries, it was a series of outrages that led to the murder of 6 million Jews.
It began with the persecution of the Jewish minority in Nazi Germany itself. They were a minority; only one in 100 pre-war Germans was Jewish. For example, there were more Jews in the city of Warsaw than in pre-war Germany as a whole. Of the pre-war German Jewish population, 60 per cent emigrated before the war. Some went as far as China—a world away from Hitler—while others went to the United States. Too many, sadly, emigrated to the temporary sanctuary of Germany’s pre-war neighbours. When Poland fell to Hitler, so did a population where one in 10 was Jewish—3 million people. It was at that point that persecution and prejudice—or talk of resettlement in far-off lands—turned to mass murder.
In 1941 and early 1942, the genocide began as Nazi butchers went to their victims. Some 1.5 million eastern European Jews were shot in woodlands, often just yards from their homes. Children, their mothers, grandparents and fathers—there was no journey for them across Europe; just a forced march to the edge of a hastily prepared pit in an all-too-familiar neighbourhood and a bullet in the back of the head. Sickeningly, the record shows that the only concern of Nazi commanders in the face of that atrocity was for the spiritual wellbeing of the SS fanatics who carried out the executions.
Hundreds of thousands of other Polish Jews were confined to the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, half a million in accommodation barely suitable for half that number.
On 20 January 1942, at the notorious Wannsee conference in Berlin, where the final solution was conceived and approved, it was determined that, instead of progressing a genocide in which the killers went to their victims, the Nazis would now transport the victims to their killers. Between July and September 1942, the Warsaw ghetto was liquidated and its population transported to the new Reinhard camps, named after Reinhard Heydrich, their architect. The first extermination camps were at Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibór—names that live on in infamy. With brutal efficiency, those death camps did their job and, job done, were destroyed and all obvious traces concealed. Only two people are thought to have survived Belzec.
Auschwitz was different, in that it was a labour camp first and then, with Auschwitz-Birkenau, both a labour camp and an extermination camp. Standing in its silent ruins today, one senses the scale—a scale not apparent to anyone there at the time. Those incarcerated in Auschwitz were not free to wander around, as visitors are now. Most saw only the barracks in which they were contained and the area in which they worked. In the intervening years since, many who survived and who could face what they saw as an obligation to return were themselves stunned to see the industrial scale of the camp.
Today, extraordinarily, as many as 1 million visit Auschwitz-Birkenau annually to see and learn—ironically, as many as were murdered there during the war. The two school students who addressed us at time for reflection on Tuesday visited Auschwitz last November as part of the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The final months of the war saw the long death marches back to Germany of those who had survived the camps as the Nazi machine began to collapse. Many were shot at the side of the road if they so much as paused. In Budapest, in the winter of 1944-45, the killers again returned to their victims, with the first city-based exterminations of the war. Tens of thousands of Jews were shot on the banks of the Danube and dumped in its waters. Often, several were bound together, with one victim shot and the rest dragged into the icy waters and drowned.
That chaotic collapse also led to the final horrors of Ravensbrück, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, where, between December 1944 and March 1945, the camp population increased to 45,000. There were 17,000 deaths in one month alone. Starvation, dysentery and the freezing cold replaced the gas chambers as the method of killing.
A Holocaust that began in Berlin progressed to Poland and the east, and worked its way back westwards, as Nazi Germany collapsed. Finally, it ended, back where it began, in Berlin. Six million had been murdered.
In my contribution to last year’s debate, I spoke of the events of 1946. More Jews were murdered across Europe in that year than in the 13 years prior to the war. As they returned to their former homes, they found others in them—often people they had known and trusted before the war—now wearing their pre-war clothes. They were not welcome back. Many were murdered on the spot.
We all ask now: why; how; who? The easiest answer is Hitler and Nazi Germany, but that is a convenient truth. Anti-Semitism existed long before the Nazis. Although, in many cases, the populations of countries throughout Europe made efforts to defy and thwart the Nazi persecution of Jews, others all too readily conspired to make it possible. The stain of anti-Semitism remains, and for all that we say “Never again”, the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur stand as evidence of our collective failure to match that ideal.
On the street in my Eastwood constituency where I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, every second home was a Jewish one. When the community commemorates Yom Hashoah in May, the names of those murdered by the Nazis are honoured on screen at the Giffnock synagogue. All too often, they are the familiar names of the grandparents, uncles, aunts and sometimes cousins of those I played with as a child and grew up among.
