MONTREAL — Top Nazi officials met at the infamous Wannsee Conference in Germany in 1942, to discuss and co-ordinate the implementation of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”
Seventy years later, at last week’s annual community Holocaust commemoration at Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem synagogue, 1,400 people heard messages of remembrance as well as of hope, with speakers urging vigilance for the future.
Israeli Labor party Knesset member Daniel Ben-Simon, one of two MKs at the April 18 ceremony – the other was Shas’ Yitzhak Vaknin – pointed to the sadness and joy that links Yom Hashoah to Yom Hazikaron and to Yom Ha’atzmaut.
“We need to find a path between the two,” said Ben-Simon, who is also a prize-winning Israeli journalist.
The memory of the Holocaust death toll, connected to the birth of Israel, is part and parcel of what has given the Jewish state its strength, Ben-Simon said.
Israeli consul general Joel Lion also spoke about Israel giving Jews a “voice” in their fate. “Now we have a voice, the State of Israel,” he said.
The theme of last week’s commemoration, organized by the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre (MHMC), was “1942: 70 years later.”
Yom Hashoah committee co-chairs Marcel Tenenbaum and Judith Nemes Black and Rivka Augenfeld, of the “second generation,” children of Holocaust survivors, took turns making opening remarks that underscored the importance of the year 1942 in beginning, officially, the Nazis’ destruction of the Jewish People.
As has become customary at the commemoration over the last several years, six poignant video testimonies of survivors accompanied memorial candlelightings.
One video testimony, by Hungarian Auschwitz survivor Paul Bard, 90, recounted how his brother “bargained away his life to save me” by having Bard exempted from forced labour. His brother, meanwhile, ended up perishing in Ukraine. “This is a burden I will be carrying to the end of my life,” Bard said.
Samuel Orshanski, 81, recalled how his aunt, her daughter and 10 other relatives were murdered by Germans in Kiev, while his father died at Babi Yar, the site of a series of massacres carried out by the Nazis. “The war changed my life completely. It deprived me of my childhood, my youth and my education,” he said.
Other survivors who gave video testimonies included Baruch Cohen, George Frank Novak, Irena Peritz and Margrit Stenge.
The evening was attended by many diplomats, community figures and politicians from all levels of government.
Readings were interspersed with candlelightings and songs performed by the Bialik High School Choir, conducted by Lorna Smith, while Natalie Constantine provided simultaneous translation in sign language for the entire program.
As well, survivor Eva Kuper, of the MHMC remembrance committee, and Debbie Shizgal, of the “second generation,” delivered the Recitation of Names of Holocaust victims, while Leo Lydynia, Bernice Lydynia Mendelsohn and Melanie Mendelsohn Weinstock gave “The Promise” to pass on Holocaust remembrance torch to future generations.
The evening also included recitations of psalms, K’El Maleh Rachamim and Kaddish.
At a B’nai Brith Canada Holocaust memorial at Montreal City Hall the next day, Mayor Gerald Tremblay joined 15 students from Herzliah High School who spent an hour reciting the names of Holocaust victims.