The front page story in this issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is Benita Baker’s report on the inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa. Although we published an issue after the September 27 event, the nature of our deadline and production schedule – complicated at that time of year by High Holiday work breaks – prevented us from running the story in our October 9 edition.
However, the story was published at www.ottawajewishbulletin.com even before that issue was mailed to subscribers. (It’s always good to check our website often as we post breaking news stories and other features from around the Jewish world, most of which are not included in the print edition, virtually every work day.)
A sidebar to the article on page 2 (which was also posted online) notes that a plaque at the entrance to the monument commemorating the inauguration was removed and will be replaced because it failed to specifically mention that Jews were the principal victims of “the millions of men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust.”
After visiting the National Holocaust Monument, looking at its various sections – all of them so powerful – and reading the other plaques and panels explaining the Holocaust, and also Canada’s shameful response to Jewish refugees desperate to escape the genocide, no one can be left with any doubt about the Nazi regime’s intention to wipe out European Jewry.
Still, it was a serious error that the plaque at the entrance to the monument did not specifically mention that the intent of the perpetrators of the Holocaust was the mass murder of Jews.
But it was an error that all the parties involved in the monument, including the government of Canada and the National Holocaust Monument Development Council, quickly acknowledged, quickly accepted responsibility for, and quickly set in motion a process to correct. The plaque was removed and will be replaced with appropriate wording.
But, that was not enough for some Opposition politicians and media pundits who sought to put responsibility for the error directly on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – as if the error was an expression of his personal feelings.
But, as Rabbi Daniel Friedman, the Edmonton-based chair of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council, explained in an op-ed published in the Ottawa Citizen and several other Canadian dailies, “On the big day, we suddenly realized that an egregious error had been made. In amongst the debates over wording and plaque positioning, somehow the one plaque that introduced the others – and made no sense outside the context of the plaques detailing the Nazi genocide of six million Jews along with homosexuals, the disabled and others – ended up mounted all on its own on a separate wall. Visitors to the site were rightly disturbed to encounter this major injustice to the memory of the six million Jews for whom the monument was built. All of the parties involved are deeply remorseful and we apologize unconditionally for the pain we have caused by this oversight.
“I want to thank the Trudeau government for acting expeditiously to amend the plaque as soon as the error was brought to its attention. Mistakes happen; most can be fixed quickly and decorously. Without questioning, the government did the right thing, which has been our experience with Trudeau’s government throughout.”
I agree with Rabbi Friedman.
I have personally heard the prime minister speak poignantly at Holocaust commemoration events and I have watched his sensitive interactions with elderly Holocaust survivors. And I have no doubt as to his knowledge of the Holocaust or his sincerity in talking about it. To suggest that he is personally at fault for this error, or that it was purposeful, is simply egregious.
I highly recommend a visit to the National Holocaust Monument. It is a profoundly moving experience. With winter quickly approaching, you’ll probably want to choose a nice autumn day to go as it is outdoors. I found that I needed to spend a good hour there when I visited, much of it in quiet contemplation.