All this happened when my parents were teenagers, in a world run by my grandparents’ generation, at death camps on sites that any one of us could stand on later this afternoon, in countries to which we now go on holiday, among peoples who are now our friends. We can surely all be proud that—apparently alone in Europe—Scotland remains the one country where no Jew has ever been killed because of their religion, but we cannot be complacent. The whispers of anti-Semitism that started all this can be heard again.
On 22 November last year, Rabbi Yossi Bodenheim proudly addressed the Scottish Parliament at our weekly time for reflection. Later that afternoon, as he walked back to Waverley station along the Royal Mile, he was, astonishingly, the victim of a minor anti-Semitic assault in front of his young son and heavily pregnant wife, who were left distressed and, naturally, horrified. That happened in Scotland, in Edinburgh, in our time.
Last Sunday, at a Jewish Burns supper in my constituency, the First Minister cradled in her arms the two-week-old infant son of Yossi and Sarah Bodenheim—a tiny infant, Gavriel, dressed proudly by his parents in Scottish tartan. Embracing our Jewish friends, neighbours and fellow Scots should be the response of us all.
Today we remember the Holocaust and all the evil that it represents, but the fires, prejudices and ignorance that made it possible remain and probably, truthfully, always will. It falls to us and then to others after us to ensure that anti-Semitism is confronted and defeated, to be optimistic and hopeful, and to celebrate the life of Scotland, to which our Jewish community has contributed so vitally ever since and in which it will always be welcome.12:55
I thank Jackson Carlaw for securing debating time on a matter the importance of which continues to resonate: how can life go on? Even before the war, there was hostility to Jewish emigration, with internment camps across Europe from Romania to the Netherlands, but I will focus on anti-Semitism since the Holocaust.
The Kielce pogrom was an outbreak of violence against Jewish refugees in that Polish city in July 1946, and it was the deadliest slaughter of Jews in the war’s aftermath. Only 200 Kielce Jews remained of a pre-war population of 30,000, the survivors having returned from either concentration camps or hiding.
A young Polish boy disappeared for several days and returned, falsely claiming that he had been kidnapped and held hostage in a cellar by Jews. Policemen broke into the building but found no trace of kidnapped children. The residents were ordered to hand over their valuables and the police started shooting. While some Jews were killed inside, others fled on to the street and were attacked with rocks and steel rods by civilians and members of the ruling Polish Workers Party. Around 20 Jews were beaten to death. Others who were injured were robbed and beaten by soldiers en route to hospital and assaulted by other patients on arrival. Forty-two Jews were killed and 40 wounded.
The sheer brutality and tragedy of the event shook the Jewish population so deeply that it shattered hopes that they could resettle in Poland after the Nazi era. Within a year, Poland’s Jewish population had shrunk from 240,000 to just 90,000 due to emigration, mostly to a nascent Israel. There were 3.3 million Polish Jews before the Holocaust.
The Kielce horror is just one example of the widespread anti-Jewish violence that was prevalent across Europe and beyond after world war two. In some countries, Jew-hating was superficially disguised, such as Stalin’s campaign against rootless cosmopolitanism. The campaign was linked to the so-called doctors’ plot of the early 1950s, with Stalin’s paranoia leading him wrongly to believe that his mostly Jewish doctors planned to kill him. Indeed, prior to his death, Stalin was planning to deport the Soviet Union’s entire Jewish population to Siberia.
In the late 1960s, thousands more Jews were scapegoated and expelled from Poland following Israel’s victory in the six-day war over the Soviet Union’s client Arab states. In 1980, fabricated attempts were made to link the rise of the Solidarity movement with so-called Jewish agitators from Poland’s by then minuscule Jewish community.
In western Europe, the re-emergence and rise of far-right hate groups and Islamic fundamentalism has led to increased attacks against Jews and, sadly, we all know of allegations of anti-Semitism, disguised as anti-Zionism, in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Continued tensions between Israel and the Palestinians feed anti-Semitic rhetoric, and some Arab states do not allow Jews to live there, ironically strengthening Zionism. Of course, Israel itself is measured differently and to a higher standard of probity than its neighbours—“the Jew amongst nations”, Alan Dershowitz calls Israel. Witness the number of motions in the Parliament relating to the last Gaza conflict compared with the number on Isis or the Syrian bloodbath.
In Scotland, we celebrate Holocaust survivors, and our vibrant Jewish community is part of our rich diversity. Last year, pupils from Largs academy, in my constituency, visited Auschwitz and Dachau to understand the brutality of Nazism—an experience that led many to tears and which I am sure they will never forget.
