The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa was once again the site of the National Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, a gathering of several hundred people that took place on May 7.
Organized by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, this year’s theme was “Struggle for Survival: Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust.” Participants included survivors and their families (many of whom came in from around Ontario and Quebec), representatives of various Jewish organizations, politicians from all parties, representatives of diplomatic missions to Canada and members of the public.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave the keynote address, in which he reminded the audience that he had, following the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, issued a formal apology to the Jewish community of Canada for the country’s history of anti-Semitism. “It was an apology that was long overdue,” he said. He also stated that, “We continue to proudly declare Canada’s unwavering support for the State of Israel.”
Acknowledging that Israel’s right to exist is “widely and regularly questioned,” Trudeau strongly condemned the recent violence in Israel and said that, “We will always champion Israel’s right to defend itself and protect its people.… Today and every other day, we will stand with the Jewish community here in Canada and around the world, as we vow together: Never Again.”
Representing the Conservative party, Peter Kent, the MP for the riding of Thornhill, acknowledged the day’s importance, as he believes it has “great educational value,” which is especially important given that, “just last week, we received a report confirming that anti-Semitism is on the rise.” He said that, “The story of Jewish people is one of surviving, of overcoming, of the light of hope shining in even the darkest of times.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also confirmed his party’s support for Israel. “We also proudly stand with you in recognizing Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself,” he said. “Often, in the remembrance of this heinous genocide, we forget the stories of survival and resilience.… Every act of celebrating Jewish faith is an act of resilience and I want to acknowledge the strength that takes.”
Joe Gottdenker, a survivor whose personal story of survival and resilience was shared in a video clip, came to Canada at the age of 15, having lost most of his family in the Holocaust. He has been telling his story for over 30 years and implored people to listen – to him and to other survivors. “Holocaust survivors like myself will be gone soon and we need to spread the message of Never Again. I encourage everyone here to listen to the stories of survivors. Without knowing the past, you cannot prevent it from happening again. We must remember the Holocaust,” he said.
The message was reinforced by second generation survivor Louis Greenbaum and his 13-year-old grandson, Kyle Goldenberg, who spoke of the importance of keeping the stories of the Holocaust alive once the actual victims are no longer living. Goldenberg has made the decision to continue to tell the stories and to educate his generation about the Holocaust.
Israeli Ambassador Nimrod Barkan spoke of his own family’s escape from Europe and their arrival in Israel. “The State of Israel is the Jewish people’s monument to hope and revival,” he said.
Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka delivered a devar Torah; Cantor Pinchas Levinson recited Kel Malei Rachamim and led the Kaddish; and students from the Hebrew Foundation School of Montreal performed several musical selections. Fran Sonshine, the national chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, and Bruce Kent, a member of its board, MCed the event.