MONTREAL — The six million Jews who perished were remembered and those who resisted were celebrated at the community’s Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration last Sunday.
Jews actively resisted the Nazis’ murderous onslaught during 1943, the “year of uprisings” 70 years ago.
The uprisings included fierce resistance in the ghettos of Warsaw, Bialystok, Vilna and Sosnowiez, as well as in the death camps, such as Treblinka and Sobibor – and elsewhere.
The uprisings continued, even though resisters and partisans knew from the start that their fight was futile and their fates sealed, and while the mass deportations to death camps intensified.
This resistance exemplified the sense of Jewish political selfhood that manifested among resisters and partisans and ensured that their end would come with nobility and dignity, suggested Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre Yom Hashoah committee co-chairs Judith Nemes Black and Joyce Rappaport, who were joined by Raizel Candib, a member of “second generation.”
“Nineteen forty-three,” Rappaport said, was both “grim” and “heroic.”
Israel’s Consul General Joël Lion said the resisters gave courage and hope to their fellow Jews being ground under the heel of the Nazi boot.
But he said the Holocaust also reminded the Jewish People for now and forever that “it is our duty to make sure that Jews are never killed again because they are Jews.”
Lion said this especially resonates today in the face of a recent Israeli report showing a 30 per cent rise in antisemitic incidents worldwide last year and with the “old antisemitism clothed in a new package – anti-Zionism.”
The 75-minute commemoration, before a full house at Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem synagogue, for the second straight year chose to use a “70 year since” theme and for the most part stayed true to its traditional program.
The audience included Parti-Québécois government minister Bernard Drainville, Quebec Liberal Party leader Philippe Couillard and Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum, as well as diplomatic figures, Jewish community leaders and representatives from all levels of government.
The program included Holocaust-related readings and songs performed by the Bialik High School choir conducted by Lorna Smith. The readings and songs were interspersed with the lighting of six memorial candles. Each candle lighter, accompanied by family, related his or her personal survival story on two large video screens.
Lighting and weeping as he waited to kindle the first candle was Jacob Lev, who survived the Warsaw Ghetto and labour camps.
The second candle was lit by Yehudi Lindeman, a prominent child survivor who was saved from deportation while still a toddler.
The third candle was lit by Leon Calderon, who with other Greek Jews cleaned up the Warsaw Ghetto after the uprising. Calderon survived Auschwitz.
Musia Schwartz, who lit the fourth candle, survived as a “Christian” maid in Warsaw.
Fela Ross, the fifth candle lighter, survived the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz, slave labour and Bergen-Belsen.
The sixth candle was lit by Mindy Spiegel on behalf of her father, Baruch, the last Montreal survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Mario Silva, chair of the 31-member-nation International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), praised the 40,000 survivors who “proudly shaped Canada,” as well as the country’s commitment to keep Holocaust memory alive for the future generations, to “never remain silent again.”
The ceremony also included the “recitation of names” by Ruth Najman and Max Beer of the second generation; “The Promise” delivered by Alga Sher, Patti Dray and Matthew Stark, to keep Holocaust memory alive for future generations; K’El Maleh Rachamim, performed by Shaare Zion Congregation Cantor Adam Stotland, and psalms and Kaddish recited respectively by Shaare Zedek Congregation Rabbi Alan Bright and survivor Ben Younger.
Cantor Sharon Azrieli, a soprano, performed a song in Ladino, and Natalie Constantine provided simultaneous translation in sign language.
The following morning, B’nai Brith Canada, Quebec region, joined by Applebaum, Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg and Notre-Dame-de-Grace –Cote des Neiges borough Mayor Lionel Perez took part in a recitation of names event on the steps on Montreal City Hall.