A visit to Auschwitz by two pupils, Amy Culshaw and Imogen Harvey, was arranged through the Holocaust Educational Trust’s lessons from Auschwitz project. The girls were so moved by their experience that on their return they arranged for a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, Hungarian-born Professor Ladislaus Löb, to visit Largs academy, which raised funds to pay for his flight and accommodation. To a captivated audience of 300, the professor shared his experiences as an 11-year-old living life in the Kolozsvár ghetto in 1944 before his internment in Bergen-Belsen until liberation. The professor also shared his experiences in “Dealing with Satan: Rezso Kasztner’s Daring Rescue Mission”, for which he was awarded the Austrian Holocaust memorial award.
Educating future generations about the Holocaust must be combined with confronting those who deny it, as former Iranian President Ahmadinejad famously did. We must oppose anti-Semitism while striving to be a tolerant and humane society, never forgetting the lessons from the darkest period of man’s inhumanity to man.13:00
I remind members that my wife and our four children are Jewish.
In 1951, Hannah Arendt published her groundbreaking work, “The Origins of Totalitarianism”. Part 1 of the book concerns anti-Semitism. In a famous section entitled, “Between Pariah and Parvenu”, she says:
“During the 150 years when Jews truly lived amidst, and not just in the neighbourhood of, Western European peoples, they always had to pay with political misery for social glory and with social insult for political success ... Society, confronted with political, economic and legal equality for Jews, made it quite clear that none of its classes was prepared to grant them social equality, and that only exceptions from the Jewish people would be received. Jews who heard the strange compliment that they were exceptions, exceptional Jews, knew quite well that it was this very ambiguity—that they were Jews and yet presumably not like Jews—which opened the doors of society to them.”
The pariah has no country. The pariah, in Hannah Arendt’s account, is someone for whom human rights do not exist—hence her argument later in “The Origins of Totalitarianism” that at the heart of human rights lies the right to have rights, including the most important right of them all: the right to belong. This is how she puts it:
“The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion—formulas which were designed to solve problems within given communities—but that they no longer belong to any community whatsoever.”
I visit Israel frequently. It is the only country in the world that was founded to give the Jewish people that which everyone else takes for granted: a community of our own—a home. A couple of years ago, I went for the first time to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum on the western slopes of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. “Yad Vashem” is a phrase taken from the book of Isaiah; it means “a place and a name”. It is a place of remembrance where the names of those who were murdered by the Nazis are recorded and where their memories are honoured. It is at once a place of calm dignity and outraged defiance.
No matter how much you think you know about the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people, you realise within a few minutes at Yad Vashem that you will only ever be able to scratch the surface of its unimaginable pain. One resolution burns through you as you walk through the museum, aghast and appalled at what European evil did to the Jews: never again. As you leave Yad Vashem, you see carved into a huge stone archway the words of Ezekiel chapter 37, verse 14:
“I will put my breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil”.
Amen to that.
Closer to home, last weekend I took two of my children to Kelvingrove art gallery and museum in Glasgow, where there is a series of exhibits about the Holocaust. Some of those exhibits record the testimony of survivors, and this extract caught my eye:
“Why I survived Liberation in Bergen-Belsen: after Liberation we got tins—one had beans and meat, one sugar and biscuits. Anyone who ate the beans and meat did not make it because their system could not cope. I changed my tin, I survived and I am here to tell you the tale, but just, I survived just.”
We will remember the past and we will honour the memory, and by that remembrance and by that honouring will we shape our future.13:04
I thank Jackson Carlaw for bringing the debate to the chamber. Tomorrow, the film “Denial” will be released to coincide with Holocaust memorial day. We know that there are Holocaust deniers, and one can perhaps see why some people might want to deny the Holocaust—after all, who would want to believe that such obscene, cruel and degrading treatment, torture, maiming and murder was carried out by their relatives? For some of those who stood by and let it happen, it was perhaps easier to try to pretend that it did not happen, but the fact is that it did.
It is, of course, difficult to comprehend that any human could commit the atrocities that we now know happened. One survivor, Josef Perl, told of what he saw on arrival on a train to Auschwitz:
“Then I saw a baby being born as its mother was pushed out onto the ground. An SS guard grabbed the baby, cut the cord and threw it unceremoniously to one side, like so much rubbish.”
How can we even begin to comprehend the extermination carried out in the gas chambers and crematoria, or how anybody could design and build those absolute abominations? Kitty Hart-Moxon remembers arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau at dawn as a teenager with her mother. She said:
“A reddish glow through the mist was flickering in the weirdest way and there was a sickly, fatty, cloying smell. Mother and I glanced at each other, baffled. Who could be roasting meat, great quantities of it, at this hour of the morning?”
