holocaust,  Jewish Community,  Shoah

Me, Mel and the Holocaust Memorial

By Miles Meagre


David Adjaye’s design for the Holocaust memorial


If, when you find yourself in the centre of London, as one does, and wish to have a bought sandwich snack and rest for one’s tired old feet, then an easily overlooked space of quiet next to, of all places, the Houses of Parliament, is a green sliver of landscaped grass and plane trees overlooking one of the less hideous views of the River Thames that I now know is Victoria Tower Gardens. I learned the name of this unremarkable and therefore secure spot because it is the preferred site for the United Kingdom’s Holocaust Memorial. Preferred by some and passionately disliked by others, including me and Melanie Phillips, journalist, broadcaster and Big Brain of Jewish Britain (now based in Israel).

‘The proposed location, Victoria Tower Gardens, is a small green oasis in which the proposed memorial and “learning centre”, with its 23 tall, bronze fins, would be an eyesore. As a tourist attraction, it would be submerged by people and traffic. And as Lord Carlile, the government’s former reviewer of terrorism legislation, told the planning inquiry, its location would turn it into a terrorist target.’ – Melanie Phillips, 8th April 2022 .


Where would a Holocaust Memorial in ‘vibrant and diverse’ London in the 21st century not be a terrorist target?

The scheme was pushed through partly on the grounds that it could be seen by aging survivor’s of the Europe wide Third Reich or their families. No such chance now I think. The government and the supporters urging them on have fallen flat on their faces. The planning application has been struck down on appeal.

I was against having a Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom. To me it seemed outlandish to have to be reminded of what Europe did to its Jewish citizens until Canadian, American and British armies intervened to stop them; you might think we collectively together with a few others further afield have something of which to be proud. Think again. I realise this attitude might, almost certainly will, cost me friends. So be it. My view of the history of the attempted destruction of Europe’s Jews was not formed to win anyone over.

This where I and my now formerly friend Melanie fall out. Melanie wants me to feel ashamed.

‘It is beyond dismaying that Jewish leaders in Britain should be set upon a project which will so dishonour the Shoah and launder Britain’s shameful bigotry. Their support for the Victoria Tower Gardens memorial reveals a Jewish leadership that has lost its way.’
Melanie Phillips 19th May  (Emphasis added by author)

What? All of us?

My second level objection is perhaps more widely shared. The design is crap. An over-scaled plate rack stuffed into a tiny and potentially chaotic space, elbowing aside a late 19th century memorial to the ending of slavery. Black Lives Matter?

Buxton Memorial

I have been in Daniel Libeskind’s Holocaust Museum in Berlin.  Friends who went in before the Museum’s exhibition was mounted in its complex interiors said the experience of those spaces alone was more profound. The smaller attempt by the French in Paris – Memorial-des-Martyrs-de-la-Deportation, I did find had something to add beyond Modernist architecture. The Memorial cum museum’s placement on the Seine, is also thought provoking, but not perhaps in ways the designers of this concept would have had in mind. Apologetic would be the least of it. Like the planned (unplanned) London effort, it folds in all the victims of ‘deportation’, dilution of collusion? London is also going to add – inclusion is the word of the age – a host of other post-Wansee Conference victims, most recent and all non-Jewish.


I and Melanie were born fairly close together in time and space in London. She might just recall as I do growing up in a city where it was normal to queue for food with a Ration Book and accept that bombsites were there for some reason despite having won ‘the war’. Like me she could have met many people youngish and very old who knew what it was to be bombed nightly, to lose friends and family and all their possessions. Does she, like me though, remember what they said about the experience? No one will thank us.

London has gone a bit nutty over memorials in recent decades and a drive down Park Lane, either on a bus or in your limo, will take you past a string of statuary commemorating the sacrificed. Mules? The Bomber Command Memorial, appropriately at about the exact position of the Tyburn gibbet, is partly hidden beneath a classical canopy. Don’t mention Lübeck, Hamburg or Dresden or the lives of 55,000 ‘boys’ it took to demonstrate bombing doesn’t win wars. No sooner unveiled than it was vandalised. Presumably, an action provoked by today’s R.A.F. dropping fewer, smarter, bombs on Moslems.

What’s next in this saga? Melanie has set up a fight between British Jewish nobility, split over the site rather than its purpose; the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and the Tory government and Labour’s stand-in leader, Sir Keir Starmer amongst others; a real bundle. But the trickiest problem is going to be getting out of that great big lake of treacle that is English Planning Law, much of which is usually resolved by large bags of non sequential moolah plus weekends away with ‘escorts’, but not here in this instance I suspect.

Myself, I would like to see a permanent display at the Imperial War Museum that recounts the many stories and biographies of British Jews who fought back against European fascism, most in uniform.

They won.