This week, January 27 was proclaimed Holocaust Remembrance Day in the City of Richmond, B.C. The proclamation was declared by Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie at a packed ceremony held at the Bayit, one of the city’s Orthodox synagogues.
Mike Sachs, the past president of the Bayit, has fostered an enduring relationship with the mayor on behalf of Richmond’s Jewish community and initiated the conversation about having the city recognize Holocaust Remembrance Day some months back. “Mayor Brodie and I meet periodically throughout the year and he’s very supportive of our community and other communities in Richmond,” Sachs said, “But the catalyst for this proclamation was the pending auction of Nazi memorabilia at a local auction house in November. That brought everything to a head.”
The auction house Maynards Fine Art & Antiques was planning to auction Nazi memorabilia, including a flag with a swastika, Nazi pins and a German Luftwaffe officer’s dagger that month. The items were withdrawn from the auction after community members, city council members, local MLAs and the Jewish community expressed their outrage.
“After that the Mayor told me, we need to make a stand, and we started working on the proclamation,” Sachs said. “Essentially it’s a statement that Richmond supports the Jewish community and believes in Holocaust education.”
Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions in BC, addressed the audience with the story of her father, a Russian Jew who survived the Holocaust by pretending to be a devout Catholic, but lost the rest of his family. “He hid his Jewish identity from everyone, including his children, until a few years before his death at 93, living with the trauma of loss, guilt and surviving all his life,” she reflected. “It’s so important to share our stories in the world so we never forget – especially in a world where bigotry and hatred is on the rise.”
Holocaust survivor Lillian Borat-Nemetz, a child survivor of the Holocaust born in Warsaw, also spoke of her guilt at having survived when other members of her family did not. “The Holocaust is our collective history,” she declared.
Before reading the proclamation Mayor Brodie declared it was a “night of solemn reflections in our city. There are many reasons that we should recognize Holocaust Remembrance Day,” he said.
“We have to honour those who suffered and died and make sure there’s never any repetition of those events. We have to recognize that another Holocaust is not some vague remote possibility, and be mindful that acts of hatred and anti-Semitism are real and can grow. And as a community we have to take every possible step to decry anti-Semitism and ensure our community is characterized by compassion. We need to teach young people about the Holocaust, and to repeat this event every year and bring more attention to it each time.”
Ezra Shankin, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, said the proclamation was a “shield against hate” in a time when symbols and acts of anti-Semitism are increasing. “Swastikas are popping up too much on school walls, Jewish summer camps and public spaces, and city councils are beginning to understand that to create loving, tolerant, caring communities, we must remember when things weren’t this way,” he said.
Nico Slobinsky, director of Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Pacific Region, said Richmond will be joined by the City of Vancouver and the City of North Vancouver, who will be announcing similar proclamations later this month.