The Government is committed to ensuring that the reality of the Holocaust is never forgotten, that issues still outstanding, such as restitution of property stolen during the Holocaust, are resolved and that the right lessons are drawn for the world’s continuing struggle against prejudice and hatred. Sir Andrew Burns, the Foreign Secretary’s Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, heads the UK’s post-Holocaust work abroad. He is tasked to ensure that the UK plays a prominent role in international discussions on all Holocaust-related matters, especially those relating to education and the opening of archives, and that we continue to respond to the concerns of Holocaust victims and their families.
The UK was a founding member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF). The December plenary meeting of the ITF agreed to rename the ITF the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and warmly welcomed the Foreign Secretary’s agreement that the UK should assume the Chairmanship for the year 2014–15 in succession to Canada. The UK delegation, made up of government representatives, academics and NGOs, continued to play a leading role in the development of the IHRA’s multi-year work plans in 2012 and in its initiatives on more effective Holocaust education, the battle against Holocaust denial and trivialisation and researching and commemorating the sites of mass murder throughout Europe.
The IHRA seeks to ensure that its 31 member states improve the ways in which they teach, research and commemorate the Holocaust by asking each to report on how they are fulfilling their commitments under the 2000 Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust. The UK was asked to submit a report in 2012, among the first group of countries to be approached. Our report covered instances of Holocaust denial in the UK and other hate crimes and their relation to antisemitism, as well as inspiring examples of Holocaust research and education and the creation of memorials and museums. By giving a full, honest and frank account in our own country, we sought to set a high standard for annual self-criticism in future by other IHRA members.
The International Tracing Service (ITS) holds a vast, and unique, archive from the era of National Socialism, consisting of millions of personal records from wartime concentration camps and post-war displaced persons’ camps in the three Allied sectors of Germany, as well as the results of extensive enquiries into individual cases made over the past 65 years. The UK played a central role in the creation of the ITS, which is supervised by an International Commission of 11 member governments. The archive and tracing service have been run on the International Commission’s behalf since 1955 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), but with the increasing focus on public access, research and education, the ICRC decided to withdraw from the role of directing the archive at the end of 2012. Sir Andrew Burns led the recruitment process to secure a new Director. The appointment of Professor Rebecca Boehling from the University of Maryland in the United States marks a new era in the management of the ITS. The FCO and the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide have also been arranging for the Wiener Library to hold and administer for public access a full digital copy of the ITS archive.
The European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI), set up by the Terezin Declaration of 2009, was established by the Czech government to address a number of outstanding Holocaust issues, including the difficult questions surrounding property restitution, including communal and private real estate and looted cultural property. At the Prague Immoveable Property Review Conference in 2012, the UK pressed participating governments to adopt practical and constructive measures of restitution rather than yet further declarations of principle and intent. In 2013, ESLI plans to convene a conference on the social welfare of Holocaust survivors.
In December, the Foreign Secretary marked the 70th anniversary of the UN declaration of 17 December 1942 by Sir Anthony Eden and 11 other wartime allies condemning Nazi extermination of the Jews in the strongest possible terms. The statement gave rise to public and parliamentary discussion in the UK and among the United Nations about what could be done to stop the genocide and had a strong impact on subsequent allied planning for the post-war trials of Nazi leaders.
The Holocaust remains an event sufficiently recent in time that there are survivors who still bear witness to the events which threatened to exterminate the Jewish people, the Roma and Sinti and many other vulnerable groups. It has left an indelible scar across Europe and is a perpetual reminder of the need for all governments to stand up against antisemitism, racism, prejudice, religious hatred, xenophobia and discrimination. In order to enhance understanding of the lessons of history and to enable informed policy formulation, the FCO has begun a training programme on the history of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Europe, Asia and Africa. We are also piloting a new training course with the London Jewish Cultural Centre on the nature of prejudice and the individual and collective response to it, and featuring testimonies from both a Russian Jewish Partisan from World War II and a survivor from the Rwandan genocide.
We will also mark the 75th anniversary in 2013 of the Kindertransport, when 10,000 Jewish and other children came to this country from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to escape Nazi persecution and almost certain death.