No one was injured and police are ruling out antisemitic motivations after an intruder caused a standoff in Victoria’s Emanu-El synagogue.
Victoria police were called to the historic Blanshard Street synagogue shortly after 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 9 after a report of an unwanted man inside the building.
“Upon arrival of officers, they attempted to speak with the man, which was not successful,” according to a police statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team was activated along with crisis negotiators.”
The standoff lasted nearly four hours.
“Shortly before 12:30 p.m., the man, who was suffering a mental health crisis, was apprehended and transported to hospital with non-life threatening injuries,” according to police.
Rabbi Harry Brechner, spiritual leader of Congregation Emanu-El, which is Canada’s oldest synagogue in continuous operation, issued a statement later in the day.
“A mentally ill person brushed past a Gan Shalom (daycare) parent and managed to enter the building not due to any fault of the daycare parent,” Brechner wrote. “Another daycare parent quickly called emergency 911 and the police were dispatched. The police were remarkably responsive, communicative and efficient. Our daycare children were never in a dangerous situation and, for most of the incident, they were not aware that anything unusual was happening.
“This mentally ill man held himself up in the balcony of the sanctuary; we were not successful at talking him down and out of the building. The police provided a transit bus for the daycare to transport the children to the other Gan Shalom daycare and the children felt like they were going on a field trip. It took the police a bit of force to subdue and retain the intruder and we are left with some broken windows and a mess to clean up. I am super-thankful to Victoria’s finest for their professionalism in containing this situation and ensuring that everyone was safe,” said Brechner. “This incident had nothing to do with antisemitism and could have occurred in any downtown building. The incident is a difficult and powerful reminder of the intensity and difficulties associated with our current mental health crisis.”
The rabbi concluded: “I want to also state that the Gan Shalom staff and Gan Shalom parents who stayed by to ensure that the children were safe were remarkable and very calm. We are very safe, our protocols were tested and proved efficient.”
Eli Kowaz is communications director at the Israel Policy Forum. (photo from Eli Kowaz)
This article is one in an occasional series about people with British Columbian roots having positive impacts in Israel and elsewhere.
For Vancouver-born Israeli Eli Kowaz, there is only one path to ensuring Israel remains both a Jewish state and a democracy: a two-state solution. The road to that ideal may be long and the slogging hard, but this is the core mandate of the Israel Policy Forum, where he serves as communications director.
Though focused on Israel and its situation, IPF’s mission is to “shape the discourse and mobilize support among American Jewish leaders and U.S. policymakers for the realization of a viable two-state solution.”
Israel currently has military control over the entire land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River but, to continue being a Jewish state as well as a democracy, Kowaz said, Israel faces a decision.
“It can decide to annex the West Bank, keep the entire land and, if it wants to be a Jewish state, it will have to give up on the democracy aspect because, if it was to grant all the citizens living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean equal rights, then already today, Jews would be about 50-50, a small majority,” he said.
The answer is not cut and dry, he acknowledged. The Jordan Valley is a vital Israeli security interest and, come what may, Israel is likely to maintain military control there for the foreseeable medium-term. But both Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump have recently obfuscated their countries’ erstwhile support for a two-state solution. In Netanyahu’s case, it’s at least partly political, said Kowaz.
“He is dependent on his right-wing coalition partners, he’s willing to say things and even do things to secure his position as prime minister, even though he’s already surpassed [David] Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving one,” Kowaz said. “A lot of it is right-wing pandering to those people. Another part of it is a genuine security concern. The research done by the top security experts in Israel and others show that there is a way to keep that area secure while advancing a gradual separation of Palestinians and an eventual two states. Obviously, it’s not something that’s happening tomorrow.”
Kowaz, now 29, grew up in Vancouver’s Oakridge neighbourhood with an Israeli father, Joseph Kowaz, who moved to Vancouver in his 20s, and a mother, Andrea (Rogow) Kowaz, who moved here from New York at a young age. His late maternal grandparents were community leaders and academics Dr. Sally and Dr. Robert Rogow.
He attended Vancouver Talmud Torah and Hebrew Academy for elementary school and Magee and King David high schools, “so I kind of got a taste of Orthodox Jewish education, more of a secular traditional and also public school, so it was nice to have,” he said.
Kowaz did a gap year in Israel after high school, studying at Hebrew University and Ben-Gurion University. Returning to Canada, he graduated from McGill University in Montreal and then completed a graduate degree in digital media at Ryerson University in Toronto. His final project for his degree addressed ways to remember and educate about the Holocaust in the 21st century.
“From the beginning, I wanted to do something that was Israel-related,” said Kowaz. “So, it was either move straight to Israel or look for something Israel-connected that was outside of Israel.” He moved to New York City and soon got work at IPF. He moved to Tel Aviv last year and, in July 2018, married Tal Dor, a former graphic designer for the Israel Defence Forces newspaper BaMahane. She occasionally gives Kowaz advice and support from her experience.
Part of a generation that gained political awareness during the Second Intifada, Kowaz said he has been affected by the violent imagery of those days.
