I commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) once again with the Saddleworth Peace Group in Uppermill last Sunday. This year we were joined by the Mayor and Mayoress of Oldham, Cllr Ateeque Ur-Rehman and Cllr Yasmin Toor, as well as Youth Mayor, Saskia Edwards.
Every year we mark the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazi’s persecution of Jewish people during the Second World War; we also remember subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. We come together to reinforce the message that we must never forget these horrors, but learn from them to prevent them in the future.
This year with the theme ‘DON’T STAND BY’ we remembered that whilst state-driven policies of persecution were and are actively supported by some, most people just stand by, silent. At best this is often through fear, at worst, indifference.
I was reminded how powerful Holocaust survivor and philosopher, Elie Wiesel’s words were on the impact of bystanders. He said:
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings are enduring suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”.
I’ve spoken and written many times of the humiliation, vilification and poverty social security claimants endure. I know some claimants feel that they have come to the end, and that there is no way out for them. It makes me so angry when I read a sensational headline in certain papers which uses inaccurate statistics  to try and demonise people receiving social security as work-shy fraudsters . Yes, there will always be a tiny minority who try and play the system. But to tar all claimants with the same brush is also wrong and must stop.
We all need to stand up to those who use pejorative language against social security claimants. We must value, not denigrate, our social security system. Like the NHS, it is based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all, assuring us of our dignity and the basics of life, and giving us a hand up, not a hand out, should any one of us become ill or disabled or fall on hard times.
My final thoughts at our HMD service were about the horrendous plight of refugees fleeing for their lives in an attempt to find peace and safety. The political rhetoric is once more hardening as we turn in on ourselves; at the same time we hear of more children drowning in the Mediterranean and others being stranded in freezing conditions as borders close. We need to remember our promise when we helped to draft the UN Refugee Convention after the Second World War, after the Holocaust. We said ‘never again’ would we turn the other way and leave people out in the cold.
I also signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment in Parliament, to honour those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.
Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:
“We are proud that Debbie Abrahams MP is supporting Holocaust Memorial Day. As we mark the 71st anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and the liberation of the concentration camps, it is vitally important that we both continue to remember and learn from the appalling events of the Holocaust – as well as ensuring that we continue to challenge antisemitism and all forms of bigotry.”
Never again must mean never again. We must not stand by, but stand up for our common humanity.