B.C. Premier John Horgan opened the commemorative event. (screenshot)
A uniquely British Columbian virtual commemoration of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, took place April 8, convened by the Government of British Columbia in partnership with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Pacific Region.
Premier John Horgan opened the event.
“On Yom Hashoah, we remember the six million Jewish lives that were lost during the Holocaust. We also remember and honour the millions who lost their lives or were murdered because of their ethnicity, sexual identity or disability,” said the premier. “Today, we also pay tribute to Holocaust survivors and, as that community grows smaller, it’s all the more important that we work together to carry that message forward – that we will never forget and it will never happen again, especially in light of the ongoing threats of violence and discrimination Jewish people are facing worldwide today.”
Horgan noted an incident in Victoria where a Chabad centre was defaced with antisemitic graffiti a day earlier.
“These are the types of acts we must stand together and fight against with a united voice, regardless of where we come from, regardless of our orientations or ethnicities or our faith. We must stand against antisemitism and racism whenever we see it,” said Horgan. “As we light the candles at Yom Hashoah in remembrance, we must remain vigilant and, as we take action today and honour those who lost their lives and those who have struggled since the Holocaust, we must again remember that we cannot repeat our past.”
Michael Lee, MLA for Vancouver-Langara, also spoke.
“As the living memory of the Holocaust fades, the important act of remembering and coming together each year grows in importance,” he said. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we never forget and such a thing never happens again, because, sadly, this is not just about remembering history, but about standing together today against the racism, bigotry and antisemitism that still exists in our world.… As a community, now and every day, we must stand against these acts of hate and bigotry.
“Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are reminded of why it is so important to come together, to reflect and to ensure that the past is not forgotten. We must remember both the parts of this dark, dark history that we must not let be repeated and the acts of heroism that took place amid such tragedy. Even during a period of humanity’s darkest chapters, there was still good in the world, people who risked their lives to hide and save others from the Shoah. Amidst the horrors and atrocities, there were tales of love, hope and bravery, including with the many righteous among nations, people who demonstrated that light can triumph over darkness. Today, we reaffirm our commitment to never forget; remember the victims, the survivors and the heroes; and we pledge to build a better world in their memory.”
Dr. Robert Krell, founding president of the VHEC, lit six memorial candles. The premier lit a seventh candle “to honour the millions of Roma, Slavic, LGBTQ2+ and people with disabilities who lost their lives.”
Krell, speaking on behalf of Holocaust survivors, noted that 1.5 million of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust were children. An estimated 93% of Jewish children in Europe were murdered, which makes his survival extremely remarkable. The fact that both his parents survived, when more than 80% of Dutch Jews were killed, is additionally miraculous.
“I had lost all grandparents, uncles and aunts,” Krell said. “One first cousin remained. The war left its mark and I bear a special responsibility to remember what happened and try to derive lessons from that unfathomable tragedy. The tragedy was unique in its objectives, its focus and its ferocity. Jews were extracted wherever they resided, whether Paris, Prague or Vienna, whether city or countryside or the isles of Rhodes or Corfu. The enemy pursued us and tortured and murdered without mercy, without exception.”
While Dutch citizens remember the Canadian military’s role in liberating that country, Krell also noted Canada’s failure to save European Jews before the war.
Krell also addressed the issue of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism. Around the world, he said, 34 countries have adopted the definition, as has the province of Ontario.
“As a survivor who has been deeply involved in Holocaust remembrance and education, it strikes me as unconscionable not to accept the IHRA definition to assist us all in recognizing the signs and symptoms of the scourge of Jew hatred,” he said.
Yom Hashoah fell the day before the federal New Democratic Party convention that was to consider a resolution rejecting the IHRA definition. The matter never made it to the floor, but another resolution condemning Israel passed by an overwhelming margin.
“It is my hope that we will soon see the provincial government’s adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism,” said Krell.
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom also took up the issue of the antisemitism definition.
“The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism is, I think, the tool that guides us in our work to combat anti-Jewish sentiments,” he said. “I want to urge our provincial government to join other jurisdictions in embracing the action that is required to combat both historical and contemporary hatred of the Jewish people.”
He added: “When we think of the death of a human being, we mourn the loss of the body and the soul, but, in my work, standing with too many grieving families at graveside, it is not the body that we miss most, that is merely the vessel for the soul, the part of that person that is unique in all the world,” he said. “That’s the part that we fall in love with and are forever changed by. The soul of another leaves an imprint on our heart. So, today, we remember six million murdered Jewish souls, their lives that have been extinguished, their dreams unrealized, their loves and relationships gone forever. We pray that those dear souls are comforted and embraced under the wings of God’s presence and that now, remembered so publicly, will never be forgotten.”
Moskovitz then chanted El Moleh Rachamim and a version of the Mourner’s Kaddish that includes the names of the Nazi death camps.
In addition to the B.C. event, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre also partnered on April 8 with the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto, the Azrieli Foundation, Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, Facing History and Ourselves, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, March of the Living Canada and UIA in a Canada-wide Yom Hashoah online program that included survivor testimony from individuals across the country and a candlelighting ceremony.
A day earlier, the VHEC partnered with the Montreal Holocaust Museum for a virtual program focusing on the importance of remembrance in the intergenerational transmission of memory. Survivors and members of the second and third generations spoke about their experiences. Video recordings of all three events are available at vhec.org.