In the summer of 1988, before starting sixth form, I read one of our set texts, ‘Schindler’s Ark’.  It was professionally recorded for the RNIB’s talking book library and it impacted me profoundly. Keneally caught all of it. So powerfully, so appallingly, so accurately. Civilisation paused, put aside, gone away, not here.

I listened to every word and it seared into my soul. The places, faces, sounds, smells were more present, more immediate than the morning sunshine streaming, unnoticed through my bedroom window. We had covered the Holocaust at primary, then again at secondary school, but it was Keneally, and soon after, Amis in ‘Time’s Arrow’ that convinced me of how low, so called, humanity can go.

It is to remember this that I wanted to put down a question for debate to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. My question, I hope, underlines why remembering is so important.

to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to Holocaust Memorial Day, what steps they are taking to improve education in schools about the Holocaust in order to promote tolerance, and to combat racism

Oral Question tabled by Lord Holmes, House of Lords, Wednesday 27th January, 2021
Lord Holmes of Richmond, House of Lords, Wednesday 27th January, 2021

My Lords, survivors play such a profound role in our education programmes. As their numbers become fewer can I ask my noble friends the minister what steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to ensure that all of their testimony is taken down, transformed through all modern means -not least AI (Artificial Intelligence), AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) – to ensure that all that testimony is available for future generations forever. My Lords, six million reasons.

Lord Holmes of Richmond, House of Lords, Wednesday 27th January, 2021.

The Minister responded that the Government has funded several initiatives including the new National Memorial and the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Newark which she said does use AI to capture survivor testimony. The Minister also highlighted that the Holocaust is the only compulsory topic in the history curriculum although, as colleagues pointed out, academies do not have to teach the curriculum so it is unclear how many schools are actually teaching children about the Holocaust.

Organisations such as Protection Approaches, a London-based charity working to prevent all identity based violence, offer support to schools to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. They provide interactive workshops and assemblies that examine history through the perspectives of perpetrators, victims and rescuers from the Holocaust, as well as contemporary examples of prejudice and hate from within communities in the UK. They report that these sessions are a powerful way to inspire young people to be leaders on tackling community divides.

And this education, this learning must be life-long learning, it can never end.  Look at the world today: populism, protectionism, discrimination, State sponsored death, racism: we must learn, learn, learn.  As Thomas Keneally perfectly puts it in the prologue, “we won’t always be on such safe ground”.  So it is, for so many right now, today.  It is for all of us to do what we can, to see the power of democracy and democratic institutions and such consequences where they founder or fail.

On campus’, in coffee shops and against so many different religions, beliefs, peoples.  How to find the right words to rail against the fascists?  Keneally found them. He found the words in the actions of one man and we must find them, always, in the actions of us all.  Survivors hold onto life and then are gone, memories fade, direct testimony dies and it could so easily seem a long time ago.  In reality, it is not one heartbeat, one breath ago in the sweep of human history.  The huts, the horror. We should all feel it, taste it, the stench of when civilisation is lost. Not in some far off land, but here in the centre of Europe and in us.  

We have Six Million reasons

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