My Zaida’s best friend Andy was born in Hungary. He grew up very comfortably but his idyllic childhood did not last long. In March 1944, the Nazis occupied Hungary, and he came to know the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand.
Recently, I interviewed Andy. He told me that he, his mom, and his sister survived the Holocaust by chance because an axle on their railcar broke, and they were marched to another camp instead of to Auschwitz. He was quite ill, and his mother carried him on her back for many kilometers. Otherwise, he would have been shot.
For a 15-year-old like me, growing up in multicultural Toronto, something like the Holocaust is very difficult to grasp. The human mind cannot imagine what six million dead looks like. And this was not that long ago. Questions abound: How could Adolf Hitler, whose antisemitism was open, as he wrote about it in Mein Kampf in 1925, and his Nazi Party form a government? How could the Holocaust have been masterminded in one of the most cultured and sophisticated countries in the world?
Propaganda was used to make Jews less than human. As a young child in Germany, if this is what you were taught, not only by your family but by your government, how would you know any better?
However, adults in Germany did know better. One of the important reasons to study history is to ensure that terrible events do not repeat themselves. What I take from this is that we must be careful about how lies and propaganda can influence us. That is why a strong, free and fiercely independent press is so important to our democracy.
Crimes against the Jewish people in Germany started small and gradually but by the late 1930s, escalated dramatically even before the Second World War. Public book burnings began in 1933, and Kristallnacht, the night of widespread pogroms, was in 1938. Nazi mobs burned synagogues and beat Jews publicly. Some Germans were appalled by these events – but not enough were.
One of the most significant issues in Nazi Germany was the compliance of the general population. When Jews were forced into ghettos, their neighbours were not forced to move into their homes. Neither were they forced to steal their possessions. It was their choice. Doing so and knowing that your neighbours might be abused or murdered by gas, gun, or at the hand of another human being is absolutely twisted. There is no question that complacency leads to complicity.
One hundred years before the Holocaust, the German poet Heinrich Heine wrote, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” If complacency and complicity occurred in a high culture like Germany’s, it can happen anywhere. This is why it is important to be true to yourself and true to others.
Even after the horrors of the Holocaust, antisemitism continues to exist, even thrive. Andy told me, “When my mother returned to Hungary after the war ended to retrieve her silver, her neighbours were not excited to see her. They told her they wished she would have disappeared in the Holocaust, so they could keep her things.”
As individuals and as a society, we have a responsibility to think about what is happening around us and to not always go with the mob. Being a bystander and being silent in the face of hate and intolerance is one of the most dangerous things for a free society.
Today, we continue to see terrible acts against Jewish, Black, and Indigenous people and many other victims of hate. I am still too young to vote, but I discovered that voting is key to combating hate, which can rise up during tough economic times, like we are experiencing today. Tapping into fear and scapegoating minorities is wrong and dangerous. We always need to think of our own welfare, but we also have to ensure that we look out for the marginalized in our society and protect the rights of minorities.
Standing up for others is the best way to erase hatred and to build a stronger democracy.
Ellie Deegan is a grade 10 student at Greenwood College School in Toronto
George Bluman doesn’t hesitate when he considers the legacy of Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who provided Jews with life-saving travel visas during the Second World War.
“In my own family, there are 21 people living…. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” Bluman, a retired math professor who lives in Vancouver, said in an interview with the CJR.
In the summer of 1940, Sugihara served as Japan’s vice-consul in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, and issued thousands of transit visas to Jewish refugees, permitting them transit through Japan. Some were issued to Jews who had managed to secure visas allowing them to enter Dutch-controlled Curacao, but Sugihara also issued them to other refugees who did not have proper documentation.
Bluman’s parents were Polish Jews who had fled to Lithuania at the outbreak of the war. In 1940, they received visas from Sugihara, even though their paperwork was incomplete. They travelled through Russia, boarding a ship in Vladivostok, and sailed to Japan.
After spending six months there, Bluman’s father, who had a degree in bio-engineering, received one of 25 Canadian visas available to immigrants with specialized skills. The couple arrived in Vancouver in 1941.
Bluman, who was born not long after his parents arrived in Canada, has done extensive research into Sugihara’s life and what happened to those who received those precious visas. One of Bluman’s grandchildren carries Sugihara’s name, and the family is in frequent contact with the diplomat’s descendants.
“From my perspective, he (Sugihara) wasn’t just a passerby. He cared and put his family at some risk,” Bluman said. “He wrote to his superiors three times and they certainly didn’t encourage these visas.”
While there is some dispute about the number of visas Sugihara issued to Jewish refugees in that summer of 1940 in Kaunas – Yad Vashem in Israel says it was between 2,100 and 3,500, while other sources say it was as many as 6,000 – Bluman says the number is not important. “What was amazing is what he did over a short period of time.”
After arriving in Japan, many refugees then travelled to Shanghai, China, where there was an established Jewish community. After the war, about half of those left for the United States and about 15 percent came to Canada, Bluman said. About one-quarter of those who received visas were yeshiva students, he said.
Today, an estimated 40,000 people are descendants of those who received the visas.
Sugihara’s legacy will be commemorated by the Japanese Embassy in Canada this week to mark the 120th anniversary of his birth, the 80th anniversary of his issuing the visas, and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It all makes for an auspicious time to remember the diplomat’s achievements, said Atsushi Murata, director of information and culture for the Embassy of Japan in Ottawa.
The online memorial was recorded Dec. 8 and was organized by the Embassy of Japan in cooperation with the embassies of Israel and Lithuania, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem. Among the speakers were a Holocaust survivor who received a visa, and two descendants of those who were saved by Sugihara, including Bluman.
Sugihara was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations in 1984, the only Japanese national to be honoured. He died in 1986.
Bluman credits the Japanese ambassador to Canada for initiating the event. While based in New York, Ambassador Yasuhisa Kawamura became friends with a number of Jews and began to hear about Sugihara and the people he had helped. “He is passionate about the story,” Bluman said.
In Japan, Sugihara’s story is well known, and he is considered one of the country’s 100 most important people, Bluman said. Last year, Lithuania announced that 2020 would be dedicated to the memory of Sugihara, and conferences, museum exhibits, and a commemorative stamp were planned for the year.
Sugihara’s deeds are comparable to those of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who sheltered Jews during the war, but his story is much less well known in North America simply because there hasn’t been a popular Hollywood film about his life, Bluman said.
“The most important thing is to make people in Canada aware of Sugihara.”
To watch the ceremony honouring Sugihara, as well as documentaries about his life and the survivors, visit www.visasforlife.info.
Addendum: In 1993, Canadian Jewish Congress and the National Association of Japanese Canadians were one of the first organizations to honour Sugihara. Present for that dinner were members of the Sugihara family and numerous elected officials, including then Ontario Premier Bob Rae.
The multicultural mosaic of Canadian society is a critical pillar, one that makes our country unique. It adds to the vibrancy and richness of the fabric of our great nation. However, it also results in ongoing complexity as communities navigate their relationship with each other and with the federal government.
It’s first important to recognize that the Jewish community, like other ethnocultural groups in Canada, is not monolithic. To assume so would be to take a reductionist perspective. The pursuit of unity of purpose, despite disparity of opinion, is a lofty yet laudable objective.
On Nov. 25, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed human rights advocate and former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler to the newly-created post of Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.
Based on Cotler’s impressive body of work in law, academia, and politics, he’s an excellent, unifying choice. I want to fully acknowledge the importance of this announcement. While we wait to learn details of his mandate, we should watch his work closely and contribute when possible.
