Seventy years ago tonight, agents of Adolf Hitler murdered 92 Jewish Germans and arrested 25,000 others for deportation to concentration camps. More than 200 synagogues were destroyed and tens of thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were looted. It was the prelude to the Holocaust, committed against a religious community whose ancestry in Germany went back to Roman times.
It remains the solemn responsibility of each one of us to do all we can to ensure that the world understands and never forgets Kristallnacht and the Holocaust.
It must be said immediately that many in my own spiritual community–Christianity-- stood by during the worst catastrophe in history inflicted on our sisters and brothers of Jewish faith. There were exceptions, but many Christians in Europe did too little to honour the second great commandment of Jesus-- to love one's neighbour as oneself.
Canada's official role-or more accurately non-role- before entering the war is well set out in None Is Too Many by Irving Abella and Harold Troper.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler provided much about his worldview. He was a confirmed anti-Semite as early as 1904 when he was only fifteen, partly because of the influence of anti-Semitic teachers at his schools. For him, Judaism was a race, not the religion it obviously is. His views were virtually indistinguishable from the anti-Semitism of the Middle Ages. He was a sado-masochist..
I quote the late Lucy Dawidowicz's excellent book The War Against The Jews, 1933-1945: "It has been my view-now widely shared-that hatred of the Jews was Hitler's central and most compelling belief and that it dominated his thoughts and his actions all his life...It became his fixed idea, one to which he remained steadfast all his life...The documents amply justify my conclusion that Hitler planned to murder the Jews in coordination with his plans to go to war for lebensraum (living space) and to establish the Thousand Year Reich."
The world must keep always in mind what Hitler had done by the time of his death in 1945. According to author Dawidowicz, the best estimated number of Jews Hitler and his followers murdered in Europe was 5,933, 900, or 67% of the continent's pre-Holocaust population, including three million Poles, or 90% of the Jewish population of Poland, 90% of the Jewish population of Germany, the Baltics and Austria, and high percentages in many other countries.
The percentages were much lower in Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France and Italy. Many in these countries strongly resisted Nazi efforts to get them to deport Jews to concentration camps. In occupied Denmark, for example, the king and large number of Danes wore yellow stars to show support for their Jewish neighbours. Danes risked their lives, smuggling a large number of Jewish Danes to neutral Sweden. Finland and Bulgaria simply refused Nazi demands to hand over their Jewish citizens.
Further away, a few other nations helped. The government of El Salvador, for example, issued more than 30,000 of its passports to Jewish Hungarians so that they could avoid the death camps. Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden disappeared in the Soviet gulag for doing the same thing.
Le Maroc a également refusé de rendre les Juifs à Hitler. Le Roi Mohammad V a répondu à Hitler: "Ici, nous n'avons pas de Juifs, seulement des Marocains!" En réponse, les nazis ont bombardé Casablanca.
Until World War Two, as David Matas has reminded us, non-Jews were mostly left untouched by history's anti-Semites. Hitler's regime sought to murder Jews everywhere, thereby launching, continuing and prolonging his war--even in Asia-- and in the process inflicted immense losses of innocent lives.
The Jewish community lost about one third of its world population. The total estimated deaths during the war were sixty two million (37 million civilians and 25 million military). Thirty one million non-Jewish civilians died in what Davidowicz concludes was a war by Hitler designed to cover the planned murder of Jews everywhere. "Hatred of Jews dragged the whole world down", concludes Matas--and the world must still agree.
Many have asked since how a psychopath such as Hitler could have become Chancellor of Germany, whose people and culture rank highly among world civilizations. Did it have something to do with generations of German anti-Semitism? What responsibility should German and other Christians across the world bear for not having resisted Hitler more effectively? We needed many more Konrad Adenauers, Dietrich Bonnhoeffers and Raoul Wallenbergs.
In a questionable effort to keep Germany on side for the Cold War, the work of the Nuremberg Tribunal was stopped in 1948 with only half the cases finished and no doubt thousands of war criminals not yet even identified. Did the immunity in effect provided for Nazi war criminals after 1948 somehow help to provide a licence for ensuing genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan and what has been happening to the Falun Gong community in China since mid-1999? 'Never again' became 'again and again'.
Three Lessons for Today
We continue to have much to learn from the Hitler years. Permit me to suggest three lessons for today:
(1) We need to stand united against hatred and indifference. Nous devons toujours lutter ensemblement contre la haine et l'indifference.
The 20th century was undoubtedly the worst in history in terms of violence directed at believers of all faiths, mostly by totalitarian regimes like Hitler's. The major lesson for all faith communities is clear: had all of us stood shoulder-to-shoulder when anyone in our own or another religion was being persecuted anywhere, many innocent lives might have been saved.
There are encouraging signs of progress. For example, a number of years ago hundreds of Edmontonians of many faiths demonstrated at city hall, protesting the persecution of Muslims in Bosnia. Later, many of us did the same at the legislative assembly over the treatment of Christians in Pakistan; similar initiatives continue across Canada.
(2) We need to act early. Nous devons prendre de l'action immédiatement.
