Survivors of the Shoah, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me to be with you today to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the publication of Anne Frank’s diary.
Like so many others, I first read Anne’s diary at about the same age as she was when she started her harrowing memoire. Anne had an exceptional gift with words. She had seen their power to promote great evil, but also recognised their ability to offer comfort, meaning and hope. And, as a writer, she, posthumously, achieved everything she aspired to. On 5th April 1944, she wrote, “I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me!”. Her life, and her death, continue to inspire a worldwide movement of anti-prejudice education, including the Anne Frank Trust here in the UK.
I have just had the pleasure of meeting a few of the thousands of pupils the Trust reaches every year in schools across the country. Their understanding of the past, and their dedication to a better future, are a testament to all of you who support the work of the Anne Frank Trust to speak out against prejudice of any kind.
But Anne’s story is, of course, one of six million. Six million stories that need also to be told, heard and remembered to honour those lives that were lost; and to force us to understand the consequences of extreme hatred. In January 2020, I had the solemn privilege of visiting Auschwitz on the 75th anniversary of its liberation. I will never forget the speech given on that occasion by a survivor of the camp, Marian Turski. He spoke of the encroaching laws that discriminated against the Jewish people throughout the 1930s in Nazi Germany: not to sit on park benches; not to swim in swimming pools; not to join choral societies; not to go shopping until after 5 o’clock. He described how people (victims, perpetrators and witnesses) can gradually become de-sensitised to the exclusion, the stigmatization and the alienation of those who have previously been friends. Marian warned us that this can happen again. But he gave us, too, the answer to preventing it. “You should never, never be a bystander”.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let us not be bystanders to injustice or prejudice. After all, surely our personal values are measured by the things we are prepared to ignore. Let us therefore learn from those who bore witness to the horrors of the Holocaust, and all subsequent genocides, and commit ourselves to keeping their stories alive, so that each generation will be ready to tackle hatred in any of its terrible forms. And let us carry with us the words and wisdom Anne Frank (a child of only 14 years old) wrote on 7th May 1944: “What is done cannot be undone, but at least one can prevent it from happening again”.