THE Government is to contribute £50 million towards a new Holocaust memorial and education centre, George Osborne has announced.
The announcement came as thousands of people across the country gathered on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp to remember the millions of Jews and other victims murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War.
Senior politicians, dignitaries and religious leaders were joining some of the few remaining survivors in central London for a service on Holocaust Memorial Day.
Mr Osborne told MPs that the new memorial and education centre are among recommendations from the cross-party Holocaust Commission, which was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron to consider how awareness and remembrance of the Holocaust can be maintained as the final eye-witnesses pass away.
Commission chair Mick Davis briefed Cabinet on its proposals this morning, said the Chancellor, answering questions in the House of Commons.
“I made clear at that Cabinet meeting the Government will provide £50 million to support this brilliant plan and of course we will go on funding the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which takes MPs and many, many school children to Auschwitz to see for themselves the horror that happened there,” said Mr Osborne.
“I think across the House we can come together to commemorate this day but also to make sure it is never forgotten what happened in the Holocaust and we never repeat its mistakes.”
He added: “As this is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we should remember the inhumanity that happened there and the suffering of those who died and who live with the memories of the Holocaust, and vow as a nation to keep its memories alive.”
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who sat on the Commission, confirmed that Labour backed the £50 million contribution, telling MPs: “It’s good we have cross party agreement to fully fund the Holocaust Commission’s report.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said that the Commission’s proposals would help ensure that awareness of the Holocaust is maintained after the last survivors are gone.
“They have been extraordinary sons and daughters of this country, travelling round schools, talking in schools about what happened, but they can’t go on doing that forever,” Mr Cameron told LBC radio.
Asked if he was determined to combat modern-day anti-semitism, Mr Cameron - who recently visited Auschwitz - said: “Absolutely. Part of why remembering the Holocaust matters so much is that it reminds people where anti-semitism, prejudice and hatred end. The two things are very much linked.”
The Queen, who is patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, has sent a message to be printed in the official programme booklet to accompany commemorative events across the country.
She said: “Today’s UK commemorative event for Holocaust Memorial Day marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
“The event is the start of commemorations throughout this anniversary year as we remember all those affected: those who died, those who have rebuilt their lives in Britain, and the rescuers and liberators who took great risks to assist and save their fellow human beings.
“Many refugees and survivors of the camps and ghettoes found a home in the United Kingdom and have given us their energy and commitment.
“This year’s theme asks us all to do what we can to keep alive the memories of those who suffered during the Holocaust.”
The Duke of Cambridge echoed the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2015 - keeping the memory alive - in his own message: “The commemorations allow us to honour the victims of one of the darkest chapters in human history and pay tribute to the survivors and their stories of hope.
“Memories are the legacy for future generations and we must keep these memories alive to learn from the past and create a safer future”
Security will be tight for the London ceremony, with the anniversary coming less than three weeks after a terrorist attack in a Kosher supermarket in Paris killed four people in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings.
Scotland Yard assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, the national policing lead for counter-terrorism, has warned there is a ‘’heightened concern’’ about the risk to the Jewish population in the UK since the attacks.
At the service, speeches and readings will be interspersed with film and music.
Among the readers will be Sir John Hurt, Michael Palin, Keeley Hawes, Christopher Eccleston, Adrian Lester, Natasha Kaplinsky, Sarah Lancashire and Laurence Fox.
Performers include cellist, singer and conductor Simon Wallfisch, grandson of 89-year-old Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a surviving member of the women’s orchestra in Auschwitz.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, established by the Government in 2001 to promote and support Holocaust Memorial Day, expects more than 2,400 events to take place across the UK at community centres, schools, libraries, museums, arts venues, prisons, railway stations and places of worship.
Events will also commemorate victims of genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. 2015 also marks the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre when Bosnian Serb troops murdered thousands of Muslim men and boys in the worst atrocity in Europe since the Second World War.
Six candles designed by sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor will be lit by five Holocaust survivors and a survivor from the Bosnian war as part of the central London memorial service.
Sir Anish was commissioned by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to create 70 candles to be distributed at 70 events across the UK and at Auschwitz to mark 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau - the largest Nazi death camp - on 27 January 1945.
The artist said of his commission: “It is very important to remember the terrible things we do to human beings like murdering six million Jews in the Holocaust.”
Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is of especial significance - marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“It’s a day to honour the Holocaust survivors who are still with us, and to remember the six million Jewish people who were murdered.
“It’s a time to reflect on the horrors of Nazi persecution, and the genocides which have taken place since then.
“Today, in every part of the UK, people will be coming together to remember, to reflect and to consider the lessons we can learn from these horrific events. Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity to apply these lessons to our lives to create a safer, better future.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “Learning about the Holocaust is not just a history lesson. It is one of the most powerful antidotes we have to anti-semitism and extremism, whenever and wherever it may occur.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband told BBC Radio 5 Live: “It’s an emotional day for people who have memories and families involved in this. It’s 70 years since my grandfather died in one of the camps.
“When there’s prejudice around the world and we see a rise in anti-semitism, it’s incredibly important that we keep that memory alive.”
Auschwitz-Birkenau - a network of several forced labour and extermination camps - is the most well known of all Nazi camps. Over 1.1 million people were murdered at the site - over 90% of the victims were Jewish.
By the end of the Holocaust, six million Jewish men, women and children had perished in ghettos, mass-shootings, in concentration camps and extermination camps.
Among the guests who arrived for the event ahead of the dignitaries was actress Helena Bonham Carter and Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, who is now a peer.