Mary Kitagawa was honoured with the
Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Award on Jan. 20. (photo by Pat Johnson)
At a convocation ceremony at the University of
British Columbia in 2012, a group of graduates stood out from the rest.
Twenty-one elderly Japanese-Canadians, ranging in age from 89 to 96, were
awarded honorary degrees in recognition of an historic injustice that had taken
place 70 years earlier.
In the winter of early 1942, right after
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour, the Government of Canada ordered all
Japanese-Canadians to be relocated from the coast. This included students at
UBC. For the next seven decades, the injustice went unrectified and largely
unrecognized by the university until Mary Kitagawa, a community leader whose
own family history was ruptured by the events of the war years, took up the
cause. It was her tenacity that led the university to acknowledge and make some
amends for its complicity in the injustice. It awarded honorary degrees to 96
students – most of them posthumously.
For this achievement, and others, Kitagawa was
honoured with the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Award on Sunday afternoon,
Jan. 20. This was the 14th annual Vancouver commemoration of Raoul Wallenberg Day,
which, since 2015, has coincided with the presentation of the Civil Courage Award.
In her remarks upon receiving the award,
Kitagawa reflected on the social conditions that permitted the internment of
Canadians of Japanese descent.
“This happened because those in power in Canada
at that time forgot that this was a democratic country, sending her men and
women to war to preserve our freedom,” she told a packed auditorium at the H.R.
MacMillan Space Centre. “The excuse they used for incarcerating us was that we
were a security risk. However, if you read all the newspaper headlines of the
1930s and ’40s, you will find that the B.C. politicians’ hatred of
Japanese-Canadians was deep and abiding. They wanted to ethnically cleanse this
one small group of people from the province.”
Kitagawa said that, at a January 1942 meeting
in Ottawa to address “the Japanese problem,” a B.C. representative declared,
“The bombing of Pearl Harbour was a heaven-sent gift to the people of British
Columbia to rid B.C. of Japanese economic menace forevermore.”
“My family was swept away from our home in this
storm of hatred,” Kitagawa said. From their home on Salt Spring Island, the
family was transported to Hastings Park, in East Vancouver, which served as an
assembly point for dispersal to the interior of the province.
“Our journey through incarceration was brutal
and dehumanizing,” she said. The family was separated from her father for six
months and they feared the very worst. Eventually, the family was reunited, but
they were moved from place to place around the interior of British Columbia and
in Alberta a dozen times during seven years of incarceration.
When the War Measures Act, under which the
internment was justified, ceased its effect at the end of the war, Parliament
passed successive “emergency” laws to permit the continued incarceration
through 1947, and it was April 1949 before Japanese-Canadians were granted
freedom of movement and permitted to return to the coast. Her father and
mother, aged 55 and 50 respectively, took the family back to Salt Spring and
began all over again.
“It wasn’t just the material things that they
lost,” Kitagawa reflected. “They lost the dream for the future they had planned,
their community, their opportunities, education for their children, their
friends, their youth, their culture, language and heirlooms. But never – they
never lost their pride nor their dignity.… My parents believed in forgiveness.
Like Nelson Mandela, they believed that forgiveness liberates the soul. They
refused to look back in anger. Instead, they chose to continue to move forward
with the same resolve that helped them to survive their terrible experience.”
In 2006, Kitagawa read in the Vancouver Sun that a federal building on Burrard Street in Vancouver was being named to honour Howard Charles Green, a longtime Conservative member of Parliament from Vancouver and a leading advocate of Japanese-Canadian internment. “Immediately, I knew that I had to have that name erased from that building. To me, no person who helped destroy my parents’ dream and made them suffer so grievously was going to be so honoured.”
With help from a quickly mobilized group of
activists and sympathetic media coverage, Kitagawa successfully had Green’s
name stripped from the building, which was renamed in honour of Douglas Jung,
another Conservative MP, but the first MP of Chinese-Canadian heritage.
Kitagawa also led an initiative that saw
Hastings Park declared an historic site related to the internment.
In her talk on Sunday, Kitagawa emotionally
credited an “unsung hero,” her husband Tosh, who, among other efforts he played
in supporting Kitagawa’s activism, spearheaded the reprinting of the 1942 UBC
yearbook to include information about the internment and biographies of the
students affected. It was also through his persistence that they were able to
track down the 23 living students and the families of those who had passed
The Civil Courage Award is presented by the
Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society, which was formed by members of the
Swedish and Jewish communities in Vancouver.
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish architect,
businessman, diplomat and humanitarian who became Sweden’s special envoy to
Hungary in the summer of 1944, several months after the Nazi deportation of
Hungarian Jews had begun. He issued protective passports and sheltered people
in buildings that were declared to be Swedish territory, saving tens of
thousands of Jews. He was taken into Soviet captivity on Jan. 17, 1945, and was
never seen again.
Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who
served as the vice-consul in Lithuania during the Second World War. Acting in
direct violation of his orders at great risk to himself and his family, he
issued transit visas that allowed approximately 6,000 Jewish people from Poland
and from Lithuania to escape probable death.
