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Westminster doesn’t need a Holocaust memorial It is a cynical distraction from Britain's deepest sins

It looks like a toast rack. Credit: Adjaye Associates

It looks like a toast rack. Credit: Adjaye Associates


August 2, 2021   5 mins

We don’t know how many Jews died in the British Holocaust. Marianne Grunfeld, Auguste Spitz and Therese Steiner were deported from Guernsey by the German occupying force in 1942 — mainland Britain would not admit them because they were not citizens — and murdered in Auschwitz. French Jews forcibly moved to Alderney died in the labour camps, but we don’t know how many. The British Holocaust was small.

Even so, a vast Holocaust memorial will soon rise in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to parliament, against opposition from local residents and many British Jews, including Holocaust survivors. But the last obstacles are overcome: the government has pushed it through because they want it.

There is already an adequate memorial in Hyde Park — size does not matter here; Albert Speer loved size — and a permanent exhibition at the Imperial War Museum less than a mile from parliament. The newest memorial — there are more than 300 already worldwide, rising seemingly in harmony with anti-Semitism itself, like a bad symphony — will attempt to convey meaning through what looks like a giant toast rack, or a child’s toy; simple for ease of understanding.

They all do that. The Holocaust memorial has become an architectural clichĂ©. For some reason blocks are favoured, as if part of some giant cosmic warehouse, and that all adds to the ennui; the numbness; the nothingness. There is no Holocaust memorial better than a live Jew, or, even better, a Jew who is not afraid. But it’s too late for that. Britain did not behave perfectly: far from it. We offered nothing during the Evian Conference of 1938, convened by the League of Nations to discuss German and Austrian refugees. The Evian Conference is not much discussed, probably because it locked European Jews in a prison the size of a continent for ease of murder. Joseph Goebbels was thrilled by this dismal indifference to Jews, writing in his diary that the Nazi regime was better than the so-called “civilised” world because it was more honest.

In fact, Lord Winterton, a member of the House of Lords and the British representative at Evian, apologised to Germany for “unwarranted interference in affairs of state”. His official quote was: “The United Kingdom is not a country of immigration”. Foreign office memos were reliably anti-Jewish: “this office spends too much time dealing with the wailing Jews”; “Why should the Jews be spared distress
when they have deserved it?”

After an international outcry, 288 German Jews were admitted to Britain from the refugee ship the St Louis — “the voyage of the damned” — after America and other countries shut them out. (Three other countries eventually took refugees from the ship but many perished.) The captain Gustav Schröder even considered wrecking the ship off Cornwall to save his passengers. 10,000 Jewish children were admitted to Britain — the Kindertransport — after lobbying by MPs including Eleanor Rathbone and Josiah Wedgwood, Quakers and British Jews, though their parents were excluded, of course. There were British rescuers. The banker Nicholas Winton saved 669 mostly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia before the war. The Mills and Boon novelist Mary Burchell smuggled valuables out of Germany so refugees could meet the financial requirements to enter Britain. Frank Foley, a passport control officer — and spy — in the British Embassy in Berlin “bent the rules” to save Jewish families. But the small quota of Jews allowed to British-controlled Palestine — 15,000 a year from 1939 for five years — was never filled. After the war the British government agreed to take any Jewish children still alive in continental Europe. They found 732, some of whom were the Children of Windermere, sheltered for a while in the Lake District. Rescue, as I said, is the perfect memorial. And that was that: until now.

Why build a Holocaust memorial here, now — a sort of awful twin to the Palace of Westminster, which is likewise otherworldly and alienating? I, who experience Britain as a haven — my ancestors are Polish Jews and between 1941 and 1945 Polish Jewry declined from roughly 3,400,000 to 300,000 with mass murder (we do not know the exact figures, for obvious reasons) — will not be able to look at it. I have an idea that it will sully, for me, something sacred. I know, of course, that not all minority communities feel this way: why should they? It is one Jew’s emotional response. Many British Jews want this memorial and lobbied the Conservative government for it.

But even if your motives are decent, all the evidence points one way: Holocaust memorials, by themselves, do not work. They have not worked: the news will tell you that. We do not know what works. A stable political system might help — anti-Semitism is, most prosaically, a pressure valve in times of social and economic distress — as would a detailed rebuttal of every lazy and ancient libel against the Jewish people: the deicide; the well-poisoners; the puppet masters. Those who call Jews puppet masters will have a lot to say about this memorial. They are saying it already. They say our misery is favoured, that we exploit it, that we have special access to power to ensure a large memorial to our dead.

