ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism
At the If Not Now, When? Responsibility and Memory after the Holocaust conference
Max and Tessie Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies
April 24, 2013
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Welcome. Thank you for your presence and participation at this important conference. We are very pleased to support the conference through funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada and I am deeply impressed by the quality of decoration here. Let me also recognize the presence of my former colleague and good friend, Dr. Mario Silva, who is heading up the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance on behalf of Canada, and doing a wonderful job.
Many of you will have participated in yesterday’s commemorations of Yom HaShoah on Parliament Hill and at the National War Museum, where we had a remarkable presence of some sixty survivors. I had the great honour of meeting all of them, and their presence – their quiet and dignified witness – deeply moved Members of Parliament. It is so wonderful that we are able to continue to give them a voice, which will be a critical part of Canada’s chairmanship of the Alliance this year.
Thank you to the organizers, sponsors, speakers and participants for this “If Not Now, When?” seminar hosted in part by Carleton University and the Zelikovitz Centre. This is an important initiative for us to bring together all of those interested in Holocaust commemoration, education and research to launch the year of Canada’s chairmanship.
Last month, I was in Berlin with Mario Silva to formally receive the gavel of the Alliance, and I can tell you it was a proud moment for us because just a few years ago Canada – strangely enough – was not yet a member of what was then called the International Task Force, or ITF.
It was shortly after Prime Minister Harper’s government took office in the beginning of 2006 that he called me in to say that he had learned Canada was not a member of the ITF, and he thought it was a priority for us to become full participating members and to become leaders in the essential work of Holocaust commemoration, education and research. He asked me to lead the initiative to get Canada to join the ITF, which we did; initially attending ITF conferences as observers, then as liaison members, and eventually as full members. Now, just three years after we became members, we are honoured to take the Chair.
I think many of our European friends wonder why Canada has such an acute interest, all of a sudden, in Holocaust commemoration, education and research, because they see our Holocaust history as remote. And of course, in many respects it is. Except that we do have our own history of injustice relating to the Holocaust, as you all know very well, through the immigration restriction measures before and during the Second World War. These notorious measures that closed the doors of Canada’s protection to potentially tens of thousands of European Jewish refugees, with the exception of some 4,000 who managed to get to Canada before and during the war.
We all know, thanks to the brilliant scholarship of Irving Abella and Harold Troper through their book “None is Too Many,” that Canada had one of the worst records in the world – quite unbelievably, when you think about it in retrospect – in providing safety to Europe’s Jews before and during the Shoah. But as I always say, in some small sense Canada redeemed itself following the war by opening its doors of protection to the third-largest number of survivors in the world – after the United States and Israel – resettling upwards of 30,000 in the immediate years following the war. I would like to think of that as, in some way, Canada indirectly redeeming itself from its period of exclusionary immigration policies. That is our connection. Our connection is that those tens of thousands of survivors brought with them their amazing, indomitable spirit of hope and determination of resistance and defiance to build new lives in Canada.
I cannot think of a more remarkable story in our own history than those who came here out of the ashes of the Holocaust – so many having lost all or most of their families, all of their belongings, and perhaps any sense of security or certainty in their lives; having walked through the valley of death; having come to Canada and not put those things behind them, but having the determination and the character to begin new lives and start families. To think, just from a material perspective, how people who came here with nothing, in so many of those cases, went on through their determination to work hard, start businesses, and then go on to phenomenal success.
I have the great privilege as Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to welcome – between our resettled refugees and successful asylum claimants – over 25,000 refugees every year to Canada, the highest per capita level of refugee protection and resettlement in the world. Just think, one of every ten immigrants to this country each year is a refugee, and Canada receives one of every ten resettled refugees worldwide. I meet these people who have gone through, in many cases, the unthinkable; who have lost everything; who have been victims of warfare, unjust prejudice, ethnic cleansing and violent persecution. As a word of hope and encouragement, I offer to them the example of the European Jewish refugees who came to Canada; who survived the greatest evil in the annals of human history; who came with nothing but scars – physical, psychological, spiritual scars – and yet built new lives in this country. And even if they did not all go on to great material success, so many raised such wonderful families and continue to be living witnesses in our midst.
This is why I think Holocaust history is so relevant to Canada – because the survivors have contributed to our country in ways that we will never be able to quantify. Now, as we move towards the twilight years of the first-hand witnesses of the great evil of the Shoah, as the torch is being passed on, it is essential that we – I say “we” as Canadians, as individuals, as society, as educators, but also, and perhaps more importantly, as gentiles – double our efforts to record, transmit and amplify the voices of those who survived.
