Who am I? I am a Jew.

This is the talk that Glyn Secker, Secretary of JVL, would have given to the Stand Up to Racism Holocaust Memorial Day meeting in Tower Hamlets.

Only Tower Hamlets, in response to pressure from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, cancelled the room booking. And the talk was not delivered.

SUTR and JVL have met subsequently to resolve issues that arose during this regrettable episode and have agreed to work together constructively in future.

[Updated 10 Feb]

WHO AM I?

I AM A JEW

My father’s family fled from the pogroms in Poland,
My mother’s father fled from the pogroms in Rumania,
My life time partner and mother of our two sons lost a whole
generation of her family in Austria in the extermination camps,
I lost a great aunt in France.

My father went to school near here.
My parents lived in Old Street and took shelter in the Underground from Hitler’s bombs.

My grandfather on my mothers side had an engineering factory. During the war he made the gunsights for the ack ack guns which protected London from the Nazi air raids.

When my parents were choosing my school two refused me a place because they had filled their quota of Jews.

WHY AM I HERE

I am here because my family escaped the rising tide of fascism,
I am here because all my family would have qualified for Auschwitz

We over-qualify
Because we are Jewish,
Because my father’s father had learning difficulties,
Because I am a socialist.

I have updated the words of Pastor Niemöller:

First they came for the Romanies,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Romany,

Then they came for the gays, and the queers and the trans,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not gay or queer or trans,

Then they came for the Muslims,
And I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Muslim,

Then they came for the trade unionists,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist,

Then they came for the socialists,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a socialist,

Then they came for the journalists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a journalist,

Then they came for the Jews,
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew,

Then they came for me,
And there was no one left to speak for me.

Rabbi Hillel the Elder with famous brevity put it this way:

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?

He was talking about the self as humanity,
About humanity in action,

Put in today’s language, solidarity.

Solidarity by definition cannot be one dimensional
It is reciprocity, it is a two way process.

The Jewish socialists, the Bundists expressed it another way in their slogan

‘Always with the oppressed
Never with the oppressor’,
Together with their principle of doikayt – “Here and now”.

So we come to the here and the now:

Once again the spectre of fascism is haunting Europe

And once again social democracy is sleep walking into a pit of racism and antisemitism, peddled by over 20 parties spouting Islamophobia, it’s important to list them:

Orban, Fidesz + Jobbik  (68%) Hungary
Hofer, Freedom Party, Austria, 26%
Rosti, Swiss Peoples Party, 26%
Dahl, Danish Peoples party  21%
De Weaver, New Flemish Alliance, Belgium 20%
Helm, Conservative Peoples Party, Estonia 18%
Hall-aho, The Finns 18%
Salvini, League Nord, Italy 17%
Abascal, Vox, Spain 15%
Le Penn, National Rally France, 13%
Wilders, Freedom Party, Netherland  13%
Meuthern, AdF, Germany 13%
Okamura, Freedom,Direct Democracy  Cezch 11%
Simeonov, Patriotic Front, Bulgaria 9%
Kotleba, Kotlebists, Slovakia 8%
Korwin, Confederation/Liberty Poland  6.8%

And of course there’s Bolsonaro, Alliance for Brazil, the ruling President, of a population of 210 million.

And all legitimised by Trump and fake news.

We cannot and we must not consort with these organisations as if they were a normal part of democracy, and those who do must be called to account,

For they are not part of normal democracy,
They are the long shadows cast by the Germany of the 1930’s.
Whatever we do, the lessons of that period must not be ignored.

As Jews the Holocaust gives us a particular moral voice, and thereby a particular responsibility,

It is the responsibility of us all to protect liberty, freedom of speech and freedom of association for everyone. Human rights are not divisible. Never again, for anyone.

And this responsibility lies with our establishments both here and internationally, we are close to the edge.
They should loudly call out these far right nationalists, and take the lead in organising against all forms of racism: against Islamophobia, racism on Blacks and antisemitism in an integrated strategy,
Because anti-racism, like human rights, is not divisible.

To end, I have committed the sacrilege of adapting Dylan Thomas’ poem:

Do not go blind into that dark night,
Our age should burn and rave at this our day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go blind into that dark night.

