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Jonathan Allen

Former Ambassador to Bulgaria

Part of UK in Bulgaria

25th February 2014

Remembering the Holocaust

The usual approach of a blogger or commentator to a historical event is to look for modern-day comparisons; to use the event to support a link to a trend of interest or concern. But this approach cannot be adopted on the Holocaust. Because of its horrors, because of its sheer scale, there can be no comparison or contrast. Any such link immediately trivialises the memory of those who were murdered.

The scale of the horrors that took place in Europe 70 years ago require us to pause, to remember and to reflect, if we are all to play our part in ensuring they can never happen again. Six million Jews – two thirds of the nine million Jews then resident in Europe – were murdered by the Nazi government in Germany and the territories it occupied during World War II. One million of them were children. 40,000 separate facilities were used to concentrate, hold and kill Jews and others, including the Roma and people with disabilities. Today, the graves of some 2.2 million victims remain uncovered.

Today, 25 February, the UK takes the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a body devoted to supporting civil society in countries affected by the Holocaust and beyond. A key task is to help local communities across Europe to identify, uncover and protect the burial place of over 2.2 million victims. Another is educating future generations about what happened.

In the UK, the Holocaust is a mandatory subject in the National Curriculum, supported by school visits by Holocaust Survivors. The Centre for Holocaust Education at London University’s Institute of Education is a pioneer in studying how and why the Holocaust is taught. The Holocaust Educational Trust takes two final year students from every school in England and Wales to Auschwitz. In January, the month the UK remembers the Holocaust, over 200 commemorative events take place.

Bulgaria has a unique story to tell. Alone of the countries dominated by Nazi Germany, Bulgaria protected its Jewish population from being transported to the death camps. Bulgarians are rightly proud of this heroic chapter in the country’s history and last year I participated in the commemorative events that marked the 70th anniversary. As part of those commemorative events, it was impressive to see Bulgaria acknowledging that it did not prevent the deportation of Jews from the territories it occupied and controlled during WWII, especially in Macedonia and Greece.

I am glad that in December last year, this story was told officially at an event in the British Houses of Parliament, attended by the UK’s Minister for Europe, David Lidington. I know that there will be a dignified memorial here on 10 March, Bulgaria’s Holocaust Memorial Day.

Unfortunately, in many other countries, the Holocaust remains a sensitive issue, and one exploited by nationalist politicians. Holocaust denial is on the rise, as is anti-Semitism. Even in Bulgaria, it is striking how often one sees swastika graffiti. If societies and nations forget what happened in Europe during the Holocaust, so we can imagine the prevention of future genocide becomes harder and the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) becomes weakened.

For whilst the Holocaust is incomparable in its scale and horror, we have witnessed subsequent crimes against humanity, whether genocide in Rwanda or, closer to home, ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. We have developed international crime courts to deter such atrocities from taking place, and to bring to justice those who attempt them.

But above all else, we must continue to remember the Holocaust in all its awfulness. We must ensure our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, do the same. Because we must never again as a human race come to terms with the realisation that we have allowed a whole society to be murdered. We must never again lose our humanity.

About Jonathan Allen

Jonathan Allen was British Ambassador to Bulgaria from from 2012 to 2015. He then returned to the UK to take up the position of Director for National Security at the…

Jonathan Allen was British Ambassador to Bulgaria from from 2012 to 2015. He then returned to the UK to take up the position of Director for National Security at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

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