However, I cannot help but be troubled by this announcement’s timing, as it comes on the heels of Canada’s jarring vote at the United Nations on an Israel-related resolution.
Each year, the UN General Assembly considers the same basket of 20 or so motions on the “Question of Palestine,” but which serve to single out Israel, apply an unfair double-standard in assessing its policies, or worse.
One such resolution, which Canada approved, affirms Palestinian self-determination, but without reference to the same rights for Israel, and defies Jewish connections to what it classifies as “East Jerusalem,” including the Western Wall.
The vote marked the second consecutive year that Canada opposed Israel on this key resolution, while supporting Israel on most others.
This was a break from 14 years of Canadian foreign policy that refused to support UN motions singling out Israel, and which the Trudeau government upheld during its first term. Many community members feel betrayed by this policy reversal, since Liberal candidates in the last election promised to keep with this longstanding government position.
At this juncture, it is appropriate to consider where the Jewish community’s relationship stands with the federal government. On one hand, Cotler’s new post is good news. On the other, some might view this gesture as a cynical attempt to regain Jewish trust, after strong disappointment from a broad coalition of Jewish advocacy groups and community members with Canada’s UN vote reversal.
To navigate this relationship going forward, it’s important for us to own our end of the partnership. First, I would argue that based on Jewish history, including the Holocaust, it is often difficult for Jews to be fully trusting of government actions, especially after that trust is tarnished. I am hopeful that through this new post, more Canadians will become aware of key aspects of Jewish history, and that governments will become more sensitive to the caution inherent in our trust.
It is also important that our community be empowered and know our worth. We are worth, simultaneously, having our past recognized and our future protected. Grassroots community members deserve greater opportunities for direct engagement with government officials as a complement to the commendable advocacy work undertaken by Jewish organizations. We should feel supported unreservedly, without grounds for doubt in the government’s intentions.
Finally, it is important to remind ourselves of the inextricable link between the Holocaust, antisemitism, and the modern State of Israel. Israel’s founding and continued vitality represent a haven for Jews around the world. Any attempts to recognize the impact of the Holocaust and antisemitism are half-hearted without support for the State of Israel. This is the message we should continue to convey to our elected officials and to our neighbours.
Canadian Jewry’s relationship with the government of Canada is both complex and critical, and vice-versa. Despite challenges, we must not walk away, and we trust that our partners likewise engage in good faith. Let’s continue striving for better.
Zachary Zarnett-Klein is a university student from Toronto. His passions include community involvement, civic engagement, and human rights.
Holocaust heroes and survivors. Mossad spies. Infamous Nazis. Wealthy Jews who once controlled Shanghai.
These and other inviting subjects are set to be explored at Hamilton’s Jewish Book Fair and Holocaust Education Week.
Usually separate events, the celebration of Jewish books and Shoah memorial has been combined into a series of online programs this year.
Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, said that in the age of COVID, merging the events made sense.
“Instead of asking people to register separately for both events we’d do them together,” he told the CJR. “It’s also a chance for some of our young families to get familiar with Holocaust Education Week.
“We think it’s important for our young people to learn about that now and not wait for a teacher to bring it up in school,” he added.
“Everyone has a responsibility to talk about the Holocaust, not only in educational settings but conversations need to take place at home. It is shocking that a large number of young Canadians are unaware that over six million Jewish men, women and children were killed during the Holocaust.”
The plan for this year is to centre around nine books – five during book festival events Nov. 1-4 and four during Holocaust week, Nov. 8-12.
Leading off the book festival is Jonathan Kaufman presenting on his book The Last King of Shanghai. It chronicles the moral compromises, foresight and generosity of two extraordinary Jewish families – the Sassoons and the Kadoories – who ruled over Chinese business and politics for more than 175 years.
Both originally from Baghdad, they profited from the Opium Wars that tore China apart and then survived the communist takeover of the country.
Now the director of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, Kaufman spent 30 years and won a Pulitzer Prize covering China for the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.
In an interview, Kaufman said the idea for the book was born in the late 1970s when, newly arrived in China, he began to see traces of a century of Jewish influence on the country.
In addition to being a story of wealth and power, Kaufman said the book adds an important piece to our understanding of Jewish history.
“We tend to think of Jewish history as the stories of poor European immigrants who work hard and rise to great heights,” he said. “This is another part of the history of Jews who also worked hard and climbed to great heights.”
Kaufman is also the author of A Hole in the Heart of the World: Being Jewish in Eastern Europe and Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America, which won a National Jewish Book Award.
The book festival will also include presentations on Red Sea Spies, the true story of the Mossad operation that used a diving resort on the coast of Somalia as a cover to rescue thousands of Ethiopian Jews and smuggle them to Israel. The book was written by long-time BBC Middle East correspondent Raffi Berg.
On Nov. 2, former New York Times reporter Howard Blum will discuss his book Night of the Assassins: The Untold Story of Hitler’s Plot to Kill FDR, Churchill and Stalin. It’s the true story of a Nazi plot to destroy the leaders of the Allies during their Tehran conference in 1943. With their leaders dead, the German hope was that the stricken Allies would then be willing to make peace with the Third Reich.
Concealed, to be presented Nov. 3 by author Esther Amini, tells the story of her struggles growing up in Queens, N.Y. in the 1960s – the daughter of Jewish-Iranian refugees trying to find a balance between her parents’ traditions and her longing for American freedom.
The final book festival presentation is slated for Nov.4. The title for that night will be Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bess Kalb’s recounting of family lore and secrets from her grandmother chronicling the lives of four generations of women and the men who loved them.
Holocaust Education Week events kick off Nov. 8 with a presentation of Toronto author Kathy Kacer’s true story, The Brushmaker’s Daughter.
It tells the tale of a 12-year-old German-Jewish girl and her blind father on the run from the Nazis. They are sheltered by brush factory owner Otto Weidt, who employs blind Jewish workers in his factory, determined to save as many as he can.
Kacer, a former psychologist, has written often about the Holocaust and the people who struggled against it. In an interview, she said “as soon as I heard about this, I knew it would be the next story I would tell. The example of individuals who exhibit that kind of moral strength is a great one, especially today. Capturing stories like this is even more important today. We still have a small window of opportunity today to capture those stories.”
Kacer added that while the central character of the story is fictional, Weidt and his factory are historical. Weidt and all the people he helped are now dead but the factory itself survives and has been turned into a museum.
Capturing Holocaust stories, she added, is important because her parents were both survivors: Her mother hid during the war while her father survived a concentration camp.
On Nov. 9, author A. J. Sidransky will discuss his novel The Interpreter, the story of a 23-year-old American G.I. Kurt Berlin, who returns to Europe to help interrogate captured Nazis as part of a program to recruit them to work against the Soviet Union in the coming Cold War.
Former Nazi hunter David Marwell will discuss his book Mengele: Unmasking the “Angel of Death” on Nov. 10. The book explores how an ambitious researcher could become a faithful servant of the Nazi cause.
Marwell served as chief of investigative research at the U. S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations in the 1980s and worked on the hunt for the notorious “Angel of Death” Dr. Josef Mengele.
The final book presentation for the week is slated for Nov. 12, when journalist Peter Ross Range will discuss The Unfathomable Ascent, his detailing of Adolf Hitler’s eight-year march to the pinnacle of German politics.
Holocaust Education Week also incorporates the virtual exhibit Vad Vashem: Shoah: How Was it Humanly Possible, and the Nov. 15 special presentation Voices of our Holocaust Survivors with young Hamiltonians interviewing Holocaust survivors.