For example, the Church in Britain is planning a formal apology to the Jews for medieval anti-Semitism. But it won’t talk about the role of the scriptures in inciting it; they remain. Teaching the Holocaust outside the confines of wider Jewish history is pointless. Without an educated and engaged population aware of the context of this genocide — and all genocides, separately — the Holocaust assumes the dimensions of a fairy tale. Enter the Palace of the Ugly Toast Rack, children, and be afraid, but do not be wary. Here is a place of such unique evil it has nothing to do with you. Build the structures high and they are inhuman. The only thing people really need to understand about the Holocaust is that it happened to people like them; to avoid another they must do something. Will the memorial facilitate that?

No, it reads like denial, and cynicism, a kind of national virtue signalling: Britain turns its face to the place it has done least wrong, to distract from wrongs elsewhere. To read of plans commemorating Jews — easy to rally support for, since they are dead — while politicians tut at migrant boats and fantasise about interning refugees on islands is nauseating. Europe is facing the greatest refugee crisis since the war. The government is playing catch-up in bronze because it’s easy. Perhaps, in 80 years, when the current migrants are shut out, and dead, they will be honoured with an ugly memorial.

There is a memorial already in Victoria Tower Gardens: Samuel Sanders Teulon’s memorial to Thomas Fowell Buxton, the abolitionist. That it is to the abolitionist rather than the enslaved is typical. It is obvious what should be memorialised by the British state at the centre of its pomp: slavery and murderous colonialism. But that is too loaded for a government led by a man whose novel Seventy-Two Virgins is little more than a collection of racist epithets. Better to let compliant Jews have their memorial and, to the rest, nothing.

Beautiful trees will be destroyed: the opposite of the Jewish dictum to choose life. The Buxton memorial — such as it is — will be overshadowed; black pain dwarfed, quite literally, by Jewish pain. A promise will be broken: in 1879 a donation of £1000 was given by the Rt Hon W H Smith, on condition that Victoria Tower Gardens would serve local people in perpetuity. It will become a target for anti-Semites, and their myths of Jewish power. And, finally, as a Holocaust survivor pointed out to me this morning, it’s on a flood plain. That should be enough.


Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.

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Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

To read of plans commemorating Jews — easy to rally support for, since they are dead — while politicians tut at migrant boats and fantasise about interning refugees on islands is nauseating.

A remarkably ill-natured article even by this journalist’s standards.
The point of Holocaust memorials is that they work towards preventing Holocaust deniers getting any significant credibility when they peddle their schtick that it never happened.
There is simply no comparison between Jewish refugees of the WW2 era and Channel refugees now. Really, none at all. Jewish refugees (always a minority, by the way; they, like everyone else, simply could not conceive that an elected western European would eventually try to murder them all) were fleeing state murder. Channel refugees are fleeing, er, France. Jewish refugees abandoned everything to save themselves and their loved ones; Channel refugees abandon nothing and hope to gain economically.
It is profoundly silly to compare the situation of Syrian chancers of 35, pretending to be schoolchildren so they can disappear into the black economy, with that of Jewish refugees of the past. It’s actually trivialising and insulting as well, which the writer appears not to have worked out.
ï»żNot a single Syrian has been rounded up and murdered in Syria for being a 35-year-old Syrian. Not one. Jews, in contrast, were persecuted not for anything they did but for simply for who they were.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

How does a Holocaust Memorial deny Holocaust-deniers credibility? Especially one that is so meaningless.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
2 years ago

What a “monumental” waste.
Britain, The Commonwealth, has a monument to the Holocaust, it is the Second World War, and it’s central role in defying and the eventual destruction and defeat of the Nazi regime. That this country stood against, at extreme peril to itself, defeated, and eventually exposed the odious nature of the Nazi regime for what it was, is memorial enough and for which it should justifiably and eternally be proud.
If the memorial planners possibly have more of an eye to “Today”, whether it be rising anti-Semitism or intolerance generally, rather than events 80 years ago (a warning from history) then they’re really spending a lot of money “ Pissing in the wind”

Graham Pycock
Graham Pycock
2 years ago

Surely a memorial is overdue to the millions slaughtered by Communism in the twentieth century. Tens of millions of people died, by execution, in labour camps and from starvation. Marxist Russia and China killed more people than all the other tyrannies put together, including Nazism. Why is this denial OK?
Graham Pycock

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Pycock

Cannot agree more.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Pycock

The Russian army in East Germany was said to have raped every woman from 10 to 80 in the land. Maybe a monument to that. The North African French Officered troops that fought up Italy in WWII were said to have raped their way up Italy – and were not stopped.

