The annual Yom Hashoah (Holocaust remembrance) commemoration organized by The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre (MHMC) is always an extraordinarily well put together and touching evening. This year’s May 4 edition at the Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem Congregation on Baily Road in Côte-Saint-Luc was no different.
The theme of this year’s ceremony was the struggle and ability to rebuild lives after the genocide. Through video testimony, Holocaust survivors shared memories of their post-war battle to move forward and begin their lives anew. In addition, these survivors and their descendants lit six candles in representation of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.
The Montreal-based survivors participating as speakers and candle-lighters this year were Leon Celemencki (born in France, who survived in hiding with his uncle and in various orphanages), Guta Fleising (born in Poland, survived the Warsaw Ghetto, Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and Malchow camps, and multiple Death Marches), Willie Glaser (born in Germany, survived the war in Great Britain), Yetti Glasman (born in Romania, survived by posing as a German nanny and farmhand), Rena Schondorf (born in Poland, survived the Krakow Ghetto, and Plaszow, Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, and Salzwedel camps) and Marcel Tenenbaum (born in Brussels, survived two years hiding in an attic and imprisonment at the Mechelen (Malines) transit camp.
We are so fortunate to still have these survivors among us. Their stories are chilling. It provides a stark reminder of what cold blooded murderers the Nazis were and how remarkable it is that these individuals came to Canada and rebuild their lives. They are first asked to come to the stage and then, along with the audience, watch their video testimony. Thank goodness the MHMC undertook this important project for these interviews will be invaluable for generations to come.
Judith Nemes Black and Joyce Rappaport co-chair the event committee. Rappaport noted how 40,000 people who survived the Holocaust came to Canada, including 9,000 to Montreal. “Some felt welcomed,” she said, “and some were ignored and shunned by the general population. The impact of surviving the Holocaust can never be erased.”
Israel Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman spoke, as did Rabbi Reuben J. Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation. The Children’s Choir, directed by Rabbi Shimshom Hamerman and accompanied by Anna Levitana, sang beautifully. This group was comprised of students from Hebrew Academy, JPPS, Solomon Schechter Academy and UTT. District 2 resident Natalie Constantine provided translation in sign language.
Towards the end of the ceremony, the survivors in the room were asked to stand. Having attended these events for the past several decades, it was evident of the shrinking number. Next Second Generation (the children of survivors) were asked to stand. That number was more significant. After that, past participants in the March of the Living, Third Generation and the rest of the audience were asked to stand as well.
Cantor David Guber of Beth El Congregation sang a powerful rendition of the Memorial Prayer. Survivor Leo Honigwachs recited kaddish. Proceedings concluded with the partisan hym, O Canada and Hatikvah.
Quebec Lieutenant Governor Michel Doyon was the highest ranking dignitary on hand, joined by D’Arcy McGee Liberal MNA David Birnbaum and many municipal representatives.