The award presentation was followed by a
screening of the 1995 film The War Between Us, which dramatizes the
events of the Japanese-Canadian experience through the lives of a single
Councilor Pete Fry, Vancouver’s deputy mayor, read a proclamation
from the city. Consular officials from Sweden and Japan were in attendance.
University of Ottawa’s Prof. Jan Grabowski delivered the Rudolf Vrba Memorial Lecture at the University of British Columbia Nov. 15. (photo by Pat Johnson)
Jan Grabowski, a University of Ottawa professor who is a leading scholar of the Holocaust, delivered the annual Rudolf Vrba Memorial Lecture at the University of British Columbia Nov. 15 – the same day he filed a libel suit against an organization aligned with Poland’s far-right government.
The Polish League Against Defamation, which is allied with the country’s governing Law and Justice Party, initiated a campaign against Grabowski last year, accusing him of ignoring the number of Poles who saved Jews and exaggerating the number of Jews killed by their Polish compatriots. Grabowski’s book, Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland, won the 2014 Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research. An English translation of an even more compendious multi-year analysis undertaken by a team of researchers under Grabowski’s leadership will be published next year. His Vrba lecture provided an overview of some of the findings in the new work. It is a harrowing survey that brought condemnation from Polish-Canadians in the Vancouver audience.
The new book, which does not yet have an English title, is a work of “microhistory,” Grabowski said. Holocaust studies is one of the fastest-growing fields of historical research, he said, partly because it got off to a slow start and really only picked up in the 1980s. Much of the written work being completed today is in the area of survivor memoirs, second- and third-generation experiences, including inherited trauma, and “meta-history,” the study of the study of the Holocaust.
“This assumes that we actually know what has happened,” he said. Grabowski maintains there is still much primary research to be done. “We are still far away from knowing as much as we should about this, one of the greatest tragedies in human history.”
There are millions of pages of relevant historical documentation almost completely untapped – primarily in provincial Polish archives, police records and town halls – that spell out in detail the often-enthusiastic complicity of Poles in turning on their
Jewish neighbours. By combing through these previously ignored records, Grabowski and his co-authors have amassed evidence of widespread – and eager – involvement of Polish police and other Poles in assisting Germans to identify, hunt down and murder Polish Jews.
The work has been met with official condemnation. Earlier this year, the Polish government adopted a law that would expose scholars involved in the study of the Holocaust to fines and prison terms of up to three years. The criminal component of the law, including imprisonment, was rescinded after international backlash, but the atmosphere around Holocaust inquiry in Poland remains repressive.
Grabowski said that the “explosion of right-wing extremists, xenophobia and blatant antisemitism” in Poland is related to the “undigested, unlearned and/or rejected legacy of the Holocaust” – the fact that Polish society has, by and large, refused to acknowledge the wounds of the past or to deal with its own role in the extermination of three million of its Jewish citizens between 1939 to 1945.
The concept of microhistory, which is the approach Grabowski’s team uses, is not local history, he said, “it is an attempt to follow trajectories of people.” He instructed his researchers to focus on the exact day, often hour by hour, when liquidation actions took place in hundreds of Polish shtetls and ghettoes. To do so upends a conspiracy of silence that has existed for decades.
“Why the silence?” he asked the audience. “There were three parts to the silence. One was the Jews. They were dead. They had no voice … 98.5% of Polish Jews who remained under German occupation, who never fled, died. You have a 1.5% survival rate for the Polish Jews. So, the Jews couldn’t really, after the war, ask for justice, because they were gone.”
The communist regime that dominated Poland for a half-century after the war was viewed not only as a foreign power inflicted on Poles from the Soviet Union, Grabowski said, “but, more importantly, as Jewish lackeys – that was a term that was used.
“So, it wouldn’t really stand to have trials of those accused of complicity with the Germans for murdering the Jews,” he said. “That would only confirm the widespread accusations that the communists were here doing the Jewish bidding.”
The third factor in the silence were the interests of Polish nationalists, whose ideology is inherently antisemitic, and who are the dominant political force in the country today.
While clearly not all Poles were collaborators, it would have been impossible for almost anyone in the country to claim ignorance of what was happening.
“Mass killing was taking place in the streets,” the professor said. Researchers found bills of sale charging city officials for the sand municipal workers needed to cover the blood on sidewalks.
“When you say that blood was running in the streets, it’s not a metaphor, it’s just a description of what really happened,” he said.
In some ghettos, as many as half the Jewish population was killed on the day of the action, with massive participation from Polish society.
“One area more, one area less,” he said. “Usually between 10 and 20% of Jews were slaughtered simply in order to frighten the remaining 80% to go to the trains, to be herded to the trains,” said Grabowski.
In Poland’s smaller communities, centuries of Jewish and Polish social, commercial and civic interactions did not result in camaraderie – on the contrary.
“The deadliest places of all [were] small shtetls, small towns, where anonymity was not available when the authorities were not far away,” he said. In one instance, a Jew in hiding heard his neighbour assure the Nazis he would return with a hatchet to help them break into the hiding place seconds before the door was axed down.
