Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Holocaust Remembrance - ‘to keep the promise’

Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada at the 2012 National Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony in Ottawa, Ontario on April 23, 2012.
Six million. Six million innocent men, women, and children. We remember this number. It reminds us of the sheer scale of the Holocaust, but one aspect of its singular place in the history of crimes against humanity.
Above all, we remember the individuals included in this number. We remember that each one has a name – precious, irreplaceable, deserving of honour.
“Six million. “Six million innocent men, women, and children. “We remember this number. “It reminds us of the sheer scale of the Holocaust, but one aspect of its singular place in the history of crimes against humanity. “Above all, we remember the individuals included in this number. “We remember that each one has a name – precious, irreplaceable, deserving of honour. And so we gather as a nation on this solemn day.

Today we honour each and every one of the six million who were murdered in the Holocaust. We pay tribute to the courage and solidarity of the Jewish people in that time of gravest peril. We stand in awe of the Righteous. We give thanks for those who survived.

We especially give thanks for those who survived and found their way to our country, and who have enriched its life immeasurably. Ladies and gentlemen, today we remember not only a fact of history.
We rededicate ourselves to the promotion of human rights in our own time. We strengthen our resolve to defend the vulnerable, to challenge the aggressor and to confront evil. And we renew our vow: never again.
But to honour the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, it is not enough simply to remember. Truly remembering the Holocaust must also be an understanding and an undertaking. It is an understanding that the same threats exist today.

It is an undertaking of a solemn responsibility to fight those threats. We see it in the manifestos of organizations which deny the right of Israel as a Jewish state to exist. We see it most profoundly and clearly in the ravings of a ruthless leader who threatens to wipe Israel off the map, while violating his country’s international obligations and pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. We see it in the slaughter of Jewish children and other innocents, just last month, by a man born and raised in a tolerant, Western country.
And we see it here at home, every year on some university campuses, in the unconscionable slur that is the so-called Israeli Apartheid Week.

Ladies and gentlemen, while the Holocaust stands alone, it does not stand isolated. It is but the most hellish chapter in the long and continuing history of anti-Semitism. We must face this history unflinching.
Anti-Semitism is a sickness, a deadly moral sickness.

Anti-Semitism kills the lives and security of its victims, the consciences of its perpetrators, the integrity of those who fail to speak out, of those who counsel a false peace, of those who seek refuge in moral equivalence. As history and present controversies tell us all too well, anti-Semitism is a threat not only to the Jewish people. It is a threat to us all – a sickness that quickly morphs into a hatred and a desire to destroy anyone – anyone who is different than its perpetrator.

But most important of all, we remind ourselves, we remind ourselves in this moment, that we are neither hopeless nor helpless. This is the message of Yad Vashem, of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, and of all those committed to Holocaust remembrance and education. You take on the painstaking work of documenting and researching the most unspeakable horrors of which humanity is capable. But you do so with confidence that there is a moral compass to guide us surely away from such horrors. You do so with hope, believing in the power of education to foster tolerance, compassion and understanding. You do so with generosity, celebrating the heroes who chose good over evil, even at the risk of their own lives, highlighting the fact that these heroes include people of all faiths.

As a Canadian, as Prime Minister, I thank you for your noble service, your invaluable service, to our country and to the family of civilized nations.

Ladies and gentlemen, in a few moments we will hear the stories of three of the Righteous Among the Nations. It is natural on hearing these stories, not only to be moved and inspired, but also to reflect.
Why did the Righteous choose to do good, even under the most terrifying circumstances? What were the factors which influenced their number in any given place? And in so many places, why was that number not larger? At the end of today’s ceremony will be the launch of an exhibit from Yad Vashem, on Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. We have much to learn from their example.
Following Nazi occupation in 1943, the Albanians refused to turn over lists of Jews within their borders.
They gave false documents to Jews, to help them avoid detection. The country protected not only its own Jewish citizens; they welcomed an even larger number of Jewish refugees from neighbouring lands. As a result, almost all of them were saved. What is the reason for this magnificent example? It is Besa, a code of honour, the highest ethical code in Albania. Besa means literally ‘to keep the promise’ – to keep one’s word, to the point of being someone in whom a person in need can entrust his or her very life.

Ladies and gentlemen, we too must keep this promise. This is the culture of honour which we must all protect and strengthen, not only in our own country, but also in international forums and around the world.
Historian Sir Martin Gilbert reports that most rescuers believe that they did, and I quote, ‘the only thing a decent person would do.’ He quotes a woman whose father was honoured as Righteous, saying her father would have said, and again I quote, that he did ‘nothing other than any normal human being would have done.’ On this solemn day of remembrance, let us rededicate ourselves to spreading that decency, to making that statement true.

Let us push relentlessly the boundaries of tolerance and respect, until these values are realized the world over. Now can we achieve this, fully and forever? History tells us, sadly, that we should not expect to do so.
But it also tells us that we must eternally try.

This is the mission of Yad Vashem. And this remains the great challenge before us and before the world today.


                 dear readers, well it is laudable for Stephen Harper to acknowledge the Nazi atrocity that infected Europe in the 30's, on this very solemn day, we should not forget our own culpability in the sad story of the SS St. Louis, a ship full of Jewish refugees that was turned away from Halifax in early 1939, simply because ignorance, call it racism or anti-Semitism or hate was rampant in official Canada, too. As Adolf Hitler began his brutish campaign to slaughter all the Jews of Europe, Canada’s highest officials turned their backs on those trying to escape. A handful might have escaped the Nazi killing machine if Canadian officials hadn’t been so rabidly ignorant.

On May 13, 1939, the St. Louis steamed out of Hamburg, Germany on her way to Cuba but when the ship arrived in Havana, the Americans refused to admit the Jewish refugees. The St. Louis sat in the harbour for days before being forced to head north along the eastern seaboard of the United States. The plan was to dock in Halifax, Nova Scotia and hope the Canadian government would agree to take them in but the St. Louis’ passengers were turned away again!

After the War, Ottawa was reluctant to apologize for the wrongdoings of those in power at the time, most notably Frederick Charles Blair, the head of immigration and notoriously racist who did all he could to block the immigration of Jews into Canada., and Vincent Massey, Canada’s high commissioner to Great Britain (and later Governor-General) who worked through external affairs to keep Jewish refugees out of Canada, according to Irving Abella in his 1982 book, 'None Is Too Many'.

In 1938, Frederick Blair wrote that Canada had fought to keep people out who had become stateless as a result of the First World War “for the reason that coming out of the maelstrom of war, some of them are liable to go on the rocks and when they become public charges, we have to keep them for the balance of their lives.” Frederick Blair did not lack for willing helpers. Thomas Crerar was the only member of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberal Cabinet to support Jewish immigration to Canada but even he fell in with his colleagues and supported the unofficial ban on letting Jews from Europe into Canada.

After the St. Louis was denied entry to Halifax Harbour, she returned to Europe, allowed to dock in Antwerp, Belgium, and several countries took her passengers in as refugees. However, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum records that, “532 St. Louis passengers were trapped when Germany conquered Western Europe and just over half, 278 survived the Holocaust.”  

Today, more than 70 years later, at Halifax’s Pier 21, the very place where the ship would have docked, had Canada welcomed it, a memorial designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind has been be unveiled to commemorate this travesty; a steel memorial, titled The Wheel of Conscience which is part of a $500,000 project initiated by the Canadian Jewish Congress and paid for by Citizenship and Immigration Canada for it’s important to remember ignorance...so that it won't happen again!

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