As we heard from Jackson Carlaw in his opening speech, 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Remembering atrocities is necessary to try to prevent them from happening again, and ensuring that the facts cannot be denied is absolutely vital. That is why Holocaust memorial day survivor testimonies, the lessons from Auschwitz project and voices speaking out everywhere, including in this Parliament, are so important.
A couple of years ago, as Deputy Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Holocaust Educational Trust project for schools. The slaughter that was carried out there on an industrial scale was horrendous and, despite Nazi efforts to destroy them, there is clear evidence of the crematoria and the gas chambers. I do not know how people lived through that and then found the strength to carry on living. How does life go on after that?
Hearing or reading about the Holocaust is hugely important, but actually seeing that hellish place for yourself affects you in a way that is difficult to describe. The first shock is seeing the sign saying “Arbeit macht frei”—work brings freedom—knowing how many people were worked and starved to death and how few were freed. Then there are the harrowing photographs of many of those people. However, it is the rooms of belongings that I found most difficult; seeing shoes, suitcases, eye-glasses and prosthetic limbs is deeply disturbing. The room with human hair is devastating and is rightly treated with due respect because it contains human remains.
However, it was the room with household items that reduced me to tears, perhaps because they were so ordinary. Wooden spoons, favourite pots and pans, and cutlery had all been brought on the journey to that despicable hell-hole. Did their owners really believe they that were being resettled? Were they hoping that or was it just to calm their children? Some people even had to buy their own train tickets to the extermination camp.
At the end of our visit, we had to pick out one or two photos from those found in belongings to identify with. I chose a wedding photo that was just like my gran and grampa’s. [Interruption.] I am sorry, Presiding Officer. Then I chose one of a baby who was in a pose exactly the same as a pose that my son is in, in a photo that I have of him as a baby—he also has Jewish ancestry.
I think that members of the Scottish Parliament must be encouraged to go to Auschwitz as part of the Holocaust project and that they should be supported by the Parliament to do so. Perhaps the Presiding Officer can take that forward to consider as a practical outcome of this debate.
For various reasons, I did not get a debriefing after my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, but I think that anyone who goes there should get one. I went back a year later with my husband. It was still harrowing, but it helped to be able to talk to each other about it.
I will quote again the words of Kitty Hart-Moxon:
“I lived through Birkenau without ever understanding how any members of a great nation could indulge in such wickedness.”
I do not think any of us can understand that, but we owe it to survivors to read their testimonies, to talk about it and to see the death camps for ourselves. In that way, we can try to prevent such atrocities from happening again.
I apologise, Presiding Officer, for saying this at the end, but I do not think that there should be room in this debate for partisan comment. Sadly, anti-Semitism occurs across political parties, and it is unacceptable wherever it occurs.
Again, I congratulate Jackson Carlaw on bringing this matter to the chamber.13:09
Like colleagues, I thank Jackson Carlaw for giving us all the opportunity to mark Holocaust memorial day here in the Scottish Parliament. On this day, we mark the worst atrocity in human history—a crime beyond comprehension, as other members have already said. It involved the industrial, political and military capacity of a world superpower being directed to the annihilation of the Jewish people and other perceived enemies and those who did not fit its horrifying plans for a master race.
It is estimated that over 1 million people were killed in Auschwitz alone before it was liberated 72 years ago tomorrow. Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, alongside a further 5 million people—Poles, homosexuals, those with disabilities, communists, trade unionists, enemies of the Nazi regime. Despite the vows to never allow such a crime against humanity to occur again, other genocides have happened since the Holocaust: in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. On Holocaust memorial day, we remember not just the victims of the Third Reich, but all victims of genocide.
We have to grapple with the question of how these events could ever happen. Reading the testimony of the Soviet commander who liberated Auschwitz, we see that he said, as he stood beside the ovens:
“How can this be in the midst of the 20th century? I can’t comprehend this.”
In the 21st century, can we comprehend it now? Can we prevent genocide from occurring again? Those questions have taken on a renewed importance in recent years.
The actual mass murders of the Holocaust took place between 1941 and 1945, but before that could happen, there was a long process—over a decade—of dehumanisation and of propaganda being targeted against the Jewish people in Germany in order to set the political context that would permit this mass murder and give it passive, if not active, acceptance. The propaganda was not rational. It was not true. It was lies about the Jews being responsible for losing the first world war and lies about Jews plotting world domination. The fact that those were lies did not halt the advance of fascism.
Although we must be careful and it is rarely appropriate to do this, there are comparisons to be drawn with events that are happening today. Across Europe and America, we once again see lies and propaganda dominating news coverage, and that has fuelled the rise of the neo-Nazi movement, of the far right. Views that were once unacceptable have come back. Here in the UK, we have a columnist in a national newspaper describing refugees as “cockroaches” who should be met with gunboats. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights described that as “pro-genocide propaganda”.