In another example, Grabowski described in minute detail the atrocities committed by Germans, Poles and Ukrainian recruits in Węgrów, a town in eastern central Poland with a Jewish population of about “10,000 starving Jews who have been terrorized for nearly three years and now the final moment has come.”
Rumours of liquidation swirled for months, as Jews fleeing neighbouring communities brought narratives of destruction. In the day or two before the liquidation, wives of Polish military and other officials rushed to their Jewish tailors, shoemakers and others craftspeople to obtain the items they knew would soon become unavailable.
“With mounting panic, people started to prepare themselves for a siege,” said Grabowski. “They built hideouts to survive the initial German fury, they started to seek out contacts on the Aryan side of the city, looking for help from former neighbours, sometimes friends and former business partners.”
On the eve of Yom Kippur in 1942, Polish officials in the town were instructed to assemble horses, wagons and volunteers. A cordon of Nazis and collaborators surrounded the city at intervals of no more than 100 metres.
The mayor of the town wrote: “Jews who woke up to the terrible news ran like mad around the city, half-naked, looking for shelter.” The same leader noted that, when the Germans demanded he produce volunteers to help with the task of rounding up their Jewish neighbours, he feared he would not be able to meet their needs.
“Before I was able to leave my office, in order to assess the situation and issue orders for the removal of the bodies,” the mayor testified, “removal of the bodies had already started. There were carts and people ready. They volunteered for the job without any pressure.”
For Jews, the Germans were to be feared, but their Polish neighbours were also a threat.
“The greatest danger was not associated with the Germans, but with the Poles,” said Grabowski. “Unlike the former, the latter could easily tell a Jew from a non-Jew by their accent, customs and physical appearance.”
Poles were rewarded with a quarter-kilo of sugar for every Jew they turned in.
“The searches were conducted with extreme brutality and violence … the streets were soon filled with crowds of Jews being driven toward the market square, which the Germans had transformed into a holding pen for thousands of ghetto inmates,” he said.
On the streets, “the cries of Jews mixed with the shouts of the Germans and the laughter of the Poles,” according to an eyewitness.
“All of this was done in a small town where everybody knows each other,” said Grabowski. “It’s not only the question of geographic proximity, it’s social proximity. These people knew each other.”
People were taking clothes, jewelry and other possessions from the dead bodies. A husband would toss a body in the air while the wife pulled off articles of clothing until what was left was a pile of naked cadavers.
“They even pulled out golden teeth with pliers,” said Grabowski. A court clerk responded defensively to accusations that the gold he was trying to sell was soaked in human blood. “I personally washed the stuff,” he protested.
The prevalence in the Polish imagination of a Jewish association with gold partly accounted for the actions.
“This betrayal, due to widespread antisemitism and hatred of the Jews, was combined with the seemingly universal conviction that Jewish gold was just waiting to be transferred to new owners,” Grabowski said. “The myth of Jewish gold was so popular and so deeply rooted among Poles that it sealed the fate of [many Jews].”
The historical records indicate many Poles saw no need to cover their collaborationist tracks. Police and others who took it upon themselves to aid the Nazis without pressure defended their actions.
One policeman, after the war, depicted the killing of Jews as a patriotic act, one that saved Polish villagers from the wrath of the Nazis, who would have learned sooner or later about Jews in hiding and who then, he claimed, would have burned down the entire village.
As efficient as the Nazi killing machine was, Grabowski contends it could not have been as effective without the enthusiastic complicity of so many in Poland and other occupied countries.
“It was their participation that, in a variety of ways, made the German system of murder as efficient as it was,” he said.
With trepidation, Grabowski and his fellow researchers followed the documents and met with people in the towns. They would review documents from a 1947 trial, for instance, then go to the village in question.
The entire village would be conscious of its war-era history, he said. And the people who are, decades later, ostracized by their neighbours are not those who collaborated in the murder of Jews.
“The person that is ostracized is the family who tried to rescue the Jews, because they broke a certain social taboo and it still visible 75 or 76 years after the fact,” he said.
“Every time I present a speech to a Polish audience, the question of Polish righteous is presented as if it is a fig leaf behind which everyone else can hide.”
In the question-and-answer session, Grabowski shut down a persistent audience member who identified as Polish and who took exception with Grabowski’s research, arguing that Poland has more Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem than any other country.
“Every time I present a speech to a Polish audience, the question of Polish righteous is presented as if it is a fig leaf behind which everyone else can hide,” said Grabowski, who was born and educated in Warsaw. “The thing is, do you know how many Jews needed to be rescued? Poland had the largest Jewish community and using today Polish righteous as a universal and, let’s say, fig leaf behind which situations like I described here can be hidden is absolutely unconscionable. I protest against any attempt to overshadow the tragedy of Jewish people [with] the sacrifice of very, very few Poles.”
While Poland’s far-right government removed the mandated jail sentence for anyone found guilty of “slandering” Poland or Poles with complicity in Nazi war crimes, acknowledging the participation of Polish collaborators in the Holocaust remains a civil offence and Holocaust scholars in the country – and in Canada – face death threats and intimidation.
