The British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown received a special award from the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) at their annual fundraising dinner at the Royal Institute of British Architects in central London on Tuesday night, for his personal commitment to Holocaust education in the UK.
The HET, established in 1988 to educate young people from every ethnic background about the Holocaust, chose to honor the chancellor following a pledge from the government of 1.5 million for the Trust.
The funding will enable the Trust to facilitate visits to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp for more than 6,000 students, which translates to two students from every high school and Further Education College in the UK. The visits are part of the Trust's "Lessons from Auschwitz" course for teachers and twelfth grade students.
Now in its seventh year, the course enables students to explore the universal lessons of the Holocaust and its relevance today. Following the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the students, who are mostly non-Jewish and drawn from all walks of life throughout the UK, use the experience to educate others on the Holocaust at school and in the wider local community.
Since the course's inception, the HET has taken nearly 4,000 students and teachers to Auschwitz-Birkenau, as well as many MPs, government officials and journalists.
Brown said: "I hope this funding can help to support the vital work of the Holocaust Educational Trust in schools across the UK, enabling thousands more students to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of their Lessons from Auschwitz course. I applaud them in their tremendous work and I am honored to be receiving this special award."
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the HET, commented: "The chancellor's support reinforces the government's commitment to Holocaust education in UK schools. The Lessons From Auschwitz program is a unique opportunity for students, to not only learn from, but act on, the lessons of the Holocaust - the importance of fighting racism and anti-Semitism today.
"The treasury's pledge demonstrates the faith that the government has in the HET to deliver this groundbreaking program. We are hugely grateful for the chancellor's leadership in this initiative and hope this vital support will continue in the years to come," she added.
The pledge to the HET follows the release last week of the Parliamentary Report on anti-Semitism. The 66-page report stated there has been a significant increase in anti-Semitism in the UK and called for better education in schools and universities on anti-Semitism.
Responding to the report, the chancellor said: "We must never forget the lessons of the Holocaust. To do nothing is never enough. We must not stand by, we must never turn our eyes away, we must always have the courage to act. Anti-Semitism has no place in modern Britain and we will work with you to do what is necessary to stamp it out." The chancellor's speech, to a packed crowd of 300 supporters of the Trust, also called for greater efforts to build peace in the Middle East and that Israel should "at last fulfill its dream and be allowed to live in peace".
He added that his father, a Presbyterian minister, had been a passionate supporter of the Jewish community which had "led him to visit Israel at least twice a year for most of the adult years and to show solidarity on those visits with the Jewish people."
Brown continued: "I grew up with an interest in the struggles and sacrifices made by the Jewish people. As a country born from the suffering of the Holocaust, we must, amid the turmoil and trauma of the recent events, continue our efforts to secure for Israel a future free from terror, a future where it can at last fulfill its dream and be allowed to live in peace alongside a viable Palestinian state, free from fear of attack from its neighbors. Indeed, when people can still speak in such extreme language of wiping Israel off the map and when people can still deny the Holocaust, it is a frightening reminder of everything that the HET must continue to do today."