IS there still a place for Holocaust Memorial Day in Brexit Britain, asks Professor Tom Lawson, of Northumbria University.

AS we approach Holocaust Memorial Day it seems appropriate that we think about the way Holocaust commemoration will fit into the landscape of Brexit Britain. After all, on the face of it there is tension between Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and the increasingly centrality of Holocaust commemoration in British national life.

Britain’s adoption of January 27 as Holocaust Memorial Day in 2001 was a self-consciously European act by probably Britain’s most European focused government. Holocaust Memorial Day was a direct result of the international declaration on Holocaust memory that the British government signed in Stockholm in 2000, which itself was a consequence of the European Union’s growing tendency to identify the Holocaust as being at the centre of a ‘European Historical Memory’ and as the very antithesis of its co-operative project.

Britain commemorates Holocaust Memorial Day on the same day as the rest of the European Union, and it is self-evidently concerned with events that took place on continental Europe. In the immediate aftermath of the war the suffering of Europe’s Jews had not been a prominent part of Britain’s memorial narratives about the conflict, but has become so increasingly as European integration deepened. As such it is almost impossible to think of Holocaust Memorial Day as anything other than a sign of the Europeanisation of British culture.

Since the first official ceremony in 2001, Holocaust memorial initiatives in the UK, and specifically government sponsored Holocaust memory in the UK, have gathered pace. The government directly funds a number of Holocaust education and commemoration activities. David Cameron launched his Holocaust Commission on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2014 and the resulting report and recommendations of Britain’s ‘promise to remember’ has produced the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation and the pledge to build a national Holocaust memorial and learning centre next to parliament.

The Holocaust will thus be placed at the centre of British national life – a permanent signifier of Britain and Europe’s shared past and shared trauma.

However, when that memorial opens in 2021 it will be, if the government’s current timetable is correct, two years since Britain left the European Union and probably coming towards the end of any transition arrangements to supervise Britain’s exit. In other words, Britain has embarked on building a monument to its European-ness at precisely the moment it is turning its back on the European project.

While there are lofty goals set for Holocaust education and commemoration, there is not much evidence that these are being met. The Institute of Education’s exhaustive report on the extent of school children’s knowledge of the Holocaust is a doleful indication of that.

The report’s conclusions, first published in 2016, seem to suggest that Britain’s schoolchildren, despite two decades of Holocaust education, don’t know who was killed in the Holocaust, they don’t know who killed those unnamed victims and they don’t know where the murders took place.

Specifically, Britain’s school children do not seem to have learnt much through Holocaust education about Britain’s historical ties to Europe – and largely have a kind of vague sense that Britain fought the Second World War for example on behalf of Europe’s Jews and to kind of save Europe from itself.

THIS impression of how the Holocaust fits into the wider history of Britain’s Second World War is a good indication that Britain’s adoption of Holocaust memory was only ever a partial victory for a European identity. I guess we should not be surprised at this, the referendum result was nothing else if not a confirmation that the European project had very shallow roots. But what these misunderstandings about the wider history of the war really show us is that Holocaust memory in Britain has not replaced but become fused with the extant myths we like to tell ourselves about the Second World War – not least that Britain stood very well alone in the face of the Nazi menace.

That very well alone narrative remains well established and it has obviously been prominent both in the debate about leaving the European Union and in the aftermath of the referendum. Indeed, even some of the government’s commitments to Holocaust memorialisation are actually efforts to meld the Holocaust and the myth of Britain’s war time experience.

When I gave evidence and advice to the commission in 2014 along with a group of Holocaust historians we were challenged to think about what having a permanent Holocaust memorial might ‘say about us’ as a nation. When the report for the commission was published my fear was that what the UK Holocaust memorial would say about us was precisely that we were locked into an eternal celebration of ourselves.

Since that time there has of course been a referendum campaign fought largely around issues of race and immigration. As Holocaust Memorial Day approaches we will no doubt be treated again to the spectacle of our leaders pledging to ‘remember the Holocaust’ and celebrating the generosity of Britain’s refugee policy in the 1930s (itself a myth) while acting to keep out as many refugees and other migrants as is possible in 2018.

And in 2021 a Holocaust Memorial will be opened that ties Britain to a Europe of which it is no longer part and may never have really been able to see. When it does I fear that the Holocaust will have become just another of the myths that we live by, another part of our island story.