It’s groundhog day all over again for the long-planned Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Westminster’s Victoria Tower Gardens.
This huge, Brutalist construction would destroy a quiet green oasis valued by local residents. Last July, the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling that the structure was prohibited by a 1900 Act of Parliament, passed to protect the park from such developments.
Yet now the government – which previously overrode Westminster council’s objections – has declared it will legislate to cancel out that 1900 law.
It will thus ride roughshod over a historic legal protection for the local community. Is this really a desirable context for a project supposedly devoted to memory and law as a defence against oppressive and arbitrary power?
There are more fundamental objections to the memorial’s supposed message.
Although the Nazis murdered many types of people in the Holocaust, their principal driver was the intention to wipe the Jews alone off the face of the Earth. Yet much Holocaust memorialising denies the unique characteristics of anti-Semitism and the genocide of the Jews.
A graphic example was provided by the UK Online Commemoration for Holocaust Memorial Day last month. Its 23 sections referred to ‘genocides’ in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and Darfur, to ‘the Nazi persecution of gay people’ and to ‘people being persecuted simply because they were ordinary people who belonged to a particular group’.
But there was no mention of the genocide of the Jews other than two fleeting references in personal messages from Michael Gove and Sir Keir Starmer. The chief executive and chair of trustees of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust didn’t mention it, urging reflection instead on ‘the Holocaust, the Nazi persecution of other groups and more recent genocides’.
In evidence to the planning inquiry, the memorial’s architect said he envisaged a place to mark the murder of six million Jews, Roma and ‘all victims of Nazi persecution’; and to reflect on ‘the murder of the millions of Cambodians by the Pol Pot regime, the million Rwandans murdered by the Interahamwe and the thousands of Muslim men and boys murdered in Bosnia’.