And how about the Armenians? Rwanda was a German colony – so why not a memorial to the Tutsi genocide next to the Holocaust one, what with them being German, may as well have both – must make sense to Liberal minds somehow…

Maybe this writer needs to grow up and cover issues without having to add her juvenile indoctrination bias.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I’m not sure whether you are arguing for a plethora of memorials, or just against the one being discussed. It is true that there are unmemorialised barbarities, but then did not Edmund Burke say, ” Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
2 years ago

There is a memorial already in Victoria Tower Gardens: Samuel Sanders Teulon’s memorial to Thomas Fowell Buxton, the abolitionist. That it is to the abolitionist rather than the enslaved is typical. It is obvious what should be memorialised by the British state at the centre of its pomp: slavery and murderous colonialism.

Go and apologise for the Bengali famine then. Some survivors are still alive. Give your own money in reparations, along with the money of all your chattering class friends.
You could also of course do something for people over here that have suffered from the colonialism of mass immigration and EU vassal-hood.
Or you can sit in a comfy office and wail about how evil we’ve all been. Squander the one chance YOU have to genuinely try and atone for something in the past.

It’s your choice.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago

EU vassal hold? The arguments against the EU are getting more absurd. The problem with Europe is that it is, particularly the West, a vassal of the US.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
2 years ago

We had less sovereignty under the EU than we do now. Millions of people voted to leave. Just accept it for goodness sake!

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

No, no, no. Get with the programme. The British state’s “slavery and murderous colonialism” were far worse than Nazism.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Then they should go and apologise rather than destroying what we have left over here. If they are right (if), then there should be plenty of scope for some apology done by guilty liberals. Just go and do it and stop bothering the rest of us. By their own metric they are failing.

Angelique Todesco-Bond
Angelique Todesco-Bond
2 years ago

My goodness it is so ghastly in design, what an abomination. There are so many more beautiful ways to do this, a beautiful garden of reflection would be my choice with some well chosen and thoughtful sculptures.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

This government is becoming ever more adept at finding things on which to spend other people’s money (i.e. the taxpayer’s), presumably so as to appear compassionate and worthy of re-election, while seemingly oblivious of the fact that as the wheel turns, it will then have to be even more devious and skilful than past governments in raising the taxes to stave off financial ruin.
To my mind, London should preserve its open spaces, while memory of the horrors of the past can be maintained by means which don’t require a journey into the centre of London.
And one lesson from 1918-1939 is surely that defence should never be neglected by democracies. Some of those regimes out there striving to arm themselves actually share the beliefs of Nazi Germany, so ‘avoiding repeating the past’ isn’t looking that successful. Meanwhile, we cut the armed forces in the present while taking the easy option of a memorial to an event 80 years in the past, and perhaps 80 years too late.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Elliott
Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
2 years ago

Many of the economic migrants that the author says we should welcome en masse are from cultures that, to put it mildly, are not very friendly places for Jews…

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Pete Marsh

She’s not worried . She has a bolt hole planned at the New York Times

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Pete Marsh

Dh

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago

The problem here, as well as the fact that this memorial isn’t needed, is that it won’t be the end of it. As Tanya says:
 It is obvious what should be memorialised by the British state at the centre of its pomp: slavery and murderous colonialism.”
If the holocaust museum goes ahead, then these will surely follow.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

British colonialism gave greater benifits and good to the world than any system ever before it. A monument to the GOOD of British Colonialism would be 100% more appropriate.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

This isn’t a belief system widely shared outside Britain itself, and if it ever had any currency it doesn’t in a woke era.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

“Palace of Westminster, which is likewise otherworldly and alienating” – really? Maybe to someone who hasn’t spent part of his or her life surounded by the manorial or ecclesiatical architectural of your typical rural village. I think tastes often get formed by early experiences in life and so I suppose that particular building is more jarring to Londoners than it is to provincials.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago

