Worcester MP Robin Walker writes for the Observer…
IT WAS good last week to meet with the organiser of a campaign to commemorate Worcester’s medieval Jewish community and erect a plaque to recall both the long presence of this community in our city and its sad expulsion in the thirteenth century.
I fully support the idea of having a plaque to remind people of the community which in the centuries between the Norman conquest and the time of King John and his son Henry, was based around what is now Copenhagen Street.
With so much recent controversy about statues and memorials I think it is right that we should consider carefully how we remember some of the darker parts of our history in a sensitive manner and there is no doubt that the expulsion of England’s Jewish population in 1290 under Edward I was one of the darkest episodes.
Worcester was the location of a national gathering of Jewish people in 1241, but this was no positive thing, it was a scheme for the crown to assess the worth of the Jewish population for taxation and a step towards the decision to seize their assets and drive them from the country.
Worcester’s Jewish community were sent away to Hereford in 1275 and then joined the wider expulsion fifteen years later.
Worcester also had a small but active Jewish community between the Second World War and the 1970s and there was a Synagogue in the city for a number of years.
Although we still have a number of people from a Jewish background living in the city, today the nearest synagogues are in Cheltenham and Birmingham.
It was good to see the council unanimously supporting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in a recent debate and showing that today’s Worcester is united against the kind of prejudice that was allowed to take hold in the past.
By commemorating both the contribution and the forcible expulsion of this community in worse times we can hopefully remind people of the importance of tolerance and understanding, allowing for better times ahead.
Such appalling prejudice has sadly not left the world and must be guarded against through education and better understanding. At recent events in Worcester we have also recalled the appalling genocides in Srebrenica and Rwanda alongside the holocaust.
The fact that China’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur community today has such resonance with past atrocities has drawn warnings from the Holocaust Memorial Trust.
The United Kingdom today is a much more diverse and tolerant society than the medieval England that enabled and supported the expulsion of the Jews from Worcester.
By learning from the past we can make sure we continue to progress and by playing an active role in the world – whether by welcoming Hong Kong British Nationals or imposing sanctions on regimes that mistreat their people, we can find a better way forward.