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Rabbi apologizes for omission of Jews on Holocaust monument plaque

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From left, Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Holocaust survivor Georgette Grinberg participate in the lighting of the Yad Vashem Menorah at the official inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa on Sept. 27. MATHIEU GIRARD/STUDIO VERSA

The rabbi who headed the fundraising effort for Ottawa’s National Holocaust Monument has apologized for the controversy over the memorial’s dedication plaque, which failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism.

The plaque was removed only a few days after the monument’s Sept. 27 dedication due to the omission. Red-faced officials promised a new one that will include the words “six million Jews” and “the scourge of anti-Semitism.”

Writing in the Ottawa Citizen recently, Rabbi Daniel Friedman of Edmonton, chair of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council, recalled that on the day of the memorial’s dedication by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “we suddenly realized that an egregious error had been made.”

The dedication plaque at the entrance to the sprawling $8.9-million memorial “made no sense outside the context of the (other) plaques detailing the Nazi genocide of six million Jews along with homosexuals, the disabled and others,” wrote Rabbi Friedman, and “ended up mounted all on its own on a separate wall.”

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Visitors to the site were “rightly disturbed to encounter this major injustice to the memory of the six million Jews for whom the monument was built,” he wrote. “All of the parties involved are deeply remorseful and we apologize unconditionally for the pain we have caused by this oversight.”

He went on to write that Canadians “don’t look for fights. The last thing we would want to politicize is the Holocaust.”

The plaque and its replacement were the subjects of intense media scrutiny, with coverage and criticism coming from Israel, Great Britain, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Politicians weighed in, as well. On Oct. 3, Conservative Senator Linda Frum tweeted: “In Justin Trudeau’s Canada the new Holocaust Monument plaque doesn’t mention Jews, anti-Semitism or the 6 Million.”

In the House of Commons, Ontario Conservative MP David Sweet wondered how Trudeau could permit “such a glaring omission of reference to anti-Semitism and the fact that the millions of men, women and children who were murdered were overwhelmingly Jewish? If we are going to stamp out hatred toward Jews, it is important to get history right.”

He urged the government to correct “this profoundly obvious omission.”

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly replied that the plaque had been removed “and will be replaced with language that reflects the horrors experienced by the Jewish People.”

The original marker said the memorial commemorates “the millions of men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust and honours the survivors who persevered and were able to make their way to Canada after one of the darkest chapters in history. The monument recognizes the contribution these survivors have made to Canada and serves as a reminder that we must be vigilant in standing guard against hate, intolerance and discrimination.”

Jews are mentioned prominently elsewhere on the monument, which is shaped like a stylized Star of David.

Writing in The Forward on Oct. 9, human rights advocate Bernie Farber and Carleton University professor Mira Sucharov wrote that “it beggars the imagination to think that every sentence on every plaque in every national museum and every memorial crosses the prime minister’s desk.”

The error, they said, likely lies with the monument’s advisory council team, which included prominent members of the Jewish community. They decried the “misplaced outrage” that resulted from the plaque imbroglio.

On Oct. 11, Ottawa Citizen columnist Andrew Cohen wrote that it is “blindingly clear that this is a Jewish monument (evoking the Star of David) commemorating this unspeakable Jewish tragedy. No honest visitor could conclude otherwise.”

Ultimately, wrote Cohen, this was “a shared embarrassment.” He said the Liberals “should be more vigilant and the Conservatives should be less censorious. And the media should work harder.”

Rachel Rappaport, a Heritage Ministry spokesperson, told The CJN that her department is working with the National Capital Commission and that a new plaque will be erected “as quickly as possible.”

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