Yom HaShoah ceremony brings candles, history and fresh insights to packed hall
“Candle lighting is – yes – to commemorate and to remember,” said Ruth Gottlieb Katz. “But, more importantly, each of the six flames must continue to burn brightly, as a beacon call to action by each of us.”
Gottlieb Katz was one of six Holocaust survivors who performed a moving candle-lighting ceremony on April 11 at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre to begin the 2018 Yom HaShoah community commemoration. Born in Berlin in 1927, she, along with her fellow survivors, brought unique insights to the occasion.
“We are all responsible for being informed, and for taking positive, ongoing actions to continue fighting anti-Semitism in all of its many manifestations,” said Gottlieb Katz in an interview before the event. She noted that anti-Semitism has increased in Canada over the past decade, with spikes in vandalism, attacks, boycotts and hate-incitement.
“Each of the six candles represents one million murdered Jewish civilians,” she said. “All were individuals. Each had their own life, and story. They included 1.75 million babies and little children.”
Gottlieb Katz, who had a 48-year career teaching children in Quebec, then more years teaching adults after she and her family moved to Ontario in 1975, said anti-Semitism was rife in Canada from the 1930s to the 1960s.
“Canadian public policy and academic boards kept six million capable contributors to Canada’s economy out of our country. They kept brilliant minds out of our universities. Anti-Semitism is to the disadvantage of the world.”
She was joined in the candle lighting by fellow survivors Judith Balint, David Moskovic, Sue Eldridge, Dora Goldman and Emmy Glass Gitzi. Shoah Committee Chair Debbie Halton-Weiss read about each of their lives, while photos were projected on the screen.
“Tonight we stand as witnesses together,” said Halton-Weiss.
The evening also marked the 30th anniversary of the creation of the annual March of Living, in which teens and young adults from all over the world visit Poland and Israel to bear witness to the tragedies of the past. Dani Taylor, who participated in 2015, talked about how she is “still processing” what she saw and learned on her trip.
“The power of the March of Living comes from stories,” she said, noting that her experience started with sadness and despair, followed by anger and frustration. Now, she said, she has a new determination to stand up to any hatred she witnesses today.
The theme of remembering history continued with the presentation of “The Mitzvah Project” by Roger Grunwald. In his one-man play, co-authored and directed by Annie McGreevey, Grunwald brought several characters to life, complete with various accents, to illustrate the history of tens of thousands of German men known as mischlings, the derogatory term the Nazis used to characterize those descended from one or two Jewish grandparents who served in Hitler’s army. He followed his play with a talk and visual presentation expanding on his theme.
He asked his Ottawa audience how many had been familiar with Germans of Jewish descent who served Hitler. A few hands were raised.
“I myself had no idea,” he said. He noted that Field Marshal Erhard Milch was a half Jew, one of many who was “Aryanized.” Hitler alone had the power to grant a “declaration of German blood” for those who looked Aryan enough.
In 1933 in Germany, Aryans caught having relations with non-Aryans were punishable by death, noted Grunwald, adding that, sadly, the United States had a long history of promoting the same thing. “It was the American eugenics movement which provided inspiration for the Nazis’ forced sterilization.”
Grunwald also spoke of philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, who inspired other German Jews to follow the path to assimilation.
“Between 1800 and 1900, more than 70,000 German Jews converted to Christianity,” he noted.
“Most of us are taught some variation of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ but there is no longer – if there ever was – ‘pure’ anyone. We’re all an amalgam. We’re all mischlings. The ‘other’ is ‘us’.”
Allan Shefrin read “A Prayer for Yom HaShoah,” composed by British Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks. A portion of the prayer said: Today, on Yom HaShoah, we call on You, Almighty God, to help us hear Your voice that says in every generation: Do not murder. Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour. Do not oppress the stranger. We know that whilst we do not have the ability to change the past, we can change the future.