And you, my comrade, here on this great height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
We will not go gentle into that dark night.

We’ll rage and fight, and fight in rage
There shall be no dying of the light.

Comments (45)

  • rafi says:

    Very sensitive

  • dave says:

    I see the Jewish Chronicle is describing Glyn as the ‘Jews in the gutter’ activist. I think someone should ask them where in relation to the gutter they would put the EDL.

  • Charlotte Williams says:

    What a terrible thing to happen, at any time, but on Holocaust Memorial Day? A wonderful speech from the wrong kind of Jew.

  • Andy Sluckin says:

    A very touching piece

  • RH says:

    All one can express is disgust at the way in which Holocaust remembrance is being exploited by the Right (certainly not ‘righteous’) caucus represented by the BoD.

    … and cowardice in the face of such is no honouring of the dead.

  • RH says:

    The influence of the Right in its abuse of the Holocaust is beyond even the emotion of disgust.

    To use memory and memorialisation in this sectarian way is beyond contempt. The cowardice that allows it similarly a travesty – an inexcusable further abuse of those who died.

  • TM says:

    I’m so sorry, Glyn, that SUTR did exactly the opposite and caved in to the bullying of the BoD. A shameful capitulation.This is a moving and wonderful contribution to Memorial Day for all those murdered by National Socialism. The shadows are indeed here and more visible day by day. Labour Party wake up.

  • TM says:

    Please might I add: if SUTR cannot stand up to the bullying of the BoD who have welcomed into Government the thoroughly racist Johnson and his cronies how on earth may they stand up to the Far Right gathering in the wings. Change course, SUTR. You are leading people into a dangerous blind alley.

  • Valerie Marriott says:

    Stirring speech Glyn. Narrow mindedness and hate deprived people of being uplifted by your words.

  • Rene Gimpel says:

    A moving address, Glyn,.

    The BoD are abject.

  • Gary Griffiths says:

    Solidarity with you, Glyn. As a member of both JVL and SUTR, I am both saddened and furious with the decision to ban you from speaking. It is unacceptable. Your voice and those of others, like you, should not be silenced.

  • Tommy ONeill says:

    What a fantastic read from the man who wrote it .what a lovely tribute to read out in rememberence to the Holocaust 75th aniversary .
    It is a Disgrace that the JVL National Secretary Glyn Secker was Denied the Right to read this out in memory of all those men women and children who were murdered for who they were and what they believed in .

    This was a lovely tribute to all those who lost their lives And also to those that were lucky enough to escape But have had to live with the nightmares of what they seen for the rest of their lives .
    And now on this 75th Aniversary of the Holocaust Rememberence It seems that the BoDs and the SUTR between them have prevented the event happening for what looks likely to be on political grounds

    And if so it is Wrong Especially Today When we Should be Remembering the the Victims and Survivors of the Holocaust with Dignity and Compassion And to make sure it is never forgotten and never ever allowed to happen again.
    Thank You JVL for allowing us the privilege to read it

  • Graeme Atkinson says:

    Deeply moving, Glyn

  • Mike Levine says:

    People wonder how ordinary people did not oppose the Nazi
    Death Camps and how many of them actually helped to build and run them.
    A similar question bothers me now in regard to ordinary workers who go every day to work in the arms industry when they know that the bombs fall daily on homes, schools and hospitals in the Middle East. People are not very different.

  • Kath Shaw says:

    Just perfect. Thank you Glyn Secker. Your voice will be heard. Stay strong.

  • John C says:

    How can this be? This is such a shock. My thoughts tonight are on those Glyn has remembered in his moving script. But who are these gatekeepers, and what do they think they are defending?

  • miranda townsend says:

    Thanks Glyn for speaking out and shame on Tower Hamlets Council for silencing your contribution on this Holocaust Memorial Day

  • Sylvia says:

    What exactly can be deemed offensive in this? Can they read? It’s a very sensitive and moving text. And a very clear warning. SUTR are worthless, which is very frightening.

  • Eloha Ferin says:

    I’m sorry this has happened, it hurts my heart, I imagine it must be so painful for you Glyn. Thank you for your moving and beautiful words.

