An Open Letter to Theresa May

Prime Minister,

I was born, and have lived, in the U.K. all my life. I believe I was raised with what you would energetically term 'British values' - tolerance, liberty, and respect for democracy. I have chosen to dedicate my life to the study of the Holocaust, whilst also raising awareness and educating others on the subject. This overwhelmingly complex and tragic event in human history dismissed all such values, and so it is vital to teach British citizens about the Nazi genocide of the Jews to safeguard such values in our own society.

I was at the national Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration ceremony in 2015, when former Prime Minister David Cameron announced the creation of a £50 million national Holocaust memorial and learning centre in London. To say I was delighted at the news would be an understatement. Whilst I recognise the tremendous work that organisations such as The National Holocaust Centre, The Wiener Library and the Imperial War Museum carry out in this area, I welcomed the dedication to the cause shown by the Prime Minister and his assertion that the project would be cross-party and involve a wide range of figures that lead the field in British Holocaust education and awareness.

Two years later, the location for the centre has been announced and the shortlist of 10 designs has been unveiled. The memorial and subterranean learning centre will stand next door to the Houses of Parliament, a strong political statement reflecting the government's unwavering stance on tackling prejudice and intolerance, and protecting democracy. Or is it?

Every year, the Holocaust Educational Trust places a Book of Commitment in the Houses of Parliament for all MPs to sign, renewing their pledge to remember the events of the Holocaust and to carry its lessons forward. This year, you wrote:

'...Our commitment to remember the Holocaust is about more than words — it is about action. It is about raising awareness, spreading understanding, ensuring the memory of the Holocaust lives on, and standing up to prejudice and hatred wherever it is found today ... Together we will educate every generation to learn from the past and to take responsibility for shaping a better, brighter future in which through our actions, as well as our words, we truly never forget.'

Just 24 hours later, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning citizens of certain countries from travelling to America. We all read the news - men and women who have lived and worked for America for years, but happen to come from countries such as Iran, Yemen and Syria were stopped at American airports and, in some cases, asked for the details of their social media accounts and questioned. Trump might have claimed this was to stop the threat of terrorism (although it's interesting, isn't it, that no American has been killed by a citizen from the seven affected countries in a terrorist attack since at least 1975, and that Trump has no business interests with any of them?) but the rest of the world saw the ban for what it is: an attack on civil liberties and human rights. Trump continues to make it clear that if you are not a white, middle-class American man, your life is going to get increasingly more difficult and you will be increasingly marginalised.

So, Prime Minister, having written about 'standing up to prejudice and hatred wherever it is found today', surely you jumped in and condemned such vile actions?
No. When initially asked to comment, you said, “The United States is responsible for the United States’ own policy on refugees”, reluctantly later saying you "don't agree" with the ban only in the wake of public outrage.

What about Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, Prime Minister, putting pressure on its Jewish residents to emigrate, before they decided to annihilate those who remained together with all the Jews of Europe? Was that also simply 'their responsibility'? In 1938/39, we didn't know that the Nazis would murder six million Jews and millions of disabled people, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, political prisoners, 'asocials', Roma and Sinti people etc. Would you have just ignored their plight in the same way? Although it is highly unlikely we are talking about genocide, the situation in America against the Muslim population and those from the Middle East is only going to get worse. Are you going to refrain from commenting, only to say it's still America's responsibility? I know critics would argue that you are trying to maintain the 'special relationship' between our two countries - whatever that means nowadays - but turning a blind eye to the degradation of people, particularly those in need, is inexcusable.

Which leads me to my other point. Yesterday, taking advantage of the noise of Brexit and Article 50, it was quietly announced that Britain would only take in 350 unaccompanied child refugees from Syria, as opposed to the thousands previously promised.
350? That is nothing. A mere drop in the ocean. I know that Holocaust analogies may have been somewhat overused recently, but here I shall refer to the Kindertransports of 1938 and 1939, when Britain took in almost 10,000 mainly Jewish child refugees from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. The late Sir Nicholas Winton and a couple of his colleagues organised the rescue of 669 Czech children on their own. Debate still goes on as to whether or not 10,000 children was good enough, not least debates regarding whether or not we should have accepted whole families or adults, most of which ultimately met their deaths in ghettos or in the gas chambers of the Nazi extermination centres. So how on earth can you justify bringing just 350 children into this country?

The war in Syria rages on. We have all seen drone footage showing what was once Aleppo, now just an empty shell, a mass of ruined buildings. Not so long ago, as the bombs fell over Syria, ordinary citizens posted heartbreaking farewells on social media, so sure that they would be killed and never see their loved ones again. In the meantime, those who have fled the country still try and find a safe passage to Western Europe, whatever means it takes.
After the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945, the British government announced it would take in 1,000 child survivors from the camps. Only 732 could be found. Is that the sort of legacy you want to leave? The government breaks its promise to take in children now, when they most need rescue and support, but maybe suggest a token intake once the blood on the streets of Syria has dried up and more innocent men, women and children have died?

Yes, this country has its own problems. We face crises over just about everything, it seems: Brexit; the NHS; housing; homelessness; the cost of living. But if you really want to live up to those British values you so adore, you have to actually defend and implement them.

It now seems to me that we cannot justify building a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in the U.K. in this situation. Its construction would ring of hollow words and empty promises. This learning centre can teach us absolutely nothing if those who lead our country - debating domestic and foreign policies literally a few hundred yards away - are ignorant of its lessons and will not apply them when they are needed most. I ask you, Prime Minister, to halt the creation of this memorial until you change your policies and opinions on both Trump and refugees. If you do not intend to change your mind whilst in office, perhaps scrap it altogether, or let someone else into Downing Street. I'm not going to pretend I know the ins and outs of politics - I admit to being fairly clueless about things like stamp duty and taxes - so, as someone training to be a Holocaust scholar, I urge you not to pretend you take this history to heart unless you actually act on the lessons and warnings it raises.