Too often, the media has served to legitimise the far right by giving it coverage. One of the final Opposition speeches that was given in the Reichstag before it was suspended included a statement that is uncomfortably relevant today:
“It would be easier to stand up to such exaggerations if the kind of reporting that separates truth from falsehood were possible at home.”
The Social Democratic Party politician who said that did not survive the weeks after he made his comments.
In recent months, a US media outlet ran the headline “Meet the dapper White Supremacist riding the Trump wave”. I wonder whether “dapper” was the word that sprang to the minds of African Americans as that individual discussed the merits of the genocide of black people.
When we treat fascism as simply another political point of view, we have conceded legitimacy to that point of view and it becomes acceptable to discuss it in the mainstream. But genocide is not an acceptable point of view, and believing that we can win the argument by giving these people a platform for debate misunderstands the problem. Fascism and anti-Semitism are not rational. Fascists and others who advance dangerous, lethal agendas are not and never have been interested in winning the debate. They just want to win. We cannot ever allow that to happen again.
Today, we must remember the victims of humanity’s worst crime and think seriously about how we can turn our determination to never allow it to happen again into a practical reality.13:13
I, too, thank Jackson Carlaw for securing the debate. As he and others know, I have spoken in debates about Holocaust memorial day in the Parliament in the past, indicating my support for the Holocaust Educational Trust and the lessons from Auschwitz programme.
I visited Auschwitz in 2000. Any member, or anyone who has been there, will say what a harrowing construction it is. I will certainly never forget what I saw that day or how it affected me both at that time of my life and since then. It sticks with me to this day.
For me, 27 January is a crucial day. The Holocaust Educational Trust cards that we have been given state:
“We believe the Holocaust must have a permanent place in our nation’s collective memory.”
I am happy—although “happy” is probably the wrong word to use—that we have this day every year, so that we can remember what happened in the past.
A young lady called Kirsten Irvine, who is from Port Glasgow and attends my old high school, Port Glasgow high school, took part in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s lessons from Auschwitz project. I will quote directly from Kirsten’s blog.
Tomorrow, 27 January, marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. It is a time when we seek to learn the lessons of the past and to recognise that genocide does not take place on its own. It is a steady process that can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented.
The Nazis created an abyss in which racism and politics pulled together towards nihilism. In that dark chasm, Jews were murdered. When Jews were saved, it was often thanks to people who could act on behalf of a state or by institutions that could function like a state. When none of the moral illumination of institutions was present, kindness was all that remained, and the pale light of individual rescuers shone.
Thankfully, Scotland has a long history of welcoming people of all nationalities and faiths, supporting their integration into the Scottish way of life and recognising the vibrancy that they bring to our society and culture.
The work that the Holocaust Educational Trust does through the lessons from Auschwitz project, and the testimony of Holocaust survivors, has allowed dozens of young people in my constituency in Inverclyde to share what they have learned with their peers, and has helped reveal the role that their community played in showing tolerance and understanding.
Kirsten talked about Jewish people coming to Greenock. Between 1881 and the beginning of the first world war, nearly 3 million Jews left eastern Europe. Jews poured into Greenock by the thousands. A third of all passenger ships that crossed the Atlantic from the Baltic ports to New York stopped off there. As a result, Jewish boarding houses were established and Jewish soup kitchens were set up at the dockside at Customhouse Quay to cater for the thousands of homeless. Some Jews remained long enough only to catch the next ship out.
Gradually, in the 1930s, the Jewish population in Inverclyde began to dwindle, yet the appalling social policies perpetrated by the Nazis in Germany and across eastern Europe would once again see Jewish refugees on Greenock’s shores. One of them was Leo Metzstein. He was born in 1933 as one of five children of Jewish parents in Berlin. As members can imagine, life was incredibly tough for Leo growing up. He had to run to and from school to stop himself being recognised as a Jew. His school was burned down during Kristallnacht.
Leo’s father, as well as being Jewish, was rumoured to be a communist. He was found dead in a field in 1935, and the German authorities gave no explanation as to the cause of death. Eventually, Leo’s mother took the incredibly difficult decision to flee Germany with her five children through the Kindertransport, which were the rescue efforts that brought thousands of refugee Jewish children to the United Kingdom from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940.
Leo and his family were brought to Scotland. There, the evidence of solidarity and support for vulnerable refugees across communities is evident. Leo lived for the duration of the war in Skelmorlie, which is in Kenny Gibson’s constituency; he lived with 30 other Jewish children in a large house that was rented by the Jewish Refugees Committee.
