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Welby: challenge post-truth culture

03 February 2017

Sam Atkins

In memoriam: Verdi’s Requiem was performed in Theresienstadt concentration camp by prisoners during the Second World War, and at Durham Cathedral last Saturday, with film footage and video testimony from survivors

In memoriam: Verdi’s Requiem was performed in Theresienstadt concentration camp by prisoners during the Second World War, and at Durham Cathedral last...

WE MUST challenge the culture of “alternative facts” if we want to live in a country of safety and sanctuary, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned in advance of Holocaust Memorial Day last Friday.

Speaking at the annual Holocaust Memorial Day service in Westminster Abbey, on Thursday of last week, he said that the “appalling human suffering” of Auschwitz/Birkenau and other camps “was caused by the terrible collusion of the silent majority”.

And, quoting the “alternative facts” phrase used by President Donald Trump’s spokesperson last week, he said: “Whilst Jews and others were caricatured and vilified by unscrupulous politicians and venal newspapers, there was an unquestioning acceptance by ordinary people.

“Life goes amid a culture of alternative facts, of post-truth, of collusion with deeds that sing the tunes of evil; a culture which needs to be challenged at every level, and in every conversation and debate in this country, if it is indeed to be a place of safety and healing for those fleeing tyranny and cruelty, if indeed life is to go on, flourishing and fully.”

On the same day, a Kindertransport plaque, donated in “deep gratitude” to “the people and Parliament of the United Kingdom for saving the lives of 10,000 Jewish and other children”, was rededicated in Parliament, in the presence of newly arrived child refugees, and some of the survivors of the original Kindertransport programme. That rescue effort had taken place in the nine months before the outbreak of the Second World War.

One of the Kindertransport survivors, the Labour peer Lord Dubs, said: “I would not be here now were it not for Britain’s offer to help when other countries would not. Today, as some countries are building walls and closing doors to refugees, Britain must continue its proud legacy of helping those fleeing conflict and persecution, and redouble its efforts to help thousands — not hundreds — of child refugees in Greece and Italy, as well as France.”

Pope Francis met members of the European Jewish Congress last Friday, which was the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz/Birkenau. The Vatican’s permanent representative on the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe also used the occasion to warn Europe that the “utmost vigilance” was always needed to maintain peace.

Research released last Friday, on Memorial Day, revealed that a quarter of the survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides have experienced discrimination or abuse in the UK owing to their religion or ethnicity. The research, by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, was drawn from a study of 208 survivors of genocides, including the Holocaust, and Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Darfur, as well as 178 of their family members.

Despite the findings of discrimination, 72 per cent said that they had felt welcome when they first arrived in the UK.

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