On Feb. 28, 2000, Federal Court judge Andrew Mackay delivered his decision in the matter of Helmut Oberlander, and many of us felt that the case was now settled, that justice would finally be served, even if delayed, and in miserly portion. After all, the decision made it clear that on a balance of probabilities, Oberlander had lied about or misrepresented his wartime activities in order to fraudulently gain entry to Canada and then citizenship. Last week, he lost his bid to convince the Immigration and Refugee Board that it lacked jurisdiction to hear his case. The next step is a deportation hearing.
To recap, Oberlander served as a young translator in Einsatzgruppe D, a subunit Ek 10a, a mobile Nazi death squad. Einsatzgruppe D was responsible for the killing of more than 90,000 innocent civilians – part of the Holocaust by bullets that murdered more than one million Jewish men, women and children throughout the bloodlands of Eastern Europe and Ukraine.
Oberlander denied his membership in the unit and certainly denied any knowledge of the activities of the Einsatzgruppen, but Justice Mackay did not find his denials to be credible.
And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.
In the months that followed the initial decision, Oberlander’s lawyer claimed that the process was unfair, that his client had no means of appeal.
And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.
Oberlander’s cause was picked up by those who claimed that the process was a sham, and that he had been found guilty because of lobbying by Jewish advocacy groups
And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.
His presence in Canada is an affront to the Holocaust survivors who are still with us. But more, it is an affront to all Canadians whose family trees have been brutally trimmed by genocide: the First Nations of Canada, Armenians, Ukrainians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Cambodians, Guatemalans, Sudanese, Darfurians.
But more it is – or should be – an affront to Canadians who believe that this country should be a sanctuary to the oppressed and not a haven for the oppressor.
In the two decades that have passed since that February 2000 decision, Oberlander’s defenders have pointed to his sterling behaviour in Canada, his contributions as a businessman; his deep roots in the Kitchener community.
It’s irrelevant – all of it. Not because we think so, but because, in successive judicial decisions, the courts have said so. Oberlander’s lawyers said that we should consider his spotless Canadian reputation? We have. And he lied to enter Canada.
His lawyers said that we should consider his family situation? Now we have. And he lied to enter Canada.
We should consider that his participation in Ek10a should be seen as the result of coercion? We did that as well. And he lied to enter Canada.
In each case, Oberlander has been afforded the full scope of all that Canadian law permits. Appeals were filed, heard, and rejected – on the facts – one after another.
What remains? Oberlander’s current legal representation (he outlived his initial lawyer) may simply be attempting to run out the clock. Their client is 96 years old. Perhaps they can keep the legal merry-go-round turning until their client shuffles off his mortal coil and faces a judge who is more certain and less tractable?
Perhaps. But it didn’t have to be this way. Like Edmund in King Lear, Oberlander could have said, “I pant for life. Some good I mean to do, despite of mine own nature.” He could have confessed. He could have said, “I was young and frightened and I gave in. Forgive me.” He could have offered a model of repentance and provided lessons – so incredibly important – for a generation in which history is optional both as an academic subject and as an intellectual compass. Instead, he remains obdurate.
Oberlander may still ask the courts to review his loss at the IRB. But Canada should not await his next legal somersault. Let him go now. Let him appeal his case from Germany. His continued presence in our country defiles all we should be as a nation.
The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards is honouring nine outstanding books for 2020.
Now in its sixth year, the Awards recognize and reward the finest Canadian writing on Jewish themes and subjects.
“Even during this year of isolation, choosing only nine Award winners from the depth and breadth and quality of the submissions was a challenge,” said jury chair Edward Trapunski.
Winners have been declared in the following categories: Fiction, biography, Jewish thought and culture, poetry, history, books for children and youth, Yiddish, scholarship, and Holocaust.
The awards ceremony will be presented on the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards and the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies YouTube channels on Oct. 25, 2020, at 2:00 p.m. It will be available for later viewing on these channels.
Through Shadows Slow by Abraham Boyarsky (8th House Publishing) is a love story about memory and forgiveness. Daniel, a Holocaust refugee, is diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a renowned sanatorium in the Laurentian mountains. He meets and falls in love with a more assimilated woman who grew up in Canada. He marries her but he is haunted by doubts about her fidelity because of her worldly nature. In the twilight of his life, he finds salvation and redemption on the Israeli fortress at Masada.
Mahler’s Forgotten Conductor: Heinz Unger and His Search for Jewish Meaning, 1895–1965 by Hernan Tesler-Mabé (University of Toronto Press). The Berlin-born orchestral conductor Heinz Unger devoted his life to the music of Gustav Mahler. In 1948, Unger settled in Canada and was celebrated for his Mahler interpretations with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Promenade Symphony Orchestra and, most significantly, the CBC Symphony Orchestra. The book explores the way a German Jewish musician understood and expressed his dual identity by way of his allegiance to music and how Jewish cultural values from Europe manifested themselves in Canada.
Jewish Thought and Culture:
Waste Not: A Jewish Environmental Ethic by Tanhum Yoreh (SUNY Press). The Jewish prohibition against wastefulness and destruction is an ecological ethical principle by contemporary Jewish environmentalists. Waste Not is an intellectual history of this concept, offering a detailed and studious analysis of the Jewish prohibition against wastefulness and destruction (bal tashhit), blending close readings from traditional texts, beginning with the Bible, and moving through rabbinic, medieval, and contemporary Jewish environmentalist commentaries. Tanhum Yoreh, Assistant Professor in the School of Environment at the University of Toronto, draws on the study of religion, ethics, and ecological thinking for a timely meditation on a subject deserving the world’s attention. The connection between contemporary environmental thought and Jewish principles creates a foundation for an environmental ethic for today.
Swoon by Elana Wolff (Guernica Editions). This collection of poems explores a variety of subjects but returns again and again to our longing for transcendence. Informed by Jewish texts and contexts, with a sure-handed control of language and image, the poems are passionate but mature, precise and curious, willing to risk everything for a chance to slip behind the curtain of the familiar to get a glimpse at the divine. The poems in Swoon are philosophical considerations, meditations on the sacred and profane with a subtle understanding of one’s own connection to the world. It is a subtle, sensual book of observances pleasing to the ear.
Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader by Derek Penslar (Yale University Press). This work by an eminent Canadian-American historian masterfully blends a richly textured biography about the father of Zionism with an insightful analysis of the ways that Herzl fits into and struggled with both European social and intellectual currents and the Jewish publics with whom he was both connected and disconnected. Prof. Penslar has written an accessible, deeply thoughtful, carefully crafted, and thoroughly enjoyable book about one of the giants of modern Jewish history.
Children and Youth:
A Boy is Not a Bird by Edeet Ravel (Groundwood Books) is a fictionalized story based on what the author’s fifth grade teacher, Mr. Halpern, used to tell her class about his childhood in Soviet occupied Zastavna, Romania. The compelling story recounts the events that marked the life of 11-year-old Natt Silver, his family, friends and neighbours, just before and during their deportation to Siberia in 1941. Natt is a sweet kid who just wants to belong and yet he must endure the horror of living under the influence of Stalin and Hitler. While the book is recommended for readers age 9 and up, it is a memoir a reader of any age could enjoy.
How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish, edited by Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert (Restless Books), considers the complex encounter between Yiddish and America through several different lenses. Essays, memoirs, songs, letters, poems, recipes, cartoons, and interviews represent a diverse selection of perspectives on Yiddish language and culture. The book features work by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Cynthia Ozick, Chaim Grade, Art Spiegelman, and many other lesser known cultural figures. It places them in a dynamic conversation around the interaction between Yiddish and American. The anthology also refreshingly expands the definition of “America” to include voices from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, and Canada, reflecting the unbounded history of modern Yiddish. Josh Lambert’s roots are in Canada. Arriving at a moment when Yiddish has entered a new phase in its long history, this book celebrates the complicated, tense, and delightful ways languages and cultures transform one another.