In introducing Grabowski, Richard Menkis, associate professor in the department of history at UBC, paid tribute to Rudolf Vrba, a Slovakian Jew who escaped Auschwitz and brought to the world inside information about the death camp, its operations and physical layout. Vrba, with fellow escapee Albert Wetzler, warned in 1944 that Hungarian Jews were about to face mass transport to the death camps. The news is credited with saving as many as 200,000 lives.
Vrba migrated to Canada and became a professor of pharmacology at UBC. He died in 2006.
The Vrba lecture alternates annually between an issue relevant to the Holocaust and an issue chosen by the pharmacology department in the faculty of medicine.
The University of British Columbia’s Prof. Richard Menkis has received two honours recently: the 2018 Louis Rosenberg Canadian Jewish Studies Distinguished Service Award and the 2018 Switzer-Cooperstock Prize for the best essay in Western Canadian Jewish history.
The Association for Canadian Jewish Studies established the Rosenberg Award in 2001 to recognize the significant contribution by an individual, institution or group to Canadian Jewish studies. In announcing Menkis as this year’s honouree, the association noted his “long and very distinguished career as a strong advocate for and practitioner of the scholarship and teaching of Canadian Jewish studies.”
Menkis won this year’s Switzer-Cooperstock Prize for the essay “Two Travelers and Two Canadian Jewish Wests,” which emphasizes the multiple expressions of interwar Jewish life in the Canadian west, and studies how two rabbis – Chief Rabbi J.H. Hertz and Rabbi Y. Horowitz – traveled through the region to promote their different visions. Hertz offered a modern acculturated Anglo-orthodoxy, while Horowitz promoted a traditionalist orientation shaped by Chassidism.
The Switzer-Cooperstock Prize, donated by members of the Switzer family to honour their parents and grandparents, is awarded biennially by the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. Past winners of the prize are Theodore Friedgut (Hebrew University), Lynne Marks (University of Victoria), Chana Thau (Winnipeg independent scholar), David Koffman (York University) and Esyllt Jones (University of Manitoba).
Menkis received his PhD from Brandeis University in 1988 and for many years held a position in the department of classical, Near Eastern and religious studies with a cross appointment to the department of history at UBC. He is currently associate professor of medieval and modern Jewish history in the history department at UBC. In addition to the surveys of medieval and modern Jewish history, he has taught advanced undergraduate courses on the Holocaust; Canadian Jewish history; fascism and antifascism; the historiography of genocide; and Jewish identity and the graphic novel. He continues to supervise both MA and PhD student theses at UBC and has served on PhD committees at other institutions.
Menkis has published widely on the cultural and religious history of Canadian Jewry. His articles have appeared in American Jewish History, American Jewish Archives, Canadian Ethnic Studies, Canadian Jewish Studies and in a number of edited volumes. Menkis was co-author, with Harold Troper, of More Than Just Games: Canada and the 1936 Olympics (University of Toronto Press, 2015), a seminal work in the field that presents an investigation of the responses and reactions of both Jewish and non-Jewish Canadian athletes and their communities to participation in the games. He is continuing the research for a publication, begun with Gerald Tulchinsky (z”l), on an aspect of the Canadian Jewish garment industry.
Tikva Housing has hired Alice Sundberg as director of operations and housing development. Sundberg has more than 30 years of nonprofit housing experience, including housing development, organizational and project management, and sector leadership. Most recently, she was involved with the development of the Co:Here Housing Community and the creation of Home Front, a collaborative initiative to make homelessness in Metro Vancouver rare, brief and one-time. Her knowledge of and contacts with both provincial and federal levels of government will assist Tikva Housing greatly as the organization moves forward with current and new project developments.
Sundberg is excited to be joining Tikva Housing and is already busy with the upcoming opening of the Ben and Esther Dayson Residences in Vancouver’s Fraser district. For information about Tikva’s upcoming projects, you can reach her at [email protected], or housing administrator Anat Gogo, at [email protected].
The study methods of Jewish school have served Jake Pascoe well in his study of film at the University of British Columbia. His works will be among those featured in the Persistence of Vision Film Festival 28 (POV28) April 28 and 29.
The festival showcases the work of fourth- and third-year students in the film production program at UBC Theatre and Film, which is what brought Pascoe – born and raised in Toronto – to Vancouver in 2014. Now in the final year of his bachelor of fine art in film production, Pascoe is involved in many of the 21 short films being screened at POV28. He directed Genesis, was the producer of Snoop! and first assistant director on three films, With Love From God, It’s a Boy! and How Long?, as well as being key grip on two others and gaffer on yet another. Pascoe said that, for a student to be involved in so many productions is “completely usual.”
“In fact,” he told the Independent, “I have some currently exhausted friends who have been in several more roles this year than I have. The program really emphasizes getting as much exposure to the different departments as possible, which makes the production season of the school year a lot of fun; you and your friends working several long days in a row and having to figure out how equipment works on the fly since – hey, you’re suddenly our sound mixer now!”
Pascoe’s bio notes that, in addition to “a background in directing theatre, he’s won fiction and stage play awards and has had stories published in magazines.”
