National Ceremony

National Ceremony in Ottawa

The National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa


With the enactment of the Holocaust Memorial Day Act S.C. 2003, C.24, and the establishment of a National Holocaust Remembrance Day by the Parliament of Canada, the Government of Canada signaled once more its longstanding commitment to ensuring that the lessons of the Holocaust are enshrined in the hearts and minds of Canadians.

Since that time, the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem has had the privilege of leading a Zachor (Remembrance) coalition, a group of organizations committed to Holocaust commemoration and education, in coordinating a National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony on behalf of the Government of Canada.

Hundreds of dignitaries and community members gather together in the beautiful modern space that is Ottawa’s War Museum to remember the victims of the Holocaust and pay tribute to its survivors.

The Yad Vashem Menorah, with its six-branched candelabra representing the six million Jews who perished, stands centre stage and is lit in a moving tribute to the memories and people who occupy a sacred space in our collective consciousness.

The 2012 National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony, on Monday April 23, drew over 600 people, including the Prime Minister of Canada, ambassadors, senators, and members of parliament.

The ceremony opened with the prime minister delivering a passionate keynote address, in which he acknowledged the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem for its “work in the service of a cause of the greatest importance to our country and to the world.”

The prime minister concluded with, “Let us push relentlessly the boundaries of tolerance and respect, until these values are realized the world over. Now, can we achieve this, fully and forever? History tells us, sadly, that we should not expect to do so. But it also tells us that we must eternally try. This is the mission of Yad Vashem (for complete transcript, click here).”

Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the Official Opposition; Irwin Cotler, representing the Liberal Party; and Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, also delivered speeches that spoke from the heart.

Ambassador of Israel to Canada Miriam Ziv spoke about the strength of the Jewish nation, ending with an impassioned “Am Yisroel Chai.”

Rabbi Bulka, of Machazikei Hadas Congregation in Ottawa, spoke about the story of Kane murdering Abel, the first instance of a biblical figure who failed to demonstrate that he was his “brother’s keeper,” evoking the ceremony’s theme, “My Brother’s Keeper,” and its lesson to act in a contrary fashion.

Two Canadian families of Righteous Among the Nations received Yad Vashem certificates and medals from the prime minister; the first in recognition of their grandmother Karolina Juszczykowska from Poland, who was executed for her “crime” of harbouring two Jews during the Holocaust. The second family accepted the honour on behalf of their parents Klaas and Jetske Dreijer from the Netherlands, who saved many Jews, among them Mr. Joseph de Haan, who gave personal testimony of his war-time brushes with death in a short film developed by the Society especially for the occasion.

Following the ceremony, Mario Silva, the appointed chair of the 2013 Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research; Albanian Ambassador to Canada H.E. Elida Petoshati; and Mayor of Ottawa Jim Watson opened BESA: A Code of Honor, Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, a Yad Vashem exhibit, in the museum’s foyer.

Dignitaries, Holocaust Survivors, and community members commiserated and enjoyed some light refreshments before embarking on their journey home, holding their copy of True Heroes- Stories of Righteous Among the Nations from Around the World and copies of survivor stories from the Azrieli Series of Holocaust Survivor Memoirs, provided courtesy of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem and the Azrieli Foundation respectively.

To read more about the National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony, please see the following articles:

Ottawa Correspondant, by Zev Kalin - May 1, 2012

Special to The CJN, by Diane Koven - April 25, 2012

Canadian Jewish News - April 24, 2012

Cornwall Seaway News - May 5, 2012

Past National Ceremonies