“I obviously want the best for everyone, but Israel is most important to me and I want Israel to be a Jewish state,” he said. “I want Israel to be a state that’s also accepted in the world to the best that it can be. Obviously, there will still be people that hate us but I don’t want Israel’s best allies to be Hungary, Poland, these right-wing [governments] with elements of fascism. We don’t want those to be our best friends, so, at the end of the day, I don’t think we have a perfect partner and the Palestinians, they’re never going to be a perfect partner, but we should do what’s best for Israel, which is at least preserve conditions for a two-state solution, a form of separation to secure Israel as a Jewish and democratic state as a goal for the next five, 10, 15 years. Keep that a possibility. And, right now … I think it’s definitely still an option. It’s still on the table. We haven’t killed it. But it’s treading in the wrong direction.”
The Israel Policy Forum began in 1993, said Kowaz, on the very day the day of the famous handshake on the White House lawn with Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat.
“At that time, Yitzhak Rabin was looking for American Jewish support for his vision of peace,” he said. “Even back then, AIPAC were already becoming close with Binyamin Netanyahu, who [had been] Israel’s ambassador to the UN and, at that time, he was already opposition leader.”
IPF does a lot of work in Washington, D.C., with policymakers, convening roundtable discussions and panels with congresspeople, congressional staffers and opinion leaders, as well as organizing events in synagogues around the United States, all focused on preserving conditions for two states.
Their positions are credibly backed up, said Kowaz, by security experts in Israel, called Commanders for Israel’s Security, which was begun by former major-general Amnon Reshef, a hero of the Yom Kippur War, and includes a cadre of 290 former IDF generals, Mossad and Shin Bet division heads and others.
“They work in Israel, so we work closely with them to relay their policy proposals and their messaging to an American audience,” he said. “It represents about 80% of the retired security establishment. It doesn’t get more legitimate than that. These are people that, I think, between all of them have 6,000 years of experience at the highest positions, making decisions constantly with people’s lives.”
While AIPAC has an upstart challenger on the left, J Street, Kowaz sees IPF as a more fact-based alternative to the politically oriented advocacy groups.
“People are looking for a voice that is different, that’s more policy-based, less trying to rally the troops and more looking at the facts,” he said. “I think we provide that kind of home and, in a way, everything’s very fact-based.”
Kowaz looks forward to continuing to work toward the perpetuation of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.
“It really doesn’t matter to me what the role is, I think that’s where I’d like to see myself,” he said, adding: “I’ve given up on the professional soccer career.”
Bari Weiss, the New York Times columnist, grew up in Pittsburgh and so the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, in October 2017, hit even closer to home for her than for most Jewish North Americans. For many American Jews, she writes, it was the awakening after “a holiday from history.” It seems to have raised the question: Is the postwar reprieve from antisemitism coming to an end?
The majority of her tight, short book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism (Crown, 2019) is a litany of bleak, depressing anecdotes and statistics about the rise of antisemitic ideas and violence in North America and Europe. One imagines the title, which suggests action and optimism, being brainstormed by the publisher’s more upbeat marketing department over the alternative The Sky is Falling. But this is not to discount the value of the bleakness. It is a brief synopsis of rightful concerns around the political climate in the West in 2019.
The awakening, Weiss seems to acknowledge, was overdue. She recounts the 2006 kidnapping, weeks of torture and eventual murder of Ilan Halimi in Paris by a gang who assumed that, because Halimi was Jewish, he was also rich. As shocking as the ferocious crime, writes Weiss, was the response by the French authorities and the public, who largely chose to ignore the innately antisemitic nature of what had happened in order to retain a national self-perception that was challenged by the murder.
The consequences of what is happening, she warns, raise the stakes from the safety of Jews to the protection of the very idea of America.
“The object of our protection is not just the Jewish people. It is the health and future of a country that promised to be a New Jerusalem for all who sought it out,” she writes.
I am always disconcerted by the argument that, if we do not stand up for Jewish people when they are threatened, the enemies might eventually come for someone we actually give a damn about. But the evidence accumulates that this may be the best argument at hand.
Weiss summarizes the many antisemitisms – of left and right, of the Soviets and the fascists, of some Muslims and some African-Americans – even “Purim antisemitism” and “Chanukah antisemitism” (an interesting theory first advanced by the writer Dara Horn and it’s worth a Google). In brief, Weiss argues that the right of the spectrum considers Jews insufficiently white and not Christian, while the left contends that Jews are too white and overly privileged. Far-right antisemitism is more familiar, perhaps more clearly identifiable and is fought in partnership with what she calls Jewish people’s natural allies, liberals. Antisemitism on the left puts Jews in an especially challenging position.
She notes that the antisemitism and racism of Steve King, the far-right Republican congressman, is open to widespread criticism. “But criticize Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour for her repeated antisemitic outbursts? Criticize her and you are not just rendered racist and misogynist and an Islamophobe in league with Trump, you stand accused of putting her life at risk for trying to hold her accountable for promoting antisemitism.” (For her part, Sarsour two weeks ago declared that Weiss is “on the wrong side of history,” a statement so brazenly jaw-dropping that the publisher really should issue a revised edition of Weiss’s book just to include Sarsour’s latest.)
Weiss also walks into the lion’s den by making the equation between Muslim migration to Europe and increased antisemitic violence. And the stats she includes make challenging reading. A 2008 Pew poll indicated that 97% of respondents in Lebanon have negative view of Jews, followed by 96% in Jordan, 95% in Egypt and 76% in Turkey and Pakistan. She contrasts this with a 2015 Anti-Defamation League survey indicating that, in Germany, 56% of Muslims hold antisemitic views, compared with 16% of the general population. In France, it’s 49% to 17% and, in the United Kingdom, 54% to 12%.
