TORONTO — Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty last week joined the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem in a Holocaust memorial service at Queen’s Park that paid tribute to nine survivors who have contributed significantly to their communities.
Pictured last week at Queen’s Park are, from left, Yaron Ashkenazi, executive director, Canadian Society for Yad Vashem; Israeli Consul General Amir Gissin; MPP Monte Kwinter; Immigration Minister Michael Chan; Severin Weingort; Jack Weinbaum; Johanan Steinberg; Mike Mayer; Premier Dalton McGuinty; Sol Kafka; Shifra Knobel; Tamara Erlich; Al Gelfant; Jerry Kapelus and Hank Rosenbaum, president of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem. [Elliot Sylman photo, courtesy Yad Vashem]
Michael Chan, the minister of citizenship and immigration, and Liberal MPP Monte Kwinter, presented scrolls of recognition May 5 to the survivors, who immigrated to and built new lives in Ontario, and made outstanding contributions.
The survivors honoured at the event were Tamara Erlich, Al Gelfant, Sol Kafka, Jerry Kapelus, Shifra Knobel, Mike Mayer, Johanan Steinberg, Jack Weinbaum and Severin Weingort.
Kapelus survived Buchenwald, and was liberated along with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Eli Wiesel and Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel.
As an adult, Kapelus ran a women’s clothing store and later worked for London Life insurance.
“I felt quite excited and honoured,” Kapelus said. “I did not expect it. It came as a pleasant surprise.”
He described the mixed emotions of the event. “Some of the memories came back of some of the bad times we went through. The good emotions were that we survived. The therapists at the time told us we’d all grow up to be psychopaths, criminals and killers, because of the horrors we went through. We proved them wrong. We all grew up to be good citizens. Those of us who survived the Buchenwald camp, we even meet up every five years, in a different spot in the world.”
In 1995, the premier of Ontario began recognizing Holocaust survivors for their contributions to the province, said Gillian Weintraub, event organizer for Yad Vashem.
Honorees are nominated by friends and family.
“It was a very solemn event,” Weintraub said. “Some of the survivors may not like to hear their stories as public record. But it’s important for future generations and to make sure that nobody forgets. One of the ways that people don’t forget is by repeating those stories.”
Kwinter offered public accolades in the legislature to the honorees and spoke about the importance of history’s lessons.
“We also remember those targeted for their race, disability or sexual orientation,” Kwinter said. “Tragically, other genocides followed the Holocaust, such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia.”
He also stressed the significance of liberty and democracy.
“We must continue our spirit of keeping alive the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by the United Nations in the shadow of the Holocaust,” Kwinter told a half-full legislature. “We must never take our freedom for granted.”
Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman, who represents the most Jewish riding in Ontario, described how his father, a German Jewish refugee, arrived in Canada after fleeing Nazi Germany, coming to Canada by way of England.
“Because in Canada, he was free to be a Jew. In Canada we are all free to practise our religions and live any way we choose.”
Shurman also stressed the importance of educating future generations.
Halton MPP Ted Chudleigh said the Holocaust holds many lessons for today. “It revealed the evil capacity of humankind. We must be watchful that this should never happen again. We learned how bystanders shared the responsibility of the Holocaust.”