Remembering the Holocaust–We can’t be silent bystanders when faced with injustice

One cannot be a passive bystander when faced with injustice or oppression–this was the overarching message of a Holocaust commemoration and candle-lighting, organized at the Ottawa City Hall on February 1st, 2016. This year’s commemoration, which was spearheaded by Vera Gara, a Holocaust survivor of Hungarian origins, included a wide range of speakers, notably religious leaders from different faith communities, parliamentarians, diplomats and activists.

Cantor Pinchas Levinson opened the commemoration with both O Canada and with the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva. (We have produced a brief video of Mr. Levinson singing Hatikva, along with some photos of the commemoration, available on YouTube.)

Pinchas Levinson. Photo: C. Adam

Pinchas Levinson. Photo: C. Adam

Rabbi Reuven Bulka summarized the key message of the commemoration to all those in attendance. “We’re here, because we are not bystanders,” said Rabbi Bulka. “We don’t just stand by” when faced with injustice, he emphasized.

Rabbi Reuven Bulka

Rabbi Reuven Bulka

Rabbi Bulka was followed by Rev. Anthony Bailey of Ottawa’s Parkdale United Church. Rev. Bailey spoke at some length about his own close, personal connection with the Jewish community in Canada. When he first arrived to Canada with his parents, from the Caribbean, he settled in the Montreal suburb of Côte-St-Luc, which has long had a prominent Jewish population–he mentioned that the majority of students in his high school were Jewish. “There were a few goyim, and I was one of them,” said Rev. Bailey, smiling. He was also taught French by a local rabbi.

Speaking about the Holocaust and the lessons we can learn from this tragedy, Rev. Bailey said: “Silence emboldens the oppressor. The memory of this heinous evil must help us to protest other evils.” Quoting the Book of Amos, in the Hebrew Scriptures, Rev. Bailey added: “we are called to let justice roll like water.”

“We must refuse to stand by and must act boldly,” he added.

Rev. Anthony Bailey. Photo: C. Adam.

Rev. Anthony Bailey. Photo: C. Adam.

Shlomit Sufa, the Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Israel, also spoke, noting the importance of protesting all forms of antisemitism.

“Antisemitism is not just a dark memory. We have the history and perspective to understand where this leads,” said Ms. Sufa. She then quoted Primo Levi: “It happened before,  therefore it can happen again.”

Shlomit Sufa. Photo: C. Adam.

Shlomit Sufa. Photo: C. Adam.

Among the Canadian federal politicians, Liberal MP for Mount-Royal, Anthony Housefather, was present and mentioned Raoul Wallenberg in specific, for his courageous work in saving Hungarian Jews in Budapest during the War. He noted that there were many more righteous gentiles internationally who acted bravely and that Jews can also count on them today, to serve as a “shield” against antisemitism. At the same time, Mr. Housefather highlighted that Canada’s record during the War was “shameful,” especially in terms of the view at the time that “none is too many,” when it came to accepting Jews fleeing persecution in Europe.

Anthony Housefather. Photo: C. Adam

Anthony Housefather. Photo: C. Adam

Mr. Housefather highlighted both the importance of Holocaust education, as well as teaching younger generations about genocides more generally. “As Jews, we have to set an example,” he added.

David Sweet, a Conservative MP, spoke during the commemoration and referenced the instance in 1939, when Canada turned away hundreds of Jews fleeing persecution from its shores. “We condemned hundreds. This was the darkest day in Canadian history…Canada will never again leave the Jewish people in the lurch,” he said.

David Sweet. Photo: C. Adam.

David Sweet. Photo: C. Adam.

Zijad Delic, the imam at a Muslim community in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean spoke about his own experiences in war-torn former Yugoslavia (Bosnia), and related that according to him there were essentially four types of people during the War: perpetrators, victims, bystanders and the righteous. Mr. Delic highlighted that there were Muslims among the righteous and brought up Albania as an example of a country, which opposed the deportation of its Jewish population. “We must accept each other as brothers and sisters,” he added.

Imam Zijad Delic. Photo: C. Adam

Imam Zijad Delic. Photo: C. Adam

Majed El Shafie, a Christian community leader of Egyptian background also spoke, focusing on his affinity for both the Jewish people and for Israel. “We remember the survivors and we celebrate the Jewish state, that is strong and free,” he noted.

Majed El Shafie. Photo: C. Adam

Majed El Shafie. Photo: C. Adam

Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko, observed that despite the legacy of the Holocaust, mass killings in places like Srebrenica and today in Syria continue. He also spoke about the plight of Ukrainians in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian rebels. During the War, as Mr. Shevchenko highlighted, some 2,600 Ukrainians played a role in saving Jews from persecution. “The world belongs to love and empathy,” he added.

Andriy Shevchenko. Photo: C. Adam

Andriy Shevchenko. Photo: C. Adam

Barry Schlesinger of Ottawa was the last to speak, reiterating that memory must be transformed into concrete action. “We remember through our actions,” he added.

Rabbi Barry Schlesinger. Photo: C. Adam

Rabbi Barry Schlesinger. Photo: C. Adam

David Kilgour, former MP and human rights activist also spoke, as did Szabolcs Takács, Hungary’s state secretary for European Union affairs.

Following the speeches, six Holocaust survivors–three of them of Hungarian origins–lit candles in memory of the six million victims. Of the six survivors, three were of Hungarian origin, notably Tibor Egervári, Kati Morrison and Judy Young-Drache.

Many thanks to the organizers for holding this important commemoration in the nation’s capital.

3 Comments

  1. I applaud the organizers and those who participated in this program. Never Forget and Never Again is a wonderful slogan and most of all we must educate the young about what happened a little over 70 years ago.
    After all, two thirds of the Jewish population was murdered by so called civilized Christians of Europe. It did not happen in some backward place without running water.It was not carried out by Martians.

    Shalom,
    Steve Geiger
    http://www.menschfoundation.org

  2. In the case of today’s Hungary, it is exactly what the ruling classes ( with very little exceptions ) are doing across the so called ( supposedly superior and infallible ) Western world: they are silent bystanders in the face of increasing authoritarianism ( in fact the complete elimination of the institutions of the rule of law, the separation of powers, thus basically making it pointless to trust the ballot; not to mention the new plans to introduce “emergency powers” and governing by decrees… ), oppression, and ethno-religious incitement. What is more, all of that is subsidized by EU funds, and treated as if it weren’t against the stated values of the Euroatlantic community.

  3. It’s the question I want asked (and answered) but know nobody with the power to ask would dare do it.

    “What benefit do you hope to bring to the countries and people of Europe by allowing millions of sub-average IQ imm1grants unquestioned access?”

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