When, at the end of the book, she actually gets to the nub of fighting antisemitism, Weiss outlines a number of strategies, few of which are novel but all of which are worthy.
“Resist hierarchical identity politics,” is one of her steps. “Corrupt identity politics on the right – the Olympics of Purity – tell the Jews that they can never be white or Christian enough. Corrupt identity politics on the left – the Olympics of Victimization – tell the Jews that they can never be oppressed enough.”
She calls on Jews to maintain liberalism for the sake of a healthy democracy, to support Israel, which includes demanding that Israel live up to its ideals, to “lean into Judaism” and “tell your story.”
She calls on Jews to “apply the kippah (or Magen David) test”: “If you would be uncomfortable wearing a kippah or a Magen David necklace in your neighbourhood, you should make a plan to improve your neighbourhood or make a plan to leave it.”
Most of her recommended ways to fight antisemitism presume that the reader is Jewish. This may be a fair assessment on the author’s part, but a non-Jewish person seeking to be an ally, who would find plenty of motivation in the first part of the book, will not find much actionable advice in the last short section. It should not, of course, be left only to Jews to fight antisemitism but, like the pragmatic decision to argue that the safety of Jews is a prerequisite to the safety of the entire society, it is probably a reasonable assumption at this point to accept that Jews are the most likely to do so. Which may simply underscore the problem her book is intended to confront.
Lillian Boraks-Nemetz and Senator Murray Sinclair. (photo by Jerry Nussbaum)
A succession of unjust Canadian laws piled one upon the other in the last part of the 19th century, enabling the federal government to take indigenous children from their homes and eradicate their cultural identities. The full scope of those laws – and their impacts on generations of First Nations people to today – was outlined by Senator Murray Sinclair, former head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who spoke at the University of British Columbia last week.
The impact of residential schools and the laws that created and sustained them was the theme of Sinclair’s talk, which was presented by the UBC faculty of education and the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada.
Prior to Sinclair’s presentation, Vancouver author Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, a board member of the Korzcak association and a child survivor of the Holocaust, contextualized the lecture in the spirit of Korczak’s legacy.
Korczak was an educator and pedagogue who ran orphanages, including one in the Warsaw Ghetto, where Boraks-Nemetz was also confined. Korczak was a respected figure in Polish society, considered by many the originator of the concept of children’s rights.
“Korczak observed and listened to children, never judging, criticizing or showing intolerance,” said Boraks-Nemetz. He cultivated their self-esteem and believed that children should grow into who they want to be, not who others want them to become.
“During the Nazi persecution, Korczak, when offered a reprieve from the depredations of the Warsaw Ghetto, he would not abandon his children in their last journey to the cattle cars heading for Treblinka, the death camp,” she said. “He refused, saying, ‘My children need me. I deplore desertion.’ He went with them and they all perished.”
Sinclair then painstakingly outlined the conspiracy of legal barriers to justice that the government erected to perpetuate what has been termed cultural genocide.
As the federal government began to expand Canada westward in the 1870s, it entered into treaties with the indigenous peoples. One of the demands indigenous negotiators insisted upon in exchange for being limited to reserves was that the federal government create and fund schools on those reserves.
Sir John A. Macdonald sent a representative to the United States to see how they were running schools for Native Americans. In direct repudiation of the treaties, the federal government opted for a similar system and his government created what they called “industrial schools.”
Sinclair said MacDonald believed that, if children went to school on reserves, “the kids would go to the schools in the daytime and they would then return home to their parents, who are nothing but savages, and we would be teaching those children basic skills that all children learn from schools and what we’re going to end up with at the end of the day is nothing but savages who can read and write.”
Because the government wanted to “do it on the cheap,” said Sinclair, “they decided to involve the churches, who were quite willing to get involved because it was great for the churches as well to gain numbers through their missionary zeal.”
Children were punished for speaking their languages and for talking with their friends and siblings, “because they wanted to break your ties to those relationships…. Everything was done in the schools to break down cultural bonds that existed in those children.”
Those who were not physically or sexually abused lived in fear that they would be, Sinclair said.
“And, of course, the children, when they came home, would tell their parents what happened in those schools,” he said.
The natural inclination to stop it from happening led to a cascade of legislative injunctions that took away the most fundamental rights of First Nations peoples.
“In the 1880s, the government passed the law that amended the Indian Act and said that it was an offence, a legal breach of law, if you did not send your child to a school when the Indian agent told you to send the child,” said Sinclair.
When parents tried to hide their children, the parents would be prosecuted and go to jail. Faced with the prospect of indigenous people taking the government to court over the issue, the government passed another law, making it impossible to go to court against the government for anything done under the Indian Act “unless you get permission from the minister of Indian Affairs first.” The government soon made it illegal for indigenous people to consult with a lawyer on anything relating to the Indian Act – with the punishment for the lawyer being disbarment. Then, another step was added, making it illegal for a white Canadian to speak to a lawyer on behalf of an indigenous person.
When it seemed parents might protest the situation, the government made it illegal, in 1892, for three or more First Nations people to gather together in order to discuss a grievance against the government of Canada. It was made illegal for indigenous people to attend large gatherings like the traditional sundances or the potlatch, “not just because of the religious aspect of it but also because, at these gatherings, that’s when Indians got together in order to discuss their grievances,” said Sinclair.