“Before I was ever interested in filmmaking, I loved writing, so that stage of the process will always feel a little sacred to me,” he said. “This year, I got my first opportunity to direct a large and legitimate set with a big, scary camera and lots of equipment. Directing a movie like Genesis has been an opportunity that’s sort of eluded me, so I didn’t know what to expect coming up to the shoot. My favourite directors, like David Fincher or Wim Wenders, have been almost holy figures to me but I haven’t had the chance to take on that role with any of the resources remotely similar to the movies I grew up watching. Just feeling part of that tradition was pretty special.
“It also just gave me a creative buzz I hadn’t really ever experienced before. There was a moment I had with my actors getting ready before a big scene and I listened as they were getting into character, talking about their fears and emotions and I got so caught up with them. It was really surreal sharing a creative process with so many people since writing is so solitary. Watching and working with them along with my producer Ayden Ross and cinematographer Sam Barringer was really inspiring.”
Pascoe said he will be taking some summer courses to complete his minor in English literature and he aims to graduate this fall. As for his plans after that, he said, “Directing is such a fun and almost addictive experience that I feel like I need to get back in the chair sometime soon, but what’s nice about writing is that you don’t need any money or equipment to do it. I’ve been writing fiction for my whole life so, immediately following graduation, I’ll be working on getting some of my writing published.”
Pascoe said he attended a Jewish day school until Grade 11, “so it was a very large part of my life growing up. In terms of how it comes into play now – it’s funny, I was just giving a little spiel about this at my family’s seders this year – it struck me recently just how strangely effective Jewish school was in preparing me to study film.
“There’s something really talmudic in the analysis and criticism of cinema and the application thereof to any filmic creative pursuits I’ve had at UBC,” he said. “I remember very vividly in long Grade 7 classes being given an excerpt from the Torah and having to take the ‘story’ and methodically comb through it for all the moral quandaries it presents, all of its impacts on daily life it posits, and all the laws within its lessons to follow.
“In a very similar way, when you watch a movie, you’re really being handed a puzzle in the form of a story and are expected to totally squeeze everything out of it and methodically ask different kinds of theoretical questions.” He spoke of walking out of theatres “with the movie nerds in my program, who are just, if not more so, as trivial and hairsplitting as any of the ancient rabbinical commentators I read in middle school.”
POV28 screenings take place at UBC’s Frederic Wood Theatre, and there are morning matinées and evening programs. For tickets and the full schedule, visit povfilmfestival.org.
Hillel House building at the University of British Columbia. (photo from Hillel BC)
The University of British Columbia Geography Students Association (GSA) recently canceled a gala that was to take place in rental space owned by UBC’s Hillel chapter, due to pressure from some of the faculty in the department of geography.
The faculty members said they insisted on boycotting the event because of what they called the “controversial” and “political” nature of Hillel, according to numerous reports. The faculty members had not been publicly identified as of press time and could, therefore, not be located to clarify their position.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has accused them of boycotting the GSA gala based on the perception that Hillel supports the state of Israel, which CIJA is calling discriminatory.
“Boycotting Jews or a Jewish organization simply because you object to the state of Israel’s policies is classic antisemitism,” said Nico Slobinsky, CIJA’s director for the Pacific region.
“It is hard to believe that there is such blatant antisemitism on a Canadian university campus in 2018. There should be zero tolerance for any expressions of discrimination, racism and antisemitism on campus and anywhere else in Canada.”
Samuel Heller, the assistant executive director of Hillel BC, told the CJN that, “The actions of these faculty members have resulted in a de facto boycott of the Jewish student centre on campus. To boycott Jews based on one’s political views about Israel is discriminatory and antisemitic. Their actions have led to the resignation of the lone Jewish student on the executive of the GSA, as he felt marginalized and discriminated against because of his Jewishness.”
Addressing the claim that Hillel is a controversial and political space, Heller said, “Hillel doesn’t have any politics. What these faculty members really object to is Hillel’s support of Israel’s existence. We are a Jewish organization and Israel is a part of Jewish identity.… To demand that Jews disavow parts of our identity to placate faculty members is wrong and discriminatory.”
But not everyone accepts Heller’s characterization of Hillel as “having no politics.” The Progressive Jewish Alliance at UBC (PJA) released a statement on Facebook on March 16, saying: “While we recognize the right of the GSA to move the gala based on political considerations, we urge the GSA to recognize that Hillel is the physical Jewish space on campus, alongside having a political position. While we wait for a statement from the GSA, we would like to point out that the ramifications of their decision are alienating Jewish students on campus. Likewise, we encourage Hillel to consider how their political positions, such as an opposition to all boycotts of Israel, can alienate other Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and students.”
The PJA is referring to Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership, which state that Hillel will not partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel; or support the boycott of, divestment from or sanctions against the state of Israel.
In 2012, concerns about Hillel’s refusal to partner with Jewish organizations that support the BDS movement led to the formation of Open Hillel, an organization that agitates for Hillel to end the Standards of Partnership.