It is vital for the future that we remember the past on 27 January. Given this year’s theme—the question, how can life go on?—my recommendation to anyone in the chamber, anyone who watches the debate and anyone who reads the Official Report is that it is absolutely vital that we continue to educate our future generations so that we can learn the lessons of the past and have a better future.
Due to the number of remaining members who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion under rule 8.14.3 to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Jackson Carlaw.]
Motion agreed to.13:19
Tomorrow, as we all know, is Holocaust memorial day: a day in which to remember the 6 million men, women and children who were murdered by the Nazi regime as well as those who were murdered in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
The significance of the day should not be underestimated. Hundreds of thousands of lives were destroyed or changed beyond recognition because of regimes intent on manifesting hatred and dividing societies along battle lines from which to kill. However, in testimonies that have been made available online by the trust, we hear of those extraordinary people who defied the will of their regimes and survived to tell their story.
On Sunday, I was humbled to attend a Holocaust interfaith peace service at Glasgow university and to hear from the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Saskia Tepe. Now living in Scotland, Saskia spoke openly about her mother Brigitte Langer, who narrowly escaped death at Auschwitz by jumping off a train into a snowdrift and evading detection by wearing a nurse’s uniform and tending to German soldiers on the front.
As well as giving us an opportunity to honour the survivors of the regimes, tomorrow marks an opportunity for us to use the lessons of the past to inform our lives today. We are fortunate in this country. Britain was one of few countries in the interwar period in which political extremism failed to gather mass—a vital block in the path to genocide. However, that is not to say that we are immune from racism or the language of hatred and exclusion, and that, too, should be a focus for tomorrow. What is the logical end point of racism and xenophobia if not to create permanent divisions in society? How do we tackle those discords in society and see their significance in the everyday, even if they do not reach the frightening heights of genocide?
I was pleased to see statistics from a survey of last year’s participants, in which 66 per cent reported that the day had made them feel more sympathetic towards people from different backgrounds. To mark this year’s Holocaust memorial day, 20 events across Scotland have either taken or will be taking place. I will highlight just a couple of events in Glasgow. To mark the day, pupils from St Roch’s secondary school will host a sharing-and-learning event with school pupils from schools across the city, and throughout this week, Glasgow City Council, in partnership with the Glasgow Film Theatre, has been screening “Inside Hana’s Suitcase”, the poignant story of two Jewish children in pre-world war two Czechoslovakia, to support Holocaust education in the city’s primary schools.
I thank my colleague Jackson Carlaw for raising awareness of Holocaust memorial day and for the opportunity to speak in this debate. Of course, I also thank the trust itself for its efforts in organising the event, as well as those who have spoken honestly about their experiences in some of the darkest periods of our history to ensure that we learn from the past.13:22
I join members in thanking Jackson Carlaw for giving us this important opportunity to mark Holocaust memorial day 2017.
As we know, tomorrow—27 January—marks the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the notorious death camp and symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust. The scale of the inhumanity that took place there is staggering; indeed, as Elaine Smith said, it is still hard for many to comprehend all these years later. Auschwitz was the site of the largest mass murder in a single location in human history, with more than a million people, 90 per cent of them Jewish, dying there.
Yet even in the horror of it all, there are still powerful individual stories of strength, heroism and bravery. One such story is that of the late Rev Ernest Levy, a Holocaust survivor whom I had the honour of meeting in east Renfrewshire a number of years ago through the Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh. As a young man of 19 and 20, Ernest Levy survived seven Nazi concentration camps, losing half of his family including his father, a brother and a sister. He settled in the west of Scotland for the latter 48 years of his life.
In recalling his experience of Auschwitz, Ernest Levy described it as a world of evilness beyond description where a person ceased to be a person but was reduced to a number. They were totally dehumanised. Ernest Levy was the first Holocaust survivor whom I had ever met and the time that I spent listening to him will stay with me for the rest of my life. I will always remember what he told us about his experience, but I will also remember his humanity and enduring belief in the essential goodness of people. Such humanity from someone who had gone through so much is an example to us all, and he shared his story with me and others so that the lessons of that dark period in history would not be forgotten. There are many others who work hard to ensure that those lessons stay with us, including some organisations that I would like to thank today.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which Annie Wells mentioned, is supporting a series of events across the country for people to come together to remember the millions of people who were killed not only in the Holocaust but in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and anywhere in the world where the act of killing people because of their religious beliefs or ethnicity continues.
