The Holocaust Memorial proposed for Westminster’s Victoria Tower Gardens is causing a stir – some critics say that it will be out of scale for the space intended, a view which seems to be shared by the Royal Parks charity. Judging by the pictures of it online, it does look quite large, although most of it appears to be underground. Even so, it is nothing on the scale of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin which occupies a significant area not far from the Reichstag, although as I recall it is not in sight of that building.
I think there is a more profound critique to be made of the current proposal. If it is to occupy such a significant site, it should not merely be a Holocaust memorial, however much that is justified. Within spitting distance of the centre of the Parliament of the British Empire, it should equally commemorate the genocides for which that empire was responsible. Perhaps the most significant of these were the slave trade, where estimates of deaths vary from four million to over 100 million (the UN says 17 million), and the British role in the near elimination of native Americans, where the eventual toll was probably in excess of 100 million. Much of the latter will have occurred after U.S. independence, but let’s not overlook our continued role in Canada. Then there are other smaller genocides, such as the routine aboriginal massacres in Australia and Tasmania. Shouldn’t a reminder of all these not have equal prominence next to our Parliament, to serve as a reminder of the atrocities for which the British were directly responsible but which, for the most part have not received the same attention as the Holocaust? The Holocaust is still, just, within living memory and that visceral memory should not be allowed to be extinguished. But I think that there is a danger that in singling out that memory, others equally horrific but more distant will be neglected. Or should we just point to the Nazis, and say ‘Look, see how bad they were’ and conveniently forget how bad we were? It doesn't matter that the slave trade and other genocides happened a long time ago. Climate change now threatens genocide on a scale never before witnessed, but I fear the politics of it won't be much more enlightened than it was two hundred years ago.