Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Yad Vashem

Mr. Monte Kwinter: Mr. Speaker, in a ceremony at Queen’s Park earlier today, we recognized and honoured 10 Holocaust survivors whose stories of anguish, suffering and survival of both body and spirit are a testimony to the human will to live. These Holocaust survivors who are in the House today came to Ontario, rebuilt their lives and were honoured for their wonderful contributions as citizens of Ontario. Those honoured are Martin Baranek, Joe Betel, Helen Bleeman, Judy Cohen, Alzbeta Friedman, Frank Junger, Fay Kieffer, Joe Leinburd, Bill Nightingale and Rose Zimmerman.

Today, we recognize Yom Hashoah V’Hagvurah, Holocaust Memorial Day, which is really held earlier in the year, but because of various circumstances this is when we could schedule it. It’s a day designated for Holocaust remembrance in communities around the world. This is the 20th year that the Ontario Legislature has observed Holocaust Memorial Day, and I’m proud to say that Ontario was the first jurisdiction in the world, outside the state of Israel, to officially recognize it.

As we mourn the deaths of the six million victims, we also celebrate the lives of those who survived. I have visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem many times. The memorial is dedicated to preserving the memory and the story of each of the six million people who died in the Holocaust. As a Jew, these memories strike the heart and the soul. Every Jew is touched by the Holocaust. We lost loved ones, family members or friends. All members in the community lost someone. The Holocaust echoes throughout generations. The loss is extraordinary.

At Yad Vashem, that loss is made real. It is concrete. You can touch it. In the Valley of the Communities, you stand before wall after wall, carved out of solid rock, listing the names of more than 5,000 communities that lived, breathed and had life, in which men and women loved, married, raised children, worked, laughed and worshipped. Today, in most cases, nothing remains of these Jewish communities except for their names, forever frozen in the bedrock of Yad Vashem.

It was there that I found the name of the city where my father was born, Czestochowa, and the city where my mother was born, Sosnowiec. The Holocaust reaches out of the past and touches the shoulder of every Jew.

For years, survivors walked among us with tattoos to mark the horror they had lived through. Their stories, their scars and the numbers carved callously into their skins made the Holocaust real, personal and powerful for generations to come. There are fewer and fewer survivors still living. Fewer people are telling first-hand accounts of personal experiences. Soon, the tattoos will be seen only in pictures, movies and museums, while the stories slowly fade with them—the hard-learned lessons for those who had survived, rebuilt and risen up.

The central theme of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, 2013, is, “Communities Together: Build a Bridge.”

Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates all who died in the Holocaust, not just Jews. We also remember those whom the Nazis targeted for their race, their religion, their politics, their disabilities or their sexual orientation. It’s important to set aside time to remember all these victims whose lives were taken by the Nazis. In remembering, we bear witness to what these men, women and children endured.

Tragically, other genocides have followed since World War II—in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia. It’s evident that we must continue our struggle to keep alive the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by the United Nations 65 years ago in the shadow of the Holocaust. The declaration recognizes the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace throughout the world. It called on the world to protect human rights by the rule of law.

We are indeed fortunate to live in Canada and in Ontario, but we must never take our good fortune for granted. We must guard our democratic institutions and democratic freedoms. We must appreciate, nurture and protect them, and we must constantly remind ourselves how easy it is to lose them.

On September 22, 2013, the annual Yizkor ceremony was held as part of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem’s mission to commemorate the six million Jewish souls who perished in the Holocaust and to educate future generations of Canadians about the universal lessons of this dark period in history.

On Yom ha-Shoah, Jewish communities around the world recite a brief traditional mourner’s prayer, the Kaddish. I want to continue our tradition of saying Kaddish in memory of those people whose yahrzeit is unknown. On behalf of the victims, the survivors and their families, I would like to recite that Hebrew prayer that is something for which all people may pray, and I ask for unanimous consent to allow me to do that, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from York Centre is asking for unanimous consent to recite the Kaddish. Agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Monte Kwinter: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Prayer in Hebrew.

Mr. Monte Kwinter: One line of this prayer translates as, “He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us.”

We must always remember so that the world will never forget.

Mr. Speaker, I ask that we have a moment of silence to commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I would ask that that would happen after the other two responses. Once we do that, we will seek that unanimous consent.

The member from Thornhill.

