I had the great honour and privilege to host the Holocaust Educational Trust’s first reception in the Scottish Parliament.
The Holocaust Educational Trust was founded in 1988, and played a central role in the establishing of Holocaust Memorial Day, in 2001. In 1999 it set up Lessons from Auschwitz, a highly successful educational programme which has given thousands of students from across Scotland and the UK the chance to visit the former concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and experience firsthand the terrible reality of the “final solution” – the Nazis’s attempt to systematically exterminate the European Jews.
The project is based upon the idea that we learn best when we experience directly; the pupils who have taken part speak movingly about the indelible impression the camps made upon them. Two of the projects participants, Dominic Bradley and Katie McKenna, delivered Time for Reflection in the Scottish Parliament to mark this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, their wise and thoughtful words – repeated during the reception - capturing the strange mixture of pathos and horror that Auschwitz-Birkenau continues to evoke.
Also present at the reception was Judy Russell, daughter of Holocaust survivor Ernest Levy, who settled in Renfrewshire and later recounted his wartime experiences in a memoir, “The Single Light”. Judy’s memories of her father added to the intimacy of the occassion, but also reminded us that the number of living holocaust survivors is rapidly dwindling. Indeed, as Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust put it, the Holocaust will soon make the transition from “living history” – as embodied by the survivors – to simply,”history”.
Ernest Levy correctly observes in “The Single Light” that “the lessons of the past are still to be learned”. The fight against hatred, discrimination and prejudice is likely to outlast all our lifetimes, and that is why I welcomed the announcement by the Scottish Government – represented at the reception by Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for Education, Science and Languages - that it will continue to fund and support the Holocaust Educational Trust in its mission to educate a new generation of young people of the enduring importance of the Holocaust. There is still much we can learn.
I am glad to say that the event was both informative and edifying, and I would like to thank the Holocaust Educational Trust, and in particular Paul Evans, for asking me to host it. I look forward to supporting them in the future as they endeavour to rid society of religious and racial discrimination and prejudice.