Numerous controversies have broken out over Hillel boycotting groups or individuals in recent years. In one example, in March 2017, B’nai Keshet, a queer Jewish group at Ohio State University, co-sponsored a Purim fundraiser for LGBTQ refugees in the Columbus area. Because Jewish Voices for Peace, an organization that supports BDS, was one of the sponsoring groups, OSU Hillel cut ties with B’nai Keshet, due to pressure from Hillel International, prompting students on numerous American campuses to hold “solidarity Shabbats” with the LGBTQ group. In June, a letter calling for the end of the standards was signed by more than 100 rabbis and submitted to Hillel.
The UBC Progressive Jewish Alliance hopes that the controversy will not only provoke change in the GSA, but in Hillel, as well.
“We hope that both organizations take this opportunity to engage in genuine dialogue around the complexity of politics and place,” it concluded in a statement.
Philip Steenkamp, the vice-president of external relations at UBC, told the CJN that the university is “aware of concerns that have been expressed by CIJA” and “are looking into this matter and will follow due process to ensure it is appropriately addressed.”
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter. This article was originally published by the CJN.
In his first Olympic-distance triathlon, Daniel Meron placed first in the men’s 30-34-year age category. He topped his category in the University of British Columbia Triathlon March 10.
Olympic triathlons see participants swim one-and-a-half kilometres, cycle 40 kilometres and run 10 kilometres. In a sprint triathlon, which also took place the same day, participants swim, cycle and run half those distances. Meron competed in his first sprint triathlon last August.
“I did my first triathlon on a whim,” he said. “I take part in a local boot camp called November Project [a free fitness movement that began in Boston and has spread to other cities]. They exercise at Queen Elizabeth Park every Wednesday morning. I started going over the summer and just began to get to know some truly phenomenal people, people who regularly win or place in ultramarathons, which are 100-kilometre runs that take place over two or three days. I thought I would like to try some sort of event.”
Meron regularly cycles about 16 kilometres to work and has been a lifeguard and swimming teacher for the City of Burnaby since 2004.
UBC Triathlon participants were equipped with timing sensors that measured when they began and finished each segment of the competition. Results were not released on the day of the event, and Meron was pleasantly shocked when he checked his results online.
“It came as a bit of a surprise,” he said. “It was obviously a huge accomplishment just doing an Olympic distance for the first time and so, honestly, winning my age category was just gravy.”
Meron, a UBC alumnus, is a former Hillelnik and served as vice-president of the UBC chapter of the traditionally Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. He is also an actor and acting teacher.
He is slated to do three or four more triathlons in the coming months.
The book The More I Know, the Less I Understand (Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2017) summarizes the findings of University of British Columbia students in various fields of Holocaust research and the implications of Nazi German crimes committed in Central and Eastern Europe.
It is often claimed that, since the events of the Holocaust took place more than 70 years ago, most of the available information has already been collected and there is little chance of gaining new knowledge about what happened. This claim, often made without substantial questioning, has been debunked by, among others, a group of UBC students who traveled to Poland on the Witnessing Auschwitz Program from 2014 to 2016.
The young scholars conducted extensive fieldwork and consulted with world-class experts in Holocaust studies at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute and other organizations; they also used primary-source archival documents. Each of the student essays in The More I Know, the Less I Understand is accompanied by footnotes prepared by experts in the field. The essays show that many complexities of human life and politics, and historic processes associated with the Holocaust and the Second World War, remain understudied. Over the course of the Witnessing Auschwitz Program, the students found more questions to ask with every answer they were able to uncover.
The uniqueness of this volume and its substantial contribution to the market of knowledge rests on the comprehensiveness of the analysis – largely resulting from the diverse areas of expertise of the individual scholars. Furthermore, the authors in the book write on various subjects that have largely remained untouched in Canadian academia: the profitability of the work camps for the German economy; the artistic expression of prisoners; moral dilemmas, such as betrayal of others for the sake of survival; and complex emotions such as love.
Importantly, various authors in this volume critique the methods by which the contemporary public is educated about events that took place before and during the Holocaust. For example, a common misconception exists, often reinforced through the education system and media, that the rationale for the crimes committed by the Nazi German regime was primarily rooted in ideological conviction. The essays in The More I Know, the Less I Understand collectively show that the motivations behind Nazi German actions prior to and during the Second World War were far more complex.
In early chapters, a number of the scholars correctly point out that the state of the economy was a major motivator for the leadership of the Third Reich. For example, Maria Dawson, in her chapter, “The Role of Food in the Development and Implementation of Nazi German Policies,” writes that the ethnic cleansing of Poles, commonly tied to the ideological motives of Nazi Germany, was substantially rooted in the perceived need of the Nazi regime for agricultural land to support their war effort. Joe Liu, in his chapter, “Deciphering Business Relationships in Nazi German-occupied Europe,” notes that the collection of data on prisoners entailed the development and modernization of mass data collection technology, particularly aided by IBM. The More I Know, the Less I Understand is full of such details, which are often surprising. The book not only breaks common misconceptions about the Holocaust, but provides a comprehensive picture of some of the real reasons behind Nazi crimes.
Because educating Canadian scholars and the public at large about the Holocaust will continue to be important for future generations, the methods of education on the subject must evolve. Helena Bryn-McLeod writes that, because of its importance in our daily environment, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum recently joined various dominant social media networks. Since more people are using the internet than are reading books, social media is, as Bryn-McLeod identifies, “a new mode of remembering.”
