HAMILTON — McMaster University recently hosted an event in recognition of the United Nations International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.
It was “an opportunity for Holocaust survivors to pay tribute to those that were murdered and those that survived,” said Madeleine Levy, chair and organizer of the event.
Co-sponsored by McMaster, UJA Federation of Hamilton, and the Hamilton Branch of the United Nations Association in Canada, the event was held on Jan. 27, the 63rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
It was “a tribute to those brave Soviet soldiers who on Jan. 27, 1945, liberated the survivors of Auschwitz, the Nazis’ biggest concentration camp,” Levy said.
The event included a photographic exhibit called A Vanished World, by Roman Vishniac. Vishniac was commissioned by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in the mid-1930s to take pictures of the Jews living in eastern and central Europe.
The commemoration, which was attended by about 300 people, began with a performance of Children of a Vanished World, with a soprano and tenor accompanied by piano, violin, cello and clarinet, along with a simultaneous slide show of Vishniac’s photographs.
There were about 20 Holocaust survivors in the audience who stood up to be honoured at one point. After a moment of silence, Cantor Marshall Loomer, of Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue in Toronto, sang a breathtaking memorial.
Vera Barany spoke about how she lost her entire family at Auschwitz when she was 14.
Among the many others who spoke at the event were Secretary of State Jason Kenney; Government and Consumer Services Minister Ted McMeekin; Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger; consul general of the State of Israel, Amir Gissin; and Dr. Ilene Busch-Vishniac, the wife of Vishniac’s grandson, Ethan. She was recently made provost and vice-president, academic, at McMaster University.
Mara Vishniac Kohn, Vishniac’s daughter, also spoke at the commemoration. “We must speak up,” she said. “The greatest sin, the greatest killer of all, is silence.”
Vishniac, who was born in Russia in 1897, moved to Berlin with his family in 1920, to try to escape anti-Semitic persecutions. By the 1930s, he had become aware of Hitler’s mission to annihilate the Jews and realized that although he couldn’t save his people, he could try to keep their memory alive by taking the pictures for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which commissioned the photographs for a fundraiser.
It was a difficult task as Vishniac had to use a hidden camera to avoid being accused of spying. Also, Orthodox Jews did not like having their pictures taken. Of the 16,000 photographs that he took, only 2,000 remain.
Vishniac’s photographs are on display at McMaster University’s Museum of Art until Raoul Wallenberg Day, on March 1.
The Hamilton Teachers Credit Union, the Hamilton-Wentworth District Public School Board and the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board provided buses to transport thousands of students to the exhibit.
A series of other Holocaust-related events also took place in the city and surrounding area, including lectures at Redeemer University College and Mohawk College, and a film at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.
Redeemer University College, a Christian university in Ancaster, Ont., hosted a Jan. 29 lecture given by Dr. Eva Olsson, a survivor of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. A member of Redeemer College’s teaching staff, Al Wolters, also spoke. His family hid Jewish families during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, and his father was recognized as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem.
The Redeemer event also included a performance by Hamilton’s Kehila Jewish Community Day School Choir singing songs of hope in honour of the 1.5 million children who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Mohawk College featured a lecture, “Digital Hate on the Internet,” presented by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies on Jan. 30. In honour of the international commemoration of the Holocaust, the Art Gallery of Hamilton showed a film about the Rwandan genocide.