There were honours, admiration and tears as a distinguished cantor, a young violinist, and two educators were recognized at the National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony, May 5, at the Canadian War Museum. The annual event is organized by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
Cantor Moshe Kraus, a Holocaust survivor who has lived in Ottawa for 40 years, was presented with the first Cantor Kraus Catalyst for Change Award by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau praised the courage of Cantor Kraus and noted he was the second Prime Minister Trudeau to have the honour of meeting him.
The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem created the award in Cantor Kraus’ name. The other recipients to receive the award this year were teachers Patrick Mascoe of Ottawa and Larry Mikulcik of Strasbourg, Saskatchewan, and Toronto student Erin Sade, a volunteer who promotes the Society’s Twinning Program in which young people celebrating their bar and bat mitzvahs are twinned with a child who didn’t get to celebrate their own because they were murdered in the Holocaust. Sade played the theme from “Schindler’s List” on her violin at the ceremony. She keeps a photo of her “twin” who died in the Holocaust beside her when she plays the violin.
Through its educational and commemorative activities, the Society carries out Yad Vashem’s mission of ensuring that the Holocaust and its lessons are forever engraved in the memory of humankind.
The 2016 theme for Yad Vashem is “the struggle to maintain the human spirit during the Holocaust” and Cantor Kraus epitomizes that theme, said Fran Sonshine, national chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
“Astonishingly in Bergen Belsen, Cantor Kraus went from barrack to barrack at night, singing songs to his fellow inmates to keep up their spirits,” said Sonshine.
Six candles were lit, one for each million killed in the Holocaust. There was singing by Hebrew Foundation School students from Montreal, as well as “Kel Maleh Rachamim” by Colonel Willie Glaser, and “Kaddish” by Cantor Kraus.
In addition to Trudeau, members of Parliament who spoke at the event included Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose, representing the Conservative Party; Hélène Laverdière, representing the New Democratic Party; and Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
Both Trudeau and May noted that surrounded by the War Museum’s tanks and military equipment, the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem miraculously transforms the space into “a sacred place of prayer.”
“We offer our respect and our gratitude to those survivors who are still with us,” said Ambrose, who added that lessons from the Holocaust demand “we defend religious freedom around the world and fight against any attempt to delegitimize Israel. Canadians value freedom, democracy and rule of law, and we will act on these values for a world free of terror, persecution and genocide.”
“It is up to all of us to fight this legacy of hatred and anti-Semitism,” said Laverdière. “Canada must now lead the way for restitution of property and compensation. We owe [Holocaust survivors] nothing less … We must never forget that love is stronger than hate.”
The ceremony was attended by many cabinet ministers and members of Parliament; diplomats from more than 50 countries, including Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak; rabbis, including Rabbi Reuven Bulka who delivered a D’var Torah; hundreds of Holocaust survivors and their families; and the public.
Also in attendance were student participants in “Ambassadors of Change,” a program led by Ottawa teacher Patrick Mascoe that brings young Canadians together with Holocaust survivors in order to identify the roots of discrimination and intolerance for the purpose of eliminating hatred and racism in the future. In a round table setting prior to the ceremony, students discussed issues of intolerance with Holocaust survivors.