  • Gill McCall says:

    Profoundly moving eloquence from a sensitive, caring, dignified comrade. Thank You.

    My view of SUTR is that is a broad spectrum movement that has only a perfunctory understanding of the nuances of racism in its many guises: had they actually understood the current debacle, they might not have capitulated so swiftly.

  • John Spencer says:

    How have we arrived at a position where only BoD-certified Jews can speak about the holocaust? On what authority does the Board of Deputies presume to silence Glyn Secker? The arrogance of these puffed-up Tory Jews is hard to stomach.

  • Jennifer Joy-Matthews says:

    I found the words written by Glen to be very moving and I am saddened that the BoD, once again, has intervened so inappropriately.

  • Allan Howard says:

    I assume the BoD had to demonise (and quite likely dehumanise) Glyn so as to make this happen. It somehow rings a not too distant bell……!!

    PS As for Labour waking up TM, I can assure you they are fully awake, but when you know that the BoD (and CAA and LAA and the JLM et al) has the Establishment AND the Establishment’s propaganda machine on its side, then you know that you are being blackmailed.

  • Gillian Kalter says:

    Sorry this happened Glyn.
    Thank you for these precious words in memory of my children’s great grandparents and 12 other family members murdered in 1943

  • Linden Ash says:

    Seems SUTR need a change of name, since they specifically did not stand up maybe “Cave in to Racism”
    Disgusted.

  • Guillaume Dohmen says:

    The real moral voice of the Holocaust is not listened to as Glynn Secker states. Instead we have to listen to old history of a time when few people did anything. This is the real tragedy. Unfortunately the B o D helps to confuse people.

  • angharad joseph says:

    Thank you so much Glynn Secker. I agree with all the above comments. It`s so worrying to think of the swelling tide of real anti semitism and racism growing unhindered under the fake outrage of the BoD, SUTR and the like.

  • Dee Howard says:

    A very moving piece that would have been well received if Glyn had been allowed to speak. Are any of the activists in SUTR Jewish I wonder? If not they need educating by the ‘wrong sort of Jews’ like JVL that the BoD only represent a small minority of Jews in this country, and certainly not the thousands of secular Jews who are NEVER canvassed on their views. It makes me so angry that anyone who opposes these Tory scum get labelled as ‘gutter scum’ themselves.

  • Pamela Blakelock says:

    The cowardice of SUTR speaks volumes about their inability to identify the real racists including the BOD. The only way to fight the BOD is to stand up to them. All the Labour leadership candidates have also capitulated. Our fight is to expose the BOD.

  • Linda Heiden says:

    This very moving speech deserves the widest possible audience. The fact that someone as principled and rational as Glyn, with the family history he describes, can effectively be banned from speaking at a Holocaust remembrance event says reams about the dangerous crossroads we are at in the UK and internationally. The fact that (1) a major (tho far from the ONLY) British Jewish group, (2) a Labour-run council and (3) SUTR are the main protagonists here makes my blood run cold.

    Let’s share share this in every possible forum. (Perhaps this can be PMd to everyone who has commented on the BoD site in the past year, asking whether they agree with the BoD’s action!) Comrades like Glyn and JVL must never be silenced!

  • Joanna Pritchard says:

    Thankyou.That poem (the Dylan Thomas) was used at my husband (Ross Pritchard)’s funeral. We must keep fighting against this tide of barbarity that is gathering around us. I am sorry that people don’t seem to realise who their real enemies are. You would have been very good. SUTR should be ashamed.

  • David Roger says:

    Beautiful speech

  • Angie Mindel says:

    Thank you Glyn for a very moving speech and to JVL for sharing it. We must all stand up to those bullies who want to silence our voices. Shame on SUTR for betraying their own principles.

  • Amanda Bevan says:

    This is an excellent speech and should have been heard on Holocaust Memorial Day in Tower Hamlets. SUTR should have stood with Glyn and refused to remove him from the platform.

  • The behaviour of SUTR, it goes without saying, is nothing less than abject political cowardice. Indeed it is worse. What exactly do SUTR stand for if they can’t face down the Board of Deputies and the New Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, who was responsible for this?

