The Lord Merlyn-Rees Lecture, Monday 21st January 2013

The end of January is an excessively busy time in terms of Holocaust education, mostly due to the commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January. In the first of a few events I have been invited to participate in, Monday 21st January 2013 saw the Holocaust Educational Trust's annual Lord Merlyn-Rees Memorial Lecture. The event took place in Westminster and featured speeches, conversation and questions from the audience.

The evening was hosted by Martha Kearney. She welcomed guests, among them Holocaust survivors, before introducing the Trust's very moving 2012 Appeal Film. You can watch the 10-minute film here.
It was then time for the Trust's Ambassadors. Three of us gave separate speeches, detailing our participation in the 'Lessons from Auschwitz' Project and the steps we have taken, and will take, to carry on the important legacy of Holocaust education. One of the Ambassadors had also met Prime Minister David Cameron that morning so that he could sign the Trust's Book of Commitment.

Once we had finished our speeches, the main part of the evening got underway. This was an 'In Conversation with' session featuring David Miliband MP and David Finkelstein, Executive Editor of The Times. Both of them have family links to the Holocaust, which you can read about below.
Miliband and Finkelstein outlined their family history and both announced their ongoing support for the Trust's work. They talked about not seeing themselves as "second generation victims", but that they would also educate their own children about the Holocaust in relation to what had happened in their own families. They answered questions involving Holocaust education in the UK, incidents of racism in other European countries, and how they intend to keep the lessons being learned after all the survivors have gone (a particularly tough question, especially as it was asked by an actual survivor).
The evening was then closed by Karen Pollock, Executive Director of the Holocaust Educational Trust, who gave her thanks to all those in attendance and those who continue to support the vital work of the Trust.

The event sparked a great deal of interesting conversation and I am extremely pleased to say that I was able to be a part of it. As ever, it was humbling to be able to stand up and speak about such a subject in front of a number of Holocaust survivors. I am now looking forward to events coming up during the next couple of weeks, to different audiences and in different places, helping to commemorate the Holocaust and spread word regarding its important lessons.

About the Speakers

Martha Kearney
Martha Kearney is a TV and radio presenter for the BBC, particularly covering politics. She has won awards for dispatches on child poverty and coverage of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
Kearney's late mother-in-law was born in Romania and survived both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

David Miliband MP

Born in 1965, David Miliband was quick to point out he was born "only 20 years after the Holocaust ended". He is a Labour MP for South Shields and lectures for both A Level and university students.
Miliband's family originated in Poland but his grandfather moved to Belgium after World War One. Being of Jewish origin, he and Miliband's father, Ralph, emigrated to London to escape the Nazis before they invaded Belgium. His grandmother and great aunt also survived the war after being hidden by a Catholic family whilst still in Belgium. David's father once told him he lost 42 relatives during the Holocaust.
On the other side of the family there was also trouble. His mother was also Polish and was eventually sent to a ghetto. In 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and its inhabitants sent to Treblinka, but David's mother went into hiding and survived the Holocaust. Her grandparents and father, however, were murdered.

Daniel Finkelstein
Daniel Finkelstein has worked in politics, once the political advisor to William Hague, and has himself run for an MP position. He is now the Executive Editor of The Times newspaper.
Daniel's grandfather was the famous Albert Wiener, a German who set up what is now the Wiener Library in London. It is one of the best collections of Holocaust research and information in the world. He moved to England when he began to foresee the future for the Jews of Europe when the Nazis seized power.
Daniel's mother was raised in Holland and went to school with both Anne and Margot Frank. She, along with her mother and sisters, were unable to travel to London after the visas Albert Wiener obtained for his family did not work. They were sent to Westerbork camp and later to Bergen-Belsen. The family actually saw the Frank sisters arriving at the camp (where both later died), one of the only pieces of eyewitness testimony in relation to this event.
Daniel's family managed to leave Bergen-Belsen in a prisoner exchange by acquiring fake Paraguayan passports. They made for America before settling in London after the war. Sadly, however, his grandmother died before their journey was over.