Fears of a violent uprising were dismissed by Northwest Mounted Police in documentation Sinclair has seen, which, he summarized: “We don’t have to worry about the Indians taking up arms against the government because we have their kids. They are not going to go to war against us.”
Children who returned from the schools were scarred and often unable to communicate with their parents in a shared language.
“Their ability to know how to hunt, fish or trap, which is what the communities depended upon, was lost to them,” said Sinclair.
Estimates are that about 35% of indigenous children attended residential schools, but the damage extended to the other 65%, who were taught in public schools the same white superiority/indigenous inferiority curriculum as those who were taken away.
When those children grew up and had children, they had no learned skills at parenting and were burdened with their own demons, said Sinclair. As a result, when child welfare systems were burgeoning in the 1950s, it was mostly indigenous children who went into care. It was, and is, disproportionately indigenous people who are incarcerated.
Indigenous Canadians have the highest suicide rates of any cultural group in the world, said Sinclair. High school dropout rates, substance abuse and violent crime affect indigenous Canadians in exponentially greater numbers than non-indigenous Canadians.
The problems will not be resolved, Sinclair said, by spending more money on child welfare, policing or incarceration. The education system and society must help indigenous young people realize who they are as Anishinaabe, Cree, Sto:lo or Mohawk.
“The educational system is just not giving them what they need,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, but, if we address that one aspect of how our society is functioning, we will see the most dramatic change that will resolve or redress the history of residential schools in Canada on indigenous people, on indigenous youth in particular.… It begins with recognizing that … indigenous youth, in particular, must be given their chance to develop their sense of self-respect first, and that’s going to take some time to do.”
Under community pressure, a Richmond auction house backed down from selling a collection of Nazi memorabilia last weekend. Maynards Fine Art and Antiques was set to auction items including Nazi flags, military items and other war-era artifacts on Saturday. Two days before that, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs was made aware of the items by a member of the community.
“We spoke to the lead appraiser, the person in charge of auctioning this lot,” said Nico Slobinsky, CIJA’s Pacific region director. “We provided context and tried to explain why auctioning these items was morally reprehensible. I would love to be able to tell you that we got positive engagement and understanding at the time when we had those conversations on Thursday. We did not get that positive engagement. It was clear to us from the response from the auction house that they were going to go ahead with the auction as originally planned.”
Community members and elected officials quickly mobilized and media seized the story. Individuals messaged the auction company and politicians lined up in opposition to the sale. Two members of the legislature from Richmond, Jas Johal and John Yap, spoke out, as did Andrew Wilkinson, leader of the B.C. Liberals.
Mike Sachs, past president of the Richmond congregation the Bayit and a Jewish community activist in Richmond, mobilized his contacts – even while vacationing in Mexico. He said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie not only spoke out against this incident but promised to proclaim Holocaust Awareness Day in January 2020.
“People were just disgusted that Maynards would do such a thing,” said Sachs. “As a whole, we all agree enough of profiting off Jewish blood. Enough. We’re not going to accept it anymore.”
Sachs and Slobinsky praised community allies who spoke up. They both believe that historical artifacts like these should be in museums or educational institutions, where they can serve as educational tools in proper context.
CIJA is asking Maynards for an apology and a donation to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. The organization extended an offer to the undisclosed owner of the items to assist in placing them in an appropriate venue.
Child survivors Rabbi Joseph Polak, right, and Robert Krell at the Havdalah service Nov. 2, part of the annual conference of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants. (photo from Robert Krell)
When Halina Levitt was 2 years old in a part of Poland that is now in Ukraine, her mother left her with a Polish farm family to hide through the Holocaust.
“My mother luckily survived and came back to retrieve me,” Levitt told the Independent. “Of course, at that point, I was 5 years old and she was a total stranger to me. I didn’t want to go with her.”
The family who saved her didn’t want to relinquish her, either, and, as the conflict between the birth mother and the Polish family escalated, neighbours gathered and tried to intervene on behalf of the family as the mother tried to reclaim her child.
“She was quite scared for her life until we boarded the bus and got away from there,” Levitt said.
Rose Raport, a retired doctor from New Jersey, was also left with another family.
“I was given away to a Polish farmer at age 4,” she said. But her parents never returned. “I spent six years and, by the end of my stay with the Polish family, I found out that I’m left alone. There were no parents, there was no sibling, no family and that’s it.” She was turned over to the Jewish community and continued her life in a Jewish orphanage.
Karen Komar, a Massachusetts woman, managed to remain with her family in their home in Hamburg, Germany, until 1941. Then, an intervention by a distant American relative – Arthur Bulova, head of the Bulova watch company – succeeded in getting the family a visa to the United States.
These were just three of the experiences of people who convened in Vancouver Nov. 1-4 for the 31st annual conference of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants.
About 400 people attended the gathering – about 110 survivors, joined by members of the second, third and fourth generations, as well as spouses. Each has a unique experience, yet all who spoke with the Independent said such meetings are an opportunity to share time with those most likely to comprehend what they have endured and the lives they have led.
The conference was co-chaired by Vancouverites Marie Doduck and Dr. Robert Krell, both child survivors of the Holocaust.
The conferences create a feeling of belonging, said Doduck.
“Our survivors feel safe, they talk about their lives, their grandchildren, their past, their future, their thoughts in a safe place,” she said. “And the children felt a safe place to speak about their feelings, that they may not be able to do with their parents or grandparents.”