Athens and Jerusalem: God, Humans, and Nature by David Novak (University of Toronto Press). This book by a distinguished professor of religion and philosophy at the University of Toronto examines the intersection of Greek philosophy and Jewish theology. The subject has long been controversial because of the conflict between monotheism on one side and pluralism on the other. But the Greek philosophers and the Jewish Talmudists were contemporaneous if not contemporary and Athens and Jerusalem addresses how the influences must have spread through the region. As a theologian, ethicist, and rabbi, David Novak is well equipped to expound on the subject. He has written 16 books and hundreds of articles about how Jewish theology and Greek philosophy engage and he could have distilled existing knowledge. But academics and scholars will find that Athens and Jerusalem presents fresh ideas and insights.
Le Temps des orphelins by Laurent Sagalovitsch (Buchet/Chastel). A young American rabbi, Daniel Shapiro, joins the Allied forces in April 1945 to liberate Europe. In Germany, he is one of the first to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp and experience the horror there. His descent into hell would have been without return if he had not met the gaze of a five-year-old child who is waiting for someone to help him find his parents. The novel, in French, by Vancouver-based author, Laurent Sagalovitsch, depicts with poignancy the atrocity of the camps and the disbelief of those who were the first to discover them. The child with oversized eyes who, without a word, convinces Daniel that life is stronger than horror. Towards the end of his life, Holocaust chronicler Elie Wiesel said: “From now on, art and literature will be the true way to express the Holocaust.” This moving novel based on fact offers a meaningful path to understanding the Holocaust.
The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards Jury for 2020:
Edward Trapunski: Chair, author of three books and winner of an ACTRA Award as best writer.
Rona Arato: Award-winning children’s book writer and author of 15 books.
Miriam Borden: Doctoral student in Yiddish at the University of Toronto and researcher of twentieth century Jewish Torontonian culture in the Canadian Yiddish press. She has curated exhibitions about Yiddish language and culture at the Robarts Library and the Canadian Language Museum.
Alain Goldschläger: Director of the Holocaust Literature Research Institute and Professor of French at Western University, and former Chair of the National Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.
David Koffman: J. Richard Shiff Chair for the Study of Canadian Jewry at the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University.
Michael Posner: Award-winning author and playwright and former reporter for the Globe and Mail.
Adam Sol: Author of four books of poetry and one book of essays, How a Poem Moves. He teaches at Victoria College, University of Toronto.
Representatives from the Israeli consulate in Toronto and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem travelled to northern Ontario last week to honour a Dutch family that sheltered Jews during the Holocaust.
Reinerus and Cornelia Hulsker were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations at a ceremony held in New Liskeard on Oct. 16. The couple’s daughter, Nora Visser, accepted the posthumous honour.
In 1940, when the Germans invaded the Netherlands, David (Dik) Biet, a Jew, was sheltered in the Hulsker home, while his wife and infant daughter were hidden in the home of a former work colleague, Jos Asselbergs.
Visser, who was between 10 and 13 years old during the war, transported documents between the houses, said Jonathan Allen, executive director of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
“I was scared when I went to the other house,” Visser told CTV News at the ceremony. “I thought they might see me. It felt like a long walk.”
In 1945, Biet was captured while visiting his wife and daughter, who were in hiding at the Asselbergs, and the family was deported to Westerbork, a transit camp. The war ended before they could be taken to a concentration camp, Allen told the CJR.
“It is quite emotional when you hear the story of what the family did to protect Jews during the Holocaust, at the risk of their own safety and the safety of their families,” Allen said.
As a descendant of Holocaust survivors and an Israeli diplomat, Galit Baram, Israel’s Consul General of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada said she was “grateful for the opportunity to share the remarkable story of the Hulsker and Asselbergs families.” Baram said ceremonies such as this “have tremendous educational value, especially since even today, 75 years after the end of World War II, with the horrors of the Holocaust so well documented, there are still many reported cases of antisemitism even in the strongest of democracies.”
The ceremony recognizing the courage of Visser’s parents was delayed several times due to COVID, and was finally held at St. Paul’s United Church in Visser’s hometown of New Liskeard.
In attendance were Carman Kidd, the mayor of New Liskeard, and local MPP John Vanthof.
Visser was interviewed at the ceremony about her experiences during the war by her granddaughter.
“A lot of details of the story came out,” Allen said. “I’m not sure how much she had shared of this in the past” with her grandchildren.
Receiving the award was “a great honour,” Visser said.
Next month, members of the Asselbergs family, who moved to Calgary after the war, will be honoured as Righteous, Allen said.
The Righteous Among the Nations project was established by Yad Vashem in 1963 to honour non-Jews who assisted Jews during the Holocaust. To date, the award has been granted to more than 27,000 recipients.
The newly published Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People by Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy (PublicAffairs, 480 pages) offers an intimate portrait of the man who spent nine years as a political prisoner in the Soviet Union for his activism on behalf of Jewish emigration and who, after his release in 1986, became an outspoken politician in Israel. More recently, he was head of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Troy, who made aliyah 10 years ago, continues to serve as a Distinguished Scholar in North American history at McGill University, where he’s taught from 1990. A specialist in the U.S. presidency, the New York-born Troy is a prolific author on the subject, as well as on Zionism. His most recent previous book was The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland.
The CJR interviewed Troy about Never Alone and his impressions of Sharansky.
How long have you personally known Natan Sharansky? How long did you work on the book together, and how much are his words/ideas vs. yours?
I had the privilege of first meeting him in the early 2000s when he was Diaspora Affairs Minister, among other positions. He was very concerned about antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus, and I shared that concern as a McGill professor. It was mostly, however, a “hello, how are you?” type relationship, with occasional brainstorming meetings in his Jewish Agency office.
When I finished my last book, The Zionist Ideas, I asked him to write the preface, thinking of him as the most prominent and legendary Zionist in the world today. He kindly agreed – then turned it around and asked me to be his co-author.
We were true co-authors. We worked extremely closely together for three years, arguing lovingly about every word, every phrase, every logical sequence. And yet, in all that time, despite coming from such different worlds, we never had an ideological disagreement. So the book truly is our words, our voice – we call this a “memoir-festo,” a manifesto and memoir, because we are using his life story to tell a broader story about Jewish peoplehood and freedom.
Why the title Never Alone?
I was brainstorming with a good friend, David Suissa, [a former Montrealer now living in Los Angeles]. I told him that the KGB kept telling Natan, “you’re forgotten, you’re abandoned, you’re alone,” but Natan says, “I knew I was never alone.”
“That’s it!” David shouts. “For 75 years we’ve emphasized ‘Never Again’ – and of course we will always revere our Holocaust martyrs – but our message now is that if you are a part of this amazing people called the Jewish people, you can know you are never alone.”
What surprised you the most in getting to know Sharansky so personally? Were there any revelations?
The newsiest part for me – and the most surprising – is that this guy is the real deal. This is a story of a man [and his wife Avital] who should have been crushed by the Soviet Union. Instead, they stood up, resisted, became symbols of freedom, and are now doing everything they can to continue the struggle, while living the simple, humble life they fought so hard to enjoy.
What does Sharansky have to say concerning Canada, about Irwin Cotler, who acted as his legal counsel while he was in prison, and the Soviet Jewry movement here? Of more recent note, the book discloses that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to dissuade emigration of French Jews to Canada to ensure their aliyah. True?
