Meeting date: Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Meeting of the Parliament 28 January 2020
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Oversight Board, Holocaust Memorial Day, Point of Order, Business Motion, Decision Time, Alasdair Gray
- Time for Reflection
- Topical Question Time
- Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Oversight Board
- Holocaust Memorial Day
- Point of Order
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
- Alasdair Gray
Holocaust Memorial Day
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-20603, in the name of Aileen Campbell, on Holocaust memorial day 2020—75th anniversary.14:56
I thank all members who will support this important Scottish Government motion, which enables the Parliament to have a full debate as we stand together to mark Holocaust memorial day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
This is an important anniversary. Of course, it marks the significant passage of time that has elapsed since that moment of liberation. However, it also reminds us that the numbers of those around the world with direct lived experience of that hellish extermination camp are fewer. The opportunity for survivors to bear witness—as they did when the world united yesterday to mark Holocaust memorial day—is crucial, because the message of suffering, pain, trauma and human cruelty must never, ever be forgotten.
The testimonies that were broadcast around the world yesterday from Auschwitz, which have been published in news reports and on social media, powerfully remind us of the human impact of the Holocaust—the lives cut short, the potential unfulfilled, the families ripped and torn apart, and the courage and bravery of those who survived and who seek to ensure that that suffering informs a better future for everyone.
We must also remember the dark void of the untold stories—stories that will never be told and the darkness that we do not know about. As Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel reminded us:
“to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time”.
It is therefore important to remember those human stories of survival and to remember and respect all those who did not survive.
In so many ways, the numbers associated with the Holocaust are unimaginable. Some 17 million people were executed—6 million of them simply because of their Jewish faith. That unspeakable persecution by the Nazis also included gay, disabled, Gypsy and Roma people—and anyone else who was viewed as being different.
Bear with me a moment, please, cabinet secretary. It is not a problem of your making, but I wonder whether we could have your microphone sound turned up a little, because some members are not hearing you clearly. Perhaps they would let me know if they still cannot hear properly.
In Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was one of six camps built explicitly for the purpose of extermination, 1.1 million people, most of whom were Jewish, lost their lives.
Such massive numbers give us a sense of the scale of the cynical mass murder that was carried out, but they require to be remembered alongside the personal testimonies and stories so that we never remain unconnected to that dark moment of history.
As the years go by, as new anniversaries of the Holocaust are marked and as lived memory of it fades, the work to know, understand and connect to the past becomes all the more vital. In that process, we must ensure that we educate our young people about compassion and respect, so that they can emerge into adulthood as responsible and compassionate individuals who are able to contribute positively to our society.
It is for that reason that the Scottish Government continues to support the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and its lessons from Auschwitz project, which is an incredibly powerful way for young people to gain an insight into the horrors of the Holocaust and, just as important, to learn about why it happened. The programme has enabled almost 5,000 students and teachers from across Scotland to take part in the project and to visit Auschwitz.
In November last year, I had the privilege of joining the Holocaust Educational Trust on one of its trips. I joined students from around Scotland, including some who attend schools in my constituency. Just last week, I met Carluke high school pupils Nikita Stevenson and Caitlin Woodhead to reflect on the trip, the impact that it has had and the continued relevance of ensuring that the Holocaust is never forgotten.
It is an intense trip that begins with a description of what life was like in Europe and in Poland at that time. Communities were made up of people of different faiths who lived together as neighbours, customers, friends and colleagues. The destruction of that way of life, which was caused by vilifying, othering, stigmatising and blaming social ills on those of Jewish faith or on those who were simply different, was the deliberate build-up to the strategic effort to exterminate a race. Although what went on in the extermination camps should never be forgotten, the context and systematic racism that led to the Holocaust must also be remembered.
When I spoke with Nikita and Caitlin, it was clear that the shared experiences of what we saw at the camp will remain indelibly in our minds for the rest of our lives. The mountains of prisoners’ personal items that were on display—spectacles, combs, shaving tools and hair brushes—reminded us of the normal everyday actions and needs of the people who were sent to the camps. Such items are still so familiar to us today. I saw the piles of suitcases of those who were taken by train to Auschwitz, with names and addresses carefully written on them as though they would at some point get them back. I saw the crutches, callipers and medical devices and aids of those who were vulnerable and deemed to be of no use to the Nazi regime.
I saw the shoes—piles and piles of shoes—that were worn by the prisoners, who would step no more through life’s journey. Some shoes were beautiful—red, and with heels that suggested times of enjoyment, fun and dancing, and a life wanting to be lived. Painfully, I saw the shoes of the children who, with their tiny feet, had made their first tentative steps in life, but whose lives, ultimately, came to a cruel and fatal end. Then we saw the mountains of hair—pigtails, plaits and curls, all shorn from the heads of the prisoners in an attempt to further dehumanise them and then bundled up like sheep’s fleece.
Seeing all that alongside the terrifying scale and efficiency of a camp that was specifically designed to kill more and more people quicker and faster was impactful and overwhelming. For the ambassadors whom I spoke to, it was also life changing. Before the trip, Nikita wanted to study law because it interested her, and Caitlin wanted to be a nurse. Following the trip, Nikita wants to practise human rights law, to defend against human rights abuses and to speak up against intolerance. Caitlin wants to specialise in mental health nursing in order to help people cope with trauma.
Those are just two stories of two young women whose profound experience has led to a determination to never forget the Holocaust and to do all that they can to build a better future for themselves and others. However, there are hundreds of other stories of lives that have been impacted by the trip and of a passion to create a better world.
That is why the trip is so important. It ensures that the story is never forgotten, but it also instructs and ensures that the next generation understand that their actions matter and that their passions, commitment and acts can make a difference. I know that those two inspiring young women from Carluke will go on to have a positive impact on the lives of the most vulnerable, and that they will always be guided by the lessons that they learned at Auschwitz.
However, the sad truth is that the Holocaust did not spell the end of suffering caused by prejudice, and the lessons of the past have not been globally heeded. Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and the 40th anniversary of the end of genocide in Cambodia. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the atrocities in northern Bosnia. Just 25 years ago, rebel Bosnian-Serb forces carried out an act of genocide that claimed the lives of more than 8,000 Bosniaks, and tortured and raped many more because of their ethnicity.
It seems unthinkable that such atrocities could happen during our lifetime, let alone on a continent that we share. It is a stark reminder of the fragility of our world that—at any time and in any place—peace, progress and tolerance cannot be taken for granted. They need to be worked for, cherished and promoted.
As we reflect on the devastating and terrifying consequences of those genocides, atrocious human rights violations are happening in the world right now. In 2018, an ordinary day of worship was turned into a day of fear that was felt across the world following the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and again last year, when hundreds of innocent people were massacred in Christchurch, New Zealand, and in Sri Lanka.
We must reflect on the division that we are increasingly seeing in the world today. We must remember that those perpetrators were not born to hate. They were ordinary people with mothers, fathers, siblings and friends who learned to hate and were drawn into a particular ideology that called for the death and suffering of people who they believed were not like them.
Although Scotland is an open and inclusive nation, we are not, unfortunately, immune to hatred or prejudicial attitudes. We must not permit the creep of complacency and we must remain vigilant in calling out discrimination, racism and hatred when we see it—here and globally. The theme of Holocaust memorial day, “Stand together”, is so important in that regard because it highlights that we need to work together if we are to build safe, resilient and inclusive communities. We cannot tackle hatred and prejudice alone; we must do so together—united.
Tackling hate crime and prejudice remains a priority for this Government. In June 2017, we published an ambitious programme of work to tackle hate crime and build community cohesion. As part of that, we adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which reflects the value that we place on tackling antisemitism and sends a strong message that we believe antisemitism to be entirely unacceptable in Scotland. We also recently consulted on adopting a definition of Islamophobia, and we are considering the responses to that.
There is absolutely no place in Scotland for any form of hatred that makes our communities feel insecure or threatened in their daily lives, and we will continue to work tirelessly to tackle hatred and prejudice in any way that we can.
Although this corner of Scotland might be many hundreds of miles away from Auschwitz, and although the sands of time pass, what must not pass or seem distant is our ability to remember and to never forget. However, we must also remember with a resolve to learn from that past and to act to build a world that is free of hatred and intolerance.
We should be heartened by the stories of courage and bravery of those who chose not to be indifferent but who fought for freedom and liberty, and who chose to save lives and offer hope—people such as Jane Haining, the only Scottish missionary officially recognised as a Holocaust hero and honoured by Yad Vashem as righteous among the nations for saving the lives of Jewish girls. She paid the ultimate price for her bravery in Auschwitz 75 years ago. We must also be inspired by a new generation who are determined to use their learning—found through the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust—to contribute to a better future for everyone, regardless of who they are or where they are from.
I am proud to be in the chamber today. Our collective presence—politicians from all parties—represents a powerful and unified display of the type of country and world that we want to be part of. Respect, compassion, love and kindness should be the hallmarks of our modern world—a world that challenges hate and the practice of othering. We are here to say that we will not forget, that we will always remember—and we do so with a commitment to act relentlessly for a better world.
That the Parliament recognises that 2020’s Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January marked the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau; remembers everyone affected by the Holocaust, including the execution of 17 million people, six million of whom were Jewish; acknowledges the importance of learning the lessons from the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, including the value of the Holocaust Education Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz Project, which gives students from schools in Scotland the opportunity to visit Auschwitz; notes this year’s theme, Stand together, which highlights the importance of building safe, resilient and inclusive communities in order to tackle hatred and prejudice; commends the incredible courage of those who stood up in support of justice, equality and humanity, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and recommits to stand together, united against hate, in order to build a society where hatred and prejudice are not tolerated.15:08
I thank the Government for introducing the debate in its time, rather than during members’ business.
Every year, we mark Holocaust memorial day and every year, by definition, the holocaust slips further into history. This year marks 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. I defy anyone to have watched the news last night and seen the hundreds of survivors—children then and bent-backed in old age now—gathering beyond the “Arbeit macht frei” gates, possibly for the last time, and not be moved. Their numbers have thinned and their voices grow fewer, but for all the passing of time, it seems to me that there has seldom been a year in my lifetime when the lessons of the Holocaust have felt this fresh, prescient and urgent.
The rise of hate crime, politics of identity, culture wars and out-and-out antisemitism that we see across the world is a reminder that progress is not irreversible and that things do not just get better. Injustice and prejudice must be fought, gains are hard won and ground will never be held if complacency and indifference are allowed to take hold.