Child survivors – almost all of whom were hidden children during the war because almost none of the children who were sent to concentration camps survived – were not recognized, by themselves or others, as Holocaust survivors or as a distinct group until the 1980s. Because they were so young during the war, or because they were not in the camps, their experiences were dismissed by adults. A 1988 book by Helen Epstein, Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors began a reconsideration of the individual and collective experiences of the second generation, but also of those who survived as hidden children and who were not, until then, considered “survivors.”
“We still are the children inside of us,” said Doduck. “When I speak in schools, I speak of the child inside of me, not this mother, grandmother, now great-grandmother that they’re looking at, this old lady. This old lady is really Mariette the child, who is starting, after 70 years growing up … who had no childhood, who lived with bombs and death and starvation and disease. I knew that, if I was sick, I would die, and most of us have these kinds of stories.”
Categories can be fluid, Krell explained. As a hidden child who survived in Holland thanks to a Christian family, he is a child survivor. But he is also a second generation, because his parents survived the camps and came back to claim him. This was statistically extraordinary, as the Netherlands had one of the highest Jewish death rates by country in the Holocaust.
Krell feels a special kinship with Abe Foxman, longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League, with whom he organized one of the first child survivor conferences, in 1991. Foxman was hidden from ages 2 to 5, just like Krell. His parents also returned to claim him, an even more statistically anomalous outcome, given that he was in Poland, which had the most catastrophic statistics of annihilation. Krell tried to get Foxman to attend this month’s conference, but the distance was too great to travel.
Location is an important part of the conferences, said Krell, and accessibility is one of the reasons they move annually in Europe, all over North America and to Israel, depending on the year. This year, almost half the attendees were British Columbians.
More than three dozen workshops, panel discussions and plenaries offered a range of topics for attendees, with some exclusive to survivors or successive generations. An art installation and a musical concluding evening added to the weekend experience.
Guest presenters included Rabbi Joseph Polak, a child survivor of Bergen-Belsen and author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring; Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism; Prof. Chris Friedrichs, professor emeritus of history at the University of British Columbia; and Vancouverite Robbie Waisman, a survivor of Buchenwald, who spoke together with Éloge Butera, a survivor of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, about human rights activism. Krell’s plenary address opened the conference on the Saturday morning with a keynote titled The Future of Our Past: Informing and Inspiring Next Generations.
Dr. Michael Hayden delivers the keynote address at the annual Kristallnacht commemorative program Nov. 7. (photo by Al Szajman)
In the 1930s, German Jews were required to register all precious metals in their possession, a prelude to having them confiscated. In Hamburg alone, the Nazis collected 20 tons of silver, much of it Judaica. Of this, they melted down 18 tons. Two tons was deemed by the Nazi curator Carl Schellenberg to be of artistic or other value in its existing form.
After the war, Schellenberg was kept on by the British because his scrupulous indexing of artifacts made him valuable. His love of the city of Hamburg meant he ensured that some of the most precious pieces of stolen art and artifacts made their way to that city’s museum.
That is where Dr. Michael Hayden, a Vancouver researcher in molecular medicine and human genetics, and one of the world’s leading researchers in Huntington disease, was able to trace one of the few remaining pieces of his grandparents’ once-extensive collection of Judaica.
A silver Kiddush cup, crafted in 1757 and embossed with a vivid three-dimensional depiction of the story of Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven, which belonged to his grandparents, Gertrud and Max Raphael Hahn, has been restituted to the family. It is now on loan, a small artifact in size but one of the most stunning pieces in a just-opened exhibition at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, titled Treasured Belongings: The Hahn Family & the Search for a Stolen Legacy.
Hayden delivered the keynote address at the annual Kristallnacht commemorative program Nov. 7, before the opening of the exhibition to the public. The exhibit runs to Nov. 27, 2020.
“It’s a story that it’s taken me a long time to confront,” Hayden told the Independent.
Hayden’s grandparents were transported to Riga, Latvia, in 1941, where they were murdered by Latvian collaborators of the Nazis. Max Hahn had been arrested for the first time on Kristallnacht, three years earlier, but, with Gertrud, had managed to secure the passage of many possessions to safe locations in the neutral countries of Sweden and Switzerland. More importantly, they had sent their two children, daughter Hanni and son Rudolf – Hayden’s father – to safety in London.
After the war, the orphaned pair retrieved the remnants of their family’s material possessions. Rudolf, who joined the British army in 1943 and adopted the less Germanic-sounding name Roger Hayden, moved to South Africa. There, more than a dozen boxes sat undiscussed in the family home. When Roger passed away, Michael Hayden shipped the boxes to his Vancouver home, where they sat, unopened, for another two decades.
When he finally confronted the parcels from his family’s past, he discovered a stamp collection, maps, artworks – and 9,000 original documents relating to his family’s history from the 1850s until 1941. These included heart-wrenching letters between Rudolf in England and his parents still in Germany.
While Michael Hayden was growing up, there were some items that his father had not kept stored away. One was a Paul Ritter violin that Rudolf had received on his bar mitzvah. Michael’s daughter, Anna, now a Vancouver hematology oncologist, played on it as a young person and Hayden hopes to one day hear grandchildren also play it. It is part of the exhibit. It is also a hint of how the family got its name. It was not a coincidence that, in anglicizing his name, Rudolf/Roger chose a variation on the surname of a legendary classical composer.
