Thoughts on the Prime Minister's Holocaust Commission Report

I felt extremely privileged to be invited to last week's national Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in central London. As we mark 70 years since Auschwitz's liberation, the ceremony finally got the attention it should receive every year. It was broadcast on the BBC; familiar faces such as Sir John Hurt, Michael Palin and Christopher Eccleston read excerpts from survivor testimony; most importantly, around 200 Holocaust survivors gathered to remember and reflect on what took place in central Europe in the 1930s and '40s.

Prime Minister David Cameron also took to the stage and made a speech about the importance of remembering the Holocaust. This time last year, he set up his own National Holocaust Commission, chaired by Mick Davis and composed of figures as diverse as actress Helena Bonham Carter, newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, survivor Ben Helfgott and my university professor, David Cesarani. Therefore, I fully expected an announcement on the Commission's results during the ceremony, and eagerly sat forward in my chair when I heard the words 'Commission' and 'Report'.

Prime Minister David Cameron speaking at last week's Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony

The results of the Commission did not disappoint. In his speech, the Prime Minster pledged:
- a Holocaust memorial in central London;
- a learning centre next to the memorial, with the most up-to-date technology and resources;
- an endowment fund, securing Holocaust education in schools in the UK;
- a new visual archive of survivor testimony;
- the creation of the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Fund.
To shape all these elements, he also pledged £50million, which will hopefully be expanded upon by public fundraising. You can read the Commission's full report here.

£50million! I will admit, there were tears, from myself and from some of my fellow Regional Ambassadors. Tears of utter relief, and of happiness, that we will be able to show the world that Britain really does care about preserving the memory of the Holocaust. Additionally, I was part of a small group of Regional Ambassadors that wrote and submitted a proposal to the Commission with regards to a Holocaust museum or learning centre being built. Of course, it wasn't just our report that influenced the Commission, but it is an incredible feeling to know that it at least contributed to this decision.

I am yet to hear the enraged cries from critics of the Commission and their report, but I am certain they will come. £50million, they will say. Why on earth are we spending that much money on memorialising the Holocaust when it didn't even happen here? What about all the other things that need funding? To them, I would say the following:

It is true that this country is having to cut back on budgets in various areas, but this £50 million will not disappear overnight. It will be gradually spent as the construction of the memorial and learning centre take place, and a certain amount will be put aside for the crucial education that is needed in this country. No, the Holocaust didn't happen here - but it could have done. Jews were deported to Auschwitz from as close as the Channel Islands. If Britain hadn't been able to hold the Germans back, it could have been British and foreign Jews living here being shipped off to central Europe and transported in cattle wagons to the Nazis' factories of death.
Thankfully, we didn't experience that in our country. But what about the British soldiers that liberated places like Bergen-Belsen, and what they have had to live with for the rest of their lives? What about the Holocaust survivors that settled here in Britain after the war, who have contributed to our society and paid their taxes? What about the Kindertransports, the Jewish children that fled Germany and other countries to live here, never to see their parents again? It takes very little thought to realise just how much of an impact the Holocaust has had on this country, even if mass murder did not take place on our own soil.
Furthermore, this learning centre will educate both the British public and visitors to London about the horrors of the Holocaust and what can happen when racism, prejudice and discrimination are left unchecked. Look at all these recent incidents of anti-Semitism, homophobia and Islamophobia in Britain - young people need to be aware of the consequences of where these things can lead before they, too, follow suit. It will show the rest of the world that the United Kingdom is dedicated to tolerance and educating future generations about a past which is still in living memory for some people now living here. And, with any luck, the learning centre and memorial will be open for a long time to come, and not hidden away like the memorial in Hyde Park (a sorry excuse for a memorial to so many innocent, murdered people).

Most of the time, I am proud to be a Brit, and this latest report is one of those occasions. I can only hope to be able to play some part in these new resources when they are available, and pass on the stories of the survivors who, sadly, may not still be around when the memorial and learning centre are finally opened to the public.