Recent anti-Jewish attacks in major European cities and the mainstreaming of antisemitic hate speech at home have left our Jewish population wary and even frightened. A couple of years ago, I spoke at an event for the Board of Deputies of British Jews in London and I asked about the groups of men that were in clusters of four at every corner and entrance to the venue. I was told that they were volunteer security—men who were taken from the ranks of a community who feel the urgent need to protect their places of worship around the clock from attack and debasement, and their congregations from intimidation and threat. Such things are happening now, in our country, to a community still scarred by the events of 75 years ago, when 6 million of the Jewish people were systematically annihilated.
Following the liberation of the death camps at the end of the second world war, a horrified public came together to say, “Never again”. Yet “again” happened, whether in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia or Darfur. In every case, the world failed. We turned our faces away, and when we were finally forced to look and accept, we pledged again that that was to be the last time that systematic annihilation on the basis of ethnicity would be allowed to unfold—until the next.
Unlike many in the chamber, I have never been to Auschwitz, but I have been to places of mass murder: Bergen-Belsen, the Racak massacre site in Kosovo, and the United Nations enclave in Srebrenica in Bosnia, where the blue helmets stood aside for Serb forces to sweep in and once again perpetrate genocide on Europe’s soil. There is something arresting about each of those places; it is the stillness, where so much indifferent violence and perfunctory murder took place.
I wonder at the coincidence of Holocaust memorial day being so close to Burns night, when the most appropriate observation of human capacity for evil is so perfectly captured by Burns himself:
“Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!”
Yet, to mourn is not enough. We must resolve to do better.
We have asked too much of those who escaped death at Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Ravensbruck, Treblinka and a dozen other camps and who, through luck, guile, fate or timing avoided the gas chambers, firing squads, punishment beatings or rampant disease that claimed the lives of so many. Yet, after they walked out of hell, we asked them to relive it.
The Holocaust Educational Trust’s work of taking children to the camps and having camp survivors tell their stories again and again in classrooms across the country has been invaluable in teaching generations that are untouched by such horror how hate can degenerate into evil and that Kristalnacht, the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto or cattle trucks rumbling into factories of death are not events in isolation, not the alpha and omega. Rather they are the destination reached by a journey that starts with intolerance, moves to discrimination, traverses hate, ideology, dehumanisation, persecution and then reaches annihilation. All that is required for that journey to be made is for decent people to avert their eyes, stand back, leave it to someone else and be too afraid to challenge, in case those instruments of hate are turned on them. That is how it was in 1930s Europe, and that is how the world has turned ever since.
We have to take responsibility for the protection of our fellow citizens and for the preservation of the culture of openness, opportunity, diversity and freedom that so many fought so hard to secure. Soon, the number of survivors will thin to nothing and those first-hand accounts will cease, but their names will not be lost nor their stories become untold as long as we commit to that task. The Talmud says:
“If you lift the load with me, I will be able to lift it; and if you will not, I won’t lift it.”
Tackling those forces of evil—prejudice, hate and persecution—along with the handmaidens of indifference, blindness and cowardice that allow them to flourish, is a load that we have left to the survivors of Auschwitz for too long, to the Holocaust Educational Trust for too long: to other people, for too long. If we want history to be remembered and the names of those who died and those who were saved to be written, recorded, seen and to count, then it is time for us all to step forward and help lift the load with them. I support the motion.15:15
Scottish Labour fully supports the motion and the cabinet secretary’s very powerful speech; and, if I may say, the stunning and brilliant speech by Ruth Davidson. It was one of those speeches that people should read afterwards.
I am proud to stand together with those from other parties in support of the motion, because this year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. Only 7,000 of the 1.1 million prisoners who passed through its gates were still alive when the concentration camp was liberated. Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust—a third of the world’s Jewish population—and there were other victims too: Roma, ethnic Serbs, Poles and gay people were among those who were murdered. It was a genocide of the highest order.
Although the motion is on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it will be appreciated, as Ruth Davidson said, that there were many other extermination and concentration camps, such as Treblinka in Poland, where 800,000 died and Belzec, where 600,000 died. Waiting to be sent to their death, many people starved, died of disease or were worked to death. I applaud the Government for using its debating time for this important debate. It is painful to read and learn about humanity’s worst period in history and the evil that humankind is capable of, but it is up to us to mark it in this way.
In Adam Tomkins’s members’ business debate last year—he, too, gave a brilliant speech then—I mentioned that I had visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland on the last day of 2018. When people arrive there, the guide will ask them not to take photographs in certain areas, and in one such area they will see—the cabinet secretary spoke about what she saw—people’s personal effects, including shoes and cases. Those are sharp and pointed messages that are not to be photographed, because each shoe and each personal belonging was from an individual person with their own story of how they arrived at that dreadful place.
Accounts from brave survivors who escaped to tell the world their stories are everything to us because, without them, we could not begin to get our heads around the horror of what happened. How it could happen at all is the imperative question for any person who is interested in truly ensuring that it could never happen again. That is why the Holocaust Memorial Trust is a vital organisation. Its purpose is to remind us not only of the six million Jews who were brutally murdered, but of how that could have been allowed to happen in the first place.
We must educate every child about those sad facts—no generation can be left out. We must have robust policies on tackling hatred of and prejudice against any group in society, and we must translate what those things mean in today’s world, whether it is demonising Gypsy Travellers or attacking synagogues, churches, temples or mosques. Tackling antisemitism, Islamophobia and other such hatred must be central to the Government’s work—I believe that it is. As political leaders, we must stand together and unite against hatred in order to build a better society.
As the cabinet secretary and Ruth Davidson said, there are fewer Holocaust survivors every year and, in the not too distant future, there will be none. The generations that live on will therefore be the ones who carry the responsibility of relaying those survivors’ accounts to future generations, so that they are never forgotten. Even that is not enough, though, because the Holocaust must be as strong a feature in our minds in the future, as leaders and politicians, as it is now. Its message cannot fade and cannot be allowed to fade. John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher, said:
“Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
Among the many heroes of the Holocaust was Irena Sendler. She was a Polish social worker who saved 2,500 Jewish babies and children from the Warsaw ghetto and placed them with Polish families. The ghetto had been set up to segregate the city’s 380,000 Jews, who were then sent to the death camps. She worked in the Warsaw health department and had permission to enter the ghetto. Irena and a small team of social workers smuggled the children out by hiding them in ambulances, taking them through the sewer pipes or other underground passageways, and wheeling them out on a trolley, or in suitcases or boxes. She noted the names of all the children on cigarette papers and sealed their names in two glass bottles, which she buried in a colleague’s garden. After the war, the bottles were dug up and the lists were handed to Jewish representatives. Attempts were made to reunite the children with their families, but most families had, unfortunately, perished in concentration camps.
The Kindertransport was organised shortly before the war to rescue Jewish children living in Germany and other parts of occupied Europe. The United Kingdom took nearly 10,000 children—nowhere near enough—who were placed in British foster homes. One of those children is well known to all and certainly well known to me: the wonderful Alf Dubs. He was a refugee and has done amazing work in the UK on the question of refugees. The British Government supported and publicised that programme.
We know that in times of crisis and war, there are innocent civilians whose lives are threatened. We should always assess our role as a country in providing safe passage for refugees, as we have done and have argued for. Through no fault of their own, they have been caught up in conflict that we may well have made a decision to participate in. Britain and Scotland should play a positive role in today’s refugee crisis. We should live up to our responsibilities and create a humane society by doing our part to make the world a better place, if for no other reason than the memory of the Holocaust.15:21
As others are, I am grateful for the opportunity to mark Holocaust memorial day in Parliament, and that a full afternoon has been allocated to the debate this year to recognise the significance of the anniversary.
The Holocaust was a singular evil—an act of calculated barbarity with which few others, if any, can ever compare. The number of victims is difficult to comprehend—two in every three Jews in Europe were murdered, alongside millions of Slavic people, Roma, disabled people, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender—LGBT—people, prisoners of war, communists and other political and religious opponents of the Nazis. More Jews—far more—were killed than there are people in Scotland today. Entire communities were eradicated; people were murdered and all trace of their existence destroyed. Before the second world war, there were 3.5 million Jews in Poland; after the war, there were a few hundred thousand.
The scale of the atrocities is so vast that it makes remembrance harder. The sheer number of deaths carries the danger of depersonalisation—that we remember only the numbers, and not the names, the faces, the people and their stories. As the Holocaust moves out of living memory, we have a duty not to let that happen.
The industrial, military and political capacity of a European superpower was for the first time in history directed to the purpose of genocide—to the annihilation of the Jewish people not as a by-product of conflict, or as a means to some other end, but as the end: It was the objective in and of itself.
But evil like that does not emerge unannounced—it festers and grows. The Nazis were in power for nine years before their “final solution” was agreed to. It was the culmination, in their case, of years of antisemitic laws and systematic oppression by all available levers of the state and, before that, not by decades but by centuries of anti-Jewish hatred. That hatred, which often manifested itself in conspiracy theories, was not destroyed alongside the Nazi regime. From one end of Europe to the other, we see it today—whether it is in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, or in the challenges that are faced by our Jewish community in Scotland and across the UK.
Nazi propaganda was not true or rational, but that did not matter. The Nazis spread lies about Jews being responsible for Germany losing the first world war and about them plotting world domination. The Nazis relished in fake science to justify their claims that certain groups of people were inferior. That the claims were lies did not halt the advance of fascism. Instead, the fascists created their own reality and made many people in their society believe it. They built on the prejudice and intolerance that already existed and turned them into something even more murderous.
Whether it is Rothschild or Soros conspiracies—accusations about control of the media or dual loyalty—that same underlying hatred continues to fester in European society, and 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we have not truly vanquished the ideology that drove it.
In the past few years, it certainly feels like the people who voice hatred, whether it is against Jews, Muslims, Roma or other groups in our society, have become not just more confident, but have regained a level of legitimacy that many people had hoped would never come back.
