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Wallenberg’s heroism recalled by survivor’s son

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Bruce Kent, right, poses for a photo with Irwin Cotler, in Montreal on Sept. 18.

At 91, Bruce Kent’s beloved mother Agnes remembers almost nothing from her past, due to memory loss.

Kent is determined that no one, especially young people, should forget what Holocaust survivors like her experienced, long after they are no longer here to bear witness.

In her honour, and in the belief that educating future generations about the universal lessons of the Shoah is imperative, Kent has made a personal donation of $100,000 to the new Montreal Holocaust Museum that is to be built downtown.

Kent announced the gift in the plush 41st-floor private suites of the event’s host, the Royal Bank of Canada, in Place Ville-Marie in Montreal. The Sept. 18 reception also celebrated Kent’s 35th anniversary with the company, where today he is vice-president and director of RBC Dominion Securities and one of its top portfolio managers, as head of the Bruce Kent Group, which has over $3 billion in assets under its management.

He is also making a financial contribution to the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, which is run by Irwin Cotler, whom Kent hailed as Canada’s foremost human rights activist and a good friend.

Agnes Kent was among the Jews who were rescued by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg during the Second World War, when he served in Budapest.

Five years ago, RBC hosted a similar event where Kent announced he was giving $100,000 to the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, the Holocaust authority in Israel. At that time, Agnes Kent was at her son’s side, beaming.

“Today, she barely recognizes me and remembers virtually nothing from the past. Five years ago, my mother was vibrant and full of life. Time takes its toll,” he said.

Kent related that his mother, who was born in Budapest, lost her father in 1944, when he was killed by the Nazis, along with his brother, while on a death march. In all, seven of her family members died on death marches or in Auschwitz.

His mother and grandmother were among the tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews that Wallenberg saved from almost certain death, “more than all countries combined,” said Kent.

They were given schutzpasses (diplomatic papers) issued by Wallenberg and were sheltered in one of the safe houses he set up in Budapest.

In 1949, Kent’s mother, father and grandmother escaped through the Iron Curtain to Austria and, two years later, immigrated to Canada.

The couple started a family and rebuilt their lives from scratch, but trouble still followed them.

“When I was a teenager, my father died suddenly with no insurance and no money,” said Kent. “But Agnes never complained. She was always positive, always grateful for what she had. And throughout my life, she’s been my biggest cheerleader. My mother is my hero.”

She sacrificed so Kent could go to Yale University, where he got a history degree. He joined Dominion Securities the following year, in 1984.

In explaining his support for the planned new museum, Kent said that, “As fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors like my mother are alive and well to tell their stories, it is important that we build lasting institutions to remember the past … to teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust, to remind people about the threat of anti-Semitism, so that we can say with confidence, ‘Never Again.’ ”

In 2015, Kent donated $100,000 to the National Holocaust Monument, which was then under construction in Ottawa. For the last four years, Kent has co-chaired the Holocaust remembrance ceremony in the capital.

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