The Holocaust Educational Trust's Lord Merlyn-Rees Lecture, Monday 20th January 2014

I was delighted to once again be invited to the Holocaust Educational Trust's (HET) annual lecture, dedicated to the memory of the late Lord Merlyn-Rees, co-founder of the Trust. The lecture's audience seems to grow year-on-year; on this occasion, HET Ambassadors and other younger audience members had to sit on the floor at the front of the room in Portcullis House to accommodate the large number of guests!

The evening began with a welcome from CEO of the Trust Karen Pollock, followed by this video showcasing the last 25 years of the Trust and the significant progress made in Holocaust education during that time. The audience then heard from Ed Vaizey MP. Mr Vaizey talked about his on-going support for the Trust, citing family connections to the Holocaust and how important remembering such an atrocity continues to be.
I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of the newly-appointed Regional Ambassadors at the lecture last year. This year Emma Raynor, a fellow Regional Ambassador, was asked to deliver a speech on her experiences of volunteering with HET since completing the Lessons from Auschwitz Project and what the Regional Ambassadors have undertaken since being granted their positions. Emma had been seated next to Lord Browne of Madingley, the Head of the recently-launched Ambassador Programme, and I am pleased to say that he looked impressed when hearing about our work over the last year!

The main part of the evening was dedicated to an interview between Martha Kearney and Thomas Harding. Mr Harding's book 'Hanns and Rudolf' was published towards the end of 2013 and intertwines the stories of Rudolf Höss, Kommandant of Auschwitz, with Hanns Alexander, Harding's own great-uncle. It was only at the latter's funeral in 2006 that Harding discovered his great-uncle had been part of the team that had captured Höss whilst he was posing as a farmer in northern Germany after the war. Far too much was said for me to go into great detail in one blog, but both the story of Hanns Alexander and how Mr Harding came to wrote the book were absolutely fascinating. I certainly intend to read the book at some point in the near future; it was nominated for the 2013 Costa Book Prize and has received extremely positive reviews, such as this review by Professor Richard Overy in The Telegraph.

The evening came to a close with Viscount Younger of Leckie reading a tribute to the late Lord Archer of Sandwell QC, who died in 2012. Lord Archer had a long and illustrious career in Parliament, which included a role as Chairman of the Government's Enemy Property Claims Assessment Panel (EPCAP). In this position, Lord Archer was able to obtain compensation for many Holocaust survivors and their families, whose assets were seized by the British government during the war under the Trading with the Enemy Act. He held this position until he was 83. Lord Archer also served in the Labour Shadow Cabinet in the early 1980s and, as an advocate for human rights, was once on the panel for Amnesty International. Viscount Younger paid tribute to his tireless efforts to obtain compensation for Holocaust survivors and also to his wife, who was present in the audience, for all her patience over the years.

A small reception was held afterwards, with photographs being taken of Ambassadors, Regional Ambassadors and survivors. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to truly come to terms with being able to be photographed and share a joke with an elderly Holocaust survivor, such as Zigi Shipper, after all they have been through. I was also very touched by Susan Pollack after a group of us greeted her. "You really are all doing a wonderful job," she said. "I think you're all amazing people."
To be thanked and called "amazing" by a survivor of the Holocaust is high praise indeed.

About the Speakers

Ed Vaizey MP
Ed Vaizey is MP for Didcot and Wantage. He is also the current Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Martha Kearney
Martha Kearney is a well-known BBC presenter and journalist. She currently presents Radio 4's The World at One and the television programme The Review Show. She has interviewed many politicians as well as Prime Ministers past and present, and has been nominated for a BAFTA for coverage of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Kearney's late mother-in-law was a Holocaust survivor, and she has supported the Trust for many years, including hosting last year's Lord Merlyn-Rees lecture and the Appeal Dinner in September 2013.

Thomas Harding
Thomas Harding is a British journalist, videographer and writer who splits his time between America and the UK. 'Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz' is his third book.

Viscount Younger of Leckie
Viscount Younger is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Intellectual Property in the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. He is also a member of the House of Lords.