Like Stuart McMillan, I commend the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which works in partnership with schools, universities, local authorities and other institutions to educate children and young people about the Holocaust and its contemporary significance. Many will be familiar with the Holocaust Educational Trust’s lessons from Auschwitz project. Every year, it enables two pupils from every high school in Scotland to visit Auschwitz and to go on to become young ambassadors for the trust. Marianne Allan and Ewan Boyle from Notre Dame high school in my region were among those pupils who were chosen to take part recently. Upon returning from Auschwitz, they spoke of the profound impact that the visit had on them and of the human stories of real families who were devastated by what happened there and the real lives that would never be the same again. The pupils said that seeing the camp in person gave them a much greater understanding of that terrible time than anything that they could ever have learned from a textbook. We should fully support the trust’s initiative.
Across the country, many of our local schools mark Holocaust memorial day every year. In my area, Renfrewshire Council and East Renfrewshire Council participate in a joint Holocaust memorial service. This year, pupils from Paisley grammar will recite verses from “Birdsong” by Gillian Clarke. Given some of the parallels with today’s child refugee crisis, Heriot primary will be hearing the life stories of Kindertransport survivors, and pupils will also be reflecting on the number of child refugees who we have welcomed into our communities over these past few months.
As has been mentioned, the theme of this year’s Holocaust memorial day is the question, how can life go on? That makes us think of how, in the wake of such unimaginable horror, humanity continues on its path and of how, by learning the lessons of the past, we can try to build a more accepting and tolerant society for the future.
We know that genocide never just happens. There is always a set of circumstances that occur or are created and which build the climate in which genocide can take place. We need to provide future generations with the knowledge that they need to understand how those events came to pass and prevent them from happening again.
Holocaust memorial day provides each of us in Scotland and across the world with an opportunity to reflect upon the values that we hold dear, so that we can continue to build a safer, more inclusive society—one without prejudice and without anti-Semitism, where our differences are respected.13:27
I thank Jackson Carlaw for securing this Holocaust memorial day debate.
Over the years, many religious peoples have faced persecution in all parts of the world—none more than the Jews. Today, we remember the suffering to which that proud people were subjected by Adolf Hitler and his gang of Nazi thugs. At the end of the first world war, Hitler blamed the Bolsheviks and the Jews for Germany’s defeat. His first utterance on political questions emphasised what he called “the anti-Semitism of reason”, and his ultimate goal was total removal of the Jews.
The final solution was a Nazi plan for the extermination of the Jews during world war two. That policy of deliberate and systematic genocide of Jews across German-occupied Europe was formulated in procedural terms by the Nazi leadership in January 1942 at the Wannsee conference, near Berlin. That decision culminated in the Holocaust, which saw the killing of 90 percent of Polish Jewry and two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.
Across Europe, there were more than 60 labour camps, concentration camps and extermination camps—too many to name, but including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Jasenovac, Sajmište, Treblinka and Sobibór. Most people will remember Sobibór, where inmates rose up and killed a number of their guards before escaping from the camp through a minefield in which a large number of prisoners died, although many reached the safety of the forest. What the prisoners suffered in Sobibór was made into a film that stands beside other films that show what the Jewish people had to suffer in those dark days of world war two.
I recommend two other films to anyone who wants to see what terrible crimes were committed against the Jews: “The Pianist” and, of course, “Schindler’s List”. “The Pianist” tells the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, who lived in the Warsaw ghetto. What he and his family suffered at the hands of their captors was outrageous and inhumane. He managed to survive only due to the kindness of a German officer, who recognised him as a great Polish pianist. Near the end of the war, that officer was captured by the Russians. No one knows what happened to him, but Szpilman owed his life to him.
“Schindler’s List”, is the most powerful film I have ever seen. It details what happened to Jews who were torn from their day-to-day lives and how Oskar Schindler helped them. In 1939, Schindler acquired an enamelware factory in Kraków, Poland, where he employed about 1,750 workers. At the factory’s peak in 1944, 1,000 of them were Jews. Schindler’s Nazi connections helped him to protect his Jewish workers from deportation to, and death in, the concentration camps. As time went on, Schindler had to give Nazi officials ever-larger bribes and gifts of luxury items that were obtainable only on the black market in order to keep his workers safe.
By July 1944, Germany was losing the war and the SS was closing down the concentration camps. Many people were killed in Auschwitz and other camps. Schindler convinced SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Göth, who was commandant of the nearby Kraków concentration camp, to allow him to move his factory to Brünnlitz in the Sudetenland, thereby sparing his workers from almost certain death in the gas chambers. Using names that were provided by Jewish ghetto police officer Marcel Goldberg, Schindler compiled a list of 1,200 Jew, who then travelled to Brünnlitz in October 1944. Schindler continued to bribe SS officials to prevent the execution of his workers until the end of the war.
