This Tuesday, 27th January, I will join my Labour colleagues in the European Parliament to observe the European Minute of Silence. It is 70 years since Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than one million victims of Nazism were sent to their deaths; part of the planned annihilation of a people.
This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is particularly poignant. While we gather to remember the past, across Europe many Jewish communities feel more vulnerable now than at any time since 1945, as the pervasive spectre of anti-Semitism looms large over our continent.
I was dismayed by results at the European elections in May, when neo-Nazi parties exploited economic fears and cultural sensitivities to secure unprecedented gains in France, Denmark, Hungary and elsewhere.
Here in Britain, I was appalled to read the Community Security Trust reported a 36% increase in the number of anti-Semitic attacks during 2014, the highest figure ever recorded in the UK. A recent survey found that over half of Britain’s Jewish population saw no future for their family here. Let this news be a wake up call to politicians.
The number of Jews leaving France for Israel doubled in 2014; a year when attacks against synagogues and Jewish schools increased in number and ferocity, and riots in Paris suburbs echoed with anti-Semitic chants.
Earlier this month, that trend continued, when four people died during a gun attack at a kosher supermarket in the wake of the brutal Charlie Hebdo murders. But we must take solace from the small beacon of hope in the heroism of Lassana Bathily, the Muslim shop employee who selflessly helped tens of shoppers to safety in the store’s walk-in freezer; Bathily cared not for their religion or ethnicity, only their survival.
Still, in this challenging time, it is important that we remain vigilant, to guard against any risk that we sleepwalk into anything like a repeat of the barbarous crimes of Nazism.
As we remember the victims of the Holocaust this Tuesday, we must also remember that so long as our Jewish brothers and sisters feel unsafe in our communities we must be ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with them to fight the scourge of anti-Semitism, and of fascism.