Nick Clegg has pledged that the Liberal Democrats will carry on funding the education of young people about the Holocaust, warning, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, that anti-Semitism is a “light sleeper”.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s undertaking came while he took part in some of the 70th anniversary commemorations of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, during which he met 84-year-old Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper.
But with the events in Paris – including the attack on a kosher supermarket – fresh in people’s minds, Mr Clegg said that Holocaust Memorial Day, on 27 January, would now be “massively resonant”.
Mr Clegg became the first party leader to announce that support for the Lessons from Auschwitz project, run by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET), would be safeguarded for the next five years. He said he would ensure that any government which included the Lib Dems would allocate the funding and described the £9m budget over the five years as “worth every penny”. The project gives every school and college in the country the opportunity to send two students aged 16 to 18 on a day visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland to learn about the Holocaust.
In a meeting at Mr Clegg’s Whitehall offices last week, the Deputy Prime Minister told Mr Shipper that he had visited Auschwitz with HET and a group of sixth-formers in October 2012, describing it as an “astonishing experience”. Mr Shipper, one of 60 survivors who visit schools in England on behalf of HET, told Mr Clegg: “For people like you to get involved in it, that means a lot.” Mr Clegg was also reunited with two young women, Georgia Smyth and Karis Gregory, who visited Auschwitz with him and have become young ambassadors for the trust.
Mr Shipper, now a great-grandfather, was 14 when he was liberated by British soldiers from a concentration camp near Danzig, having been moved there from Auschwitz-Birkenau. He came to the UK in 1947. He was 10 when he was first transported to the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland.
Mr Clegg’s mother, Hermance, was interned by the Japanese during the Second World War and nearly starved to death. He told Mr Shipper how she had been unable to talk about her experience until her four children were much older.
Of his visit in 2012, Mr Clegg said: “The reaction of the group I was in was, in a strange way, one of the most uplifting things I’d seen in a very long time, because there wasn’t a smidgen of indifference or cynicism.”
The Deputy Prime Minister wrote at the time of his visit that anti-Semitism was a “light sleeper” and agreed that this held true even more today. He said: “It’s massively resonant at all times. What is around a lot are some very warped and nasty ideologies in different communities in different parts of the world…. All try to turn people they claim to be against into sort of worthless beings, and that’s still with us – more than with us, it’s on the rise.”
The HET project has taken more than 25,000 students and teachers to Auschwitz-Birkenau.