Every generation must know the horrors of Hitler and the Holocaust

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing
Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing

This Sunday at 11am the Worthing and District Holocaust Memorial gathering will be in Beach House Park, between Worthing Hospital and the sea.

One question I offer to students of history and of politics is this: “Which was the year when Adolf Hitler should have faced military challenge when it was clear he would be an aggressor against most countries in Europe and would decide to kill every Jew in Europe? 1933? 1934? 1935? 1936? 1937? 1938? 1939? 1940? Ever? Never?”

I do not know the answer. I do think the question needs discussion in every generation just as our children and grandchildren and their successors must know of the history and the horrors of the Holocaust he caused.

On Sunday I represented the constituency and my own family at the New Cemetery in Bushey for the burial of the remains of six victims from Auschwitz where 45 of my grandfather’s cousins died.

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The five adults and one child each was symbolic of a million others: five million men and women were killed, alongside over a million children.

My relatives, third cousins, had been swept up mainly in the occupied Netherlands to die in Nazi extermination camps, mainly in Auschwitz and Sobibor, run by Germans in occupied Poland. Anne Frank and her father were there later in the war: she and her sister were transferred to the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen where they died; their father was the only member of their immediate family to survive.

I would have attended even if there were no family symbolism.

The constituency of Worthing West has been reported as having the highest proportion of religious observance in the country, at least as indicated by attendance at places of worship.

We have our respected Islamic Society and the popular mosque.

Sadly there is no local synagogue yet though for two years we have welcomed the Sussex Jewish Outreach Group with the opportunity for Jews to come together.

It does not matter whether you are Orthodox, Masorti, Reform, Progressive or Agnostic: if you recognise yourself as being Jewish, you are welcome as are non-Jewish partners and half-Jewish children.

I have written before in support of the open days and outreach by the Imam and leaders of the Islamic Society; equally I welcome the Jewish Living Experience exhibition that shares knowledge with young people and lessens anti-Semitism.

At the Holocaust victims’ burial, before I added my handful of earth to the grave, one of the volunteer Community Security Trust volunteers came to me to say that I was one of the members of parliament who made him and other Jews feel safe in this country.

His words did remind me that too often and for too long people with influence or with a share of power forget the need to notice injustice, fail to speak up for those without a strong voice of their own or who pass by on another side when there is a victim in sight.

One of my sporting heroes was Charles Burgess Fry. Read the Iain Wilton biography C B Fry: An English Hero, about the man born in Surrey, brought up in Kent who returned to his family roots for cricket in Sussex.

As England’s captain he never lost a test. He played football for England and was in the FA Cup Final with Southampton. He held the world long-jump record.

Why mention him now? He flirted with fascism and met Hitler in 1934.

Forgive this inappropriate inclusion of a bad joke. Neville Cardus lamented the fact that Fry did not speak German. Ribbentrop had to translate. If he had done so, the later conflict could have been averted as ‘Hitler might have died of a fit trying to get a word in’.

It is true that Nazi Germany wanted to be close and friendly with the United Kingdom.

Our error was to stand aside for too long. The price was high, too high.

Clarification: In an earlier version of this column, I wrote that relations of mine died in the Nazi holocaust. A correspondent asks me to make plain that the Auschwitz camp was run by the occupying Nazis in occupied Poland. I am happy to do so.

I add that many Poles fought with exceptional bravery to defeat Nazi Germany.

Additionally, I wrote factually that Anne Frank and her father Otto were also at Auschwitz. I should have appended the extra information that Anne Frank was later transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died and that Otto Frank was the only member of his immediate family to survive.

One of my father’s cousins told me of his care for sufferers at Belsen (adults may search Woodwark Belsen). I have lived with detailed knowledge of the concentration camps and the death camps for over 60 years. The BBC rebroadcast parts of my speech (Friday at 1pm) in the Holocaust Memorial Day debate.

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