OTTAWA — In a message delivered by Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, LEFT, the Canadian government used the occasion of the fifth annual Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on Parliament Hill to reaffirm its support for the State of Israel.
“We are proud to stand with Israel, a fellow democracy,” Bernier said last Thursday. “We are proud to defend its right to survive in freedom, dignity and security, and we are proud to count ourselves among Israel’s best friends.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier with David Azrieli and his daughter, Dr. Naomi Azrieli. [Elliot Sylman photo]
The two-hour event included messages from all of Canada’s major political parties and was attended by members of Parliament, senators and representatives of more than 40 embassies.
Former Bloc Québécois MP Richard Marceau, who brought forward the bill that led to Ottawa’s recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day, warned of a “new danger” facing the Jewish people.
“The current leader of a powerful country has said time and time again that he wants to eradicate Israel… the current president of Iran and his regime are preparing for another Holocaust,” Marceau said.
He implored the Canadian government to take action.
“Canada can make a difference. Canada can contribute to stopping Iran… take the right stand against Iran’s nuclear aspiration. Iran needs to understand that Canada will not sit quietly, will not stand by, will not do nothing… Yes, today we remember but today, also, we must act,” he said.
“Today, with words and silence we remember the millions of people, the overwhelming majority of whom were Jews, who were systematically murdered under the Nazi regime,” said Liberal leader Stéphane Dion.
“It is our duty to remember. It is our duty to fight racism everywhere – anti-Semitism, hatred and intolerance – wherever we find it… and we must work every day to ensure they do not take root in our country.”
Messages of support were also delivered by BQ leader Gilles Duceppe on behalf of his party, as well as by NDP leader Jack Layton.
Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker, cautioned that the memory of the Holocaust must be kept alive in order to prevent a re-occurrence in the future.
“On behalf of the State of Israel, permit me to express our appreciation and extreme pride that Canada commemorates this on the steps of Parliament, in the presence of the leadership of Canada,” Baker said. “May Canada and Israel go from strength to strength. Am Yisrael Chai!”
Child survivor Joseph Gottdenker related his moving story of being hidden by a Christian family who saved his life by risking theirs.
Holocaust survivors have retaliated against the Nazi regime “in the best way possible,” Gottdenker said – by living and contributing to the world in many ways.
But “the world is still not a safe place… [and] remembering is not enough. My pain, that of my family, the destruction of my entire childhood is for naught unless we act in defence of those that cannot protect themselves,” Gottdenker said.
World renowned architect and developer David Azrieli was introduced by Marceau as “a powerful testament to the resilience of Holocaust survivors.”
Azrieli, who was born in 1922 in Poland and settled in Montreal in 1954, spoke of the contributions made to the world by survivors in science, the arts and every other field.
“This is our message, a message of life and creative life, a message that rings out loud and clear,” Azrieli said. “We are alive and this is our victory and this is our revenge against the Nazis… With this contribution, we show our devotion and our commitment to life.”
He added: “We must turn our thoughts, our minds to the living, to the country that gave us the opportunity and that gave us the means of becoming creative individuals again and the country that we are celebrating with great affection, the country that has adopted us – Canada.”
Throughout the ceremony, wreaths were laid by survivors and the children of survivors, accompanied by politicians and dignitaries. Toronto’s Netivot HaTorah Day School Choir performed, and the ceremony was opened and closed by the March on and off of the Colours by the Ottawa Jewish War Veterans.
The ceremony was co-ordinated by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem with the support of B’Nai Brith Canada, Canadian Hadassah-WIZO, Canadian Jewish Congress, the Embassy of Israel, the Shoah (Holocaust) Committee of Ottawa, and the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.