    Surely racism cannot be fought by caving in to Establishment forces? And none come more Establishment than the Board of Deputies. The same Board of Deputies that told Jews to stay at home when genuine anti-Semites of Oswald Moseley’s BUF attempted to march through the Jewish East End. The same Board that attacked the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970’s because it harboured anti-Zionists. The same Board that gave an effusive welcome to Donald Trump’s accession to power and then Boris Johnson. The same Board that hasn’t yet commented on Johnson’s antisemitic 2004 novel 72 Virgins.

    Do SUTR believe that racism can be fought with the Establishment? If not why are they not standing up to Tower Hamlets and the Board? It cannot have been difficult to hire an alternative venue in Tower Hamlets. The decision of the Council could have laid the basis of a large campaign in the ethnically diverse area it represents.

    I think one of the morals of this story is that SUTR can no longer be trusted to organise HMD meetings. Coming on top of its decisions to allow Zionists to march under the Israeli flag in Scotland it is clear that SUTR do not see the situation in Palestine, which is one of apartheid, having anything to do with racism in Britain.

    Of course it begs the question, what is the purpose of HMD and that is an area that Glyn’s speech did not touch on. Let us just say that the state sponsored commemorations reek with hypocrisy. When Netanyahu uses the ceremony in Tel Aviv to demand a war on Iran can there be any greater debasement of the memory of those who died? When heads of state from countries like Hungary pay their respects what then is the real purpose of these commemorations? Are they about opposing racism or institutionalising it?

  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    A wonderful and powerfully moving speech coming from deep experience. SUTR is cutting off their own limb, when they deny these words the chance to be heard. Only recently, even the Labour Party with its then-suspect disciplinary committee had to climb down from trying to suspend Glyn Secker’s party membership because there was such a roar of outrage. Just a few months later, even Stand Up to Racism with its base in the far left and seemingly nothing to lose, is showing itself utterly intimidated. This reminds me of what Arthur Miller said during McCarthyism: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1996/10/21/why-i-wrote-the-crucible

  • Joy Robinson says:

    No mention of the people of Palestine 🇵🇸 who suffer Today
    Please live in Today

  • Sabine says:

    This is such a brilliant speech, very moving, very true.
    I cannot understand why all leadership candidates appeared to fall over themselves to sign up to the 10 demands of board of deputies. The latter’s behaviour clearly suppressing any views that are not theirs (free speech). JVL have my support.

  • Ted Alleyne says:

    While in support overall, I have to disagree with this:

    “As Jews the Holocaust gives us a particular moral voice, and thereby a particular responsibility”.

    While this may be Glyn’s personal motivation, the idea that the Holocaust places any kind of responsibility on the victimised groups is just flat-out wrong. No-one assigns a “particular moral voice” or responsibility on the Roma, for example, who were also murdered in similar proportions.

    I’m not sure that history provides any examples of oppression generating an increase in compassion among the oppressed, but in any event expecting Jews to behave any better than anyone else is unreasonable at best. Moral responsibility is equally shared, regardless of race or faith.

  • Jocelyn campbell says:

    Proud of you Glyn!
    Jocelyn Campbell.

  • Rafi says:

    Glyn did you use any of Edmund Fleg’s material as a framework for your interesting speech

  • Buzz Rodwell says:

    Good thoughts and words. When I, as a non-Jewish person, read ‘Always with the oppressed Never with the oppressor’ I can also think of Israel and the oppressed people of Palestine, of the Warsaw Ghetto and of Gaza. This may, as a Gentile, be misplaced arrogance on my part but it is how I feel as an outsider.

  • NinaHoughton says:

    Thank you so much for this. It’s appalling that Stand up to Racism followed the path that so many others have taken, including my own Labour Party constituency, silenced by bullying from the Board of Deputies of British Jews just days after Trump and Netanyahu met to plan the even further oppression of the Palestinian people. I’m ashamed of the LP stance in this. Which is why I finally joined JVL , one of the few organisations I know of which is standing up and speaking out. Respect.

  • Mike Beaken says:

    If SUTR really did let this wonderful man down then that’s really disappointing.

Comments are now closed.