“There were piano recitals and all kinds of concerts in the Hahn family every Sunday,” said Hayden. “They used to have a little chamber orchestra, it was a totally different world. So, he chose the name Roger Hayden from Rudolf Hahn and I’m sure Hayden had some comfort for him because Haydn was so important in his life.”
Hayden credits the German government and museums for supporting restitution efforts. His family recently received a grant from the German federal government to hire a researcher to continue the search. Understandably, the challenges are great. The Hahn family’s collection of Judaica was considered one of the finest and most extensive in Germany, rivaling those of the Sassoon and Rothschild families. Because they had lent some objects to museums, and because of Max and Gertrud’s careful recordkeeping, the family has both photographs and detailed inventories of what the collection included before it was looted. Most families do not have such tangible proof.
Hayden emphasizes that any material value of restituted artifacts is irrelevant and the importance is because of personal significance, and that the process represents steps toward reconciliation and restoring dignity of Nazism’s victims.
“For me, personally, it’s been a process of coming to terms with the unimaginable horror and confronting it,” he said.
He has had very positive and some negative experiences during this work. He is impressed with the German government’s efforts to seek forgiveness for their country’s past, including memorializations like the 70,000 Stolpersteine, stumbling stones, that have been installed outside the last homes of victims of the Nazis, and the fact that the vast Holocaust memorial in Berlin is located between the embassies of major countries in the heart of the city.
“When I see Germany and I see what they’re doing, it’s been very instructive for me about confronting your history and confronting it unabashedly,” he said, making parallels with Canada’s reconciliation process with First Nations.
Germany’s response is especially admirable in comparison to other European countries that experienced collaboration and, rather than confronting their past, are actively denying it.
But, Hayden has had negative experiences, including the discovery that the school his father had attended in Hamburg had, as recently as a few years ago, what amounted to a museum to those students who had fought for the Nazis, with not a trace of the fate of the Jewish students who had attended. The Nazi display is now gone and a marker lists the names of Jewish students who were murdered. But he also discovered that the school’s long-held assurance that they had never participated in Nazi activities was fabricated, when photos emerged of the school festooned in Nazi flags and students and faculty making Heil Hitler salutes.
“At a personal level, for me, it’s trying to give up the stowaway of sorrow and pain on my shoulders that I’ve never confronted and to move forward,” Hayden said. “It’s not that I’m at forgiveness, but I recognize that forgiveness is not so much for those you are forgiving, but for the forgiver. You can give up your own toxic anger and move forward. For me, it’s also been a journey to acknowledge my own German ancestry and come to terms with it.”
He hopes that the exhibit, his family’s story and the larger facts of the Holocaust resonate in today’s world.
“We’ve got to be aware of ourselves as Jews of condemning other populations, we have to be aware of stereotyping, we have to be even more acutely aware from our own history about the struggles and making sure that we learn from that in the way that we conduct ourselves, so recognizing, as we look at children on television separated from their parents, that we too can be horrified by that and do whatever we can to make sure that we are not complicit or even silent in the face of all of this,” he said. “In certain circumstances, unless we really hold onto some deep principles of democratic culture and value of life, your neighbours can become your killers.”
As the search for additional family heirlooms continues, Hayden acknowledges the challenges. “I think it is a needle in a haystack to be honest, but it’s worth pursuing.”
Of the entire experience, he said: “It’s been an opportunity to give individuality and identity for two of six million people who were murdered, to rescue them from generalizations and understand who they were and understand their distinctiveness and to bring my grandparents out of obscurity and give them the warmth and respect they deserve.”
The Kristallnacht commemoration where Hayden spoke began with a candlelight procession of survivors. Cantor Yaacov Orzech chanted El Maleh Rachamim. Philip Levinson, president of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC), introduced the event and Nina Krieger, the VHEC’s executive director, introduced the keynote speaker. Rabbi Jonathan Infeld offered reflections after Hayden’s address. Jody Wilson-Raybould, member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville, offered greetings, and Councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung read a proclamation from the City of Vancouver. The event was presented by the VHEC, in partnership with Congregation Beth Israel, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and the Robert and Marilyn Krell Endowment Fund of the VHEC.
At the University of British Columbia on Nov. 21, Prof. Robin Judd will speak on What’s Love Got to Do With It? Jewish War Brides and North American Soldier Husbands after the Second World War. (photo from Robin Judd)
Prof. Robin Judd noticed that a significant number of the earliest Holocaust memoirs written by women were penned by “war brides” who had married American, Canadian or British soldiers.
In the course of teaching about the Holocaust at Ohio State University, the coincidence struck her and, as happens in research, led her onto a new topic. She is nearing completion on a book about the experiences of Jewish women – and a few men – in Europe and North Africa who married Allied service personnel and moved to Canada, the United States or Britain. She will give a guest lecture on the subject at the University of British Columbia next week and the public is welcome to attend.
The lecture is titled What’s Love Got to Do With It? Jewish War Brides and North American Soldier Husbands after the Second World War, and Judd told the Independent that love certainly played a key role, but some of the other factors at play also interest her.
“What prompts individuals from radically different cultures, who may not necessarily speak the same language, what prompts them to create relationships with one another and long-lasting relationships, relationships that are going to result in marriage and then bring the civilians to Canada, Britain or the United States?” she asked.