Social media can also be an effective tool for the storage and capture of memories in an environment where there are fewer and fewer remaining survivors and other primary carriers of Holocaust memories. Moreover, Bryn-McLeod notes that social media conveys information to readers in similar ways as traditional forms of representation, such as journals and books – through photographs and other visuals – so little content will be lost with the transition to this new mode of memory. However, she acknowledges that, with the internet, new concerns have emerged, such as visitors taking offensive photographs in front of memorial sites and posting them. So, while the rise of fast-access media enables educators to reach a broader audience, Bryn-McLeod warns that ethical issues will continue to arise.
The More I Know, the Less I Understand holds valuable lessons. Notably, it highlights the dangers of adopting radical ethno-nationalistic positions, which, historically, have yielded catastrophic results. In his writing, Mark Twain brilliantly noted that “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” With the rebirth of populist political discourses in the West and elsewhere, the collection of works in The More I Know, the Less I Understand stresses that it is our responsibility, as a society, through education and awareness, to prevent certain chapters from history to rhyme with future chapters. Ultimately, this unique publication should be a foundational resource in Canadian scholarly environments – and elsewhere – where the subjects of the Holocaust and the Second World War are covered.
Dani Belois a PhD student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) at Carleton University in Ottawa, specializing in international conflict analysis and resolution. He is the editor-in-chief of the Paterson Review of International Affairs, associate editor at iAffairs Canada and contributing author in various publications for the NATO Association of Canada and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. His area of research is international security, evolution of Russia-NATO relations, and inter-ethnic relations in the post-Soviet region.
Holocaust survivor David Ehrlich speaks on Jan. 25. (photo by Pat Johnson)
David Ehrlich grew up in a small city in Hungary, sleeping in the kitchen of the family’s three-room house – “not three bedrooms, God forbid, three rooms” – and it was through the kitchen curtains early one morning that he saw three bayonets before he heard a knock at the door.
“I opened the door, they came into the kitchen and they said to me in German – there were two Hungarian gendarmes and one German soldier or officer or whoever he was – ‘I want you to bring in the family into the kitchen.’”
Young David gathered his parents, sister, three brothers and grandmother and they assembled in the kitchen, where they were told to be on the street in 30 minutes to prepare for deportation to a work camp.
Ehrlich shared his story Jan. 25 at a commemoration marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day (which was Jan. 27). The afternoon event, which took place at the University of British Columbia, was presented by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Hillel BC, the department of Central, Eastern and Northern European studies at UBC (CENES) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, with support from the Akselrod family in memory of Ben Akselrod.
After two weeks in a makeshift ghetto on a local farm, the 7,000 Jews were forced onto trains, said Ehrlich. Seventy people were pushed into each car.
“These were not cattle cars,” he clarified. “I wish they had been cattle cars because [cattle cars] are ventilated.” There was one little hole at the top of the car, covered with barbed wire, and a child would occasionally be lifted up to look out to see if the signs outside were in Hungarian, German or Polish.
“But, soon enough, the train stopped,” he said. “They opened up the door … and there were some signs and some smells and some visions that I’ll never forget as long as I live. The place had electric lights … barbed wire all over in all directions.
“Little people – I thought they were little, but they were prisoners – came up to the train and said leave everything there, stand in line, five abreast. And we did that and walked over to this man with a stick in his hand and he was doing the selection. Who is going to live, who is going to die.… They played God. About 10 minutes or so later, we were separated from our family.”
While he was receiving his uniform, Ehrlich got his first lesson in what this place – Auschwitz – was all about.
“Did you say goodbye to your family?” the man asked Ehrlich.
“I said, why should I? I’m going to see them probably this afternoon. He said, while you were taking a shower, your family was gassed and, while we talk here, their bodies are probably being burned in the crematorium.”
Ehrlich’s brothers were almost immediately sent on to Melk, a sub-camp of Mauthausen, in Austria.
Because Hungarian Jews were among the last to be deported to the camps, the Soviet army was already advancing from the east by the time Ehrlich arrived at Auschwitz and the prisoners were sent on a death march westward. He, too, ended up in Melk and found someone from his hometown who knew the fate of his brothers. They had been sent to the hospital a few days earlier. Ehrlich knew that the hospital was a farce and that being sent there meant certain death.
“That was probably my lowest point in the whole deal because I always felt that I’d meet up with my brothers someplace,” he said. “I did, only a week too late.”
As the Russians kept on moving westward, the Nazis marched Ehrlich and the others further, this time to Ebensee, Austria.
“One day – it was a nice sunny day – we went outside and the loudspeaker came on and the president of the camp said, I’ve got good news for you. I have received orders from the Reich that we are to take you into the mine and blow it up with you in it. But I’m not going to do that – that’s the good news. For the first time since I’m in the services of the Third Reich, I’m going to disobey this order.”
He told the prisoners that they were free. The next day, they heard tanks on the cobblestone streets.
