It was International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 – the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945 – and, throughout the day, and into the next, I posted various articles connected to the observance on the online Ottawa Jewish Bulletin at www.ottawajewishbulletin.com.
And, as they arrived in my email inbox, I also posted the brief statements on International Holocaust Remembrance Day sent by Canada’s political leaders. The first to arrive was from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I later received statements from Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion.
As much as I welcomed any and all statements from our political leaders marking such an important occasion, I found it somewhat curious that a statement came from Dion. After all, the prime minister had already released a statement on behalf of the government more than four hours earlier.
Maybe the Dion statement was planned all along to reiterate the importance the government places on Holocaust remembrance. But, I can’t help but feel it may have been damage control to address something – something of primary importance – left out of Trudeau’s statement, which read:
“On this day, we pay tribute to the memory of the millions of victims murdered during the Holocaust. We honour those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime, and welcome their courageous stories of hope and perseverance.
“The Holocaust is a stark reminder of the dangers and risks of allowing hate, prejudice, and discrimination to spread unchallenged. It also reminds us that silence must never be an option when humanity is threatened.
“As we pause to educate ourselves and our families on the bitter lessons of the Holocaust, we also strengthen our resolve to work with domestic and international partners to continue defending human rights and condemning intolerance.”
To be sure, there is absolutely nothing to disagree with in the prime minister’s statement. Everything he said about remembrance, honour and vigilance was completely correct in a universal sense. However, what was missing was any specific reference to the Holocaust as a genocide aimed specifically at Jews, or of the imperative to defend against the anti-Semitism raging so terribly today – particularly in Europe and in almost all of the Middle East.
The foreign affairs minister addressed the shortcomings of the prime minister’s statement specifically saying “we remember the six million Jews … brutally murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust … the worst chapter in human history.”
In his statement, Dion used the word “Holocaust” to describe the genocide committed by the Nazi regime against the Jewish people – but he also, significantly, referred to it as the “Shoah,” using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. Dion also referred specifically to “the horror of anti-Semitism.”
Dion also called needed attention to the still woefully incomplete search for some measure of justice for Holocaust survivors.
“This day is a poignant reminder that we must never forget and that the Holocaust’s remaining survivors must see justice served,” Dion said. “It is deeply troubling that even after 71 years, victims and families still have not been compensated for assets confiscated by the Nazis. Canada reaffirms its commitment to the 2009 Terezín Declaration.”
I’ve no doubt that Trudeau was sincere in his message and I’m also sure that his slight was unintended. I fully expect the prime minister’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day message next year will reflect both the universal and the specific.
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