There is some fascinating Canadian content: heroes like Irwin Cotler, one of his attorneys, along with Andrea Bronfman and the Group of 35, [who] were part of that army of “students and housewives” that literally saved his life. “Students and housewives” was the dismissive phrase of one of his KGB interrogators that Sharansky, in typical fashion, flipped into a flag of honour.
When Natan arrived in Israel, Andrea and Charles [Bronfman] were among the donors who helped him ease the way for other Soviet Jews arriving by bankrolling innovative programs. Irwin Cotler remains a close friend of both authors, and a mentor to me.
And yes, Natan does report that Bibi thought that [then Prime Minister] Stephen Harper’s sympathetic, enthusiastically pro-Israel Conservative government might discourage French Jews from moving to Canada and encourage them to move to Israel. Natan [and I] approach Zionism differently. We don’t want to be commissars of Zionism; we encourage an Aliyah of Choice based on Identity Zionism, a decision to join the Jewish people and live in the Jewish homeland to seek ideological fulfillment and a certain kind of communal experience, not because you are forced to or fear antisemitism.
What opinion does he express about Netanyahu? Donald Trump?
Natan and Bibi have been friends for 30 years. Natan is grateful for all that Bibi did to save Soviet Jews, and to defend Israel’s security as effectively as he has. But Natan is also repeatedly disappointed by Bibi’s demagoguery against Arabs and against critics, and felt personally betrayed when Netanyahu sabotaged the Western Wall compromise to welcome egalitarian prayer at the Kotel – especially because Bibi himself knew how important it was.
Natan [and I] were stunned that American Jews couldn’t thank Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or now, can’t appreciate the breakthrough of the Abraham Accords. But we are both dismayed and often appalled by Trump’s boorishness, his bullying, and his uncharacteristic caution when it comes to clearly denouncing the antisemitic extremists who have felt encouraged by his rise to power and his rhetoric.
What does Sharansky say about the state of Israel today or its future?
In the book, we propose what we call the Driving Test: in what direction is Israel or any country going? We are happy to report that, despite some worries here and there, the directional signals all point positively. Take a simple test: would you rather be in the Israel of 1950 or 2000 or 2020? There’s a lot of false nostalgia about early Israel, but Arabs have more equal rights today, Mizrachim [non-Ashkenazi Jews] enjoy more respect, we are closer to peace and we have more freedom, democratic quality of life, and prosperity – quite the miracle, we both like to say.
On Israel-Diaspora relations, particularly with American Jews, what is his outlook?
We do see warning signs of divergence, of two different communities with two different agendas, but we also see encouraging signs of convergence and a new mutual respect. Programs like Birthright illustrate the new Identity Zionism approach of partnership, wherein Israelis and Diaspora Jews learn from one another, look out for one another, save one another, rather than assuming that it’s a one-way relationship.
Sharansky has been in our consciousness for close to half a century, yet he remains an enigma to all except those who are closest to him. He’s not a man of faith in the conventional sense and his ideology is hard to categorize. So what sustains him? Is he someone who had “greatness thrust upon him” and perhaps would have preferred the life of an obscure mathematics professor?
With him, what you see is what you get. He’s really modest, a mensch, a funny, ironic, thoughtful idealist who doesn’t wallow in the pain of the past but delights in the miracles of the present while working for even more miracles in the future. I am an historian. Usually, when I scrutinize popular gods up close, I discover their clay feet really quickly. Natan and his wife are genuine – they live their values and getting to know them is getting to appreciate them on deeper levels, far beyond the hero worship, which makes them both uncomfortable.
While he is not a formal philosopher and was not only never a king but thought he was a terrible politician, he is more philosopher-king than man of faith or humble academic. He is driven by ideas, but wants to live by them and inspire others to live by them – so he is less interested in refining them theoretically than championing them practically.
Secondly, he understands that dictatorships are fear societies and really appreciates the freedom we all too often take for granted in modern Western democracies. And third, he really loves the Jewish people, loves being Jewish, is thrilled to live in Israel, and wants to share that with others, not in a heavy-handed way, but in an educational manner.
Sharansky insists Never Alone is not a memoir because he is not done yet. What are his plans?
He starts his work days at 5:30 a.m. and, until the pandemic, travelled around the world. He chairs the Shlichim institute of the Jewish Agency, training emissaries from Israel to work all over the world, and chairs the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, headed by Montreal native Charles Small.
He also chairs the initiative to have a proper, thoughtful memorial and museum in Babi Yar [site of a Second World War massacre in Ukraine] and he just won this year’s Genesis Prize.
Informally, he is writing, teaching, and fighting for the big ideas in our book, about identity and freedom, about the joys of being Jewish and the dangers of veering to one extreme – or the other.
– This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Dr. Art Leader, the son of Holocaust survivors and a long-time member of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES) in Ottawa, was alarmed. In 2019, statistics reported by B’nai Brith Canada revealed that for the fourth year in a row, antisemitic incidents in Canada rose to more than 2,000 annually. And in 2020, the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa was vandalized only two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Also of concern to him was that because of the COVID pandemic, many Holocaust remembrance events were virtual and, with schools closed across the country, Holocaust educational activities were halted. He further noted that for working youth, Holocaust education is non-existent.
And with the passing of time, ever fewer eyewitnesses to the Holocaust are able to share their knowledge and relate their experiences, resulting in minimal awareness of the atrocities they witnessed and endured.
“Canada has demonstrated a commitment to remembrance and Holocaust education and to fighting the antisemitism and racism that threaten and erode the multicultural and pluralistic nature of our society,” Leader says. “Holocaust education sensitizes Canadians to the role racist ideology and government propaganda played in the systematic murder of millions of Jews and other persecuted groups and helps youth to understand the dangers of indifference to the oppression of others.”
Convinced that the time was right to develop a comprehensive inventory of best practices in Holocaust education and teachings and relevant resources offered in Canadian schools and communities, Leader, working with CHES and author and lawyer Maureen McTeer, created a House of Commons petition (e-2740) urging Parliament to address the pressing challenges presented by growing antisemitism, Holocaust deniers, and those who distort the true nature of the Holocaust.
Anita Vandenbeld, Liberal MP for Ottawa West-Nepean, enthusiastically supported the petition and is its sponsor in Parliament.
The petition urges the government to build upon its previous investments in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance initiatives; determine the current availability of Holocaust education across Canada; identify new strategies to reach those who are targeted by racist and hate propaganda online; and urgently fund community organizations to preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, thereby educating Canadians about the destructive impact of hate and intolerance on our Charter freedoms, to the detriment of current and future generations.
Signatories include former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark; members of the Carleton University community, including President Benoit-Antoine Bacon; Rabbi Reuven Bulka and Rabbi Idan Scher of Ottawa; Holocaust survivors; prominent Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspan; and local members of Parliament,
CHES, which is affiliated with Carleton University in Ottawa, and the Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies at Carleton, support this initiative and urge readers to read the petition (see below), sign it, and share the link with family and friends. The petition is open for signatures until Nov. 19, 2020. Supporters’ identities are protected by Canada’s privacy laws.
To sign House of Commons Petition e-2740, click here:
House of Commons Petition e-2740
The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada rose in 2019 to more than six incidents each day.
Canada has demonstrated a commitment to remembrance and Holocaust education through bilateral relationships and engagement in international organizations.
Holocaust education sensitizes Canadians to the role racist ideology and government propaganda played in the systematic murder of millions of Jews, and other persecuted groups.
Holocaust education will help young Canadians to understand the dangers of indifference to the oppression of others and to those sowing destructive messages of hate and racism.