Major newspapers in this country print articles that describe refugees as “cockroaches” who should be met with gunboats. Last year, The Ferret found that an openly fascist group had plans to infiltrate community councils to try to establish a network here in Scotland. Late last year, The Sun managed to publish an article—for which it has still not apologised—whose sources included the neo-Nazi website Aryan Unity. In Poland, cities and entire provinces have declared themselves to be LGBT-free zones, and the ruling party has sought to present the LGBT community as western European ideology that is alien to Poland and a threat to Polish families. The Prime Minister of Poland—a European leader—is currently engaging in historical revisionism around the Holocaust. Across the Atlantic, in the capital of the defeated Confederacy, hundreds of Neo-Nazis felt confident enough to march in the open, their identities unobscured, chanting that Jews “will not replace” them.
It is not enough for us—especially those of us who are in public life—simply not to be racist. We need to be actively anti-racist and anti-fascist. We must remember the history of anti-fascism in this country, including events such as the battle of Cable Street in 1936, when the Jewish community in the east end of London, alongside communists, socialists and other anti-fascists, defeated Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists blackshirts.
One of those anti-fascists, Leslie Spoor, was known to a number of people in this Parliament. He went on to be a long-time member of the Scottish Labour Party and close friend of Robin Cook, before going on to found my party, the Scottish Greens. However, again I say that simply remembering anti-fascism is not enough. We must actively continue that struggle, every day.
I was honoured to be invited by the European Jewish Association to join its delegation to Auschwitz this week, and it is a source of deep regret that I was unable to do so. However, I am—as we all are—incredibly grateful for the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and others who ensure that hundreds of young people across Scotland have that valuable experience.
At Auschwitz, you can witness the infrastructure of evil—the unsettling mix of administrative banality and murderous horror. The stories of Auschwitz—especially those of Scottish victims and survivors; people who later settled here—are ones that we must never stop telling. They are the stories such as that of Jane Haining, who has already been mentioned. She was a Church of Scotland worker who refused instructions to return to the UK, thereby denying herself safe passage, and was murdered at that camp for refusing to abandon the Jewish girls for whom she cared. They are stories such as that of Judith Rosenberg, Scotland’s last Auschwitz survivor, who told her story to the BBC again this year. As Jane Haining’s story has gradually been uncovered in recent years, I have been pleased to see momentum growing behind proposals for a statue or other fitting memorial to her, to join the cairn in her native Dumfriesshire and the stained-glass windows in Queen’s Park parish church in Govanhill. It is our responsibility never to forget, and to never stop telling those stories.
However, it is also fitting to celebrate those who are with us today—the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of survivors who simply would not exist if Nazism had not been defeated. The horror of what the Nazis did cannot be undone—but they did not win. Our Jewish and Roma friends stand testament to that. The very least that we can do for them—and for those who did not survive—is to never stop telling the story, never stop educating those who come after us of the horror and what led to it, and never stop opposing the forces of hatred, wherever they emerge.
The Greens support the motion.15:28
It is my great privilege to speak for the Liberal Democrats in this important debate. Monsters are real. They might wear business suits or military uniforms, but they have walked among us. We see the evidence of their works in the bleaker chapters of human history. This week, we recognise, in the form of Holocaust memorial day, the darkest chapter of all.
We remember the persecution and mechanised slaughter of 17 million people, more than a third of whom were Jewish. Whole communities, huge segments of entire races, and people whom the Nazis found to be deviant, seditious and disabled were rounded up and shipped to camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Belsen to be murdered.
The outrageous regime was made possible only through the total capitulation of thousands of otherwise normal people—among them the handful of decent people who, as Ruth Davidson reminded us, averted their eyes. Of this, the Italian writer and Holocaust survivor, Primo Levi, said:
“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
The Nazis were successful in mass murder because they desensitised and normalised it. They inured every level of government and the military to atrocity with endless layers of bureaucracy that reduced millions of lives to lines in a ledger book or in a transport manifest, and to piles of unclaimed belongings.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt described that as “the banality of evil” when she covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. Sitting in court, across from the little grey man who was the architect of the final solution, Arendt described what she called
“The dilemma between the unspeakable horror of the deeds and the undeniable ludicrousness of the man who perpetrated them.”
He was, she said, “terribly and terrifyingly normal”. There are photographs of Eichmann at the trial—a gaunt and elderly man in a suit, straining to hear the translation of the case against him. Yet that same man was reported to have said in Argentina before his capture by agents of Mossad and Shin Bet that he would
“Leap into my grave laughing, because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction.”
Monsters are real. It is that realisation, that horrific acts can be committed by humdrum men, that represents the most powerful warning of the Holocaust. We must keep reminding ourselves of that.
As that period of history begins to move out of living memory—as has already been said—it is incumbent on all of us to keep that memory alive and to pass it on to our children and their children to come. To that end, I am proud to be a patron of vision schools Scotland, the award that we heard about in time for reflection. The initiative was devised by the school of education at the University of the West of Scotland. It is doing its best to educate Scottish children around the country.
Research shows how imperative that work is: according to a poll that was recently reported on by BBC News, 1 in 20 UK adults believes that the Holocaust did not happen, and a full eighth of the population believe that it has been exaggerated. I have told Parliament before about an incident last year when I spent some time in hospital. At one point, when the discussion on the ward had moved to the second world war, the man in the bed opposite me volunteered his belief that the Holocaust was all a hoax. In the argument that followed, he revealed that the basis for his position was rooted in some videos that he had seen on YouTube.
Challenging antisemitism and Holocaust denial falls to all of us. We have seen the grim evidence of its revival in the rise of casual antisemitism in the UK and in the two mass shootings in crowded synagogues last year alone. This is not going away: hate against the Jewish people and many of the others who were persecuted by the Nazis still blooms. It advances incrementally and if it goes unchecked it could blossom into atrocity once again. We must do everything that we can to stamp it out.
When we speak about the Holocaust, we speak too readily about the monsters. In the study of its gruesome history, we come to the names of its perpetrators before we come to the names of its victims and survivors. Perhaps that is because the names of those who perished are innumerable and their stories too heartbreaking. However, yesterday, in the coverage of the events at the memorial at Auschwitz, we were able to remedy that, to a degree. We heard the accounts of people including David Marks and Yvonne Engelman, who spoke with such courage of their first-hand witness to the cattle trucks, the marches and the deaths by starvation, firing squad, cold and gas chamber. Their words should be seared into the hearts of every person, and preservation of their memory should be an obligation for all humanity.
The fact that we are here, living among many of the communities that the Holocaust sought to extinguish, is evidence that the Nazis failed and that the human spirit prevailed over evil. I was reminded of that when, on a Parliamentary visit to Strasbourg in 2017, I stopped, with colleagues, at the Synagogue de Paix, which is built on the site of the old Gestapo headquarters of western Europe. Above the front door is a legend written in French and Hebrew. It reads:
“Stronger than the sword is my soul.”
Those words are steeped in hope and defiance—qualities that we have heard in the sentiment of this debate, and that we share as we collectively commemorate the legacy of that awful stain on human history.
We move to the open debate. There is no time in hand, so I have to be firm: speeches must be no longer than six minutes. I call Kenneth Gibson, to be followed by Jeremy Balfour.15:34
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
“Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!”
So said Robert Burns, and that was never truer than in the Holocaust.
At Auschwitz-Birkenau, at least 1.1 million people, including tens of thousands of Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and others were murdered. However, 90 per cent of the slain were Jews, killed only because they were Jews. Because a few thousand inmates survived it, more people died there than elsewhere and much of it remains intact, Auschwitz evokes our greatest understanding of the Holocaust and its horrors. Nevertheless, we cannot forget the almost 2 million Jewish people murdered in the extermination centres at Belzec, Chelmno, Maly Trostenets, Sobibor and Treblinka, from which, in total, only 110 prisoners survived the war. Nor can we forget other hundreds of concentration camps, from Belsen to Majdanek, where people died in ghettos of disease, starvation and exhaustion; or killing sites, such as Babi Yar, where entire communities were annihilated, amid great terror, despair and bewilderment. In total, 6 million Jews were murdered.
Sadly, antisemitism remains with us. At last month’s general election, here in Scotland, the only European nation never to have imposed laws directly against Jewish people, the Conservatives, Labour and the Scottish National Party each suspended candidates for antisemitic comments.
Paradoxically, the more time that passes, the greater the risk of future generations perceiving the Holocaust as an abstract and almost mythical concept, dissociated from reality. The almost unimaginable scale and scope of the atrocities contribute to that risk. After all, how could it have happened?
A common misconception is that the Holocaust was perpetrated by a small group of odious political and military fanatics. That could not be further from the truth. Doctors conducted medical experiments, involving surgery, on Jewish children and others without anaesthetic; the legal system helped isolate Jews as a precursor to genocide; railway workers transported them across Europe; and architects designed the death camps. At Auschwitz alone, 6,161 men and 174 women served in the SS garrison. Pre-war Germany, despite its Nazi regime, was seen as one of the most civilised and cultured societies in the world, and yet the Holocaust happened. So when information about it came out, it was not believed by many in the western allied states. The Holocaust happened with, it must be said, the often active participation of many others from a host of nationalities and political traditions across Europe.
Of course, we must not forget the righteous gentiles, those who often paid with their lives to save Jews whom they might not even have known but felt compelled to save because of their common humanity.
Just because the people are watching, that does not mean that genocide cannot and will not happen. From April 1994, the world looked on as atrocities unfolded in Rwanda during a three-month frenzied campaign of genocide. An estimated 800,000 men, women and children of the Tutsi minority were brutally slaughtered by Hutu extremists. United Nations soldiers were there and did nothing.
Barely a year had passed when, in July 1995, the world again watched as Bosniak men and boys were massacred near Srebrenica at the hands of Bosnian Serb forces. Again, UN forces were there, wasting time with bureaucracy, failing to intervene and turning people away from their base to near-certain death. Within 72 hours, 8,732 Muslim men and boys were murdered in Srebrenica alone.
All but a handful of Holocaust survivors who lived to tell their personal experiences have now passed away. It is up to us, not them, to make sure that we understand. Doing so allows us to recognise that antisemitism did not just rear its head again recently; it did not end with the second world war.
In 1946, 42 Jews, including a newborn baby and a woman who was six months pregnant, were brutally murdered during the Kielce pogrom in Poland. Police, civilians and soldiers attacked Jews with clubs and iron bars after an eight-year-old boy who had not come home one night claimed, according to his father, to have been held in a Jewish-owned building. It was nonsense, of course, but a town that had lost all but 200 of its 30,000 pre-war Jewish community believed it. For the Jewish-Polish community, who had just survived the Holocaust and returned home, the continuation of antisemitic violence was a massive blow.