Anti-Semitism tends to increase as certain kinds of nationalism grow. Consider the quote by Zlatko Disdarevic in Sarajevo: A War Journal (1993): "(Subverted nationalism exists) because somebody somewhere decided that the bestial concept of a herd, composed of only one colour, all speaking the same language, all thinking along similar lines, all believing in the same god, must wipe out everything else."
The desecration of Jewish synagogues and cemeteries has increased in recent years across the world; all faith communities and inter-faith councils should voice outrage about such incidents as soon as they occur. We should all speak out for a world that is multi-religious and multi-cultural. Civil society, community leaders, role models and governments at all levels must denounce anti-Semitism and hatred voiced against any other religion or culture while they are still in the shadows. More actions are needed.
Human dignity is ultimately indivisible; an attack on one faith community often becomes one against all as happened in Nazi Germany. People of good will can be silent too long and social toxins can overcome reason. Why, for example, were some of Hitler's schoolteachers allowed to voice anti-Semitism to impressionable students like him? "Bloody words", in David Matas' graphic phrase, can be as dangerous as shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre. We must be vigilant that this does not happen in Canada or anywhere else today.
Despite our strong preference for free expression, the criminalizing of wilful incitement to hatred of any identifiable religious, racial or cultural community by Canada's Parliament is sound public policy. We must ensure that such policy is enforced. (Several years ago, Edmonton police wanted to charge two diplomats from China for distributing pamphlets on the University of Alberta campus which in the investigators view violated in respect of the city's Falun Gong community the "willfully inciting hatred" of an identifiable group provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada. Details are available in Appendix 8 at www.organharvestinvestigation.net.)
It is important in every rule-of-law society to have in place institutions to protect every resident, popular or not, especially in times of social stress. Canada's entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms in place since 1982 is premised on the view that legal protection for the equal dignity of all Canadians must be beyond the reach of legislators. Our independent courts must be vigilant in their roles-always resisting pressure from the executive or inflamed public opinion. Lawyers must be encouraged to defend anyone charged vigorously and without harassment. The media must take seriously their important roles in building better open societies.
(3) The international community must condemn and deter aggression by totalitarian regimes against another country or religion. Nous devons protester et faire arrêter l'agression sur une nation ou religion.
In October 2005, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asserted that the Holocaust was a "myth that has been used for 60 years by Zionists to blackmail other countries and justify their crimes in occupied territories." He added that Israel should be wiped off the map ("Our dear Iman (Khomeini) ordered that the occupying regime in Al-Qods (Jerusalem) be wiped off the face of the earth. This was a very wise statement."). No one anywhere should take lightly such outrageous statements. As Rabbi Reuven Bulka says, "Holocaust deniers are not stupid; they are evil. The deniers would eagerly welcome another holocaust, which they and their ideological progeny would again deny ever happened."
The mere 36 votes Iran received in the UN General Assembly on its government's recent bid for election to the Security Council is hopefully an indication of mounting international concern about the nature of its regime. The Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, however, noting that Ahmadinejad was allowed again to speak at the UN General Assembly this fall, observed: "Ten years ago, and less, the ruler of a country that announced its aspiration for Israel to be wiped off the map would not have dared appear
and speak on the UN's podium." This observation warrants serious attention.
On the subject of Iran, as an aside, many governments in my view still misunderstand both the long-suffering Iranian people and Ahmadinejad, mistakenly thinking that there are only two policy options available: (1) continued ineffective appeasement of the regime—often for commercial reasons--and suppression of Iranian opposition groups essentially as directed by the ayatollahs or (2) bombing strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. An attack on Iran is the one thing that would unite Iranians behind their president and should be avoided at all costs. In my opinion, a third and peaceful option is to begin working with all Iranian opposition groups to bring the rule-of-law, peaceful intentions towards neighbours and the world and democracy to Iran.
I'll close with a true story about the Holocaust told by Dr. Truda Rosenberg of Ottawa, who lit a candle here tonight.
Truda's entire family perished in the Holocaust. "Don't let anything destroy your Jewish soul" were her mother's last and parting words to Truda. Later as a 20-year-old, Truda survived only because she was small enough that others could push her out a small window in the wall of the train cattle car that was taking her and many others to the death camps.
By 1951, Truda had managed to get to Britain, pretending she was a Catholic
woman from Poland with an assumed name, and had become a nurse and mid-wife there. No one at the hospital where she worked knew about her background. One day, she was having tea with nurse colleagues, when one of them began to criticize Jews.
Why?" asked Truda.
"Well", the other replied, "They are a lazy bunch. They are doctors and lawyers, but have you ever seen a Jewish nurse?"
Truda was silent for a moment, but then replied, "You are looking at one."
She and the others then went to her room, where she removed the name card
from the door, wrote "Truda Osterman" on the back and put it on the door.
After many years living under an assumed name, she became Truda again!
Her soon-to-be published life story will be titled Unmasked. Today, in her
80s, Truda still goes to work daily in our city and Canada continues to
benefit from her skills as a psychologist.
In two days, we observe Remembrance Day, when Canadians think of our
family, friends and many others who perished in wars and conflicts across the
world. We must never forget any of the victims, including the children,
women and men who were killed in the Holocaust only because of their
religion. We must tell and retell their stories – we must never forget. Nous
devons toujours souvenir!
Merci! Thank you!