Holocaust deniers and those who distort the true nature of the Holocaust use the Internet and online forums to spread hate and to dishonour those who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis.
Fewer Holocaust survivors are able to share their knowledge and individual experience, while fewer youth are aware of the atrocities survivors witnessed and endured;
We, the undersigned citizens of Canada, call upon the Parliament of Canada to address this national challenge that threatens and erodes the multicultural and pluralistic nature of Canadian society, and to:
Build upon its previous investments in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance initiatives;
Determine the current availability of Holocaust education, including content and best pedagogical practices as identified by Holocaust educators across Canada.
Identify strategies to reach youth, especially those not in the education system, who are targeted by racist and hate propaganda online.
Urgently provide funds to Canadian community organizations to preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors thereby educating Canadians about the destructive impact of hate and intolerance on the Charter freedoms to the detriment of current and future generations.
Sheila Hurtig Robertson is a committee member of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship and the founding editor of several sport-related magazines, including the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching. She is the author of Shattered Hopes: Canada’s Boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games. Sheila worked in communications for Team Canada at three Olympic Games. Her grandfather, who left Romania in 1903 to escape the military draft, brought survivors to Canada after 1945, which kindled her lifelong interest in the Holocaust.
When Erin Sade was in Grade 6 she was given the opportunity to learn about any charitable organization that interested her. She chose the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem (CSYV) and in subsequent years she dedicated much of her spare time to helping other young people learn about the Holocaust.
Fast forward seven years and Sade, now 18, was one of seven Canadian recipients of the 2020 Diana Award. Named for the late Princess of Wales, the accolade honours young people for their humanitarian efforts and social action. Sade was nominated for her commitment to Holocaust education.
The virtual 2020 ceremony held last month was hosted by the Vamps’ James McVey and included celebrities like the Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry) and actor, Dame Emma Thompson. About 180 people worldwide received the award this year.
Sade, a recent graduate of Havergal College – she will be on her way to medical school in England later this month – said she was thrilled to win the Diana Award.
She was nominated by Ellen Schwartz, creator and executive director of Project Give Back (PGB), the organization that ran the education program that spurred Sade’s involvement with CSYV, when she was in Grade 6.
“I owe her [Schwartz] so much,” Sade said in a telephone interview from her home in Toronto. “She did everything to nominate me…She has so much kindness. She is so dedicated to the [PGB] program and the students she brings it to.”
Through her connection with CSYV Sade participated in the Twinning Program, which encourages youngsters to dedicate their bar or bat mitzvahs to a specific young Holocaust victim. Sade’s “twin” was Lily Friedman, who died in Auschwitz just shy of her 12th birthday.
“Yad Vashem pairs you with a child who died before their bar or bat mitzvah,” Sade explained, noting that she was able to discover information on Friedman because her sister had survived the war.
The twinning was “a beautiful experience,” Sade said, noting that her own middle name is Lilly. “Having that little connection made it feel more real. That was an empowering experience.”
She said after her bat mitzvah, she was motivated to learn more about the Holocaust and to increase awareness of Nazi atrocities by helping to educate other students, particularly non-Jews.
She encouraged students to participate in the Ambassadors of Change Program, also run by the CSYV, in which high schoolers get the opportunity to connect with Holocaust survivors in small groups.
She would also represent the CSYV through class presentations at various schools in the GTA. She would create and distribute booklets with the personal histories of individual Jewish youngsters from the Holocaust era.
The students would each receive a booklet and then they would find out about the fate of the individual child they had learned about. Each booklet had a QR code that the students could scan with their phones to see if the child had survived or perished during the Second World War.
“That part of the presentation always got through [to the students] the most,” Sade said, pointing out that most of the children they learned about did not survive.
She said she also arranged for Holocaust survivors to speak at Havergale, something that had never been done before.
For Sade, the Diana Award brought to mind another prize she received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau four years ago.
In 2016, the Yad Vashem society created the Cantor Kraus Catalyst for Change Award in honour of Cantor Moshe Kraus, a Holocaust survivor. The award was to recognize individuals showing dedication to Holocaust education. Sade was one of three recipients.
“It was insane,” she recounted. “They didn’t tell me that Prime Minister Trudeau was going to present the award. I was starstruck the entire time. “You realized that the work that you’re doing actually matters. It was an amazing feeling.”
A new campaign seeks to shame Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg into pushing Holocaust deniers off his popular social media platform.
Dubbed #NoDenyingIt, (http://www.claimscon.org/nodenyingit/#clips) the drive is led by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the or Claims Conference), the New York-based agency that pushes for compensation for survivors of the Holocaust.
The effort will see 30-second video messages from Holocaust survivors around the world posted to Facebook and other social media sites urging Zuckerberg to finally take action against Holocaust denial on the site he leads.
“This is something you’d think would be pretty straightforward,” said Conference president Gideon Taylor in a CJR interview. “We’re saying that Facebook has an obligation to history and to survivors to ensure this terrible kind of speech is not being promoted.
“We have Holocaust survivors every day issuing calls for Facebook to take down Holocaust denial,” he added. “We want him to sit down with Holocaust survivors and hear directly from them.”
Taylor added two factors make the campaign especially important now: The ever-decreasing number of first-hand witnesses to the Holocaust, and the steadily increasing number of voices claiming it didn’t happen.
“Facebook is a platform being given to these groups to make the voice of hate louder,” he said. “We’re asking that Facebook not let itself be used as a megaphone for that hatred.”
Survivors taking part in the campaign include famed Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld; Roman Kent, an Auschwitz survivor and head of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; Eva Schloss, step-sister of Anne Frank; and Charlotte Knobloch, who survived Kristallnacht.
Joining them are Canadians Pinchas Gutter of Toronto and Sydney Zoltak of Montreal. Both say rising antisemitism around the world makes the effort critically important now.
“A huge amount of people now believe things that are lies,” Gutter said in an interview. “The Internet creates a platform for these lies to be spread and it has to stop.”
Gutter was seven when the Second World War started. His family was eventually confined in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. In April 1943, during the first three weeks of the ghetto uprising, the family was discovered and deported to the Majdanek death camp.
On the day they arrived, Gutter’s parents and twin sister were murdered. The boy, however, was sent to a work camp. He later passed through several other concentration camps, including Buchenwald and Theresienstadt, where he was liberated by Soviet troops on May 8, 1945.
Today, he does what he can to educate people about the Shoah, and sees the #NoDenyingIt campaign as an extension of that effort.
“The only thing I can do now is educate people and the program is about educating the world,” he said. “It’s time to deal with all these lies and malignancy before they lead to killings and other terrible things.”
Zoltak is also a child survivor. His family was confined in the Siemiatyzce ghetto but escaped during its 1944 liquidation, eventually finding refuge in the barn of a family who remembered a small kindness once given them by Zoltak’s mother.
In an interview, Zoltak said he has “a special dislike for Holocaust deniers,” something he tries to ease by telling his story as often as he can.
“I don’t know what Mark Zuckerberg is thinking by allowing Holocaust denial to go on,” he said. “He says that denying the Holocaust is not hate speech, but it is.”
Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and a former Canadian representative to the Claims Conference (Farber is also publisher of the CJR), said, “the very fact that survivors have to do this in 2020 is disgusting. Deniers are using Facebook to express ideas that are unquestionably antisemitic and hateful.
“(Facebook) has to say clearly that Holocaust denial is a vile spreading of hatred against Jews and will not be tolerated.” He said the social media giant has been pushed for two years to remove such material.
In an e-mailed statement, a Facebook spokesperson said the platform will “take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust. The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying about the atrocities, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way.
