The Polish government has awarded its highest honour to two members of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) who helped convince Ottawa to donate $400,000 to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation last year.
In May 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged the money toward the restoration effort while hosting Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk during his state visit to Ottawa. Those funds recently flowed through to Poland.
On Monday, CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel and the centre’s senior government adviser, Richard Marceau, were awarded Poland’s Gold and Silver Crosses of Merit, respectively, in recognition of their “services to the development of the Polish-Canadian co-operation, and the remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust” by the Polish Embassy in Canada.
Through their government-relations work with CIJA, both Fogel and Marceau helped Polish officials reach out to Canadian cabinet ministers, opposition members and other decision makers in Ottawa after the Poles asked for their help securing funding for the foundation.
At the time of Canada’s pledge to the foundation last year, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement declaring that the government “is committed to supporting Holocaust education, research and remembrance with a view to ensuring this heinous act is never forgotten or repeated.”
Established in 2009, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation is a Polish non-governmental organization seeking to preserve the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp by raising 120 million euros ($154 million Cdn) to cover the site’s conservation costs.
According to Polish Embassy spokesperson Andrzej Fafara, the foundation has now raised close to 97 million euros ($128 million) in donations as of May.
He also said it’s “uncommon” for any non-Polish citizen to receive the award, but that his government was grateful for all the help provided by Fogel and Marceau in their roles as liaisons with Canadian senior officials.
While Canada’s contribution falls short of major donations from other countries – Germany has given 60 million euros ($70 million), the United States pledged 15 million euros ($20 million) and Poland 10 million euros ($13 million), to name a few – the gesture is appreciated by Poland nonetheless, Fafara said.
Fogel said it’s important for CIJA to help Canadian parliamentarians understand the need to preserve the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial site.
“Just as there has to be collective responsibility for the tragedy of the Holocaust, there’s a collective responsibility for remembering it, sanctifying it and resolving to use those lessons going forward,” Fogel said.
Asked what getting this award meant to him, Fogel said that as a child of survivors, the awarding of this medal is laden with meaningfulness and historic significance.
“Who would have thought that today, Poles and a Canadian Jewish communal organization would be working together to create a lasting monument to those who were murdered? I find it very special,” he said. “[Marceau] and I are privileged to have been able to assist.”