TORONTO — As Holocaust survivors dwindle, it’s becoming more imperative to commit to memory the rampant cruelty of seven decades ago and uphold and honour the memory of those who perished, says Thornhill Tory MP Peter Kent.
He was the keynote speaker at a recent dinner that was part of a two-day conference, titled Then and Now, for Canadian educators who graduated from Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Educator’s Seminar in Israel.
Kent told the group that it’s “critical to continue to draw lessons from this dark chapter. [Holocaust educators] help inoculate the world against further atrocities, and teach about the responsibility of individuals and nations to take action.”
He said Canada has its own history of injustice. “Its doors were closed to tens of thousands of European refugees fleeing certain destruction from the Nazis.”
Quoting the book None is Too Many by Irving Abella and Harold Troper, Kent said Canada had one of the worst records among the World War II Allies in providing safety for European Jews.
“[The country] did redeem itself a little after the war by settling about 30,000 refugees. We have the third-largest number of survivors in the world after the United States and Israel,” he said.
“They came with nothing but the clothes on their backs, worked hard and succeeded in making good lives. They have contributed to our country [in ways too numereous to mention].”
As this year’s chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an intergovernmental body devoted to promoting Holocaust education, remembrance and research around the world, “Canada can say we are leading a collective work of memory,” Kent said.
“We became involved [with IHRA] in 2007 and became a full member in 2009. We are honoured to take over the chair. We want Canada to reach out to civilized society beyond the Jewish community.”
He said, however, that although Canada is a leader in the fight against anti-Semitism it is the only former World War II Allied nation without a Holocaust monument in its capital.
“That is about to change. A monument should be completed by 2015.”
In other parts of the country, there’s a monument in Halifax where refugees would have disembarked in 1939 had they been allowed to, and work is continuing in Winnipeg on a museum of human rights, he said.
“These efforts are just a few of the projects that help us understand our Holocaust history.”
Also speaking at the dinner was the consul general of Israel in Toronto, DJ Schneeweiss.
“Israel is a country [in which] Holocaust education is [more] advanced and integrated than any country in the worldm” he said. “It is part of who we are. It is implanted in our DNA.
“We must insert the Holocaust in our political GPS, so we never lose our way.”
The conference was sponsored by the Azrieli Foundation, the Asper Foundation, the Hilton Toronto Markham Suites Conference Centre, Fran and Ed Sonshine, and Risa and Daniel Dimmer. It was also funded by a grant from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.