“We know many people strongly disagree with our position – and we respect that. It’s really important for us to engage on these issues and hear from people to understand their concerns,” the statement continued. “We have a team that is dedicated to developing and reviewing our policies and we welcome collaboration with industry, experts and other groups to ensure we’re getting it right.”
A random search of Facebook, however shows such statements still make it on to the platform.
In one public group called “Did the Holocaust Really Happen?” one participant argued that claims of six million dead must be false because there simply wasn’t enough time during the Second World War to kill and cremate that many victims.
Another claims the “Holocaust myth” is nothing more than the theft of “billions of dollars from hardworking German taxpayers…to fund the brutal occupation and genocide of the Palestinian people.”
Since 1952, the Claims Conference has negotiated the payment of more than US $80 billion in indemnification to survivors. This year, the agency will distribute approximately $350 million in direct compensation to over 60,000 survivors in 83 countries and allocate approximately $610 million in grants to over 200 social service agencies worldwide to provide Holocaust survivors with home care, food and medicine.
As reported in the Canadian Jewish Record this week, Halton Regional Police released a report this month of a vandalized monument in the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville. According to the CJR:
“Someone had painted ‘Nazi war monument’ on a stone cenotaph commemorating those who served with the 14th SS Division in the Second World War.
“Formed in 1943, it was part of the Waffen SS, the military branch of the SS. Members of the unit have been accused of killing Polish civilians and Jews during the war.”
The debate surrounding this unit continued long after the end of the war. Apologists have claimed that the unit was formed to fight against the Soviets, and that its being under Nazi command was a historical anomaly.
But beyond doubt is that the 14th Waffen SS Division was under Nazi charge. Indeed, it was considered such a gem within SS paramilitary squads that SS leader Heinrich Himmler personally visited the division in 1944 to laud members’ willingness to rid Galicia of a “dirty blemish…namely the Jews.”
Despite the damage to it, the cenotaph is exactly what the graffiti described: A “Nazi war monument.” Unfortunately, when news of the vandalism was released, Halton police mistakenly claimed that the crime was being investigated under Canada’s anti-hate laws.
Social media erupted, and Halton Police Chief Steven Tanner wisely clarified: “The Nazi Party/SS are by no means a protected group under any hate crime related legislation,” he stated. “The most unfortunate part of all of this is that any such monument would exist in the first place.”
Also unfortunate was the stances of mainstream Jewish advocacy groups. The CJR has been unable to find a single mention of this incident in the news section of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ website.
Meantime, it seemed to take prodding from no less an august publication as The Nation for B’nai Brith Canada to issue a statement.
“There is no place for monuments in our society that glorify military units, political organizations or individuals who collaborated with the Nazis in World War II,” the organization told The Nation on July 21. “B’nai Brith Canada calls for such monuments to be removed and for comprehensive education efforts to accurately portray the historical record of those individuals and organizations involved.”
Asked the next day whether B’nai Brith would issue a statement to the CJR, the group sent the following from CEO Michael Mostyn:
“B’nai Brith Canada calls for the removal of any monuments glorifying military units, political organizations or individuals that collaborated with the Nazis in World War II. There is no place for such monuments in Canada.
“Regarding the specific cenotaph in Oakville, Ont., we are in the process of reaching out to other groups affected by this monument in the hopes of achieving real progress on this issue.
“At a bare minimum, comprehensive education efforts are needed to shine the light of historical accuracy on Nazi collaborators and their crimes.”
As of July 22, however, this statement was not on B’nai Brith’s website.
And Friends of Simon Wiesenthal would only go as far as to say the monument was a “blight” and “insults” the memory of Canadian soldiers who fought the Nazis. But FSWC was strangely quiet on removing the monument.
We expect more from our Jewish leadership. Jewish advocacy groups quite rightly spoke out strongly and took decisive legal and human rights actions against the owner of Toronto’s Foodbenders eatery, who recently engaged in ugly antisemitic tropes.
But the glorification of actual Nazis, all of whom, no matter where in Europe they fought, aided in the murder of six million Jews, seems to be a bit of an afterthought.
Complacency (or reluctance to raise voices) in the face of Nazi glorification is not an option, especially for Jews. It’s time for everyone to speak out and demand this and other monuments paying tribute to Nazi collaborators be removed once and for all.
Montreal filmmakers Max Beer and Deena Dlusy-Apel have noticed that as the years pass, fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors attend Yom HaShoah commemorations.
When the children of survivors are asked to rise at commemorations, their numbers are far greater than those of their parents.
At one commemoration, Paul Herczeg, who survived Auschwitz, asked the second generation to help keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.
Beer and Dlusy-Apel responded to Herczeg’s appeal by interviewing children of survivors, the subject of their latest documentary, Will the Second Generation Please Rise: Children of Holocaust Survivors.
The filmmakers interviewed 32 children of survivors, in small groups, during six sessions. Several participants are artists or writers, and one is a filmmaker. The documentary includes visits to their studios, prose and poetry readings, and a film clip.
Members of the second generation are shown remembering their psychologically scarred parents: A father who wakes the household screaming; having nightmares about being back in the camps; and families at emotional holiday gatherings, wailing because their murdered sisters and brothers are absent.
Participants spoke about their lack of extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – or even photographs of family members who perished.
Ruth Dunsky said she was the envy of her friends – mostly other children of Holocaust survivors – because one of her grandmothers had survived. She remembers a lot of tension at home, and attributes some of it to the pain adults in her household were dealing with.
Some of the documentary’s participants said their parents never or rarely talked about the Holocaust, but Dunsky’s father was voluble. “My father spoke a lot about the past. He basically lived in the past,” she says in the documentary.
Zosia Romisher Rosenberg, who was born in Germany and lived there for 23 years, says her friends were other children of Holocaust survivors. Her parents forbade her from bringing home children with German surnames.
Asked to comment on their feelings about modern-day Germany, the consensus among participants seems to be that although they’re satisfied with how it has tried to come to terms with its past, they have a visceral response to the country.
Traumatized survivors sometimes asked their young children to be intermediaries to the outside world for them. Some parents dreaded answering the phone and asked their children to do it for them.
Michael Rosenberg remembers his father once wanted him to phone someone for him to relay his condolences on a death. After much persuasion, his Dad made the call, but with great reluctance, Rosenberg says in the documentary.
Will the Second Generation Please Rise includes a segment about the work of Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience who has studied children of Holocaust survivors. Yehuda is director of the traumatic stress studies division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
The Guardian described her work as the “clearest example in humans of the transmission to a child via what is called epi-genetic inheritance – the idea that environmental influences such as stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even your grandchildren.”
In the documentary, Sophia Wolkowicz says she believes the experiences of our parents are carried in some parts of our bodies, and we remember them in ways we’re not aware.
One of Wolkowicz’s paintings, based on her first memory, depicts a night-time forest scene. A man hides behind a tree and in the foreground there’s another man with a rifle. His stance is casual, which Wolkowicz says is a comment on the casual stance taken by people who were murdering civilians during the Holocaust.
Dlusy-Apel said that after the interviews for the film were done, it became apparent that many of the participants had addressed what had happened to their parents through their literature, artwork and filmmaking. And it seemed to be an obvious focus for the film, she added.
A sculpture in Mark Prent’s studio, “Sleep of the Phoenix,” of a decayed figure that’s half-human, half-bird, is a reference to a mythological bird that can regenerate itself, as Jews did after the Holocaust, through their children and grandchildren, Prent says in the documentary.