At first, Schindler was only out to make money, but when he saw what was being done to the Jews, he saved the lives of 1,200 of them. The film was powerful and showed the world the truth of the barbaric methods that people can use. Let us not forget the Holocaust; let us ensure that that can never happen again. I am very happy to support today’s motion. I ask that everyone ensures that anti-Semitism—in all its forms—is opposed forever.13:32
I thank Jackson Carlaw for lodging the motion, which highlights Holocaust memorial day, and all the members who have taken part in the debate. It is essential that we come together each year to commemorate one of the darkest periods in human history.
When we look back to that time, the scale of the atrocities and the depth of—to use Robert Burns’s phrase—“Man’s inhumanity to man”, remain difficult to truly comprehend. Many of us in this chamber, myself included, have had the privilege of visiting Auschwitz and have come away from that experience lost for words, because of both the individual acts of immense cruelty and the scarcely imaginable scale of the crime.
During the Holocaust, 11 million lives were extinguished—the equivalent of the population of Scotland twice over. The tragedy and the crime that occurred provide us with the opportunity to reflect that those lives were lost due to the denial of basic human rights and freedoms—the rights that each one of us has to our own culture and heritage, to freedom of expression and thought, and to peaceful coexistence as part of a multicultural society.
Since then—as Ross Greer and others pointed out—fundamental human rights have continued to be denied and there have been atrocities all over the world, from the massacre in Srebrenica to the atrocities in Darfur. Reflections such as today’s debate provide us with an opportunity to grow and to prosper for a better tomorrow. We must use this period of reflection to renew our collective commitment to tackling all discrimination and to promoting a multifaith and multicultural society that is based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
As a number of members have said, it is right to confront the reality of events—events from which we would often prefer to avert our eyes. It is right that we confront anyone who would deny or belittle the reality of those events.
Many members mentioned their visits to Auschwitz and the things that made an impression on them. I could mention many things, in my case, but I want to focus on one. I have spoken about people averting their eyes. I am sure that other members who have visited Auschwitz had the experience of seeing the camp commandant’s house and learning that he apparently lived there quite happily, ostensibly with his family. He wrote home to his friends and extended family—as did they—about where they were going on holiday, what they were having for dinner that night and so on. It is a chilling lesson in what happens if we turn our eyes away from the reality and horror of the events that we commemorate today and this week.
I will say something about what we are doing in Scotland. The Scottish Government works in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, along with our intermediary partner, Interfaith Scotland, to deliver Scotland’s national Holocaust memorial day event each year. This year’s events, which are hosted by East Dunbartonshire Council, are under way. On Sunday 22 January there was, as we have heard, an interfaith service that was attended by almost 400 people, with representation from the various faith communities. Low Moss prison will host an event to raise awareness and educate prisoners. Guest speakers include Umutesi Stewart, who is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who now resides in Scotland, and Saskia Tepe, whose mother, Brigitte Langer, suffered the tribulations of war and its aftermath some three times.
We are actively engaging with our communities. The First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities hosted the second interfaith summit in November 2016, which discussed the shared ambitions and challenges of Scotland’s diverse faith communities.
One of the issues that we must talk about is faith-based prejudice. Let me be very clear: anti-Semitism, in any form, has absolutely no place in Scotland. As Ross Greer suggested, we should take on people who suggest that intolerance is just as valid a point of view as tolerance.
We appreciate the significant contribution that our Jewish communities make to this country. Scotland is and long has been their home. We are committed to working with communities who experience hate crime to ensure that a zero-tolerance approach is taken and that the ignorance and inequalities that create the conditions of hatred are robustly tackled. That is why the Government is very willing to support—and does support—the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, for example, in taking Scottish senior school pupils to visit Auschwitz. We undertake trips of that kind on a regular basis, and I think that they are valued by the school communities that are involved.
I hope that commemorating the Holocaust and acts of remembrance such as this mean that we will never forget such atrocities and that we will never allow them to take place again. There is an obligation on each of us to confront that history, to dignify the story and the people who suffered, and to pass on the obligation to future generations through a legacy of hope.
We want a Scotland in which everyone, regardless of their background, is able to live and raise their family in peace. If we can aim to do that in Scotland—if we can aim for a Scotland where all can live as part of a modern forward-looking society that is built on respect and mutual trust—we will perhaps at least be able to respond, in our own modest way, to the terrifying accusation that the Holocaust represents against humans and human history.
That concludes the debate, and I thank all members for their contributions.13:39 Meeting suspended.
14:30 On resuming—