Use Holocaust memorial funds to educate instead, Rabbi says

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Funds earmarked for a national Holocaust memorial in Westminster would be more effectively spent on educating people about the murder of six million Jews in the second world war, a rabbi has told a public inquiry.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead synagogue told the inquiry into a planning application for the memorial next to the Houses of Parliament that “monuments do not combat antisemitism”.

“The substantial cost of the proposed memorial … could be better used. If £100m – or maybe it has now risen even higher – went into Holocaust education nationally, rather than a London-centric edifice – that would have far greater impact,” he said.

There was no point in duplicating the Holocaust wing at the nearby Imperial War Museum, Romain said. And the need for a memorial was debatable. “Britain was not involved in initiating the Holocaust, or assisting in it, or standing by and so, unlike various European countries, Britain has no guilt to expunge.”

Romain said he was sure that most British Jews “feel that if there is to be a museum, let it be to Jewish life, Jewish culture, Jewish contribution to wider society … but not to dead Jews and Jewish victimhood”.

The inquiry into the location of the memorial opened this week after the application was “called in” by Esther McVey, the then housing minister, last November. The final decision will be taken by her successor, Christopher Pincher.

The memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens next to parliament was proposed by David Cameron five years ago, and has been backed by Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer, along with the former prime ministers Theresa May, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major, more than 170 MPs and peers, and many faith leaders.

Opposition has come from some senior Jewish figures who have challenged its location, and the Royal Parks, which said it would have a “significant harmful impact” on the area.

Toby Simpson, director of the Wiener Holocaust Library, told the inquiry that the memorial was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to ensure that Nazi victims were “permanently honoured”, and it was fitting that it be located in a position of the greatest possible prominence.

Such a memorial was “sadly very relevant today” amid a rising tide of intolerance and prejudice, he added.

The inquiry is scheduled to last five weeks.

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