In her studio, Cynthia van Frank shows a mixed media creation depicting herself and family members standing, while underneath them are the bodies of Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Will the Second Generation Please Rise includes footage from Gina Roitman’s documentary My Mother, the Nazi Midwife and Me, in which she returns to her birthplace, Pocking, Germany, the site of a displaced persons camp after the Second World War.
Roitman set out to investigate her mother’s claim that after the war, a midwife from the Pocking hospital murdered Jewish babies. She discovered her mother had told her the truth and, chillingly, was led to the graves of 52 Jewish babies.
Will the Second Generation Please Rise is a follow-up to Beer’s and Dlusy-Apel’s 2015 documentary, Nobody Was Interested, Nobody Asked, about the lack of interest in Montreal in Europe during the war years and in the Holocaust in the immediate years after.
Beer, a Montrealer who was born to Holocaust survivors in the Pocking displaced persons camp, devotes a segment in the documentary to how unwelcome survivors felt in Montreal.
“There was no talk about what was going on in Europe during the war, and I realized there was no talk after the war, when the immigrants started to come in. Nobody talked to them about what they had been through,” he said in an interview.
Dlusy-Apel’s father, who immigrated to the city in 1930, never spoke to her about the Holocaust. “They left behind brothers and sisters and didn’t talk about it,” she said.
Some 10 years after the war ended, survivors began holding Holocaust commemorations in Montreal in Yiddish, but no English speakers were involved, Beer said.
As one participant in the film put it, “No one asked us why we were mourning.”
You can watch Will the Second Generation Please Risehere. The password is Deena2.
As a teenager, my Zaide, Don Jubas, made headlines when he refused to enter a skating rink after his Black friend, Harry Gairey Jr., was denied entry. While a seemingly small act, his story influenced my perspective as a Jew and emphasized the necessity to combat racism in all forms. Today, I see this anti-racism work as core to my own Jewish identity.
When I was younger, I learned about the Holocaust and white supremacy while in elementary school, and was unnerved to think someone would want to hurt me because of my Jewish heritage. We were partly exposed to these ideas through books like The Diary of Anne Frank or Hana’s Suitcase. Sometimes it was through guest lecturers at school assemblies. I cannot recall specifics beyond the sentiment, but I do remember each speaker reliably using the phrase, “Never again.”
“Never again” is a vow – made among Jewish and non-Jewish communities – to prevent another Holocaust.
The discrimination afflicting the Black community now is reminiscent of events from our own history. Recently, protests have erupted across continents following the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man choked and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. This is unfortunately one instance in a pattern of police brutality toward Black Americans, and against the backdrop of Black oppression faced over the last several centuries. The global response has brought together people from the United States, Canada, Japan, and several European countries to demand police reform and broad institutional changes to end anti-Black racism.
As Canadians, we sometimes compare ourselves favourably to the United States, believing that we are not as afflicted by racism as our southern neighbours. Not only is that wrong, but it diminishes the urgency needed to tackle white supremacy in our own communities. A report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that Black people were over-represented in police statistics, making up 28.8 percent of use of force cases, 36 percent of police shootings, 61.5 percent of deadly use of force encounters, and 70 percent of fatal police shootings. Yet, Black Torontonians comprise only 8.8 percent of the city’s total population. A deep-seated, or systemic, racism reaches far beyond police encounters, and affects Black Canadians’ income and employment status. Through the Indian Act, the starlight tours, and ongoing governmental policy, we also see systemic racism towards Indigenous communities in Canada.
What is happening to members of the Black community looks different than what we white Jews have experienced. But the foundation – the seed beneath the soil – is the same. White supremacy is white supremacy is white supremacy. And we should be infuriated by all of it.
But change is possible, and we can play a crucial role in it.
My Zaide’s story always ended when he and Harry left the rink. It was not until he passed that I learned what had happened, in a memoir by Harry’s father, Harry Gairey Sr., a civil rights activist at the time. Motivated by his son’s experience, Gairey Sr. approached his alderman and requested a meeting with Toronto’s city council. Gairey Sr. presented his case for racial justice, arguing that Black Canadians must receive the same rights as other citizens if they are also to be subject to conscription. Soon after, the City of Toronto passed a landmark ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on race, creed, colour, and religion. Gairey Sr. acknowledges the role of non-Black community members in his victory, remarking that, “I was the man that caused that ordinance to be passed, with the help of the good White people of Toronto.”
Our efforts are essential. As non-Black folks, we must listen when Black Canadians tell us about their encounters with racism, amplify their voices, and provide them opportunities to speak about their experiences.
“Never again” means that these tragedies should not ever happen – in any form – to anyone. There is no asterisk. Harry Gairey Sr.’s experience shows us that we can make the progress we need and ensure discrimination does not define the generations that come after us. And right now, our Black neighbours need our help responding to police brutality and other manifestations of systemic racism. Their battle is ours and no fight is too small.
Here is a short list of educational resources and actionable items we can use to get started:
Daniel Jubas-Malz is a graduate of the Master of Public Health program at the University of Toronto. Through his writing, he hopes to encourage thoughtful dialogue and the development of open spaces where challenges can be identified and solutions co-created among communities.
Germany has awarded Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, a national decoration.
Germany’s embassy in Ottawa announced that on June 19, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier would award Abella the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit (with badge and star) of the Federal Republic of Germany.
It’s the second-highest federal German decoration; the first is for heads of state.
The award recognizes Abella’s achievements in the protection and promotion of the rule of law, human and minority rights, and the development of close relations between Germany’s Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Canada.
It also pays tribute to the engagement of Abella and her husband, historian Prof. Irving Abella, in Holocaust remembrance and reconciliation between Jews and Germans.
Due to COVID, the award was presented in a virtual ceremony by Germany’s ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser.
“We were at home in the garden of the German residence [in Ottawa] and Rosalie and her husband Irving were at their home in Toronto,” Sparwasser told the CJR. “We toasted Rosalie over Zoom.”
“Decorations are a nation’s way of saying thank you,” said Sparwasser. “It is an honour to say thank you to Rosie but also to bow to Rosie – a person who has drawn the lessons out of her family’s history, the country that has caused so much pain and suffering to her family. We are bowing to her to her wisdom and to the values she stands for, and for what she and her husband have done to keep the remembrance [of the Holocaust] alive.”
Abella was “very moved” by the award, “and so was I,” the ambassador noted.
“Through her influence in many legal battles over the decades, women’s and minority rights in Canada have been granted better protection,” stated a press release from the German embassy. “Her definition of equality and discrimination formed the basis of Canadian law under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and became a model many other countries adopted.”
Abella was born July 1, 1946 in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart. Both her parents had survived the Holocaust. Her father, Jacob Silberman, was liberated in 1945 from Theresienstadt; her mother Fanny (Krongold) Silberman from Buchenwald.
Their two-year-old son, as well as Jacob Silberman’s parents and three younger brothers, were murdered in the Treblinka death camp.
The family arrived in Canada in 1950. Rosalie graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in classical piano in 1964, becoming one of the institution’s youngest alumni. She subsequently attended the University of Toronto, where she earned a BA in 1967 and a law degree in 1970.
Motivated by her father, who was unable to practice his profession as a lawyer when he came to Canada because he was not a citizen, Abella, at age 29, became the youngest judge in Canada when she was appointed to the Ontario Family Court.
Abella was the first Jewish woman appointed to the Supreme Court, and is the longest-serving current justice, having been named in 2004.
Abella “has been very instrumental in creating close links between our two courts,” said Sparwasser. “The fact that she was born in Germany meant a lot to her, and that Germany awarded her is a rare honour. It’s not something given out very often to foreigners.”