As eastern Europe disappeared behind the iron curtain, from Czechoslovakia to Hungary to Romania, ruling Communist parties purged and executed hundreds of Jewish comrades who had survived the Holocaust. That occurred in parallel in Stalin’s Soviet Union, with the ludicrous doctors’ plot leading to the arrest and execution of eminent Jewish doctors who supposedly plotted against Stalin. State-sponsored antisemitism intensified to such a degree that it effectively descended into a co-ordinated campaign vilifying Soviet Jews as rootless cosmopolitans, and a plan to deport the 2 million who had not fallen into Nazi hands to Siberia and, for many, to their likely death. Only Stalin’s demise before its implementation saved them.
Jews were often called parasites for living in other societies. Now, they are vilified if they support Zionism and Israel—a nation held to higher standards of behaviour than probably any other, despite the intolerant, undemocratic, sectarian and homophobic nature of the societies that surround it. It is the Jew among nations.
That antisemitism is still an issue 75 years on is indicative of problems in our society today; it must be rooted out.
Last year, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published a poll of Jewish perceptions and experiences of antisemitism in the EU. It found that 75 per cent of British Jews think that antisemitism is a “very big” or “fairly big” problem in the UK, compared to the 48 per cent who thought so in 2012. Shockingly, 84 per cent said that antisemitism was present in political life—the highest figure in Europe.
Sticking our heads in the sand is not an option, when the reality is that not only can antisemitism rise again; it has done so. Awareness does not make it stop, and action is needed.
I conclude by asking everyone who remembers the millions who died to also remember those who survived the Holocaust and other genocides. Many spent the rest of their lives with the trauma of being degraded, injured and deprived of their loved ones and homes. From Nobel prize winner and Auschwitz survivor, Primo Levi, to Richard Glazar, survivor of the Treblinka prisoners revolt, many subsequently took their own lives, often decades later.
The Holocaust must never be allowed to happen again and must never be forgotten.15:40
I am honoured to take part in this debate.
We have heard the number of people who were murdered during the Holocaust from the cabinet secretary and others. We have heard testimonials in stories in our newspapers and on our televisions over the past few days. The average length of time that a person who went to Auschwitz lived for was three months.
Last Tuesday, I had the honour to go to Auschwitz with the European Jewish Association to visit and to remember. I had been to Auschwitz before, but this visit was even harsher and more difficult, as I stood there with a majority of people who were Jewish, and knew that if I had been standing with them 75 years ago, most of them would have died: rabbis, mothers, children and anybody whom the Nazis decided had to be killed, whether because they came from different ethnic backgrounds or had disabilities.
As one speaker has already commented, the numbers involved sometimes make it difficult to see the full impact of what happened in those places. As it was for the cabinet secretary, it was the number of shoes, the suitcases, the hair, the prayer mats and the young children’s toys that were never going to be used again that left me with the most difficult memory.
I am grateful to the Government for having this debate this afternoon. It is right.
On the day after we visited Auschwitz, we heard different talks from Jewish leaders and rabbis from across western Europe. The message that they wanted me and others to take home to our countries was that we have to remember and keep using the words, “This must never happen again,” but beyond that, we have to root out antisemitism in our culture and our countries, whether that be on social media or in conversations with people we come across, or by educating those who will come after us. All of that is our responsibility. We cannot turn our backs and leave it to someone else.
It is clear that across our world, our continent and even, sadly, our nation, antisemitism is on the rise. As Ruth Davidson commented, there are cameras and security guards in most synagogues across our country because of a fear of what might happen. We need to not only challenge antisemitism but root it out and say that it is unacceptable in 21st century Scotland.
One of the psalms that was read in Auschwitz on a daily basis, and which has been reflected on by Jewish scholars, is psalm 102. I would like to finish by quoting the end of it.
It refers to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, and says:
“But you remain the same, and your years will never end.
The children of your servants will live in your presence; their descendants will be established before you.”
I am grateful and humbled to participate in the debate, particularly after the outstanding contributions from members across the chamber.
One theme that has emerged is the incomprehensibility of the scale of the crime that was committed against 6 million Jewish human beings. The population of Scotland is 5.4 million. The scale is beyond what any individual can possibly compute into any meaningful experience; it is too much.
However, a sense of empathy and understanding can emerge in considering individual accounts. I will take one of those, which is very small but, for me, is profound. Viktor Frankl, in his memoir of the Holocaust, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, describes the experience of being admitted to a camp, of being forced to undress and, prior to having his hair shaved, along with other prisoners, of being ordered to hand over any medals or jewellery that he had in his possession. When a new inmate asked another inmate, who was supervising, whether he might keep his medal, the supervising inmate laughed, because clearly the new inmate had not realised where he had arrived.
Mr Frankl had to give over his wedding ring. I thought about that. Imagine being rounded up, taken, transported, separated from your partner—your loved one—and forced to hand over your wedding ring, never to see it again. That complete dehumanisation is amplified because, having taken your clothes, having taken your jewellery, they then take your hair, and then they take your name and replace it with a number.
Those kinds of small stories bring to life the horror of what occurred in Europe between 1939 and 1945. Another very simple example is the task that was given to the Sonderkommando—the Jewish prisoners charged with working in the crematoria—and the elaborate ruse and deception that they had to participate in. Before entering the gas chamber, the prisoners were instructed to tie their shoelaces together, so that their shoes could be retrieved easily once the prisoners had had their shower. Imagine what it must have been like to participate in that behaviour, and give that false reassurance—the sheer inhumanity of it. I find that those very small accounts and stories can often be far more profound and more powerful than attempting the seemingly impossible task of trying to contemplate the sheer scale of the crime that was perpetrated against the Jewish people, Gypsies, Roma, the LGBT community, political dissidents, and many others.
The theme of Holocaust memorial day 2020 is “stand together”. However, another theme is emerging—that of a renewed urgency among survivors of the Holocaust to communicate its lessons. It is not enough to acknowledge, to reflect, and to remember. We must learn, in the deepest and most profound sense of the word.
That learning cannot be limited to understanding the Holocaust as an historical event. It has to be more than demonstrating an understanding of the causes of the Holocaust. The learning required needs to be like an inoculation, or of the visceral or reflexive kind that we develop as children in response to danger. We also need an awareness, an alertness, and a sensitivity to the trends and behaviours that are analogous to those that preceded the Holocaust.
That has to start with each of us as individuals: in our own thoughts, in our own hearts and in how we treat each other.
In this Parliament we have our disagreements and disputes, but we stand together. We stand united. We must always reaffirm those values and our fundamental shared humanity. We must cultivate a passion to understand and to learn from each other, to cherish each relationship that we have, to understand and respect our differences and to celebrate what unites us in our common humanity: our ability to reason and our capacity to love each other.15:51
Plato said that those who tell the stories rule society. That is why this day, when we ensure that the story of genocide—humanity’s capacity to descend into the evil of systematic mass murder—is ever told and never forgotten, is so important.
This is a special Holocaust memorial day, because it was exactly 75 years ago that Auschwitz, the camp that has come to symbolise the Holocaust above all others, was liberated. Over 1 million people had died at Auschwitz and nearby Birkenau, along with many millions more throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Six million of them were Jews, but they also included Roma, LGBT people, disabled people and anti-fascists of every stripe.
The themes of Holocaust memorial day 2020 are “stand together” and “never again”. Yet the truth is that the 75 years since the Holocaust have been marked by our failure to live up to that promise of “never again”. Forty-five years ago, the Khmer Rouge began the mass murder of over 1 million people—mostly their own; 26 years ago, 1 million Tutsis were slaughtered by their Hutu neighbours in a matter of weeks in Rwanda; and, 25 years ago, genocide stalked Europe again in Srebrenica, in Bosnia. Since the Holocaust, we have not stood together against genocide.
Hannah Arendt, who, as Alex Cole-Hamilton told us, coined the phrase “the banality of evil”, also said:
“the sad truth is that most evil is done by those who never make up their minds to be good or evil”.
Too often, in living memory, we have made up our minds too late. As Kenny Gibson told us, in both Rwanda and Srebrenica, the United Nations forces that we created in the aftermath of world war two to stop mass murder prevailing were actually there, on the ground. In Rwanda, they were ordered to stand by and watch the murder of the Tutsis and were then withdrawn altogether, some of them burning their blue berets on the airport tarmac in shame. In Srebrenica, Dutch UN soldiers did not just stand by: they helped Bosnian Serb forces to separate Muslim men from their wives and mothers, and 8,000 of those men were taken away and murdered. Then the soldiers partied when they were allowed to leave.
One survivor of the Rwandan genocide said:
“It will take the love of the entire world to heal my homeland. And that’s as it should be, for what happened in Rwanda happened to us all—humanity was wounded by the genocide”.
Like Ruth Davidson, I have never been to Auschwitz, but I have seen Tuol Sleng in Phnomh Penh, where thousands were tortured and murdered. I was in Rwanda weeks after the genocide there, when the evil that was done still lingered in that strange and empty country. I have been to Srebrenica, to the factory where Bosniaks sought refuge with the UN and to the cemetery across the road, where over 7,000 of them are buried after that refuge was refused. To be in those places is to know that all humanity is wounded and that we cannot escape our complicity. Those stories are our stories, too.
Yesterday, I was honoured, with Daniel Johnson, to host Scotland’s national Holocaust memorial day event here, with the First Minister speaking for us all. We heard from Janine Webber, a Holocaust survivor, and Hasan Hasanovic, who survived the death march from Srebrenica but lost his father and twin brother. The burden of bearing witness that we ask of such people is a heavy one. They must remember so that we cannot forget. They must relive their pain so that we cannot plead ignorance. They are condemned to tell and retell their story to make us understand our part in it.
What is the beginning of that story? It is not the gas chambers, the machete gangs of Kigali or the blood-soaked meadows of Srebrenica. For German Jews, Rwandan Tutsis and Bosnian Muslims, it began with their neighbours, with their workmates, with those they thought were friends and even with their in-laws. It began with the language of us and them.
Their story did not end with the genocide, for what followed was denial such as that of the current mayor of Srebrenica, who claims that the genocide never happened and that the 7,000 graves in his town are faked, or that of the Austrian author and Srebrenica genocide denier who was shamefully awarded the Nobel prize just last month.