That is the theme of the conference: “Responsibility and Memory after the Holocaust.” As Prime Minister Harper said, “It is important that we take this opportunity to remember the suffering endured by the victims of the Holocaust and their families. It helps keep strong the conviction in our hearts to do everything we can, through our actions and our words, to stand firm against the forces of intolerance and remain vigilant against genocide. Only through these continued efforts can we ensure that such atrocities never happen again.”
I am often reminded of the beautiful words – the moving words – of Elie Wiesel, who said that: “For us, forgetting was never an option. Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good that we have received, and the evil that we have suffered.”
He went on to write that: “An immoral society betrays humanity because it betrays the basis for humanity, which is memory. An immoral society deals with memory as some politicians deal with politics. A moral society is committed to memory. I believe in memory.” We all believe in memory. That is what gathers us here today. Canada aspires to be a moral society.
Of course, we fall short of the mark from time to time. Most notably, we did between 1932 and 1945. But now, I think we can say with some pride that we are leading that collective work of memory. We did so by joining the ITF / IHRA, and now through our chairmanship of it. We did so through a very important project, the Community Historical Recognition Project, administered by my department, which provided funding to many remarkable projects designed to research and commemorate the experience of immigration restriction measures against European Jews before and during the war. For example, we provided a $1-million fund to B’nai Brith Canada in partnership with the University of Toronto, undertaking international conferences and ongoing academic research on the M.S. St. Louis-era immigration restrictions. I would like to thank Ruth Klein for her good work in that respect.
We provided funding to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre to produce a travelling exhibit that focused on the internment of 2,000 Jewish refugees in enemy camps during the Second World War. And, of course, we provided funding through the Canadian Jewish Congress for the erection of Daniel Libeskind’s monument, the “Wheel of Conscience,” which now appears at Canada’s new national immigration museum at Pier 21 in Halifax. It is a monument to the passengers of the M.S. St. Louis, who undoubtedly, had they been allowed to enter Canadian waters in 1938, would have disembarked at Pier 21, a place that was a landing of refuge for many of the survivors following the war. And these projects, while important in themselves, provided the Government of Canada with a platform to express our regret for our policy of exclusion in the ‘30s and ‘40s. This had never been done before in Canada, and I think it was an important act of leadership. These were also essential projects in our application for membership in the ITF.
Again, I was very pleased to have been in Berlin with Dr. Mario Silva last month, and am delighted with the priorities that he has enumerated for Canada’s chairmanship, which have been developed in collaboration and consultation with the Canadian advisory council for our chairmanship of the Alliance.
Let me thank and acknowledge the presence here, and contributions, of so many of you who are participating in the advisory council. We wanted our chairmanship to not just be a kind of centralized, government-run project. We really wanted to engage civil society. We wanted to reach out to the Holocaust education community, and also wanted very intentionally to involve people outside the Jewish community. I insisted that the advisory committee include representatives, for example, from the Ukrainian and Polish communities, who have their own difficult histories with respect to the Holocaust. And we want to particularly thank and acknowledge the Polish government and embassy for having been a good partner in this work for so long.
Dr. Silva has articulated as our priorities: research into Holocaust killing sites outside major death camps; the development of educational resources for teachers; and strengthened and expanded relationships with international partners. Out of that last rubric, I want to emphasize how important it is for us to use Canada’s credibility in the international community to encourage wider participation in the Alliance and in the critical work of research and memory. In particular, as you know, Canada has a deep relationship with Ukraine.
There are over one-million Canadians of Ukrainian origin, and Canada was the first country in the world, with the exception of Poland, to recognize Ukraine’s independence. We were the first G7 country to recognize the genocidal nature of the Holodomor famine genocide of 1932-33. We have been very strong partners of Ukraine’s efforts on the path of democratic development. We have a special role and connection to Ukraine, which is why I travelled to Lviv and Kyiv earlier this year, in part with Dr. Silva to Kyiv, to encourage Ukrainian civil society and the government of Ukraine to pursue membership in the Alliance.
