Sue Lukes: Holocaust Memorial Day and how life can go on

Friday 27-01-2017 - 17:30

Sue Lukes is a well-known specialist in migration, equalities and service provision especially local services, advice and community development, utilising the knowledge and contacts gained through careers in refugee resettlement, housing aid and freelancing (since 1996). She is the author of many academic and more practical publications in these fields.  She is a director of MigrationWork CIC, on the board of a medium-sized housing association Arhag, chairs Music in Detention and provides policy advice for the Strategic Legal Fund for Refugee Children. She is a member of the London Mayor’s Housing Equalities Standing Group and convenes her synagogue education group.

Holocaust Memorial Day presents particular challenges for me. Like anyone with a personal connection to the Shoah, it is painful to recall and sometimes recount what happened to my grandparents and so many of their families, but that connection also implies a duty, to fulfil that command “Never Again!” And as a parent and grandparent there is the continual tension between protecting children and promoting memory. 

Last year presented one opportunity to do most of this: I spoke at TEDx East London about “My family and other bad migrants”. I told a live audience of several hundred about our 20th century fairytale of horror, rescue, heroism and survival

I paid tribute, as I do so often, to Nicky Winton who rescued my father and to Hana, my grandmother who hurled her son into an unknown future and so ensured our existence.  But I also recorded my concern and anger that we were going down the same road again.  In particular, the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts declare that there are some people who, because of their immigration status, have no right to live anywhere.That not only feels far too close to saying they have no right to be alive, it also sinisterly reproduces the Nuremberg laws that were used to exclude Jews from all areas of public life and from their homes. 

They were used to evict my grandparents from their pleasant flat in Prague and force them to move to Terezin, from which, in 1944, they were deported to Auschwitz.  Check the video of my 12 minute talk to see why they were “bad migrants” and what that means for us now. 

My father, of course, being a child, was maybe a “good migrant” and so came to England on the kindertransport.  He was looked after adequately it seems, but found the world a terrifying place without his parents.  Education gave him his path through it. He studied, became a scientist, met my mother, became a father, and had a distinguished academic career before his mental health problems ended it.  So I cheer every time I read of another scholarship programme for refugees, or of NUS’ excellent campaigns for international students, enabling more people to bring their knowledge, insight and experience to all of us. 

But the theme this year is “how can life go on?” and that speaks to me. In one sense, I and my family are simple proof that life does go on, but we all need to turn the terrible knowledge that survival brings into action to ensure that we have no more Shoahs. 

Many of our second generation go into the “repair business” as a result.  One result of that has been my involvement in Music in Detention, which I helped found, to take music into immigration detention centres and share their songs with the outside world.  In fact all Jews include the duty to repair the world, Tikkun Olam, in our weekly Aleynu prayers.  That duty feels more urgent and more difficult at the moment, as we face so many threats to that British value (so basic that we have no one word for it like the Spanish “convivir”) of “living well together”.  If we are to fulfil that duty then we must stand not only against anti-semitism but also against its equally ugly sister islamophobia. 

So it has been a pleasure seeing NUS take a stand against those and all forms of racism, and I welcome its contribution to ensuring life does go on. 


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