We must tell and retell the true stories of the Holocaust and other genocides so that the truth prevails, and we must call out the language of hate, division and denial in our own communities, our own parties and even our own families, if need be. Only thus do we choose to be good, not evil. Only thus do we earn the right to say that we “stand together”. Only thus do we earn the right to say “never again.”15:57
I pay tribute, as others have done, to a remarkable woman who died in Auschwitz. Jane Haining, from the village of Dunscore in Dumfriesshire, died because she protected and loved the Jewish children in her care at the Church of Scotland missionary school in Budapest, where she was matron. I thank the cabinet secretary for praising Jane in her speech.
Reading her biography, “Jane Haining: A Life of Love and Courage”, by Jane Miller, which informed an excellent feature by Neil Mackay in the Sunday Herald this weekend, it is clear that Jane was that rare thing: a truly selfless person. A farmer’s daughter, born in 1909, by the time she was five she had lost her mother. However, she excelled at school, won a bursary to Dumfries academy and became dux. After working in Coats mill in Paisley, she decided to devote her life to others, and that path took her to Hungary, where she became a surrogate mother to the Christian and Jewish girls in her care, who were often poor and orphaned. As others have said, when war broke out, Jane had the opportunity to return to the safety of Scotland but she refused, saying,
“If these children needed me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?”
Soon, she was taking in refugee children from occupied countries. When Budapest fell under Nazi control, in 1944, Jane was arrested by the Gestapo and accused of consorting with Jews. One of her so-called crimes was being seen to weep when her girls were forced to sew yellow stars on their uniforms.
She arrived at Auschwitz on 15 May 1944, and documents show that, on 17 July, she was admitted to Birkenau, the extermination part of the vast complex. One million people died in Birkenau, 900,000 of them Jewish. In the summer of 1944, in just eight weeks, 424,000 people were transported to Auschwitz from Hungary, and that is in addition to the 80,000 people who were shot dead on the banks of the Danube that year and the 70,000 who starved or were murdered in the Budapest ghetto.
The near elimination of European Jewry was poignantly illustrated to the parishioners of Jane’s village church in Dunscore when, in 2016, they travelled to Budapest to pay their respects and visit the synagogue where Jane’s girls would have worshipped. The synagogue was built to seat 3,500; now it has around 200 worshippers at most on Fridays.
Jane’s sacrifice shows that non-Jews were also victims of the Nazis. As Aileen Campbell reminded us, Roma, disabled people, mentally ill people and gay people perished in the camps along with political opponents, particularly communists.
However, we must never forget that the Holocaust, which is also known as the Shoah, was the genocide of two thirds of Europe’s Jews—6 million people. The Shoah was a crime against Jewish people and the culmination of centuries of antisemitism in Europe. There have been other genocides, and it is absolutely correct that we remember them and learn lessons, but world war two’s Holocaust was exceptional in its scale and its approach. It was pre-meditated and meticulously planned by a modern state. It was mechanised mass murder in cold blood, deploying technology that Germany had perfected. Mary Miller notes in her book on Jane Haining that, in the month in which Jane died, the commandant in charge of the crematorium at Auschwitz ordered sophisticated sieving machinery so that larger pieces of bone could be separated from the cinders of human beings that were being dumped in nearby ponds.
The Shoah was not an outbreak of uncontrolled, frenzied violence such as we see in conflict zones across the world when society is brutalised and the rule of law collapses. The concentration camps were planned, built and managed by detached bureaucrats. The entire apparatus of the state, with its courts and legal processes, was designed to support the death factories.
Holocaust memorial day falls on the anniversary of the red army’s liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which dwarfed the other death camps in scale. In fleeing the camp, the Nazis left evidence of their crimes, and, because Auschwitz was a forced labour camp, there were many surviving eye witnesses.
Our understandable focus on Auschwitz on this 75th anniversary must not be allowed to obscure the historical fact that the Holocaust stretched far beyond that vast extermination complex. It was a widespread programme of murder right across occupied Europe. In the Netherlands, France, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland and Germany, Jewish men, women and children were rounded up in plain sight and forced into cattle trucks that transported them east. The railway network itself was designed around the extermination programme.
As Pauline McNeill said, there were other death camps. Some 900,000 died at Treblinka, 500,000 at Belzec and a quarter of a million at Sobibór—and there were other camps. The first stage of the systematic killing of Jewish people was carried out by the Einsatzgruppen—the mobile killing units in the east, who gassed people in the backs of lorries.
As others have said, all those atrocities were witnessed by good men who did nothing. However, brave people, including Jane Haining, did not stand aside but instead stood up for others and paid the ultimate price. As members said, Jane is honoured in Israel as righteous among the nations. She has a memorial in Dunscore church, in her home village. I agree that the time has come for us to pay her a lot more attention in Scotland. The time has come for some sort of national memorial.
We are told that the Holocaust reminds us of the depths to which human beings can sink. The selflessness of Jane Haining and others reminds us that there is good in this world and that there are human beings who rose up against evil. That is something that we must never forget.
I remind members that time is tight in the debate.16:03
I feel privileged to speak in this debate, in a chamber in which the mood is serious and rightly so.
On this Holocaust memorial day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, it is as important as ever that we remember the Holocaust and that we never forget one of history’s darkest moments. This day also coincides with the 25th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica, in Bosnia. On Holocaust memorial day, we remember the horror of 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. However, it is important to remember the other genocides, including those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, which have been mentioned and which are also commemorated on this day.
My speech may mention what others have already said, but this is a topic on which repetition and reinforcement are necessary. Holocaust memorial day has been commemorated since 2000 and was instituted after 46 of the world’s Governments signed the Stockholm declaration. The seven points of the declaration commit its signatories to
“remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity’s common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.”
Holocaust memorial day coincides with the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and may be the last commemoration that will be attended by Holocaust survivors. The memory of one of the most horrific events fades with the passing of those who endured it; however, it is more important than ever to teach its lessons, because antisemitism and the proliferation of extremist views are re-emergent. In a recent poll, more than 80 per cent of European Jews admitted to feeling unsafe. A new strain of antisemitic opinion is growing, and views that would recently have been regarded as abhorrent are now met with a resigned shrug in many cases.
A recent poll of more than 2,000 people, which was carried out by Opinion Matters for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, laid bare the levels of ignorance about the scale of the Holocaust that exist among British adults. It has been mentioned that one in 20 did not believe that the Holocaust took place, that one in 12 believed that its scale has been exaggerated and that one in five believed that only 2 million Jews were murdered. That equates to 5 per cent of UK adults not believing that the Holocaust actually happened. It is therefore extremely important that the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are providing £1 million of funding for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. That will support the consolidation, restoration and long-term maintenance of the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. The donation will help to support the site’s preservation, so that we can never forget the horror of the Holocaust, and to educate future generations, so that it will not be repeated.
I have been fortunate enough to visit Auschwitz, in Poland, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin, and Yad Vashem, in Israel. They are all powerful memories for me and powerful memorials to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem is dedicated to preserving the memory of the dead, honouring the Jews who fought against their Nazi oppressors and researching the Holocaust and genocide with the aim of avoiding such events in the future. It is encouraging that, in 2015, the UK Government committed £50 million to a national Holocaust memorial and learning centre, with a further £25 million committed last year contingent on match funding and other conditions. It will allow us to educate people about, and remember, the horrors that have been committed in the past, to ensure that they never happen again.
As I have mentioned, it is important to remember, as well as the Holocaust, the atrocities that have been committed elsewhere, in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. In Darfur, between 200,000 and 400,000 civilians have been killed in the civil war in western Sudan, and up to 2.6 million people are still displaced.
The Nazis murdered 6 million Jewish men, women and children. We must continue to educate, commemorate and remember the events to ensure that it does not happen again. Last year, more than 11,000 commemorative events took place across the UK as part of Holocaust memorial day.
There are also permanent memorials across the UK to Holocaust victims. One such memorial is in Broughty Ferry, in the region that I represent. Two pupils from Grove academy visited Auschwitz and, upon their return, met representatives from Dundee City Council to discuss the creation of a memorial. It is located in Windmill gardens in Broughty Ferry, and the memorial reads:
“To the six million Jews and the other victims murdered in the Nazi death camps and to all who have experienced the horrors of genocide and the destruction caused by prejudice and discrimination. We Will Remember.”
The plaque also features a quote from Anne Frank:
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
That is a voice from the past that still speaks clearly today. We must stand together.16:09
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi death camp. Between August 1941 and the liberation of the camps, 1.3 million were held there. Of that number, 1.1 million died. The horrors that took place there make Auschwitz synonymous with the Holocaust and the Nazis’ so-called “final solution”.
The 1.1 million people who died at Auschwitz included 960,000 Jews, 74,000 non-Jewish Poles, 21,000 Roma people, 15,000 Slavic prisoners of war and up to 15,000 other Europeans. The extermination camps there housed the notorious Nazi-devised gas chambers. On arrival at Auschwitz, the vast majority of Jews were immediately sent to the gas chambers if they did not look fit or able to do forced labour. It was done with a flick of the finger—left to the gas chambers or right to the work camps. Those arriving had no idea how sinister that small hand movement was and what it would mean for their lives. Only the next day would they find out that their family members, friends and loved ones who had been sent to the left were now in the smoke rising out of the chimneys in the distance. Survivors and psychologists Dr Viktor Frankl and Dr Edith Eger spoke of having the same experience of learning the incomprehensible fate of their friends and loved ones. Of the 960,000 Jews killed at Auschwitz, 865,000 were killed on arrival, as a direct result of that left-pointing finger.
Stories from survivors detail the torture, starvation, disease and apathy that followed arrival. Once the shock had sunk in, people battled with the realisation that there would be no reprieve from the hardships that they would have to endure. Stripped of their belongings and names, shaved bare and beaten cruelly, those people had to comprehend the incomprehensible: that, for most of them, there would be no way out.
That description is inadequate to depict the cruel reality endured by those who went through the Holocaust. Some 6 million Jews were murdered through evil, underpinned by an ideology of cold racism—a baseless hatred. For us, it is hard to comprehend how it could have happened. How could such a vile emotion and ideology not only arise but gain authority in any place or nation? It is perhaps not constructive to dwell on that and have our thoughts lie too long in the depths of such evil and darkness.