“And a guy that was probably 20 years old – like a kid, he looked like me – got out of the manhole and said to us in Yiddish, ‘Ich bin ein Amerikaner Jude,’ ‘I am an American Jew.’”
After liquids, then vitamins, eventually solids, Ehrlich regained some of his health. After two months, he still weighed less than 100 pounds, but he was ready to go home.
“But going home for Holocaust survivors, whether it was to France or to Germany or to Poland, it was the same thing,” said Ehrlich. “Canadian soldiers, American soldiers came back from the war, they came back to their community, to their parents and to their country. We went back and there was nobody there. My sister [who had been liberated in Lithuania] was there but we lost everybody else.”
Ehrlich wasn’t going to stay behind the Iron Curtain. He and a friend wanted to see Paris, planning eventually to head for pre-state Israel.
“But, while we were waiting in Paris, there were rumours that Canada was looking for orphans to go to Canada,” he said. “I went to work as soon as I came to Canada. I was going on 19. I went to work and I’ve been paying taxes ever since.”
The story has a good ending, Ehrlich told his audience.
“I married a wonderful girl – she’s right here, the little grey-haired girl – 65 years ago and we’re still together and we brought up three wonderful sons.”
Rabbi Philip Bregman told the survivors: “We are tremendously aware of how precious you people are who lit these candles and came in today as personal witness.”
The commemoration also featured Prof. Uma Kumar, of CENES, who said the Holocaust is a contemporary issue because antisemitism is a contemporary issue. “For this reason,” she said, “it is everyone’s duty to reflect on what happened.”
Left to right are Jerry Nussbaum, president of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada, Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, David Morley and Kit Krieger. (photo by Shula Klinger)
On Nov. 6, the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada welcomed David Morley, president and chief executive officer of UNICEF Canada, to the Ponderosa Ballroom at the University of British Columbia. In partnership with the university’s faculty of education, the event was part of an annual speaker series, created in Janusz Korczak’s name.
Korczak (1878-1942) was an educator, broadcaster, playwright, doctor and passionate advocate for children’s rights. His views on the importance of democratic education broke the mould in an era where rigid rules and harsh discipline were the norm. For Korczak, children were young citizens whose thoughts should be respected and heard.
Having spent years advocating and caring for orphans in wartorn Poland, Korczak refused all offers of sanctuary during the Second World War. Finally, he accompanied his charges as they were marched to the gas chambers of Treblinka extermination camp, where he also was murdered.
Sixty years after Korczak’s death, the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada was established in Vancouver, where it works to keep his ideas in the public eye, and in the minds of educators.
As an author and public speaker, Morley has taken a leading role in human rights advocacy for the past 30 years. His push for children’s rights has been central to his work in international development. He now leads a program of growth at UNICEF Canada on behalf of, and in partnership with, community stakeholders, to create safe, stimulating and healthy environments for children.
Morley’s topic was How We Can Make Canada a Great Country for Kids. It centred on data collected in 14 reports on the well-being of children and youth in prosperous countries. Spanning 17 years, these reports reveal vast differences in outcomes for young people in countries that appear – at least on the surface – to be equally wealthy. The reports’ scope encompasses a vast range of indicators of child and youth well-being, including literacy levels, teen pregnancy rates, the incidences of suicide and child murder, the level of poverty, the amount of bullying and how much awareness there is of environmental issues.
Morley delivered a blow to most people’s perception of Canada as a safe, peace-loving nation with a population of healthy kids. On the contrary, he showed that one in four Canadian children lives in poverty, with statistical evidence showing that Canadian children suffer from ill-health, violence and a poor sense of well-being to a surprising degree, in comparison with similarly affluent countries. He said Canada ranks 25th out of the world’s 41 richest nations, positioned roughly in the middle, with Norway in the top spot and Chile at the bottom.
Describing Korczak as “a giant in the realm of children’s rights,” Morley spoke of honouring Korczak’s legacy in Canada by “making sure that kids have a chance to reach their full potential.” He pointed to the “shocking” statistic that the graduation rate for children in care is a mere 51%, whereas the rate is 89% for kids who are not in care. Even worse, the graduation rate for Canada’s indigenous population is only 44%.
Morley explained the need to keep children involved in any program of change, seeking their participation in the planning and development of new initiatives. Themes of gender equality and sustainable development appeared throughout his call to action. His presentation concluded to applause and was followed by a lively question-and-answer period tackling a wide range of topics, including employment, education and the discrimination faced by First Nations children.
In addition to Morley’s presentation, the evening also saw the presentation of a scholarship to UBC student Assadullah Sadiq, from the JKAC. Awarded to a scholar of great promise in the field of education, Sadiq received the honour in absentia, via letter. He said, “the honour of being selected for this award is something I will always treasure. I will dedicate myself to children’s rights and education my whole life.”
The event was moderated by Kit Krieger of the UBC faculty of education, who is also an Honorary Life Fellow of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. It featured a moving presentation by local author, JKAC board member and child survivor Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, who described Korczak as “my father’s hero.”
Shula Klingeris an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
Group at Hillel House, University of British Columbia, 1988. (photo from JWB fonds, JMABC L.11124)
If you know someone in this photo, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos, visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.