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Mr. Peter Shurman: Thank you very much, Speaker, and I’m going to call attention to the fact that you just introduced me the way you normally do, as the member for Thornhill, because we refer to each other in this place by the names of our ridings or constituencies. I’m proud indeed to be the member for Thornhill on a number of levels, not least which being that Thornhill is home to the largest concentration of Jewish people in the entire province of Ontario, indeed, if not in Canada. Thornhill is now 47% Jewish. One of the things that I might call attention to is the fact that there isn’t one person in Thornhill of that faith who has not been touched in some way by the Holocaust. But I also call attention to the fact that you introduced me by my riding name rather than my given name, because my name is Peter Shurman, as most people know. But what you don’t know is that my middle name is Emil. Emil is a name given to me in honour of my paternal grandfather, Emil Shuermann. I never met him. Emil Shuermann and his wife, Elfriede Stern Shuermann, perished in Theresienstadt. They were starved to death by the Nazis. They, along with many other members of my father’s family, are people that I never had a chance to meet. The Holocaust, to me, is a very, very personal topic, both as a Jew and as a member of a family of survivors.

I grew up with my father, obviously, for the first 20 or so years of my life. One of the things I know that our honourees today can understand very well, because they’re so public in helping us remember what happened when we have no personal memory of our own, is that many survivors could not speak about what happened to them or what happened to their families. My father was one of those people. I could never ask questions, and I could never get answers. The one time that I actually poked through that veil was the only time in my life that I saw my father cry. I realized that there was no way in the world that I could ever get that information, so it’s through all of you and through all of the other survivors, the people who, through Yad Vashem and other societies like it, bring us these stories, that I can understand what my own roots were about. I think that’s true for many people, given the fact that six million perished in the Holocaust.

It’s an important thing to recognize what Yad Vashem represents, why it is such an important organization in this day and age for me and all of the people in our sixties like me who were born immediately postwar, for my children and for their children. Holocaust survivors get thinner and thinner in their ranks every year. In the Jewish tradition, we wish our friends a hundert-tsvantsik yor. That’s Yiddish for 120 years: May you live 120 years. None of you are at 120 years yet, but I hope you all make it, and I hope I do, too. But that’s a long, long life to contemplate.

The point I’m trying to make is that in 10 or 20 years we will only be able to recount the stories and we won’t have the blessing that each of you represents of having first-hand knowledge so that we can pass it along, because, as was said at the ceremonies today, it is only by passing this information from generation to generation that we keep the memory alive. It’s only by looking at the positive that you have all generated in your lives, by creating families, creating businesses, creating new life, creating, for me, the Thornhills of the world, the communities of the world, in spite of what the Nazis tried to do. It’s that that makes us want to go on and makes us understand what “never again” really means. Yad Vashem is an organization that truly lives by that slogan, by that “never again.”

Even here in wonderful Ontario, we see that hatred thrives, unfortunately. Very recently, I made a statement on this subject. In Thornhill, we saw, this summer alone, three distinct and visible cases of hate crimes. Swastikas cut into the greens of a golf course; swastikas sprayed on the hoods of cars in very predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods. I, myself, was the victim of hate—and I can’t get into detail—right here in the Legislature of the province of Ontario this past summer.

The crimes have all been referred to various hate crimes units, but that doesn’t stop the people who perpetrate them from thinking in those terms. It is an unacceptable thing in the province of Ontario in these times for us to tolerate anything like that. Ontario has come so far in promoting an inclusive society and culture; you represent the very best of it.

We have Jewish Heritage Month, which I was so fortunate to help sponsor with my friends from the NDP and the Liberal Party the member for Parkdale–High Park and the member for Eglinton–Lawrence. We have a resolution that passed unanimously that I presented to this Legislature condemning campus hatred through Israeli Apartheid Week. These are the stepping stones that we in Ontario have had to build to create in Ontario what I consider to be a pillar of cultural inclusion.

So with the help of organizations like Yad Vashem and with you, particularly, we can continue to fight hatred and bigotry in all forms. Never again.

Ms. Cheri DiNovo: I’m the only Christian Canadian gentile who has the privilege of addressing you and addressing us all for a Holocaust memorial. I think it’s very fitting that I do. The first thing one needs to say, bearing all of those monikers, is “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” which is Latin and very Christian for saying “My sin, my sin, my most grievous sin.”