Most of the soldiers that Judd is studying were Jewish themselves, though there are exceptions to the rule.
In some cases, the wives would arrive in the new country before or otherwise apart from their new husbands or fiancés. An entire infrastructure was in place to accommodate and integrate them.
“The war brides, particularly if you come to the United States or to Canada as a war bride, first you live with other war brides at least temporarily in a kind of war bride home or war bride camp and you travel on a war bride ship and there are particular Red Cross workers who teach English and show films and cooking classes,” she said.
If the fiancés or husbands were not yet decommissioned or were traveling with their units, the brides may have found themselves in the position of living with their new in-laws.
“These were not the spouses they were planning for their sons,” Judd comments. “And all of a sudden here you have this woman show up. You are processing stories that you are hearing about the war and all of a sudden here comes this person and you might not be able to communicate, you might not have a shared language, you might not know how to even ask questions about what this person had experienced.”
Feeling isolated and foreign, some of these women used the opportunity to express their experiences privately, to themselves, in writing.
“Some of the women that I’ve spoken to have told me that they used that time to write out their story, to put it to paper, because they needed to kind of get it out and there was no one with whom they could talk, literally,” she said. “But then, as they began to create networks, make new connections, maybe by that point their now-husbands have returned to Canada, Britain or the U.S., a number of them tell me that they then destroyed them.”
By an apparent coincidence, though, Judd concluded that it was disproportionately the women who had married soldiers who were among the first to publish English-language Holocaust memoir narratives for general readers in the 1970s and ’80s. She has a theory about this, but admits she could be wrong: these may have been some of the first women who were asked to speak about their early life and Holocaust experiences to Jewish women’s groups, federations and other community audiences, acclimating them to become among the first to put them on paper for general readers.
“But, again, I could be completely wrong,” she said.
Judd’s lecture is supported by a Holocaust education fund in UBC’s department of history to support undergraduate education on the Holocaust. The fund supports a biannual lecture, alternating years with the Rudolf Vrba Memorial Lecture, and is incorporated into an undergraduate course, History of the Holocaust, taught by Prof. Richard Menkis, who is also chair of the committee that manages the fund. The public is welcome to attend on Thursday, Nov. 21, 5-6:15 p.m., at Buchanan D217 at UBC.
A rendering of the development that is planned to replace the current Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. (image from JCCGV)
A recently signed agreement is a significant next step in the largest infrastructure project in the history of British Columbia’s Jewish community. The deal is expected to create a new Jewish community centre, as well as at least 300 rental housing units and larger, renewed facilities for many communal institutions, replacing the existing, almost 60-year-old community centre.
A memorandum of understanding between the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCC) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver was signed last month. The agreement will likely see the land owned by the JCC transferred to a new community-wide agency. According to a joint statement by the two organizations, the proposed new 200,000-square-foot “recreational, cultural and community centre [will include] new childcare spaces, more services for seniors, an expanded space for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, a new theatre and more.” At least 15 not-for-profit community organizations are anticipated to be housed there, as well as updated and enlarged facilities for arts and culture, aquatics, and fitness programs. Mixed-use rental housing units included in the plan are expected to be offered at or below market value and be open to everyone.
The project will advance based on a collaborative fundraising initiative. A campaign goal has not been announced.
“This agreement is an important initial step toward acting upon the community’s vision for a revitalized JCC that would become a legacy for the Jewish community and the city,” Salomon Casseres, president of the JCC board, said in the statement. “Our board is excited to partner with Jewish Federation. We believe that this collaboration puts the project on a strong foundation for success, from a community, financial and governance perspective.”
“An opportunity like this comes along perhaps once in a generation, so we are very proud to be working closely with the JCC on this historic project,” Alex Cristall, Jewish Federation’s board chair, said in the statement. “Jewish Federation takes a broad, long-term view of the sustainability, growth and evolution of the local Jewish community, and we believe that this project will create a strong core that will ultimately allow us to increase our reach and our impact.”
Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation, told the Independent that the collaboration is a “big win” for the community.
“Federation has always been a proponent for the concept of working together on projects that have an impact that’s beyond the reach of one agency and we are thrilled that the JCC agrees with us that this is one of those projects,” he said. “It absolutely should be common in all cities.… For me, it’s best practice.”
The new JCC will strengthen the entire community, he said, adding that the impacts will reach far beyond the Oakridge neighbourhood.
“We are not just creating a strong future for that 41st and Oak corridor, the Vancouver Jewish community, but I believe we’re creating a strong future for the community across the Lower Mainland as a whole,” Shanken said, expressing his gratitude to the JCC and its leadership.
“I think the JCC has shown immense foresight and courage in coming together with us, to have the openness to work through the challenges and opportunities that exist in partnership, and I believe that this partnership will glean really great results for the Jewish community as a whole,” he said.
Eldad Goldfarb, executive director of the JCC, said working together hand in hand is the best way forward and the partnership is a natural one. The collaboration between the JCC and Federation is the largest partnership, but is part of a broader engagement process, he added.
“The master planning process of this legacy community project has involved an extensive engagement effort by the JCC, reaching out and having conversations with more than 30 Jewish community organizations, many stakeholders, donors and community members,” said Goldfarb. “The JCC, as we know it today, is home to 15 different Jewish community organizations and the new redevelopment might increase these collaborations opportunities.”
Discussions about the partnership between the two organizations have always been very collaborative, open and in good faith, Goldfarb said.
“This project is about creating a JCC for the future of the community, with more and better childcare, seniors, wellness, arts, culture and education state-of-the-art spaces, but is not limited to only that,” he said. “Our vision is to create an innovative community site which will include a brand new J, as well as a welcoming and collaborative home for many other community organizations and, of course, the much-needed large rental affordable housing towers.”
Vancouver City Council unanimously approved the JCC site redevelopment plan in September 2018. Several major steps remain in the design and planning process, as well as the raising of the millions of dollars required to complete it.
Marsha Lederman (photo by John Lehmann/Globe and Mail)
A few years ago, Marsha Lederman went with her mother, two sisters and a cousin on the adult portion of the March of the Living, which included a walk between the two main camps of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex.
“The march from Auschwitz to Birkenau was somber and sorrowful, but it was also so empowering,” she recalled at the annual High Holidays Cemetery Service at Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster Oct. 6. “We were marching with a statement to the world and a comforting message to the souls whose lives had ended so brutally on those grounds: ‘We are here, we are still living, we are multiplying, we remember you.’”
The family group proceeded to Radom, the town outside Warsaw where Lederman’s mother had grown up. The man who lived in the apartment where she had lived allowed them in and Lederman’s mother recounted her family’s years there.
“It was joyous,” Lederman said. “We were still on a high when we visited the memorial for the Radom Jews killed in the Holocaust. As I recall, it was in a fairly large square and seemed a little neglected. We were looking at this lonely memorial, the five of us women, when a group of, I would say, teenage boys began chanting something nearby. I don’t speak Polish, so I couldn’t understand what they were saying. But I did understand one thing: ‘Auschwitz-Birkenau.’ I don’t think they were offering their condolences.”
She reflected on the way she responded in that moment.
“We hurried away and said nothing. It was a safe thing to do, for sure. But, if that happened to me today, I would not walk away. I am done with walking away. Would I have put us in danger if I had turned around and confronted those boys? Maybe. But I know now that the real danger is in remaining silent.”
Lederman is the Vancouver-based Western arts correspondent for the Globe and Mail. Her father was born in Lodz, Poland, on erev Yom Kippur 1919. Her mother was born in Radom, Poland, in 1925. All four of their parents were killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz and Treblinka, as was Lederman’s father’s sister and little brother, and her mother’s little brother.
Lederman’s parents met in Germany after liberation and had one daughter there before moving to Canada, where they had two more daughters.
Lederman reflected on recent antisemitic incidents in North America and Europe, as well as her own encounters with antisemitism and racism, including a harrowing verbal attack on an Asian woman on the Skytrain at rush-hour, an incident in which Lederman was the only person to intervene.
“We have a duty to speak up,” she said. “We have a responsibility. This is our inheritance. I never had a bubbe or zadie to hug me or spoil me on my birthday or cook chicken soup for me. There’s nothing in my home that was theirs. I did not receive a single heirloom. But I did receive an inheritance – a duty to protect others from hate…. That is my inheritance and that is their legacy. Enough. Never again.”
She recalled being stunned during an interview with famed Vancouver photographer Fred Herzog, who died last month. Chatting after the main interview, Lederman asked the German-Canadian if he had experienced anti-German sentiment when he arrived here after the war. He launched into a discourse on the “so-called Holocaust” and said Jews died in the camps mostly because of lice and because Allied bombings prevented food from getting to them. Lederman agonized over whether to expose the admired photographer, eventually writing the story, for which she has been subjected to a range of criticism.
“Well, I have had enough,” she said. “And I’m going to fight to tell those stories and expose antisemitism and Holocaust denial and racism. I am not going to be quiet anymore. I think of all that was lost in the gas chambers; all the lives, of course, but also all the potential. With those millions of lives extinguished, what was lost with them? Poems were never written, beautiful artworks that were never painted, the cure for cancer, for Parkinson’s, the answer to the climate crisis?
“It was not just the people who were murdered that the world lost. It was all of their descendants and all of their descendants and all of that potential.… I talk about this because of what this leaves on our shoulders. I interviewed a Nisga’a poet, Jordan Abel, and he used a term to describe himself that I have adopted. He calls himself an intergenerational survivor of residential schools, which makes me an intergenerational survivor of Auschwitz. I do not take this lightly. With my parents’ survival came a hefty responsibility on me and on all of us who are descendants.”
At the service, Jack Micner, who led the ceremony and is also a member of the second generation, outlined a litany of antisemitic incidents and comments in Europe and North America in recent weeks.
“I suspect that those of our parents resting here in this cemetery would be furious to see what’s going on across the world,” he said. “We have to continue doing the type of work that VHEC [Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre] is doing in as many ways as we can think … it falls on us, because nobody’s going to do it for us.”
Rabbi Shlomo Estrin reflected on the loss of Chassidic communities during the Holocaust. Cantor Yaacov Orzech chanted El Maleh Rachamim.
Names were read of community members who have passed since the last High Holidays and a moment of silence was observed for the six million.
The Mourner’s Kaddish was recited by Jeremy Berger, a grandson of a Holocaust survivor. After the service ended, the Mourner’s Kaddish was also recited at the Holocaust Memorial in the cemetery.
The annual event is presented by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre with Congregation Schara Tzedeck and the Jewish War Veterans, and with support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Vancouver.