However, what can be said—and what should be acknowledged—is the well-known saying that evil can triumph only if good men do nothing. We cannot be passive. Holocaust memorial day makes it clear that the world is not immune from such horrors. As we mark this day, there is an onus on us to feel that with conviction and on all people to be aware of such dangers. By guarding our hearts and keeping them in the right place, we will not let hatred or lack of forgiveness win. There may yet be a point in our lives when we have to decide—perhaps at great cost—to do what is right and good. We must remain true to our humanity by having the courage to speak out and make honourable decisions.
After the Holocaust, the world said, “Never again.” We might think that surely the question of deciding—at great cost, whether social or material—to do the right thing, to avoid experiencing a repeat, is not relevant to our own country or to us. However, we have seen genocide—a word that was created to explain the horror of the attempted extermination of the Jews in the second world war—happen repeatedly, from Rwanda to Burundi, and from Srebrenica to South Sudan. We also hear news of the on-going plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. How do we form a response to that, when faced with conflicts that seem intractable and hatred that is senseless?
It is perhaps best to draw lessons from those who have survived. Doctor and psychiatrist Dr Viktor Frankl wrote, in nine days, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, which was published in 1946. A survivor of Auschwitz, he dedicated his life after liberation to helping others to find meaning in their own lives. Incredibly, he also used his experience as a basis for therapy. In his book, he wrote:
“The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The testimony of Viktor Frankl and many others draws our attention to the best of humanity. Even in dire situations, the best of humanity—hope and love—perseveres. Against the greatest darkness, light cannot be overcome, cloaked or concealed. Even a small flicker of light is much stronger than the darkness around it; hope and love persevere and, ultimately, win. Today, we stand in solidarity with survivors, and for those who lost their lives.16:15
There are moments in this Parliament that reflect some of the worst of our politics, but this debate reflects the best of our politics and, more important, the best of our collective humanity. The speeches from members from different sides of the chamber show that we should never forget that there is so much more that unites us and on which we can find common cause than that which divides us.
When I listened to the speeches from Ruth Davidson and Iain Gray in particular, I thought for a moment about what it would be like if my family, or my child, had gone through such absolute horror, whether in Auschwitz, Srebrenica, Rwanda or anywhere else where there is tyranny and injustice.
On Holocaust memorial day, or when we commemorate other tragedies across the world, we often say, “Never forget,” and, “Never again”. However, the reality is that we do forget and that it does happen again. We forget that the politics of hatred are still alive and well and kicking, here in the UK and across the world—indeed, in some places, they are on the rise. We forget that we still create the us-versus-them politics and society that treat others as though they are different. That difference is used to allow prejudice and hatred against communities and the othering of whole communities. We forget, which leads to mass deportations, torture, blood baths and murder. We forget, which leads to injustice that is based purely on someone’s nationality, their faith, the colour of their skin, their sexuality or their gender. We do forget, and it does happen again.
Seventy-five years after the Holocaust, we must send a message of solidarity to all members of our Jewish community here in Scotland, across the UK and across the world. Indeed, we must send that message to all communities that lost loved ones or ancestors in that war. However, we cannot be complacent, thinking that the fight against antisemitism has been won or that what happened then could never happen again.
We still have people from communities in our own country who fear getting on public transport to go to work or who fear being abused as they take their child to school in the morning. There are people in our society who have been racially abused. At home and abroad, places of worship—whether synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, mandirs or churches—which are supposed to be the symbols of peace, unity and togetherness, have been attacked. Such acts promote hatred and prejudice. That is why I welcome the Government’s announcement this week on the safety and security at places of worship fund, which is long overdue. I am sure that we wish that we did not have to have such a fund, but we need it to ensure that everyone feels safe as they visit their places of worship and go about their everyday lives.
We say, “Never again”. Last year, I went to Bosnia, and I know that many members have been to Srebrenica through the work of Remembering Srebrenica. That genocide took place just 25 years ago. Let us not forget that, in 1984, Sarajevo hosted the Olympic games. The eyes of the world were on the games, which were seen as a symbol of diversity, openness and an inclusive society. Only eight years later, divisions based on faith and identity led to a genocide in which 160,000 people lost their lives over a four-year period.
We say, “Never again”, but it happens again. My fear is that the world in which my children will grow up will be even more divided and hate filled than the one in which I grew up.
I was not alive when the Holocaust took place and I probably was not politically conscious when the Srebrenica tragedy and the Bosnian genocide took place, so in my adult life I have not lived through what a genocide feels like. However, we cannot be complacent, thinking that something similar will not happen again any time soon, and we must redouble our efforts to take on prejudice and hatred.
In practice, that means that silence is not an option. We should not pick and choose condemnation or solidarity based on the identity or politics of the perceived perpetrator or victim. We should call out hatred, wherever it exists—no matter the political party it comes from, even if it is our own; no matter which institution it comes from, even if we want to defend it; and no matter which group in society it comes from. It is only when we recognise together that it is not for individual communities to take on the fight against prejudice or hatred alone and that it is a fight for all of us that we make sure that we challenge antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, bigotry, sexism and every other prejudice.
I say a special thank you to the Holocaust Educational Trust and all the people who are involved in making sure that we never forget the tragedies of the past and that we keep the stories of the Holocaust survivors alive. Those survivors will eventually lose their lives; we must ensure that the lessons that they teach never die.16:22
It is a great privilege to speak in this afternoon’s debate on Holocaust memorial day. It is a day on which we commemorate both the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp and those who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis during the second world war. I, too, note that this is also the 25th anniversary of the start of the Bosnian genocide.
The atrocities of the Holocaust and of other genocides around the world must never be forgotten. Holocaust memorial day is a vivid reminder that inhumanity, violence and hatred must be challenged, otherwise they will be repeated. We must remember the suffering and the loss of life to ensure that no such horror ever happens again. We can do that only by robustly tackling prejudice and hatred in our society and beyond.
I am proud that the Scottish Government is committed to tackling all discrimination, as the cabinet secretary outlined. In Scotland, we have a reputation for fostering and building a multifaith, multicultural and inclusive society, which is something that we should be very proud of.
However, it is clear that we have more to do. It is highly important that we build mutual trust, respect and understanding of other cultures, as well as ensure the eradication of prejudice, hatred, intolerance and discrimination. People in Scotland must be supported to maintain their culture and religion without fear of intolerance.
Like Anas Sarwar, I welcome the new security at places of worship fund, which the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice launched yesterday.
I will focus on the Government’s on-going commitment to providing opportunities for Scotland’s children and young people to learn about the atrocities of the Holocaust and how that has impacted on young people in my constituency.
Holocaust education sits in international and citizenship education and is a key part of curriculum for excellence. It gives our young people the opportunity to learn about the atrocities of the past and an understanding of why they must never happen again. For more than a decade, the Scottish Government has supported the Holocaust Educational Trust to organise two sets of trips a year from Scotland to the lessons from Auschwitz project, and I am pleased that the funding for that will continue in 2020-21.
High schools across my Coatbridge and Chryston constituency have integrated Holocaust education into their curriculum and have engaged students in educational activities, including art projects, presentations and listening to podcasts from Holocaust survivors.
This year, two pupils from St Ambrose high school and St Andrew’s high school in my constituency participated in the project. They reported that the trip brought valuable insights and reflections on racism and intolerance. They said that, having visited the camp, they were able share the experience with their peers when they returned to their schools. The visit fuelled discussion in the classroom, and all pupils were given a chance to participate and ask questions. I am sure that we can all agree that that is an excellent way for our young people to find out, first hand, what took place at Auschwitz.
Auschwitz is certainly a tough place to visit. Like other members, I have not visited it, but it is important that we remember what took place there and that our young people learn from the past so that it is never, ever, repeated.
St Ambrose high school also took part in a minute of silence to show respect to the victims of the Holocaust and to all victims of genocide around the world. St. Andrew’s high school created a digital presentation that was displayed in a social area for a month, giving Holocaust education great support.
This week, pupils from Chryston high school participated in a commemorative service that took place outside the civic centre in Motherwell. The highlight was a symbolic signing of the Stockholm declaration, which commits signatories to remembering the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi regime in Germany, and the millions of other victims from around the world. Signing the declaration means making a pledge to help educate people about the very real impact of such harrowing events and to try to prevent future genocides. In that way, the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten and we promote understanding among young people about the importance of commemorating Holocaust remembrance day.
The headteacher of Coatbridge high school took time out of her busy day today to email me to say that Holocaust memorial day is the main focus of their humanities department and is used to produce a range of activities to promote a safer and better future.
In Scotland, we are committed to building a safe, resilient and inclusive community by tackling prejudice and hatred. We should never underestimate those who stand up to support justice, equality and human rights. It remains crucial that we learn from the past and work together to ensure that all forms of genocide can never happen again.
I was invited to Chryston high school's Holocaust event last year. I was humbled to meet survivor Janine Webber, who has been talked about already in the debate. She told her and her family’s extraordinary and hugely emotional life story of terror and persecution by the Nazis in her home in Poland. She spoke about being hunted and about the loss of people of importance to her during those years. The room fell totally silent as she spoke. Amazingly, her strength, kindness and spirit were all still there—they had not broken her humanity. She now travels the UK to remind us of what can happen when othering is allowed. Her message was abundantly clear: always treat one another with respect and dignity, regardless of race or religion, and never again allow intolerance to bring such shame on humanity. She is indeed a true human rights defender.16:27
I wish that I was not here to give this speech today on the inhumanity of humanity. I speak in the hope that we can all ensure that history does not repeat itself.
I would like to recall some events that might help us to remember. In 1983, I joined my regiment in Germany. I was 22 years old, full of enthusiasm and purpose, and was following a well-trodden route. However, those that did so in 1944-45 might have gone to the same area, but they did so in very different circumstances. The war was coming to an end and the full horror and barbarity of the genocide were only just coming to light.
My base was close to Bergen-Belsen—originally a Soviet prisoner of war camp—which will be my focus today. In 1943, parts of the camp were taken over by the SS to be a holding and exchange camp housing Jewish inmates who could be traded for Germans who were being held outside Germany. The conditions, although harsh, were not as bad as those of other camps, such as Auschwitz or Buchenwald, simply because the Jewish inmates were viewed as tradeable assets.
