Holocaust Day honour for Chichester civil rights champion

Martyn Bell
Martyn Bell

A CHAMPION of minorities will be honoured this month to mark 70 years since Auschwitz was liberated.

John Abel Smith, former Midhurst and Chichester member of parliament, will be the subject of a special ceremony by Chichester District Council.

The event is also designed to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, on January 27.

Council chairman Martyn Bell announced his intention to honour the former MP and mark the occasion at a full council meeting on December 22.

“It’s special because it’s the 70th anniversary,” said Cllr Bell.

“I feel it’s appropriate for us to mark the date.”

He was given the full backing of councillors.

“I think this is a thoroughly worthwhile thing to do to show the community how important this person was,” said council leader Heather Caird.

Mr Abel Smith was MP for Midhurst then Chichester from 1830 to 1868 and is buried in the city’s Portfield Cemetery, with his mausoleum designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the renowned architect.

Cllr Bell said he felt January 27 was a key date to mark for its international significance and also for the aid Mr Abel Smith gave in his life to those in need.

“He played a key role in obtaining key freedoms for Jews and Catholics in the 1850s,” he told the council.

Small groups of students from the University of Chichester and Chichester College as well as schoolchildren from across the district will be invited to attend as well as members of the Abel Smith family.

The university also plans to mark Holocaust Memorial Day with a special commemoration in the chapel on the Bishop 
Otter Campus.

“All councillors are invited to both ceremonies,” added Cllr Bell. The Portfield Cemetery service will be non-denominational and all are invited to attend the commemoration.

It is due to start at 11am and last for around 45 minutes.

Councillors emphasised the need to ensure the day was a commemoration rather than a celebration, given the terrible events that were being remembered.

Cllr Bell went on: “Although it’s a commemoration, there’s a tribute to be paid to John Abel Smith because he did so much for religious and political freedoms.”

Although the council does not officially mark Holocaust Memorial Day each year, councillors agreed with Cllr Bell that the 70th anniversary should be commemorated.

“I think we should never forget Holocaust Memorial Day,” said Cllr Alan Chaplin.

More plans for the service will be finalised in January.