Ontario Honours Holocaust Survivors

Nov. 10, 2020 

By LILA SARICK

Ten Holocaust survivors who have made it their mission to educate younger generations about the dangers of antisemitism and racism were honoured by the Ontario government in a virtual ceremony on Nov. 5.

The annual ceremony, usually held at Queen’s Park, was scheduled for last spring but postponed due to COVID. This year’s virtual event was held during Holocaust Education Week, Nov. 2-9.

The theme of this year’s event was “passing the torch” – fitting, given that the honourees were all speakers at the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and had dedicated hours to talking to students about their experiences, said Fran Sonshine national chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, in remarks that were recorded earlier at the Holocaust memorial in Toronto’s Earl Bales Park.

This year’s honorees were Hedy Bohm, Esther Fairbloom, Pola Goldhar, Denise (Fikman) Hans, Mark Lane, Faigie (Schmidt) Libman, Rose Lipszyc (née Handelsman), Captain Martin Maxwell, Andy Réti and Gershon Israel Willinger.

Each honoree had received a certificate, often surrounded by their children and grandchildren, in outdoor ceremonies recorded earlier.

The survivors spoke briefly, often thanking Canada for taking them in after the Second World War, and giving them a second chance to build a life – and about the importance of teaching young people about the Holocaust.

“I hope in the future to continue Holocaust education,” said Bohm. “My goal has been and always was to make young people feel empowered to stand up and speak against any type of prejudice.”

Debbie Estrin of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem presents a tribute from the government of Ontario to Capt. Martin Maxwell. Looking on is Maxwell’s wife, Eleanor. (Photo courtesy Canadian Society for Yad Vashem)

MPPs Roman Baber, Will Bouma, Rima Berns-McGown, Gila Martow, and Steven Del Duca, leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, introduced each honoree.

Premier Doug Ford praised the honourees’ “unbelievable bravery,” saying their “resilience and strength continue to inspire me.”

Galit Baram, consul general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, spoke about the “alarming rise” of antisemitism, assaults and Holocaust denial, even in democratic, western societies.

“What I have to come to realize is that the Sisyphean task of combating antisemitism necessitates continuous activity on three levels: legislation, prosecution and education,” Baram said in her remarks.

“Every time elected officials speak up against antisemitism and draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not, every time a Holocaust survivor provides testimony, every time a story of the Righteous Among the Nations is told in public, every step brings us closer to developing an antidote to hatred and racism,” Baram said.

To watch the ceremony, visit yadvashem.ca