By the end of 1944 control of the camp was taken over by the commandant of Auschwitz, and the size of the camp dramatically increased to 60,000 people. Many Poles and women were sent there, including Anne Frank, who was to die there in February or March 1945. There were no gas chambers at Belsen: death occurred by bullet, disease, starvation or—as a last resort—transportation to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Suffering was acute and it was estimated that more than 50,000 people were killed in the camp during the Nazi tyranny. In 1945, as the allies neared Bergen-Belsen, orders were given that all inmates were to be executed. Thankfully, that was ignored and, on April 15 1945, the camp was handed over voluntarily to the allies. However, that was no humanitarian gesture; it was a gesture that was driven by the wish of the Nazis to prevent the spread of a typhus epidemic to the local population.
When the British troops moved down the mile-long road to the camp, they passed decaying corpses. When they got to the camp, they were ill prepared for what met them. Brigadier Glyn Hughes said:
“The conditions in the camp were really indescribable ... there were various ... piles of corpses lying all over the camp, some in between the huts. The compounds themselves had bodies lying about in them. The gutters were full and within the huts there were uncountable numbers of bodies, some even in the same bunks as the living.”
Chaplain Hardman described prisoners dying where they stood, and prisoners’ clothes being so full of lice that they appeared to move of their own accord. While the handover was taking place, murder was still going on: unobserved, Hungarian guards who had replaced the SS were shooting inmates. British troops tried to instil some semblance of order. Camp guards were ordered to bury corpses and the local Wehrmacht barracks were converted into hospital wards.
Some 29,000 prisoners moved through those wards during April and May 1945 alone. Not all the guards were helpful and many still viewed the task of caring for those whom they had tortured as being below them. Sadly, the kindness of the liberators also contributed to the death of some inmates, with the rations that they freely handed out proving to be too rich for the starving inmates.
The main buildings in the camp were so contaminated by disease and lice that all of them were burned, which removed the physical evidence of suffering, but not before evidence was assembled to try the perpetrators. The subsequent trial resulted in the execution of 16 people, including the commandant, the head female guard and the doctor, who had carried out hideous experiments on inmates.
Presiding Officer, you may well ask why I have picked this story to recount today. I do so because in 1983, 37 years ago, I deliberately traced the route that the British forces took as they moved into the camp. I did so in order to understand fully the horrors that had occurred there. On my way to the camp, I went through the very woods that in 1945 were littered with corpses. The map at the entrance of the camp shows the layout of the camp as it was and the location of the mass graves, which can clearly be seen as mounds that cover the corpses. Now, the only buildings on the site are the museum and the document centre, but there is also a stone memorial.
The camp’s site might not look as it was in 1945 and it might be quiet, but it still felt cold, ominous and evil—and it was. During my entire visit, I never heard a bird sing; it was as though all life had been sucked from the earth and sky. I will never forget what I saw. If we are to prevent what happened there happening again in the future, it is vital that we never forget how inhuman humans can be. We must always be vigilant. We must stand together, for often those who seem to be most human can be the most inhuman.16:33
It is, indeed, a privilege to have been called to speak in this most impressive debate. I am proud that our Scottish Parliament is marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in this way. We have heard many members rightly offering their recollections of visits to the Nazi death camps; I will record my own recollections of such a visit.
I was 21 years old when I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. I had been studying in Bologna at Johns Hopkins University’s school of advanced international studies and took up the opportunity of a summer-school exchange at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Part of the programme there involved a visit to Auschwitz. Some of my fellow students declined to go because they felt that it would be too upsetting, but I considered it my duty to go and to bear witness.
It was not just the hugely cynical message at the camp’s entrance gate—“Arbeit Macht Frei”—that saddened me and caught at my soul so, nor was it the mountain of shoes, or the countless photographs of young twins that adorned an entire wall, with their faces full of hope because they had yet to meet the butcher, Mengele. What broke my heart was standing at the end of the rail track in Birkenau as a young European woman in the early 1980s, trying to get my head around how it could be that only 40 short years previously people could get on a train in Paris, Brussels or any other modern civilised European city and end up in hell.
That experience has stayed with me all my life and has informed my approach to my fellow man and my choice of the law as a career, to ensure that people’s rights are respected. It has also informed the objectives of my political life. For, as has been said by Scotland’s First Minister and others, the industrial killing machine that Germany became did not start at the end of that train track in Birkenau. It started with the othering of the Jews, with the incremental denuding of Jews of their rights, with the normalisation of antisemitism and bigotry and hatred, and—it has to be said—with non-Jews and the international community failing, in the main, to speak out when all that was happening.
That is why it is vital that we all remain vigilant, that we challenge antisemitism, that we challenge bigotry and that we challenge hatred, wherever they are promoted. That is our duty as parliamentarians and as citizens: we must discharge that duty and we must encourage the generations to come always to bear witness.
While I was working on my speech, I was struck by an historic moment last week when German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier became the first German President ever to give a speech at Yad Vashem at an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In a very moving speech, the President said:
“The Eternal Flame at Yad Vashem does not go out. Germany’s responsibility does not expire.”
He went on to say, with considerable candour and honesty:
“I wish I could say that we Germans have learned from history once and for all. But I cannot say that when hatred is spreading.”
We should all be prepared to exercise the same candour because, of course, as has been recognised in this debate, hatred is spreading, and it is up to each of us to do what we can in the face of such developments in our society, here in Europe and across the world.
In the past few days, we have heard stories of such bravery and endurance in the face of barbarism and obscenity; such stories of individual survivors who were determined, following their liberation, not to be victims, but to live their lives to the full and to make their contribution. It is perhaps fitting, given our imminent—and, I say, sad—departure from the European Union, to reference a remarkable woman called Simone Veil. She was the first President of the first directly elected European Parliament, for which elections were held in 1979. Simone Veil bore the stamp of her Auschwitz number on her arm, but she was determined to make her mark on the life of her country, France, and was very attuned to the founding purpose of the European project.
I bear witness, Presiding Officer.16:38
Last night, I was proud to sponsor Parliament’s Holocaust memorial day event with my colleague, Iain Gray. I was struck by the sense of people coming together not just as an act of observation, but in participation and shared responsibility. We were privileged to be joined by Janine Webber, who is a Holocaust survivor and whom other members have referenced. She told her remarkable story of how she survived through the resilience of family members, twists of fate, rare acts of defiance by others and, above all—although she would not say it herself—her own personal strength.
I was struck by her age as she lived through those experiences. Born in 1933, she was seven when her father was shot by the Nazis within her earshot. She told us of her experience of witnessing her mother’s death from typhoid in a damp rat-infested basement in the ghetto when she was nine. At 10, her brother was shot in front of her by a member of the SS. She showed us photos of her and her brother that were taken before the war. Looking at those two children, who were the same age as my daughters are, I listened to the 87-year-old woman but thought of that seven-year-old girl. As a father, what I felt was anguish and horror that a child so young should have had to experience those things.
I want to speak about the need for us all to carry forward the memory of Auschwitz and the Holocaust. In the 75th year on from the liberation of that most infamous of Nazi death camps, many members have—rightly—commented on the significance of those years, as direct witness to the events is slowly lost. It is, therefore, incumbent on each of us to consider what the Holocaust means to us, to share the experience and not just the facts, and to learn from and act on those lessons.
An important recent influence on my thinking was a book that I read, “East West Street”, which is one man’s exploration of his family’s experience of the Holocaust. The main reason why the book made an impression on me was the story that it told of everyday people, and of how Nazi persecution and extermination of Jewish people unfolded. It tells of the lives of shopkeepers, lawyers and farmhands, of aunties and grandparents, daughters and sons. It tells of lives like anybody’s—lives like ours.
The Holocaust did not happen to them in a single action or event. There were a number of small, sometimes subtle, steps. There were municipal edicts, regulatory changes, Government requirements and mandated actions. Those were enabled not by initial overriding hatred, but by casual prejudice, careless othering and the self-interested inaction of people who chose to look the other way. That is how it starts and how it takes hold, and that is why we must be so wary of the insidious rise of antisemitism that we are currently experiencing.
I feel that I must, as a Labour Party member and elected representative, say that that is a particularly important point for me to state. The Labour Party is supposed to be the party of equality, of social justice and of human rights. However, in recent months and years, we have failed. In particular, we have failed the Jewish people. Following recent events, I made a personal point of reaching out to talk with, and to listen to, the Jewish community in Edinburgh. I felt that I needed to take direct personal steps, and have been struck by the pain, the hurt, and the fear that our actions, and inactions, have caused. They include our failure to deal with complaints, our re-admission of members who have been guilty of antisemitism and our reluctance to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.
In my 25 years of being a Labour Party member, the party has done things that I have disagreed with, and it has done things that have made me angry. However, in all those years, those events and conversations were the first times when I have ever felt ashamed to be a Labour Party member.
I am in no doubt that the challenges are not unique to the Labour Party—they are challenges that we all face. However, I want the Labour Party to hold itself to a higher standard. I want it to be the party of justice and of human rights. Labour must put an end to this, and it must never let these issues arise again. As the party that is responsible for enshrining so many of our rights and for pursuing equality, we have a responsibility to put this right. I know that we will.
The events have also convinced me that we must take personal responsibility to carry on the lessons of the Holocaust and to tackle antisemitism and prejudice. We cannot allow the actions of the Nazis to be something that happened to other people. They are things that happened to people—people like me, people like you, people like all of us. They were crimes against humanity—crimes against us all.
We must strive not only to memorise the facts of the Holocaust, but to share and pass on the feelings and human experience of those who survived, and of those who fell victim. To truly learn the lessons, it is not enough simply to say the right things; we must also take the right actions. We must call out intolerant behaviours, we must challenge casual prejudice and we must take action against the powerful when they seek to oppress the minority.
Those are my personal lessons from what was experienced those 75 years ago.16:44
Many members have rightly said that it is a privilege to speak in this debate, but if I may say to Mr Johnson, it is a particular privilege to follow his speech, which was courageous, brave and right.
At time for reflection today, Stephen Stone, from St Roch’s Secondary School in my city, Glasgow, talked eloquently about Holocaust teaching and education in contemporary Scottish schools. I will return to that at the end of my speech, but I will open with some reflections on my time in school in England in the 1980s. I went to an ordinary state comprehensive school in Dorset, which was at that time led by an extraordinary teacher, whose name was John Webster. At my school, history was compulsory for all students, alongside maths and English. We knew that that was unusual; we did not know why history was compulsory in our school, but we knew it had something to do with Mr Webster, the headteacher. It was only when I read his obituaries, about three years ago, that I began to understand why.