19th Century Gothic Revival? Not in my village.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Original gothic is everywhere in English villages.
And the 19th century version isn’t uncommon in many parish churches either especially where local Victorian grandees wanted Norman-era churches (i.e. Romanesque) to better conform to their preconceptions about the Middle Ages.
Strange as it may seem to right-wing Twitter these days, the Gothic was once associated with reaction and monarchy as opposed to the godless universal republicanism of the classical style as favoured by French and American rebels and regicides. Are the monarchy (after many of our the kings are buried in the environment of Westminster abbey) and the church hierarchy something alien? If so what does that say of modern Britain’s relations to such institutions. After all they are the true source of authority and legitimacy in Britain, not the ephemeral and baseless pretentions of politicians who should but be advisers to the monarch as sumpreme ruler, such as the First Lord of the Treasury – Boris Johnson. (His real role rather than the ridiculous modern pretension that he is ‘prime minister’ that makes it sound as if he serves on the pleasure of the people rather than the pleasure of Her Majesty from whom all power flows).
Pugin saw the style of the Houses of Parliament as an expression of the organic English community as opposed to soulless modernism, hence it being strange that it is described as “otherworldly and alienating”. Undoubtedly Pugin – and Ruskin, Newman and other High church Oxford movement figures – would say this was precisely because modernity has made the roots and community that people have something alien to themselves.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago

Surely a lock of these village churches were heavily restored in the 19th century , some with gothic revival additions

Diana Durham
Diana Durham
2 years ago

This is a ridiculous argument.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

Those who had endured Passchendale did not want another. Just look at the paintings and photos! The 1938 Munich Agreement allowed us to develop radar, integrated air defence and the Hurricane and Spitfire.
The author seems consider telling a veteran of WW1 that they need to sacrifice their sons to save foreigners an easy task. There was was also mass unemployment in the areas of heavy industry.
From 1936 to 1939 there was a war between Jews and Arabs in Palestine requiring 20,000 soldiers to contain.More Jewish immigrants would have made the fighting worse.
In short, the author has an abysmal knowledge of history of the 1920s and 1930s.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago

Yes, because they prefer dead Jews to live Jews. And they prefer monuments to either.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Want to see a monument to the Holocaust – visit Auschwitz, I did and it never leaves you – but this is pure politics – a monument to how horrible Britain is – is the point; Liberals hate Britain, so wish to tar it with this horror – as they do with the thousands of other false issues to pile on British History, culture, and peoples.

I always go to the Imperial War musieum, and what a momument to Lefty/Liberalism it now is – they have wrecked it pretty much. The only good parts are the actual machinery – and the VC floor – Which shows the Nobility of the British, and the Commie/Liberals have not been able to twist that into anti-Brisish propaganda, but you know they want to.

The re-doing or the Army museum was a Disaster! How to utterly destroy a museum. Da*n Liberals and their loathing for all which was Nobel and British.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago

Consider the memorial to Bomber Command with its representation of airmen. Imagine if this had been another row of meaningless blocks. Then consider Rodin’s statues of The Burghers of Calais. If we must have another statue, in place of clearing anti-semitism off social media, then perhaps statues of Jews, starved and brutalised, and standing in line to enter a gas chamber would be more meaningful; certainly better than another descendant of Carl Andre’s pile of bricks.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

A few good points about empty and easy memorial using, but full of Gold’s usual Leftist baloney and virtue signalling.

The current ‘refugees’ trying (and largely succeeding) to enter the UK are overwhelmingly economic migrants from countries not at war but just poorer, and have paid thousands of dollars to criminals to get them here (a crime in itself). They are mostly also not fleeing from systematic persecution.

Processing these people properly, not allowing them access to the country before having done so, and deporting those who have no right to be here, are perfectly reasonable responses of any nation state, which has primary responsibility to its own citizens.

On a more self-interested point, Gold might want to reflect on the likelihood of ever increasing anti-semitism there will be if we have a greater and greater proportion of our population from conservative Muslim countries, where these views are mainstream. Already in the West, and especially France, these populations are the cause of the vast majority of anti-semitic hate incidents, despite various do-gooding institutions banging on about a tiny number of people in Far Right groups.