By Sheila Hurtig Robertson, CHES Committee Member
Art Leader, the son of Holocaust survivors and a member of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES), was alarmed, and with reason.
In 2019, statistics reported by B’nai Brith Canada revealed that, for the fourth year in a row, antisemitic incidents in Canada rose to more than 2,000 annually.
Also concerning him was the fact that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Holocaust remembrance events were virtual and, with schools closed across the country, Holocaust educational activities were halted. He further noted that for working youth, Holocaust education is non-existent. And with the passing of time, decreasing numbers of eyewitnesses who survived the Holocaust are able to share their knowledge and relate their experiences, resulting in minimal awareness of the atrocities they witnessed and endured.
Then, in 2020, the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa was vandalized only two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Later in 2020, anti-Nazi graffiti on a memorial in an Oakville, Ont., cemetery, which honours the 14th Waffen SS Division, was initially considered a hate crime by Halton Regional Police. Although the police later apologized for using that terminology, it was particularly distasteful to Leader, whose mother often spoke of the brutality of soldiers from that division and how they assisted Germans in the murder of her entire family.
“I am reminded of the words of Elie Wiesel: ‘To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice,’” says Leader, who is dedicated to advancing Holocaust education so the next generations will never forget nor be indifference to hate.
“Canada has demonstrated a commitment to remembrance and Holocaust education and to fighting the antisemitism and racism that threaten and erode the multicultural and pluralistic nature of our society,” says Leader. “Holocaust education sensitizes Canadians to the role racist ideology and government propaganda played in the systematic murder of millions of Jews and other persecuted groups and helps youth to understand the dangers of indifference to the oppression of others.”
Convinced the time is right to develop a comprehensive inventory of best practices in Holocaust education and teachings and relevant resources offered in Canadian schools and communities, Leader, working with CHES and author and lawyer Maureen McTeer, created a House of Commons petition (e-2740) urging Parliament to address the pressing challenges presented by the growing antisemitism, Holocaust deniers, and those who distort the true nature of the Holocaust. Anita Vandenbeld, MP for Ottawa West-Nepean, enthusiastically supported the petition and is its sponsor in Parliament.
The petition urges the government to build upon its previous investments in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance initiatives; determine the current availability of Holocaust education across Canada; identify new strategies to reach those who are targeted by racist and hate propaganda online; and urgently fund community organizations to preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, thereby educating Canadians about the destructive impact of hate and intolerance on our Charter Freedoms, to the detriment of current and future generations.
CHES and the Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies at Carleton University support this initiative and urge readers to read the petition (see below), sign it, and share the link with family and friends. The petition is open for signature until November 19, 2020. Supporters’ identities are protected by Canada’s privacy laws.
House of Commons Petition e-2740
The number of antisemitic incidents in Canada rose in 2019 to more than six incidents each day.
Canada has demonstrated a commitment to remembrance and Holocaust education through bilateral relationships and engagement in international organizations.
Holocaust education sensitizes Canadians to the role racist ideology and government propaganda played in the systematic murder of millions of Jews, and other persecuted groups.
Holocaust education will help young Canadians to understand the dangers of indifference to the oppression of others and to those sowing destructive messages of hate and racism.
Holocaust deniers and those who distort the true nature of the Holocaust use the Internet and online forums to spread hate and to dishonour those who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis.
Fewer Holocaust survivors are able to share their knowledge and individual experience, while fewer youth are aware of the atrocities survivors witnessed and endured;
We, the undersigned citizens of Canada, call upon the Parliament of Canada to address this national challenge that threatens and erodes the multicultural and pluralistic nature of Canadian society, and to:
- Build upon its previous investments in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance initiatives;
- Determine the current availability of Holocaust education, including content and best pedagogical practices as identified by Holocaust educators across Canada.
- Identify strategies to reach youth, especially those not in the education system, who are targeted by racist and hate propaganda online.
- Urgently provide funds to Canadian community organizations to preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors thereby educating Canadians about the destructive impact of hate and intolerance on the Charter freedoms to the detriment of current and future generations.