This week, to mark Holocaust Memorial day, I had the honour of welcoming Simon Gronowski and members of his family to Parliament.
Simon was here to watch a performance of the opera PUSH, a moving personal story about how as an eleven-year boy, he was pushed from a moving train in 1943 by his mother, to spare him from certain death at Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
I first saw the performance of PUSH at Chichester Cathedral last year. This week over 60 adults and children from community choirs across Chichester, along with three soloists who are currently studying for their Vocal Performance degrees at the University came to Speakers House. The evening was a huge success due to the efforts of the Chichester marks Holocaust Memorial Day Committee, led by the Mayor of Chichester Martyn Bell, councillor Clare Apel, my husband Michael and our donors and sponsors. Watching the performance were MPs and Peers from all political parties together with the Speaker of the House of Commons and members of the Jewish community.
At the end of the evening Simon offered some moving words about his experience and how, in an act of astonishing humanity, he forgave the collaborator who put him and his family on the train. Everyone who listened to his speech could not fail to be inspired by his faith in human decency, kindness and freedom.
Simon’s call for tolerance and respect are more relevant than ever today as discrimination and antisemitism creeps into the mainstream. While the Holocaust is a difficult subject to approach, we must remember it didn’t begin with the gas chambers but the legitimisation of hatred based on religion, race and sexuality. It was spread by radio and malicious propaganda which is a chilling parallel to what we see today with the advent of fake news on social media platforms.
The need for tolerance and the importance of respecting people, and their right to hold a different opinion, was underlined when two members of our group visiting Parliament were sprayed with blue paint after the performance. While we don’t know the motive of this attack, we have all seen on our TV screens the rise of intolerance and division as a result of the debate around Brexit.
It’s important we never forget the lessons the Holocaust has taught us.