RABBI DANIEL FRIEDMAN
SPECIAL TO THE CJN
First it was the shift in direction in Middle East policy. Then it was the long-overdue apology to First Nations. And now, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has finally righted another historic wrong.
For many years, we were the only Allied nation in the world without a Holocaust monument in the capital. This sorry state of affairs was particularly peculiar, given the number of Holocaust survivors in the country – after the war, Canada took in the most survivors worldwide outside of Israel.
In 2009, Tim Uppal, MP for Sherwood Park in suburban Edmonton introduced Bill C-442, an Act to Establish a National Holocaust Monument, which passed unanimously in Parliament. Responsibility for this momentous task was assumed by Foreign Minister John Baird, who assembled a council from across Canada to oversee the project. Fran Sonshine and Ralph Lean were chosen from Toronto, Alvin Segal and Elliot Lifson from Montreal, and I represent western Canada. Our tireless executive director is Margi Oksner.
The National Holocaust Monument Development Council is charged with raising the funds and ensuring the project progresses smoothly at every stage of the process. Baird has committed $4 million toward the monument and we are aiming to raise $5 million from the citizens of Canada. So far, we have raised more than $4 million due to the exceptional generosity of Jews and non-Jews across our great nation.
The first stage of the process was to establish the purpose of the monument. A panel of experts and stakeholders was convened, and the consensus was that the monument must achieve three aims: serve as a memorial for the victims of the Nazis, acknowledge the incredible contribution of the survivors to the Canadian nation, and stand as an eternal symbol and reminder to future generations of Canada’s commitment to combat all manner of intolerance and prejudice around the world.
Once the vision was determined, the design competition was initiated. We received 72 submissions from across the country, from which six finalists were chosen. A jury of experts consisting of architects, artists, historians and survivors was assembled, and the finalists were asked to prepare a model and a concept. While all of the submissions were outstanding, Landscape of Loss, Memory and Survival, presented by Gail Dexter-Lord’s team was chosen by the jury and the ministers as the idea that best embodied the vision.
Over the last number of years, Baird has made a point of visiting Holocaust memorials wherever his travels take him. From the outset, he has been adamant that he wants Canada’s monument to be the most memorable and meaningful in the world. We believe that Daniel Libeskind’s design will be unparalleled in its power, message and impact upon visitors to the site.
When you enter the monument, your first feeling will be one of bewilderment and confusion. The towering concrete structure is designed to overwhelm. You will try to go to the left and to the right, each time in vain as you enter a chamber that has no further exit. Finally, you will find the staircase leading out of the monument. As you ascend the stairs, in the distance, you will see the Peace Tower of the Parliament of Canada. And you will breathe a sigh of relief.
The feelings of confusion and uncertainty were certainly experienced by survivors of the concentration and death camps of Nazi Germany. But it was a time when our nation of Canada too was doubt-stricken. We did not know how to respond. Today, that is no longer the case. We have a government that is dedicated to protecting the rights of all persecuted peoples around the world. And we have a nation of Canadians of all faiths who have opened up their hearts and wallets to support this important piece of our history.
We are almost there. We have a government who is unlike any government to have walked the face of the earth in its commitment to doing what’s right. We have a prime piece of land, we have an internationally acclaimed design team and we have most of the funds in place. We invite you to become part of our national story at www.holocaustmonument.ca. n
Rabbi Daniel Friedman is the chair of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council. He is rabbi of Beth Israel Synagogue, Edmonton and is pursuing a Ph.D. in international relations at the University of Alberta.