In 1945, on His Majesty’s service, my headteacher Mr Webster was a young man in uniform at the end of a long war, like those young men who Edward Mountain described a few moments ago. He was one of the very first allied soldiers to walk into the death camp that his unit had discovered. He saw with his own eyes the horrors that we all think we understand. He resolved, there and then, that he would do all that he could to ensure that those he met thereafter would never forget.
At school, I was blessed with remarkable and brilliant history teachers, whose work was placed front and centre in our curriculum for reasons I never understood as a child, but for which I will always be grateful.
I have used this quotation before, but I make no apology for repeating it:
“With the absurd precision to which we later had to accustom ourselves, the Germans held the roll-call. At the end the officer asked ‘Wieviel Stück?’ ... The corporal saluted smartly and replied that there were six hundred and fifty ‘pieces’ and that all was in order. They then loaded us on to the buses and took us to the station ... Here the train was waiting for us ... Here we received the first blows: and it was so new and senseless that we felt no pain, neither in body nor in spirit. Only a profound amazement: how can one hit a man without anger?
There were twelve goods wagons for six hundred and fifty men; in mine we were only forty-five, but it was a small wagon. Here then, before our very eyes, under our very feet, was one of those notorious transport trains, those which never return, and of which, shuddering and always a little incredulous, we had so often heard speak. Exactly like this, detail for detail: goods wagons closed from the outside, with men, women and children pressed together without pity, like cheap merchandise, for a journey towards nothingness, a journey down there, towards the bottom. This time it is us who are inside.”
Those words are from the opening chapter of Primo Levi’s autobiographical account of the Holocaust, “If This Is A Man”. In the middle of that passage Primo Levi asks a hauntingly simple question:
“how can one hit a man without anger?”
The Holocaust happened because, not very long ago, in the heart of Europe, it was the policy of the Government of what had been a leading European civilisation to eliminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. The Nazis were not angry with the Jews: the brutality, the beatings, the murder and the killing did not happen because anyone had cause to be angry; they happened because of cold, calculated hatred—“baseless hatred”, as Bill Kidd called it a few moments ago.
That is what must be remembered. That is what my headteacher, Mr Webster, wanted us to learn through the study of history: that hatred is such a venal emotion that it can cause, as Alex Cole-Hamilton reflected, perfectly ordinary people to commit vast and extraordinary crimes on an industrial scale. The cabinet secretary reflected on that in her opening remarks, saying that we are “not born to hate”. Hatred is something that we learn, and we—all of us here now—cannot be complacent and must have the courage, as Mr Johnson has shown, to call out hatred and prejudice wherever we see it, because, as the cabinet secretary said:
“peace, progress and tolerance cannot be taken for granted”—
not here; not now; not anywhere.
Those who were sent to the death camps lost their possessions, their loved ones, their family members, their clothes, their shoes—even their hair. They were deformed by starvation. They were enslaved in hard labour. They were tattooed with a number. They lost their names, their identities. They were stripped naked in the snow and ice with nothing but their own arms to warm them, alone in huge numbers. This was mass, systematic, organised murder on an unprecedented scale. At Auschwitz, about which we have heard so much today, in August 1944, 24,000 people were murdered in a single day, and those people were not prisoners of war. The war had nothing to do with it. They were just people whom a Government wanted to annihilate because that Government hated Jews.
I have never been to Auschwitz, but I have been to Yad Vashem, which is 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—which Ruth Davidson spoke about—and outraged defiance.
I have not been to Auschwitz because one day, when they are old enough, I am going to take my children there. My children are Jewish. They have all attended, and two of them still are attending, Scotland’s only Jewish primary school: the superb Calderwood Lodge, which now shares a campus with a Roman Catholic school. We think that it might be the only joint Jewish-Catholic primary school campus in the world. It is a very special place. Like St Roch’s in Glasgow, about which we heard at time for reflection, Calderwood Lodge takes Holocaust teaching seriously. Every year, primary 7 pupils from Calderwood Lodge go to Amsterdam for a few days, where they visit the Anne Frank museum and learn at first hand at the feet of Holocaust survivors.
No matter how much you think you know about the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people, you realise within a few minutes of being at a place such as Auschwitz or Yad Vashem that you will only ever be able to scratch the surface of the unimaginable pain that it caused. Of course, the resolution that burns throughout all of us as we walk through those places, as we bear witness, as we think and reflect, is: 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.16:52
The debate has been remarkable. Every speaker and every contribution has been powerful and impactful. Regardless of political party, we unite to stand here today in solidarity against bigotry and intolerance, recognising the inhuman violence that they can cause if they are left unchallenged. The debate has allowed us not just to offer mealy-mouthed messages of never forgetting, but to resolve to be actively anti-racist and anti-fascist; to unite as political leaders to not just speak out against hate but, instead, use our privileged positions to influence, to advocate for positive change and to back up our words with deeds and actions.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust memorial day, “stand together”, helps us all to focus on what we can and must do to prevent those atrocities from happening again. Although it is the responsibility of every individual, it is, as Pauline McNeill pointed out, especially significant for those of us who are leaders and politicians. We have the privilege of being in positions where our actions and words can have influence. The debate has shown that, here in this Parliament, we have chosen to use those positions collectively to reject hate and to help to shape the inclusive and welcoming society in which we want to live and in which we want our children to grow up.
The debate has also revealed the ultimate price of turning a blind eye to politicians or political leaders whose actions create fear, legitimise oppression and othering, or breed hatred and contempt. That fear is seen all too often, as Ross Greer and others have pointed out, in the continued festering antisemitism in too many countries and communities here and around the world, and in the worrying and increasing confidence that fascists have as a result of the increasing legitimacy that political discourse has created.
Commemorations should not only be about remembering the past, but should act as a lesson for generations to come about the need to confront prejudice and hatred. We must work together in our communities nationally and internationally to promote understanding, recognise diversity and challenge discrimination, to ensure that the burden of bearing witness that Iain Gray described, which is often demanded of survivors who have to relive their horror, is heeded and brings about the positive change that we seek. That is the very least that survivors should expect and deserve.
The horrific roll call of genocide and mass annihilation based on ethnicity that followed the Holocaust serves to show just how much work has yet to be done. Ruth Davidson described how the world failed in its obligation to take responsibility for the protection of others that so many had fought for, and Iain Gray and Kenneth Gibson described the failures of the UN in protecting those who faced persecution.
The debate has also rightly discussed the banality of evil. Much of what we remember this week is not just the actions of political leaders or troops but the banality of that evil. Alex Cole-Hamilton described the terrifying acts that can be committed by humdrum men, and Tom Arthur described the false reassurances that were offered to those entering Auschwitz and other camps by troops who were facilitating their murder. Kenneth Gibson reminded us that architects—educated people—designed the death camps. The education that we often cherish as being a protective factor against racism and hatred was not so in that case. The banality of evil is, unfortunately, a perfect summation of what we mark and remember today.
All the themes that we have discussed today—how we remember the past, honour those who died, heed the words of those who survived, and work for a better world—point to the importance of the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust.
We remain committed to supporting learning about the Holocaust, in line with the values of the curriculum for excellence, which has compassion at its core. We continue to support the Holocaust Educational Trust’s lessons from Auschwitz programme, as we have done for the past 10 years.
The Holocaust Educational Trust does excellent work and has been rightly singled out by members during this debate. It is crucial to see the trust’s work first hand; its impact and reach are ever-more important. It is not easy work. Working with young people, the trust tackles an issue that is horrifying and distressing, and confrontation with such inhumanity is painful. However, the young people who participate in the programme become Holocaust ambassadors and share their experience and reflections with fellow pupils. I will be attending an event at Lanark grammar school this week.
As the lived memory of the Holocaust fades, it becomes crucial that we ensure that each and every generation to come continues to understand and reflect on the culmination of oppression, hate, othering, racism and fascism and that we instil in our young people the desire to want something different: a world that is open-minded, peaceful, loving and kind. That would be a fitting legacy for those whom we saw bearing witness yesterday—possibly for the last time—to ensure that they are reassured that we will not forget, turn a blind eye or walk on the other side. We can all agree with Ross Greer’s message to never stop educating.
Although Scotland is an open and inclusive nation, as too many have described, and as too many colleagues have experienced, unfortunately we are not immune from hateful behaviour or prejudiced attitudes. Although I was glad to announce £500,000 for the places of worship fund with Humza Yousaf the other day, Anas Sarwar is right—that is something that I wish I did not have to do. However, faith communities need to feel that their Government supports them, has listened to them and cherishes them.
We can never be complacent about antisemitism or any form of prejudice or discrimination. We still have much to do to create a truly welcoming and inclusive society that promotes equality and human rights. That is about how can we use the lessons of Auschwitz to guide our approach to how we look after and support refugees, and how we recognise the consequences of global political conflict and the need for us to provide sanctuary to those who are fleeing persecution as a result.
We must keep at the forefront of our minds that hatred and prejudice do not happen in a vacuum, but are driven by people who deliberately turn communities against each other.
Holocaust memorial day in Scotland provides an opportunity to learn from the past and encourages us to work together to tackle hatred and prejudice so that we can create a stronger, more inclusive future for everyone.
Daniel Johnson emotionally addressed the challenges that are felt in his party and sent a message to his colleagues that his party should be held to a higher standard, and Anas Sarwar talked about the things that unite rather than separate us. Perhaps, given that coming together, we should all treat each other a bit better and collectively ensure that our Parliament is held to a higher standard to show that politics can be better and that politics here in Scotland can be kinder.
Our commitment to promoting and supporting Holocaust memorial day demonstrates our collective resolve to stand in solidarity with victims of genocide and of other terrible human rights abuses around the world. We must keep alive the memory of such genocides, and never forget the consequences of bigotry and intolerance.
By keeping memories and stories alive, we honour those who have suffered. It is a vital reminder of the consequences of unchecked prejudice, and that our vision of an inclusive society should never be taken for granted. It is an important spur to action. It should encourage us to do everything in our power to stand together to challenge prejudice, tackle discrimination and celebrate diversity, because ultimately that is the best possible tribute that we can pay to those whom we remember today.
The spirit has been invoked of Plato, John Stuart Mill and Robert Burns—wise men who we must also heed. I am proud that Scotland’s national hero, our national bard, was not a man of war but of poetry and prose that espouse messages of love and kindness. I can think of no better tribute to those who survived the Holocaust—and the memory of those who did not—than that we build a country with that as the hallmark of how we create a better future. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate.