On 21 March I travelled to the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland with the Holocaust Education Trust and a group of young people from Dulwich and West Norwood and South London.
I learned about the Holocaust as a teenager at school in the North-West of England, every year in January I commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, and I have met and spoken to a number of Holocaust survivors. Yet nothing quite prepared me for visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. The museum which has been created at the sites of the two camps which formed Auschwitz-Birkenau communicates very powerfully the horrific scale of the mass persecution and killing which took place there, but the displays of personal belongings stolen from the prisoners – a handmade child’s dress, a decorated cup and bowl, thousands of pairs of shoes – also remind us that each and every person who was murdered by the Nazis was an individual with their own story, their loved ones, their talents, their struggles and their hopes.
The part I found most moving, in a day which was extremely emotional, was an installation of cine films showing Jewish families before the war, celebrating, eating together, going on holiday, just like families the world over. A reminder of the utter senselessness of the evil and cowardly acts inflicted during the Holocaust. The only reason that these Jewish families ended up in Auschwitz-Birkenau was a deep and organised prejudice and hatred, dividing neighbours and communities and ultimately determining who lived and who died.
We were joined on our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau by a Rabbi, who spoke very powerfully to the young people on the trip about the responsibility that each of us has to bear witness to what we have seen, and to use our testimony to fight prejudice, discrimination and hatred wherever we find it.
Returning to Parliament, I was distressed to see concerns being raised about antisemitism in the Labour Party by Jewish leaders – there is absolutely no place for antisemitism in the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn has written acknowledging the scale and nature of the problem, and making a commitment to address it. We must now see action at every level in the Labour Party to ensure that antisemitism is driven out wherever it is found, and we must work with Jewish leaders and communities to rebuild trust and confidence.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is an horrific reminder of where unchecked hatred and prejudice can lead, and also of the personal responsibility that all of us bear to act to stop it whenever we find it.