TORONTO — More than 2,000 people gathered on Sunday to mark the annual Yom Hashoah v’Hagvurah commemoration at Earl Bales Park, where local Holocaust survivors and educators were honoured for their contributions to Holocaust education.
Holocaust survivor Faye Schulman spoke about fighting the Nazis as a Russian partisan. [Michael Rajzman photo]
The ceremony, called The Faces Behind the Stories, was co-sponsored by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem. It featured a candlelighting ceremony, a performance by the Yeshivat Or Chaim vocal ensemble and speakers representing three generations affected by the Holocaust: Faye Schulman, a survivor and partisan, Howard Sokolowski, a child of survivors, and Samuel Buckstein, a grandchild of survivors.
The service, commemorating 66 years since World War II ended, also included prayers and songs, the March of the Colours by the Royal Canadian Legion and the Jewish War Veterans of Canada, and a brief address by Amir Gissin, Israel’s consul general in Toronto.
Gissin said the community gathers for the commemoration every year because of “the need to learn something new about the Holocaust… to understand a new perspective.”
He praised Canada as a country that can be compared to no other when it comes to supporting Holocaust education and the State of Israel.
“We will continue to meet here every year, to remember and to hope to learn a new thing, hear a new story, because this is our duty, not just for ourselves, but for the generations to come,” Gissin said.
Schulman, who survived the Holocaust as a Russian partisan, one of the “Jewish boys and girls who fought back as armed resistance fighters,” said that because so few partisans survived, their stories are seldom heard.
“We had to fight every day to survive… For 2-1/2 years, we lived in the woods, winter and summer. We never slept in a house. The roof was the sky.
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The bed was the ground and the pillow was the rifle,” Schulman said.
“Because my family was killed I felt I had to do as much as I could… doing ambushes, attacks on the murderers, blowing up bridges, trains and more.”
Schulman reacted to the oft-stated claim that Jews didn’t fight back against the Nazis, “that we went like lambs to the slaughter. This is not true… We fought back,” she said, defiantly.
“I was just a teenager, but I saved the lives of many wounded Jewish and gentile partisans… Unfortunately, I couldn’t save my own family,” Schulman added, fighting back tears.
“I am still grieving them.”
She said that “in the woods, the ground is soaked with Jewish blood,” but she hopes her testimony about the partisans will inspire future generations.
Louis Greenbaum, the program co-chair, acknowledged the presence of many Canadian politicians, including Toronto-Centre MP Bob Rae, Thornhill MP Peter Kent, York-Centre MP Ken Dryden, Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, Thornhill MPP Peter Sherman and York Centre MPP Monte Kwinter, before he read a statement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“It is important that we take this opportunity to remember the victims of the Holocaust and their families. It helps keep strong the conviction in our hearts to do everything we can – through our actions and our words – to stand firm against the forces of intolerance and remain vigilant against genocide,” Harper’s statement said.
“The Holocaust… was not just a crime perpetrated against a specific group of people; it was a crime that challenged the fundamental values all civilized peoples hold dear: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
“We must never allow the crimes of the past to be repeated or forgotten. We are committed to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust are never forgotten.”
Greenbaum also read a statement by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty that addressed Holocaust survivors as “living witnesses to undaunted courage, unfailing strength and unwavering hope.
“Let us take this occasion to remember those who perished, those who were orphaned and displaced, as well as those who took a stand and made the choice to extend a helping hand,” McGuinty’s statement said.
Elsewhere in the city on Sunday, the Azrieli Foundation organized simultaneous book signings by Holocaust survivors who have published memoirs through the foundation’s Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program.
Rachel and Adam Shtibel, co-authors of The Violin/A Child’s Testimony appeared at the Richmond Hill Indigo; Under the Yellow and Red Stars author Alex Levin was at the Yorkdale Indigo; From Generation to Generation author Agnes Tomasov appeared at Chapters in Bayview Village, and Renate Krakauer, author of But I Had a Happy Childhood, signed books at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre.