OTTAWA — The future of European Jewry is precarious, to say the least, with fear and uncertainty growing and spreading from country to country.
This pessimistic, yet realistic, assessment was shared by Julien Klener at the Ottawa commemoration of Yom Hashoah, which marked 70 years since the end of World War II.
Klener, who was a hidden child in Brussels during the war, is a world-renowned academic and speaker who, since 2000, has been president of the Consistoire Central Israelite de Belgique, the official Jewish umbrella organization representing Judaism to the Belgian state. He delivered his address to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 450 people at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre on April 16.
“I am, indeed, a genuine European Jew, born and raised in Europe,” said Klener as he proceeded to share his experiences and opinions of life for Jews in 2015 Europe.
According to Klener, anti-Zionism has been replaced by anti-Judaism, with no attempt to hide or pretend otherwise.
“Isn’t it outrageous that we are still discussing the foul subject of anti-Judaism [70 years after the Holocaust]? Outrageous, yes, but not surprising… anti-Judaism is so deeply rooted in the European psyche that it never died. It merely went underground,” he said.
“Is there a future for Jews in Europe? I don’t know. What I hope is that Jewish people will have the wisdom to know when it is high noon. The situation in Europe is not good. People don’t feel safe any more. I don’t know what the future is.”
The evening’s keynote speaker, Pinchas Gutter, was a child of seven when the war broke out. He, his twin sister and entire family fled their hometown of Lodz, Poland, for what they had hoped would be safety in Warsaw. Instead, they spent more than three years in the Warsaw Ghetto and were then deported to the death camp Majdanek, where Gutter’s parents and sister were murdered.
He shared his experiences in the camp with the audience, along with his fortunate tale of survival. After liberation, Gutter was taken to Britain with other children, then spent many years in South Africa before immigrating to Toronto where he now lives.
Naomi Azrieli, CEO of the Azrieli Foundation, which supported the Jewish Federation of Ottawa in presenting the Yom Hashoah commemoration, was the event’s MC. She noted the attendance of various local and federal politicians as well as representatives of several embassies.
Rafael Barak, Israel’s ambassador to Canada, addressed the audience. He said that Yad Vashem has chosen to trace the lives of survivors after liberation.
“These people with broken hearts and families emerged from the horrors of the past to build new futures… today we are so incredibly privileged to have some of those brave souls with us,” he said.
Six of those survivors then lit memorial candles, each representing one million lost lives.
Veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces marched on the colours to open the program and marched off the colours following the chanting of Kel Maleh Rachamim and the recitation of Kaddish by Gutter.