Eighty years ago this week, the House of Commons stood in silence after the Foreign Secretary confirmed the mass-murder of Jews taking place in Europe.

At 9:30am on Thursday, 80 years later, House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle led a one-minute silence marking the occasion, attended by Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer alongside other MPs. Also present were seven Holocaust survivors in the Speakers Gallery.

In a speech to the House of Commons on 17 December 1942, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden confirmed that the Jews of Europe were being exterminated by Nazi Germany, and in what was believed to have been a first for the House of Commons, the chamber spontaneously stood in silence in a deeply emotional moment.

Jewish Labour MP Sydney Silverman asked Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden if he would make a statement on the Nazi plan to “deport all Jews from the occupied countries to Eastern Europe and there put them to death before the end of the year”.

Mr Eden replied: “Yes, Sir, I regret to have to inform the House that reliable reports have recently reached His Majesty’s Government regarding the barbarous and inhuman treatment to which Jews are being subjected in German-occupied Europe.”

He proceeded to read to the House of Commons a joint statement with the governments of the UK, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the USA, the USSR and Yugoslavia, and the French National Committee which read: “The German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule has been extended the most elementary human rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler’s oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe.

“From all the occupied countries Jews are being transported, in conditions of appalling horror and brutality, to Eastern Europe. In Poland, which has been made the principal Nazi slaughterhouse, the ghettoes established by the German invaders are being systematically emptied of all Jews except a few highly skilled workers required for war industries. None of those taken away are ever heard of again. The able-bodied are slowly worked to death in labour camps. The infirm are left to die of exposure and starvation or are deliberately massacred in mass executions. The number of victims of these bloody cruelties is reckoned in many hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children.”

“The above-mentioned Governments and the French National Committee condemn in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination. They declare that such events can only strengthen the resolve of all freedom-loving peoples to overthrow the barbarous Hitlerite tyranny. They re-affirm their solemn resolution to ensure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution, and to press on with the necessary practical measures to this end.”

Mr Silverman then asked Mr Eden to confirm whether just those giving the orders would be subject to “retribution”, or whether those carrying out the orders would be as well, to which the Foreign Secretary responded: “I would certainly say it is the intention that all persons who can properly be held responsible for these crimes, whether they are the ringleaders or the actual perpetrators of the outrages, should be treated alike, and brought to book.”

MPs went on to pose a few questions to Mr Eden, after which Labour MP William Cluse asked whether the House could “stand as a protest against this disgusting barbarism”.

Speaker FitzRoy replied that this was a matter for the House itself, which prompted Conservative MP Sir Waldron Smithers to wave the MPs up, and they stood in silence.

Percy Cater, the Daily Mail’s Parliamentary Correspondent at the time, wrote: “One after another MP stood until all, in their hundreds, sombre-garbed and sombre-faced ranks, were on their feet. I can tell you there were many eyes which were not dry and there was not, I dare swear, a throat without a lump in it.”

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle described Thursday’s commemoration as an “important moment” and a “tribute to all those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis”.

He said: “Before we start our business, I wish to invite the House to commemorate a tragic and sombre event.

“On December 17, 1942, 80 years ago on Saturday, the then foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, read to the House a declaration issued by the wartime allies, condemning the treatment of Jewish people by the Nazis in occupied Europe.

“The declaration followed a diplomatic note sent to the allied powers a week earlier by the Polish foreign minister in exile, the first official report that the Holocaust was under way.

“The evil acts described in the declaration were and remain difficult to comprehend.”

He told the House that seven survivors of the Holocaust were present in the gallery to witness the commemoration, alongside representatives of Britain’s Jewish community and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

He said:”Today, we are honoured to be joined in the Gallery by seven survivors of the holocaust, representatives of Britain’s Jewish community and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

“As an exception, and because this is such a poignant moment, I have agreed that the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit and our House of Commons photographer can capture images of them here today.

“To remember that important moment, and as a tribute to all those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis, I now invite the House to join me for a minute of silent reflection.”

The names of all seven survivors were read out in the Commons later by Penny Mordaunt, the Leader of the House.

Later on, leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt, told MPs, “It was an historic moment to mark the 80th anniversary of the first time the House heard about what we now know as the holocaust.

“Because of that, I hope you will allow me just to put the names of the survivors who joined us today on record.

“Thank you to Mala Tribich MBE, Steven Frank BEM, Dr Alfred Garwood, John Hajdu MBE, Joan Salter MBE, Dr Martin Stern MBE and Yvonne Bernstein. I also thank the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for their work.”

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Holocaust Remembrance

Remembrance and education are key to ensuring “Never Again”. We’ve selected some of our most viewed items that we trust will equip you as you engage in remembering the Holocaust. 

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