OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered the keynote address at this year’s National Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony April 23 at the Canadian War Museum.
Reminding the audience that in spite of the magnitude of the number six million, each person who perished in the Holocaust was an individual, each one was “precious, irreplaceable and deserving of honour,” Harper said.
He pledged to fight antisemitism and racism of all kinds. Although the fight continues, “we remind ourselves that we are neither hopeless nor helpless… this is the message of Yad Vashem,” he said.
The theme of this year’s commemoration, “My Brother’s Keeper,” was poignantly illustrated through two short videos describing the bravery of this year’s honoured Righteous Among the Nations.
Family members of Karolina Juszczykowska and of Klaas and Jetske Dreijer who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust, at great personal risk to themselves, were on hand to receive certificates from Yad Vashem acknowledging their heroism.
Representatives of the Liberal party, the NDP and the Green party, as well as many MPs, senators and heads of diplomatic missions were at the ceremony, which was organized by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem (CSYV) with the Zachor Coalition, comprising more than two dozen interested organizations.
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Green Leader Elizabeth May all spoke of the need to eliminate hatred and to let the lessons of the past inform our actions in the future.
Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Miriam Ziv, praised the goodness of those who risked their lives to save Jews. “As we recall the depth to which humanity plunged, we pay tribute to the Righteous among the Nations… those brave souls who proved that a ray of light, however small, can chase away the darkness.”
In his dvar Torah, Rabbi Reuven Bulka spiritual leader of Ottawa’s Congregation Machzikei Hadas, spoke about the first person to use the phrase, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
“It is interesting to reflect on the fact that the same person who asked that question [Cain, in Genesis] turned out to be a murderer, of his own brother,” he said. “We need to create a society in which we all care for each other.”
The Milton High School Choir led the singing of both O Canada and Hatikvah. Students in the audience were invited to place yellow flowers at the base of a special menorah that contained candles lit by representatives of survivors and various dignitaries.
The flowers symbolized the flowering of life after the Holocaust and the yellow symbolized the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during the Shoah.
MC Fran Sonshine, national chair of CSYV, invited attendees to view a special exhibit in the foyer of the museum that documents the heroism of the Muslim community of Albania who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
The exhibit, which will be travelling across Canada, was unveiled by Mario Silva, who will become chair of the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research in 2013.
Albania’s ambassador to Canada, H.E. Elida Petoshati, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson also spoke at the ceremony.