The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem (CSYV) and the government of Canada hosted a National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa on April 18.
More than 700 people – including government officials, Holocaust survivors and their families, students and community members from across Canada – attended this year’s ceremony, which was held at the National War Museum. This year, the ceremony also coincided with Yom ha-Zikaron, which honours the memories of those who gave their lives for the State of Israel.
The keynote address was delivered by Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, on behalf of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was out of the country at the time.
The theme of this year’s ceremony was “Remembering the Past, Shaping the Future: The Importance of Remembering the Holocaust.” Sajjan noted that the exhibit on the SS St. Louis that’s showing at the war museum, which tells the story of Canada’s failure to take in Jewish refugees during the Second World War. “As painful as this story is to tell, we have a duty to tell it to our younger generations today and always,” he said.
He also honoured the survivors who were present at the ceremony, as well as those who were not. “As survivors, you chose to rebuild your lives. You chose to come to Canada. You chose to live each day with compassion and love for others and to raise children who would do the same,” said Sajjan.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh echoed the sentiment about Canada’s failure to allow the St. Louis to dock, which resulted in the death of hundreds of Jews. “We failed those refugees and we failed ourselves. We let hate win. We must never let it win again,” he said. “That is why we must reject and condemn anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head – everywhere and anywhere.”
Israeli Ambassador Nimrod Barkan addressed those present and participated in a candlelighting ceremony.
Survivors Felicia Carmelly and Israel Mida shared their personal stories of the Holocaust.
As painful as this story is to tell, we have a duty to tell it to our younger generations.
– Harjit Singh Sajjan
Carmelly is the author of Across the Rivers of Memory, which is about her life in easter Europe and starting anew in Canada.
Second generation survivor Mida lost 53 members on his father’s family and 24 on his mother’s side, all murdered by the Nazis.
“Only 15 years before I was born, a mere moment in time, all of my family members were alive, living pious religious lives and bothering no one. Why, why then did they all have to die, just because they were Jews?” he asked.
Following the testimonies of the two survivors, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said that, “It is imperative that we continue to remember the horror of the Holocaust and that future generations ensure it never happens again.”
Scheer also recognized the importance of Israel to the survival of the Jewish people. “Our support for Israel is unequivocal. We will always defend Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people,” he said.
We will always defend Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people.
– Andrew Scheer
The devar Torah was given by Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, who also blew the shofar at the end of the ceremony. Cantor Pinchas Levinson chanted Kel Malei Rachamin and led the recitation of Kaddish for the six million who died in the Holocaust. Students from the Hebrew Foundation School in Montreal performed, as did violinist Christian Vachon.
After the ceremony, students from various high schools in Ontario and Quebec participated in the CSYV Ambassadors of Change program, in which they interacted with survivors in guided group sessions about the Holocaust and its relevance today.