I’m one of the lucky ones. I was raised in a social justice household where my father taught me very early that racism and anti-Semitism wasn’t just something that happened during the Holocaust, although of course that was the most grievous evidence of it, but it happened right here. It happened in Canada. My father told me about a time in this very city where “No Jews or Dogs” was a sign on the Beaches boardwalk. He told me of the Christie Pits race riots—anti-Semitic riots is what they were. He told me about living through those. He told me about the kind of world that makes that possible.

I was also raised in a household that taught me a kind of Christianity which was the Christianity of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lost his life also in resistance to the Nazi regime. He said very clearly when he was alive that the most important thing a Christian can do, living in this time, the time of the Holocaust, is to say over and over again, “Jesus was a Jew.” So I was raised with that kind of Christianity as well.

In fact, keeping up the tradition of my family, this summer I’m going to visit Poland. My children have Polish heritage. We’re going to Auschwitz and Birkenau. Why are we doing that? Because I think it’s important for my children to know about that heritage so that it never happens again.

I also had the privilege, this last year, of going to Israel. I went to the memorial at Yad Vashem. I have to say, for anyone who hasn’t been there, you have to go there. There is nothing so profoundly moving: the Hall of Names, the Cattle Car, the Valley of the Communities—the destroyed communities—and the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. But I have to say, what was most moving for me was the Children’s Memorial. “Places and names” is what the word means in translation from Hebrew, the names of the children, the places they were from, those children who were killed.

It’s important to remember that at the time this was going on, Canada as a country turned away Jews who were seeking asylum. So when I say “Mea culpa,” I’m saying it for all of us, because this is part of our history, too: what we did, and what we, more importantly, didn’t do. As you know so well, for evil to go unchallenged is how evil thrives.

I now say it with an increased sense of the importance of saying it, because of the increased episodes of anti-Semitism. The member from Thornhill evidenced some of those. But the reality is that anti-Semitism is on the rise. It’s on the rise around the world, so we ever have to be vigilant in all of our communities, whether we have one Jew or are 47% Jewish. It’s we who have to be vigilant, so what happened to you will never happen again. Again, this is on our hands. This is in our history. This is part of our heritage as well.

I want to point to something that’s happening right now in my community which sounds eerily similar. Our Parkdale Public School just lost 200 Roma students—200 Roma students—who have been deported, we think. We don’t know. They disappeared. Nobody knows where they’ve gone. We know there is an active movement to deport Roma people from our city, and we don’t know where—are they in hiding? Have they gone back to Hungary? Many of them were from Hungary, which has anti-Roma laws in place.

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I want to say thank you to our friends in the Jewish community and to our friends in synagogues, because the only people who have come to the defence of the Roma, other than those of us who have been raised and lucky enough to believe, in our bones, in social justice, are the folk in synagogues, Jews themselves who recognize that it was also the Roma people who were in the concentration camps with them. But that’s going on as we speak, and the sense of impotence that one feels in the face of that, trying to find out—I tell all of the folk in my riding, if you know somebody who used to go to school with your child, find out where they are. Call the police if you have to. Trace them. Keep track of them. Know where they are. That’s so important. It’s going on right now.

The theme that the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem is so vested in is “Remember. Reflect. Recommit.” I want to say, on behalf of all of those who aren’t Jewish, on behalf of all Canadians: That is what this day and your presence means to us.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for keeping the flame alive. Thank you for being you. Thank you, Martin Baranek. Thank you, Joe Betel. Thank you, Helen Bleeman. Thank you, Judy Cohen. Thank you, Fay Kieffer—I hope I’m saying these names right. Thank you, Joe Leinburd. Thank you, Bill Nightingale. Thank you, Rose Zimmerman. Thank you. It’s your names. We need to remember your names, because that’s what Yad Vashem does in Israel; it remembers names and also hands. With our hands, we recommit. With our voices and with our minds, we remember and we reflect.

Thank you so much for being here. We honour you.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): The member from York Centre is seeking unanimous consent for a moment of silence to honour the survivors and Yad Vashem. Do we have agreement? Agreed. Please rise.

The House observed a moment’s silence.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): I thank all members for their warm, thoughtful and meaningful words of encouragement and thanks, and I thank our guests for being here today one more time. I appreciate it very much.

It is now time for petitions.