As Dr. Silva mentioned in his remarks at the National Holocaust Commemorations yesterday, one quarter of the victims of Shoah were killed in Ukraine. When I was in Ukraine I went to a small town in Galicia, Sambir – an hour from Lviv – a town where the family of Mark Freiman, the former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, was slaughtered on Passover in 1941. It is a place where crosses, giant crosses, have been erected on the mass graves of the Jewish victims of that village – several hundred unnamed, unmarked, mass graves. Subsequent to that, gentiles were killed by both Nazis and communists, buried in that area, and then claimed as heroes of Ukrainian nationalism and, of course, we honour their memory as well. But somehow the commemoration of those deaths has managed to efface the deeper tragedy of the hundreds of members of the Jewish community there who were slaughtered on Passover.
We went specifically to that site to say to the mayor of that town and local community leaders that they must recognize the Jewish victims of the Shoah right there in their midst. And I have to tell you how struck I was to see children riding bicycles almost over these mass graves. Peoples’ homes backed right up to the wall where the mass shootings occurred. Hannah Arendt talks about the banality of evil. It continues today across many parts of Europe that still have not come to terms with their own Holocaust history – hundreds of mass graves across Ukraine unmarked, unresearched.
Thanks to the brilliant research of a French Jesuit – his publication of the seminal work “Holocaust of Bullets” and other research efforts – we are beginning to understand the breadth of the Holocaust in those parts of Eastern Europe. But it is essential that we offer, in a positive spirit, in a spirit of collaboration and not condemnation, our best practices, our research assistants, and practical resources to governments like that of Ukraine, to help them to begin to do the archaeological work – when I say archaeological, I don’t just mean digging up the ground, but I mean deeply into their history, into the memories that many have chosen to forget. It is essential we do so now.
During the communist period, there was a state policy of historical amnesia. But for heaven’s sake, now that these are free and democratic countries, there is no longer an excuse to bury the past. That is why I made a very deliberate point – in fact, I was in Ukraine for four days and I want to tell you how encouraged I am to see the Ukrainian council of churches and religious organizations unanimously calling for the erection of a monument to recognize the Jewish dead at Sambir – for Ukraine to pursue membership in the Alliance.
I can also tell you that I was in Turkey in January of this year, partly dealing with the refugee crisis there, but I took the time to meet with the leaders of the Jewish community in Istanbul. Wherever I go, I try to meet with leaders of communities that are facing challenges, particularly if they are facing manifestations of anti-Semitism. So I met with Jewish leaders in their community centre which was, by the way, bombed about a decade ago, and said: “How can Canada help you as a marginalized minority?” You know what they said? I wasn’t expecting this, but they said: “Aren’t you chairing the IHRA this year?” And I said: “Yes.” They said: “Please do what you can to get Turkey to that table. We need to be able to develop platforms to teach Turkish children about the reality of the Holocaust, separate and apart from the politics of the region.”
So, the Alliance is seen by communities around the world as essential, as critically important. I sat down with the Chief Rabbi of Kyiv, Rabbi Bleich, but also his Beatitude, the Patriarch and major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevcuk, in Kyiv, and he was passionate about this as well.
So the work we are doing in Canada, the work we are doing at this conference, the work that Mario will be doing as IHRA Chair, really does matter. It matters not just here, but in places around the world that you wouldn’t even expect.
We have a number of projects that will accompany our chairmanship this year including: a national project to preserve survivor testimony; the international conference in Toronto in October 2013, in which we hope to find a special place for the involvement of survivors, so that we can convey to the international delegates the remarkable success of the survivors here in Canada, and so they can share their experiences as Holocaust educators; an Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education to recognize outstanding teachers; and an international poster competition for Canadian students in Graphics, Art and Design to support Holocaust Memorial Day activities.
As well, those of you who attended Yom HaShoah commemorations yesterday will know that my colleague, the Honourable Tim Uppal, Minister for Democratic Reform, who proposed the Bill to erect a National Holocaust Monument in our nation’s capital, announced that the National Capital Commission has selected a venue. Thanks in part to the support of generous donors, we hope to be breaking down in the not-too-distant future on that National Monument.
Many of you will also know that work continues on the Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg, which, together with the Museum of Immigration in Halifax, is Canada’s newest national museum, and it will house an important and permanent exhibit on the history of the Holocaust.
These efforts follow from so much else that Canada has been doing. I would like to acknowledge the leadership of my parliamentary colleague, the Honourable Irwin Cotler, in the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA), which he helped to bring to Canada, and which our government hosted, and whose efforts were twinned with those of Mario Silva and Member of Parliament Scott Reid in the all-party parliamentary inquiry into combating anti-Semitism, done by our own Parliament.
