The National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa
Eight hundred people packed into the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa to commemorate National Holocaust Remembrance Day to remember those who perished in the Holocaust and pay tribute to survivors, who, with grace and courage, rebuilt their lives from ashes and haunted memories.
Before the ceremony began, close to 200 students from 11 schools across Ontario and Quebec sat in closed circles with a Holocaust survivor, eleven in all, to discuss the relevancy of the Shoah in today’s world. The students were visibly moved as they listened to the first-hand testimonies of the survivors, who were intent on telling their stories and, more importantly, ensuring that the students reflected on their meaning and significance. The Holocaust Survivors that shared their stories at the Ambassadors of Change Program were Elly Bollegraaf, Tibor Egervari, Vera Gara, Eva Gelbman, Joe Gottdenker, Nestor Hobe, Dr. Agnes Klein, Eva Kober, Kati Morrison, and Judy Young.
To be sure, the students were thoughtful as they expressed opinions that touched on the power of the individual to choose from right and wrong, the importance of not being a bystander when others are being oppressed, the importance of Holocaust education and hearing the first-hand testimonies of survivors, and their duty to pass on the lessons of the Holocaust to their peers.
Students listen to Holocaust survivor Judy Young as she tells her personal story
and discuss the relevancy of the Shoah in their lives at the Ambassadors of Change Program.
Prompted to consider the symbolic importance of the butterfly perched on the barbed wire fence in the painting, “One Spring,” painted by Karl Robert Bodek and Kurt Conrad Löw in the Gurs Camp, the students offered that the butterfly represents life in the midst of death, freedom amidst confinement, beauty in the midst of ugliness, and hope in the midst of cruelty and despair.
Fran Sonshine, National Chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, and Bruce Kent, Vice-President, Director, & Portfolio Manager at RBC, a member of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem board, warmly greeted the close to 800 guests, which included survivors and their families, party leaders, ambassadors, senators, members of Parliament, and representatives of communal organizations and the public who came from Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognized the extraordinary courage and resilience of Holocaust survivors in the way they rebuilt their lives after the Holocaust and the importance of their stories: “Your stories, while they are incredibly difficult to recount and to hear, must be told and heard. It is through your stories, through your personal accounts of suffering, pain and loss that we learn.”
Following his address, the prime minister lit the first candle on the Yad Vashem Menorah in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, together with Vice-chair and benefactor of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Joe Gottdenker, benefactor and Survivor Victor David, Canadian Society board member Lou Greenbaum; and Lou’s grandson Kyle.
Cantor Kraus, who has graced the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem stage for 12 years, was honoured for his commitment to Zachor, sharing his story and message of love and acceptance of all people to audiences around the world.
Prime Minister Trudeau presented the cantor with an award that was established in his name: the “Cantor Kraus Catalyst for Change Award.”
Patrick Mascoe, an educator at Charles H. Hulse P.S., in Ottawa, and a graduate of the Educators’ Seminar at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem, was presented with the next award for his work in Holocaust and tolerance education, bringing together many hundreds of students over the years to instill the message that there should be only one measure by which another person should be judged: his/her character.
Larry Mikulcik, an educator at William Derby School as well as a graduate of Yad Vashem’s Educators’ Seminar, was the recipient of the next Catalyst for Change Award. He was recognized for his efforts in developing a Holocaust Symposium for all the students in his school district, which, in the first year, had over 30 schools participate as well as his other prolific efforts to inculcate the lessons of tolerance to hundreds of students in Saskatchewan.
The last award was presented to Erin Sade, the Twinning Ambassador at the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, for the many hours she devoted to speaking to her peers about her experience being twinned with Lily Friedman z”l, as part of the Canadian Society’s Twinning Program, which pairs bar and bat mitzvah children with a child who perished in the Holocaust.
Ambassador of Israel emphasized the importance of transforming the number “six million” from a statistic and the phrase “never again” to a call to action to remember all the heroes in the Holocaust: the survivors who maintained their human spirits amidst deprivation and evil, as well as the Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.
The ambassador then lit the second candle in memory of the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered in the Shoah together with the Honourable Geoff Regan, Speaker of the House; the Honourable Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance; the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie; Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett, Head of the Canadian delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance; Dr. Mario Silva; Mr. Raja Jain, a Multiculturalism Program Officer for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; and MC Bruce Kent, representing RBC, an event sponsor.
Official Opposition leader Rona Ambrose said that defending the State of Israel is a matter of fundamental justice that aligns with Canada’s values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and universal dignity: “And that is why it is right to defend Israel and its right to have a homeland for the Jewish people, and it is why we stand up to any attempt to delegitimize Israel and fight against antisemitsm and fight it in any vile form that it takes.”
Then, Ms. Ambrose lit the third candle on the YV menorah in honour of the Holocaust survivors who have courageously rebuilt their lives after the Holocaust, together with members of the Canadian Cabinet: the Hon. Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs & Associate Minister of National Defence; the Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change; the Hon. MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour; and the Hon Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Reforms, as well as Supreme Court Justice Russell Brown.
Dr. Hélène Laverdière, representing the NDP, spoke about the financial hardship that many Holocaust survivors are still enduring and encouraged restitution and compensation efforts to enable them to live with greater security and dignity.
She then lit the fourth candle on the Yad Vashem Menorah, together with Richard Marceau, a sponsor of Bill C-459, the government bill that established a day to commemorate the Holocaust, in tribute to the partisans, ghetto fighters, members of the Resistance, and Allied Armed Forces who fought valiantly against the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust.
Elizabeth May of the Green Party reminded the audience that, as humans who harbour both the capacity for evil and goodness, we must constantly be vigilant to embrace the fundamental human rights of all people, denounce antisemitism, and support the right of the State of Israel to live in peace and harmony.
Following her address, Ms. May lit the fifth candle in tribute to the Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, together with Rabbi Bulka and 22 representatives of our Zachor Coalition, a group of organizations that has lent their voices to the importance of Zachor.
The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem thanks the following members of the Zachor Coalition for their collaboration and commitment to Zachor: The Azrieli Foundation; Beit Halochem Canada, Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel; Boys Town Jerusalem; Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping (CAVUNP); Canadian Hadassah-WIZO (CHW); Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee; Canadian Race Relations Foundation; Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship; Chenstochover Aid Society; CIJA; Embassy of Israel; Emunah Canada; Facing History and Ourselves; International Christian Embassy Jerusalem-Canada; I Can Talk To Strangers; Jewish Federation of Ottawa; Jewish National Fund of Canada; Jewish War Veterans Of Canada-Ottawa Post; Lodzer Centre Congregation; Maramoresher Society of Toronto; The Memory Project; Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre; and Na'amat Canada.
The last candle on the Yad Vashem Menorah was lit by Holocaust Survivors and students at the ceremony, a symbol of the passing of the Torch of Holocaust Remembrance from the generation of Survivors to those who will chart the course of society’s future.
Punctuating the minute of silence that followed Cantor Kraus’s recitation of the Kaddish and signalling the conclusion of the ceremony was a powerful shofar blast courtesy of Rabbi Bulka.
The day ended with the guests enjoying the delectable refreshments before embarking on their way home.
It was both a sombre and hopeful day of remembrance for a time in history that must never be forgotten.
Please join us for next year’s ceremony. Stay in touch to find out when it will take place, along with our other events.