National Ceremony in Ottawa
The National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa
Kati Morrison was four years old, her sister one, when her mother was taken to a concentration camp and her father to a labour battalion. It was a miracle that Kati survived when most of city was marched to the Danube River in Hungary and shot alive. Kati relates her story to a group of high school students of different cultures and faiths who came together at the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem’s “Ambassadors of Change” Program, which took place prior to the National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony, on April 28.
The students listening to Kati were part of a group of more than 120 students from five schools across Ontario and Quebec who came to listen to the stories of 11 Holocaust Survivors to discuss the relevancy of the Holocaust in today’s world.
Kati and her grandmother stood at the edge of the Danube as neighbours were shot before their eyes when the Nazi who was there recognized his doctor—Kati’s grandmother. The Nazi gestured with his hand, motioning Kati and her grandmother to step back from the front row.
There is nothing to compare to hearing the first hand testimony of a living witness. The accounts of the Holocaust that the students heard or read about before suddenly came alive.
In addition to Kati, the survivors, from Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa, were Tova Clark, Judy Young, Victor David, Eva Gelbman, Vera Kovesi, Vera Gara, Eli Bollegraaf, David Moskovic, Joe Gottdenker, and Dana Bell.
Kati wrapped up her discussion, noting that there are two kinds of liberation: a physical liberation and an internal liberation, the latter which can take a lifetime to occur. As Kati said, “What happened will be inside us forever. We will be in mourning till we die.”
Following Kati’s story, the students, dressed in jeans and t-shirts and hijabs and long dresses, discussed a variety of questions posed to them: Are people taught to hate? Where does hate come from? How can we protect the rights of minorities who live in Canada? Is it still valuable to learn about the Holocaust?
The thoughts that punctuated the discussions revealed thoughtful young people, who wanted to debate the questions provoked by history but which touched their own lives:
“There is no gene for hate. You have to learn it.”
“With social media, Facebook and Twitter, it is so easy to pass on hateful ideas.”
“You must learn the facts before having an opinion.”
“Multiculturalism helps us learn how to get along with other people.”
“Change starts with you, your family, your neighbourhood, and community.”
“History is a big part of us. History is what makes us. If you don’t learn about history, you can’t move on or become better.”
Click the image above and listen to the students discuss the importance of learning about the Holocaust.
Following the Ambassadors of Change program, close to 600 people streamed into the LeBreton Gallery of Canada’s War Museum to attend the 2015 National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony.
Following the exchange of warm greetings, the attendees settled into their seats.
(Right) Liberal leader Justin Trudeau greets Cantor Moshe Kraus
The ceremony began with the sombre and officious March on the Colours, enacted by Jewish War Veterans.
Fran Sonshine, National Chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, and Bruce Kent, Vice-President, Director, & Portfolio Manager at RBC, the event sponsor, and a member of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem board, warmly greeted the close to 600 guests, which included survivors and their families, party leaders, ambassadors, senators, members of Parliament, representatives of communal organizations, and people from Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto.
Minister Jason Kenney quoted a New York Times report of April 30, 1945, to emphasize the brutality and horror of the Dachau camp upon its liberation.
Bavarian peasants who travelled the road daily ignored both the bodies and the horrors inside the camps to turn the American seizure of their city into an orgy of looting. Even German children rode by the bodies without a glance.
Following his address, Minister Kenney lit the first candle on the Yad Vashem menorah in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust together with the following supporters of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem and Yad Vashem: Victor David, a Holocaust Survivor; Howard and Carole Tanenbaum; Vice-chairs of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Joe Gottdenker and Lou Greenbaum; Senator Linda Frum; and Tyler Bogues, representing the event sponsor, RBC.
Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Machazikei Hadas Synagogue in Ottawa, played on the number “70”, shivim in Hebrew, a number integral to the theme of “70 Years Since the End of the War: the Pain of Liberation and Rebuilding a Life.” By pointing out that the Hebrew word can also be read as sevaim (satisfied), he wished survivors the gift of satisfaction:
Happy, never, but satisfied—satisfied that this great country is standing up for Israel and for Jews everywhere; satisfied that enough people of good will, but never too many, are in this fight together; satisfied that remembrance has become a part of our vocabulary; satisfied that having endured the most horrific of atrocities, that they can live and wake up every day to the notion that we have learned the lesson...
The students who participated in the Ambassadors of Change Program clutched yellow flowers as they listened intently to eloquent words that invoked history’s painful past while urging for change and hope.
Ambassador of Israel in Canada Rafael Barak emphasized with poetic brilliance the tragic constant of anti-Semitism and their expressions in both 1933 and 2015:
Today is not 1933, but 2015, and yet the State of Israel is openly threatened by the same hateful calls coming this time from the ayatollahs in Iran, who have the same master plan laid out in front of us.
Today is not 1933, but 2015, and in Paris, in Brussels, and Copenhagen; in supermarkets, museums, and synagogues, Jews were killed just for being Jews.
Today is not 1933, but 2015, and world leaders negotiating with Iran or reacting to this anti-Semitism in their countries should accompany their words of support and solidarity with concrete actions that will guarantee that “never again” is not an empty statement, so that Jews can live openly without being afraid to express their Judaism.
Then, the Ambassador lit the second candle in the Yad Vashem Menorah in memory of the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered in the Shoah, together with Cabinet Ministers the Hon. Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport; the Hon. Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence; the Hon. John Duncan, Minister of State; and the Hon. Tim Uppal, Minister of State (Multiculturalism).
The Ottawa Hebrew School Choir sang “Eli Eli,” My God My God, written by Hannah Senesh, one of 37 Jews from British Mandate Palestine who were parachuted by the British army into Yugoslavia to assist with the rescue of Hungarian Jews facing deportation to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Prior to her execution by the Nazis, she composed “Eli Eli,” expressing, hope for the continuation of the Jewish nation.
The Hon. Thomas Mulcair shared his personal story with great emotion: He and his wife Catherine went back with Catherine’s mother, Lydia, to the French town of Aurillac, where Lydia hid in an attic with her parents for almost three years to escape the Nazis. Mr. Mulcair’s story laid bare the personal pain that still lays deep within. Click the image below to listen to Mr. Mulcair’s speech.
Following his address, Mr. Mulcair lit the third candle in the Yad Vashem menorah in honour of Holocaust Survivors, who courageously rebuilt their lives after the Holocaust, together with Mr. Richard Marceau, a sponsor of Bill C-459, which enacted a Holocaust Memorial Day in Canada, and supporters of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem and Yad Vashem Dana and Bill Bell and Barry Pascal.
The theme of the ceremony "70 Years Since the End of the War: The Pain of Liberation and Rebuilding a Life” spoke to the unique challenges that faced Holocaust Survivors when they realized the extent of their losses after Liberation.
The festivities and parades that followed Liberation swept up many, but not European Jewry. Many who made their way back to their homes encountered violent pogroms: over 1000 Jews were murdered after the war by local populations. Survivors realized that they had to rebuild their lives on new shores; they trekked over mountains and crossed borders in the hopes of arriving in Palestine.
A beautiful slideshow, called "The Bericha” was shown. Please click on the image below to view “The Bericha.”
Leader of the Liberal Party Justin Trudeau spoke about the resilience of the human spirit demonstrated by Holocaust Survivors:
The survivors of the Holocaust displayed a strength and courage that is nothing short of miraculous. Their account remains a powerful reminder not only of the evil the Nazis inflicted, but also of the resilience of the human spirit. And their stories and their lives continue to inspire us with every anniversary, every conversation, every connection that we are privileged to make.
Joining Mr. Trudeau in lighting the fourth candle on the Yad Vashem menorah in tribute to the partisans, ghetto fighters, members of the Resistance, and Allied Armed Forces were the Hon. Irwin Cotler, who came to the stage as an MP for the last time; Jewish war veterans Irving Aaron and Norman Gardner; Mayor of Ottawa Jim Watson; and Patrick Mascoe, a graduate of Yad Vashem’s educators’ seminar in Jerusalem.
Following the lighting of the fourth candle, Leader of the Green Party Elizabeth May was in awe of the survivors’ courage in rebuilding their lives after liberation when the enormity of their losses suddenly became apparent and when they realized the extent and depths of destruction that occurred, not only to them personally, but to their families and communities.
Ms. May also shared her view of the Holocaust’s power to transcend party lines, to uncover the essential humanity of all:
This Holocaust effort at memory should, at its best, strip us all bare of partisanship and nationality and leave us as humans wondering “What kind of beings are we?” …. I think regardless of partisanship…we share so much, and we have a fundamental commitment to never allow anti-Semitism to find root—never again find root in this country.
Click the image below to listen Ms. May’s speech.
Joining Ms. May in lighting the fifth candle on the Yad Vashem menorah in honour of Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, were Rabbi Bulka and 22 representatives of our Zachor Coalition, a group of organizations that has lent their voice to the importance of Holocaust commemoration and education.
The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem thanks the members of the Zachor Coalition for their collaboration and each of the organization’s representatives: Susan Roitman from The Azrieli Foundation; Garry Foster from Baycrest Health Sciences; Michael Mostyn from B’nai Brith Canada; Chana Brownstein from Beit Halochem Canada, Aid to Disabled Veterans in Israel; Nathan Weinstock from the Chenstochover Society; Donna Holbrook and Pastor Tek from ICEJ-Canada; Andrea Freedman from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa; Jerry Tolinsky and Dr. Lionel Zuckier from the Canadian Friends of Boys Town Jerusalem; Jeff Shabes from the Lodzer Centre Congregation; Sam Lazar from the Maramoresher Society of Toronto; Alice Herscovitch from the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre; Sarah Beutel from Na’amat Canada; Rabbi Daniel Friedman from the National Holocaust Monument Development Council; Lindy Meshwork from ORT Toronto; Marilyn Sinclair from the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, UJA Federation; Shimon Fogel from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs; Albert Lo from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation; Leora Schaefer from Facing History and Ourselves; Dr. Mario Silva, former chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance; and Dr. Daniel Stojanovic from the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Canada.
Dana Bell created a new life for herself after the Shoah in Montreal and spoke eloquently and powerfully, with her grandson Richard Pascal by her side, about the struggles that she experienced as a little girl. The power of Dana’s testimony lay in her grace and simple words, profoundly impacting the audience as people gazed at the beautiful photograph of Dana at four years of age, imagining the horror of what it was like for Dana at that tender age to step over bodies that dropped around her.
Following Dana Bell’s speech, all the Holocaust Survivors and students who were in the audience came to the stage to light the sixth candle on the Yad Vashem menorah in honour of the future generations who will carry forth the torch of Holocaust remembrance. It was wonderful to see students of all faiths and cultural backgrounds standing in solidarity, as they and the Holocaust Survivors held a yellow rose in their hands, a symbol of transcendence over the yellow star.
Cantor Moshe Kraus, a survivor of Bergen Belsen and the IDF’s first cantor, recited the Kaddish and Kel Malei Rachamim with haunting power, each note expressing the anguish of his own pain and loss.
Punctuating the minute of silence that followed Rabbi Kraus’s recitation and signalling the conclusion of the ceremony was a powerful shofar blast. Kudos to the powerful lungs and skill of Rabbi Bulka and a student from the Bialik Hebrew Day School.
Please join us for next year’s ceremony. Stay in touch to find out when it will take place, along with our other events.