The ICCA Conference brought together delegates from 60 parliaments around the world and concluded with the signing of the “Ottawa Protocol,” which is a really important document. It seeks commitments from governments to measure and to articulate their progress in combating anti-Semitism by collecting and reporting data on hate crimes, including anti-Semitism; to monitor and share best practices; to accept a proposed common working definition for anti-Semitism; and to further engage with the United Nations to combat anti-Semitism.
This is important. Some of this stuff sounds obvious, quite frankly. But it’s important to define clearly what constitutes anti-Semitism and when expressions, particularly virulent expressions of anti-Zionism, cross the line into anti-Semitism. And this provides a very solid working definition to help guide people. In that respect, I was very proud to sign the “Ottawa Protocol” on behalf of the Government of Canada – the first government to do so – in 2011.
Of course, Canada has also sought to exercise world leadership in demonstrating a zero-tolerance approach to the anti-Semitism, which was the animating hatred of the Holocaust. We have done so both here and internationally, for example, through our contentious decision, at the time, to withdraw from the second Durban Conference.
Now, it seems an obvious thing to have done and, indeed, I don’t think we should have been at the first Durban Conference. But we were the first country by a long shot – by a year – to announce our withdrawal from the second Durban Conference, and then subsequently the third one. Some people said: “Why wouldn’t Canada participate in a conference about combating hatred and xenophobia?” The reason is precisely because it was supposed to be about combating hatred and xenophobia, but instead became a platform for expressions of the most ancient and pernicious form of hatred and xenophobia: anti-Semitism. We merely needed to look at the work and program of the Durban II conference to see what was being done: organizing meetings on Jewish high holidays, nominating Iran and Muammar Ghaddafi’s Libya to act as co-chairs of a conference, etc.
I will never forget running into a British minister in London, who was responsible for the UN, who literally looked down at me like I was from the colonies as he expressed consternation that Canada would have withdrawn from this worthy multi-lateral process, and he just couldn’t understand. He said: “Why have you done this?” I said: “Well, I could give you an hour’s worth of reasons, but I’ll just give you one: Iran is the vice-chair.” The vice-chair of a conference to combat hatred was being co-chaired by a country whose president, in the words of Ambassador Ziv yesterday, visibly denies the Holocaust while planning a sequel to it.
This is the kind of zero-tolerance approach we have expressed on the international stage and domestically. We have gone through all of the different government funding envelopes to ensure that organizations whose leaderships have expressed anti-Semitic sentiments, or other forms of hatred, that had previously been receiving funding, no longer receive assistance from the Government of Canada.
Let me also say that we are making a significant effort to be engaged in the process of recovery of seized Holocaust-era assets. I was proud to represent Canada at the Terezin Conference in Prague four years ago, and to encourage Eastern European countries who have not yet fully engaged in the process to register all Holocaust-seized assets, and to provide pathways to recovery of those assets by the relevant family members. And last month in Berlin, at the ceremony where we took the chair of the Alliance, we also participated in a repatriation of a work of Renaissance art to the estate of Max Stern, the late great Canadian gallery owner, philanthropist and German-Jewish refugee.
Canada has supported and participated in a number of intergovernmental meetings on Holocaust-era cultural properties, as I have mentioned, including the Terezin Conference, and in partnership with Canada’s museums and galleries, we are committed to actively pursuing the issue of Holocaust-looted cultural property.
For example, the National Gallery of Canada identified, through its research, a painting in its collection that had been seized by the Nazis in 1942 from a French Jew. In 2006, the painting was returned to the owner’s descendants.
In 2007, the Government launched an inquiry into Holocaust-looted cultural artifacts that exist in Canadian public collections. Plans are currently underway to update the publicly-accessible Canadian Heritage Information Network database, which will make it easier to research information about the origins of cultural properties.
It also gives me great pleasure to announce today, on behalf of the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, that our government will contribute some $200,000 to enable Canadian museums to participate in a key international effort on the provenance of Holocaust-era works of art.
With this new funding, the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization, in partnership with six museums, will undertake research and develop best-practice guidelines to help the Canadian museum community address the issue of Nazi-looted art.
Our work in all of these areas is resolute and will continue.
Because our country exemplifies the democratic values of pluralism, and is a refuge for persecuted people, we Canadians have a particular calling: We must be a clear and principled voice against hatred, and especially against that most infamous of hatreds: anti-Semitism. Thank you all for your collaboration, your expertise, your interest, and contributions to making Canada’s chairmanship of the Alliance one that renews not only Canada’s commitment to learning the lessons of the Shoah, but also to ensuring that this essential work of memory is undertaken all throughout the world. Thank you very much.
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