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PM and Starmer mark 80 years since declaration on persecution of the Jews

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer have joined commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the first public announcement by the British Government of the Nazis’ attempt to murder Europe’s Jewish population. Both Mr. Sunak and Sir Keir were in the chamber for a moment of silence led by Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons.

PM and Starmer mark 80 years since declaration on persecution of the Jews

Image credit: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

MPs responded to the Government’s shocking announcement on 17 December 1942 with a spontaneous moment of silence, which was reported to be the first in the history of the chamber.

On that date in 1942, then Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told a hushed House that ‘reliable reports’ had confirmed ‘Hitler’s oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe…’.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the House of Commons, repeated the unprecedented tribute by saying a few words at the start of business, before leading a one-minute silence to commemorate the grim anniversary.

To add to the poignancy of the occasion, the MPs were joined in the Speaker’s Gallery by seven survivors of the Holocaust and representatives of Britain’s Jewish community.

Steven Frank BEM, survivor of the Holocaust, reflected on witnessing the silence from the Speaker’s Gallery:

I felt like I was representing the million and a half children who were murdered in the Holocaust. I don’t know why I survived rather than any of them.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said:

It takes a lot to quieten the House of Commons, but 80 years ago MPs were spontaneously stunned into silence after it was confirmed that the Nazis were undertaking the systematic mass murder of the Jewish population in Europe.

It was a moment like no other and was described by one parliamentary correspondent as being “like the frown of the conscience of mankind”.

Given the genocides that have occurred since, and the horrific war crimes that are taking place in Ukraine now, it is important that we mark this significant anniversary with the people who survived the Holocaust.

Olivia Marks-Woldman OBE, our Chief Executive, said:

As the country prepares to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January 2023, it is a timely reminder that it is our collective duty to stand against prejudice and hatred today.

It is immensely fitting that people who eighty years ago were suffering such appalling cruelty will now be honoured in the heart of our democracy.

Back in 1942, Mr Eden’s shocking statement led Labour MP William Cluse to suggest that the House should ‘stand as a protest against this disgusting barbarism’. Speaker FitzRoy replied that this was a matter for the House itself, which prompted Conservative MP Sir Waldron Smithers to wave the MPs up.

Percy Cater, the Daily Mail’s Parliamentary Correspondent, wrote at the time:

One after another MP stood until all, in their hundreds, sombre-garbed and sombre-faced ranks, were on their feet. I can tell you there were many eyes which were not dry and there was not, I dare swear, a throat without a lump in it.

Watch the moment the Commons stood in silence today: