Sunday, April 27 was quite a day in the City of Côte Saint-Luc. In the morning we hosted the annual Victory in Europe (VE Day) program at Veteran’s Park and City Hall. That same evening, well more than 1,000 people packed Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem Congregation for the annual Yom Hashoah commemoration.
While Côte Saint-Luc still does mark Remembrance Day on November 11, over the years we have done VE Day in a much bigger way. The weather is generally nicer, an important factor given the age of our surviving veterans, and therefore it makes more sense. Due a number of scheduling conflicts, we held the event a bit earlier this year. There was a good crowd on hand at Veteran’s Park. Frank Levine, the dynamic president of The Brigadier Kish Branch #97 of the Royal Canadian Legion oversaw the ceremony with Councillors Allan J. Levine and Ruth Kovac as co-chairs. Our invaluable communications manager Regine Banon coordinated all of the logistics. The Consul Generals of Israel, Great Britain and the Netherlands (in this case the honourary Consul Michael Polak) laid wreaths as did Mayor Anthony Housefather, newly elected D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, his predecessor Lawrence Bergman, Men’s Club president Sidney Margles and Station 9 Police Commander Marc Cournoyer .
“World War II was fought because of a lust for power and prejudice,” said Frank Levine. “Discrimination based on race, religion or sex is no longer acceptable. Has this new world erased the lust for power and prejudice? The informed citizen would say no.”
Israel Consul General Joel Lion said he knows about wars firsthand only too well. He shared with us the fact that his own son is now serving in an elite unit in the Israeli Army. “I know what it is like to be the father of a child at war,” he said.
The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre once again did an outstanding job with the presentation of Yom Hashoah. The format they have in place does not change year to year, nor should it. We are so fortunate to have survivors of this terrible period in human history with us to share their stories. Following an introduction from event co-chairs Judith Nemes Black Joyce Rappaport and Raizel Candib, Consul General Lion took to the bimah. In a powerful address he provided shocking accounts of 21 incidents of anti-Semitism which have occurred in the last two weeks alone around the world in places like New York City, Ohio, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Franceand the Ukraine. “History told us that only an independent State of Israel will ensure that we do not have another Holocaust,” he stated.
The traditional six candles were lit – symbolizing the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.
The ceremony perpetuates the memory of all those who were murdered during the Holocaust and honours those who survived. It reminds us of our collective responsibility to remember the Holocaust and to protect individuals and communities from oppression, hate, racism and discriminatory policies.
This year’s theme, 1944 – and the trains kept going, spoke to the horrific events of 1944 and as a sub-theme, honoured the memory of the Jews of Hungary, most of whom were deported and murdered in the space of a few months during that year. Six Holocaust survivors, symbolizing the six million victims of the genocide of the Jews during World War II, lit memorial candles. They shared their memories of 1944 through short video testimonies.
In these video clips, Agnes Kent recouned how she was saved by Raoul Wallenberg. Charles Akerman spoke about his family and his mother’s courage in leaving him with a Catholic family that would save him in a small French village. Daisy Gross spoke with great emotion of her hidden childhood under the protection of her parents’ cook, while they were murdered by the Nazis. Joe Fellner shared his journey from a ghetto in Hungary, through deportation to Auschwitz and forced labor, and finally survival of a death march. Meier Schlomowitz reflected on his life in the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania, until his deportation to the Landsberg concentration camp, where he was released. Lilly Toth explained how she escaped a shooting by the Arrow Cross in Hungary, pretending she was dead, washing up on the shore of a river and being rescued by German soldiers who did not know she was Jewish.
The commemoration included poems and short readings in English, French, Hebrew and Yiddish, as well as songs performed by the Bialik High School Choir. A song in Ladino was performed by well-known soprano and cantor, Sharon Azrieli Perez.
Yom Hashoah was declared Holocaust Memorial Day in Quebec in 1999 and in Canada in 2005.
I would like to commend several of my constituents from District 2 who were involved with the committee to organize this event:Joseph Fishman, Paula Bultz, Ruth Najman, Marcel Tenenbaum and Renata Zajdman. Another District 2 resident, Natalie Constantine, performed sign language translation and the Bialik High School Choir headed by Lorna Smith did its usual impressive job.
David Birnbaum was on hand, but nobody from the Charter loving Parti-Québecois nor the CAQ. Municipally it was nice to see a city councillor from Rosemount, Guillaume Lavoie, on hand alongside his NDG colleague from Projet Montréal Peter McQueen, NDG-Côte des Neiges Borough Mayor Russell Copeman, Councillor Lionel Perez, municipal reps from other cities and towns and NDP Member of Parliament Tyrone Benskin. During the recitation of names of those who perished during the Holocaust, radio personality Tommy Schnurmacher (the child of survivors) took part.
Congratulations to the committee and coordinator Eszter Andor for a well run event which should be put on full video and shown in schools. About 4,000 survivors still live in Montreal today. A number of them are still involved as volunteers with the Holocaust Memorial Centre, which, together with its Remembrance Committee, organizes the annual Yom Hashoah commemoration.
The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre educates people of all ages and backgrounds about the Holocaust, while sensitizing the public to the universal perils of antisemitism, racism, hate and indifference.
See Councillor Glenn J. Nashen's blog and his excellent video.