Why the fight must still go on

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - HMD IAN AUSTIN, MP

DUDLEY IS known for its in­dus­trial her­itage, unique zoo and cas­tle — or even for be­ing Sir Lenny Henry’s birth­place. But few JC read­ers will know that the town also hosts one of the largest acts of Holo­caust re­mem­brance in the coun­try.

Ten years ago, as a newly elected MP, I was in­vited to the lo­cal Holo­caust me­mo­rial at the li­brary. Just six of us lis­tened to prayers —no one else had been told the event was tak­ing place. Next week, hun­dreds of peo­ple — pen­sion­ers and stu­dents, coun­cil­lors and of­fi­cials, res­i­dents and those work­ing in the town — will gather at Dudley Col­lege to re­mem­ber the vic­tims of his­tory’s great­est crime.

Our Mayor and Bishop will join lead­ers of the Mus­lim, Hindu and Sikh com­mu­ni­ties in light­ing a can­dle of re­mem­brance. But the rabbi has to travel from Birm­ing­ham be­cause there is no Jewish com­mu­nity in Dudley.

We’ve sent out thou­sands of emails and let­ters, invit­ing lo­cal schools to send stu­dents; work­ing with com­mu­nity groups, char­i­ties, lo­cal cam­paigns and trade unions, and ask­ing churches, tem­ples and mosques to no­tify their mem­bers. We or­gan­ise other events to pro­mote the me­mo­rial and its mes­sage, this week hold­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion of draw­ings of Auschwitz by lo­cal artist Robert Perry.

But the main rea­son the event has grown is be­cause peo­ple want to hear di­rect from sur­vivors whom the Holo­caust Ed­u­ca­tional Trust ar­ranges to speak each year. This year, we will lis­ten as Su­san Pol­lack tells us how mem­bers of her fam­ily were mur­dered and how she sur­vived to come to Bri­tain. In the past, Han­nah Lewis, Zigi Ship­per, Mala Tribich, Eva Clarke and Joanna Mil­lan have been among those shar­ing their har­row­ing tes­ti­mony. The Trust and its sup­port­ers should be in no doubt about the im­pact their work has.

Th­ese events do not just al­low us to learn about the great­est crime ever per­pe­trated in the dark­est hours of the 20th cen­tury and help en­sure th­ese hor­ren­dous crimes are never for­got­ten, but mo­ti­vate us to ded­i­cate our­selves to op­pose the ugly poi­son of racial or religious prej­u­dice and ha­tred when­ever it oc­curs.

Stu­dents who have taken part in the Trust’s Lessons From Auschwitz pro­gramme are also in­volved. It is amaz­ing to hear young peo­ple with no per­sonal re­la­tion­ship to the Holo­caust but who are so com­mit­ted to shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ence with their peers and our com­mu­nity. I’ve seen young peo­ple re­turn from those vis­its and go out cam­paign­ing against racism and work to build a stronger and more united com­mu­nity.

Other res­i­dents have be­come much more in­volved in com­mu­nity cam­paigns as a re­sult of at­tend­ing th­ese com­mem­o­ra­tions. Some have be­come so in­ter­ested they have taken it upon them­selves to travel to Poland and visit Auschwitz.

So, given there is no Jewish com­mu­nity in Dudley, the fact that this event is now part of our civic cal­en­dar shows that the Holo­caust is rel­e­vant to ev­ery com­mu­nity in Bri­tain.

Lis­ten­ing to Han­nah, Mala, Zigi, Joanna and Eva ex­plain how their child­hoods were shat­tered and fam­i­lies torn apart has taught us that the Holo­caust didn’t start with gas cham­bers and the mass, in­dus­trial slaugh­ter of six mil­lion peo­ple but with peo­ple spread­ing ha­tred, di­vid­ing com­mu­ni­ties, re­strict­ing religious free­dom and des­e­crat­ing places of wor­ship.

So when ex­trem­ists — the EDL, the BNP and oth­ers — try to di­vide our multi-eth­nic, multi-faith com­mu­nity on the ba­sis of what peo­ple look like, where they were born or how they wor­ship, events like next Fri­day’s re­mind us that it is be­cause of who we are as a peo­ple and what we are as a coun­try that Bri­tish peo­ple came to­gether and stood up to the Nazis and laid down their lives for free­dom.

When other coun­tries rounded up Jewish cit­i­zens and herded them on to trains to the gas cham­ber, Bri­tain pro­vided a haven for tens of thou­sands of refugee chil­dren. In 1941, with Europe over­run and Amer­ica not yet in the war, one coun­try — Bri­tain —stood alone for free­dom and democ­racy, fight­ing not just for our free­dom, but for the world’s. And it was Bri­tish troops, men from places like Dudley, who lib­er­ated some of those camps, res­cu­ing in­mates from death, many of whom, like the sur­vivors we have been priv­i­leged to lis­ten to in Dudley, have gone on to make an enor­mous con­tri­bu­tion to our coun­try.

Events like next Fri­day’s com­mem­o­ra­tion teach us that what makes you Bri­tish is not what you look like, where you or your par­ents were born, your race or your re­li­gion, but the way you be­have and what you be­lieve. What makes you Bri­tish is your be­lief in democ­racy, equal­ity, free­dom, fair­ness and tol­er­ance and the con­tri­bu­tion you make to your com­mu­nity and your coun­try.

So, next week, as we re­mem­ber th­ese ter­ri­ble events and pay our re­spects to all who suf­fered in the Holo­caust and in other more re­cent geno­cides, peo­ple in Dudley and across Bri­tain will ded­i­cate them­selves again to fight racism, prej­u­dice wher­ever it is found — and that’s the best pos­si­ble trib­ute we can pay to the mem­ory of those who were mur­dered over 70 years ago. On Jan­uary 27 to mark Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Day, stu­dents, teach­ers and mem­bers of the pub­lic will be in­vited to tune in to hear the live tes­ti­mony of Rudi Op­pen­heimer, via we­b­cast, for the first time. You can reg­is­ter at: http://www. het.org.uk/sur­vivor-tes­ti­mony-we­b­cast

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