If you told me this time last year that, come January 2019, I’d be standing in Parliament, addressing a room full of people at a Holocaust memorial event, describing the hideous abuse I’ve been receiving daily since I started speaking about the growing problem of anti-Semitism in the UK, I wouldn’t know where to begin with my incredulity.
My own identity as a Jew has been a confusing one. As I often joke, my mum’s Jewish and my dad’s Man United, and we’ve worshipped far more often at the Theatre of Dreams than I’ve ever been to shul. As a child, I knew not to sing the Jesus bit in the assembly hymns but the bacon sandwiches mum would feed us meant I didn’t quite know where we fit into all of this. But one part of my Jewish identity, that forms part of my very being, is the deep and irreparable sorrow I feel in relation to the Holocaust.
I’ve always known that having just one Jewish grandparent, in the lifetime of my own Jewish grandparents, was enough for some to feel justified in carrying out unspeakable acts of inhumanity against them, like ripping babies out of mothers’ arms and smashing them against walls. I visited Auschwitz for the first time in November. Most memorable to me were the videos in the Shoah exhibition of normal looking people in the 1930s – Jews – having fun in swim suits on the beach, playing cricket, enjoying family together, who would soon be reduced to dust. The enormous mountain of hair, including little girls’ plaits, some blonde, some brunette, tied neatly, presumably by their loving mothers, before they would have to say goodbye forever, with all that would be left of them, cut off to be made into fabric. I’ve never experienced the literal feeling of being emotionally punched in the stomach like I did standing by that display.