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The University of Southampton
Public Policy|Southampton

Holocaust education and memorialisation should be challenging

Prof. Tony Kushner
Prof. Tony Kushner

About the Institute

Founded in the 1950s and transferred to the University of Southampton in 1964, the Parkes Institute is a world-leading centre for the study of Jewish/non-Jewish relations, with expertise ranging from antiquity to the present day. Professor Tony Kushner is one of several members of Parkes staff who are advising museums and heritage bodies on Holocaust memory and commemoration, here in the UK as well as in Germany and South Africa. As well as challenging familiar self-serving accounts of the British as liberators they are drawing connections between the Holocaust and other examples of state-orchestrated racism, such as slavery, colonialism and Apartheid.

What we did

In 2016 then Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans for a Holocaust Memorial and learning centre to be built in Victoria Tower Gardens, a compact park immediately south of the Palace of Westminster that already hosts several unrelated listed monuments. In September 2020 Kushner organized a high-profile submission to the City of Westminster's planning commission, arguing against constructing the Memorial. He also collaborated with the Rt. Hon. Clive Lewis MP to raise concerns within parliament to establish a memorial to the Enslaved Peoples which is now being considered at ministerial level.

Policy for Lasting Impact

Kushner argued that the estimated £100m budget could be better spent providing educational materials for schools. Amid growing evidence of widespread ignorance and denial such resources have greater potential to change public discourse than a monument and exhibition -  especially as the Holocaust Memorial in Hyde Park and the Imperial War Museum already afford sites for public commemoration and exhibitions. He pointed to the painful contrast afforded by the 2005 rejection of a slavery memorial proposed for the same site, rejected on grounds that the site could not accommodate any more memorials. The contrast, he noted, implied that triumphalist accounts of "Britain alone" as "liberator" are being favoured over less flattering reminders of our past.

Implications for Policy

Whether plans for the Holocaust Memorial will proceed has yet to be determined. Even in the absence of a final decision, however, there are a number of aspects in which future government policy surrounding national history and memory could be improved:

·      At the Westminster Planning Enquiry, the chair thanked the Holocaust historians’ submission for bringing much-needed nuance to the debate

·      Whilst the first stage of Holocaust education has been achieved in the UK, it is of very uneven quality and there is a need now for reflection on how to take it forward in a more sophisticated form

·      It is important that any form of memorialisation or education relating to the Holocaust leads to self-reflection and not self-congratulation.

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