More than 600 Attend Yizkor and Unveiling of Revitalized Memorial Site
The crisp air and sunny skies set the tone as 600 people streamed into the large, white tent that was set up in front of the renovated Holocaust Memorial Site at Earl Bales Park. Holocaust survivors, dignitaries, donors of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, and the Toronto community mingled together in anticipation of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem’s Yizkor event and unveiling of the renovated Holocaust Memorial Site.
Ten diplomatic heads of missions attended including Consul General of Israel DJ Schneeweiss and ambassadors or diplomatic representatives of Croatia, Romania, Turkey, Macedonia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Austria, and the Slovak Republic. They joined a bevy of politicians that included Minister of Finance Joe Oliver, MP Mark Adler, MPP Monte Kwinter, and Counsellor James Pasternak. Keynote speaker Dr. Thomas Hecht flew in from Montreal to address the attendees.
Minister of Finance Joe Oliver (Left) and Consul General of Israel to Toronto DJ Schneeweiss (Right)
Fran Sonshine, National chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, served as the MC, delivering her remarks with grace and style.
The Bialik Hebrew School Choir, under the direction of choir master Nella Koren, kicked off the proceedings with a beautiful medley of songs that included “Yonah Yimaleh Shel Zayit” (Dove With an Olive Branch) and “Jerusalem of Gold”
Minister of Finance Joe Oliver reminded us all of how the beast of anti-Semitism has reawakened in the world and how it is now directed against the “spiritual home of the Jewish people.”
"Anti-Semitism is one of the world’s oldest and most pernicious hatreds. After decades of slumber, the beast has awakened. And today we see it creeping into our communities, on our university campuses, and in the civilized capitals of the world. Over the millennia, it was directed to the Jewish people; now it is also directed to the spiritual home of the Jewish people."
Miriam Perl, a daughter of Holocaust Survivor Herschel Perl z”l and a staff member of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, read an excerpt from a farewell letter written by a mother, Sara Gerliz from Poland, to her six-year-old daughter. Sara and her husband, Yechiel, entrusted their only daughter to a Polish friend by the name of Florczak. With the feeling that they would never see their child again, the mother left her a letter which she was to open when she came of age. Fortunately, unlike many of the families whose fate ended tragically, Sara and Yechiel were reunited with their daughter, and they immigrated after the war to Israel.
Click here to read the letter.
MP Mark Adler read the poem “Each of Us Has a Name” by Chava Alberstein alluding to Yad Vashem’s mission: to give every Jew who perished a “Yad” – a place of commemoration—and a “Shem,” a name and identity, which are collected in Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names. Thus far, Yad Vashem has collected 4.5 million names of Jewish victims. The names of many of those murdered remain unknown, and it is our collective duty to persist until all their names are recovered.
MP Mark Adler
As a young boy of 12, Thomas Hecht escaped Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, with his family after Germany’s occupation of his hometown and the increasingly anti-Semitic measures that were instituted. Tom and his parents, Eugene and Sidonie, escaped to Paris in December 1939 where they joined millions of refugees on France’s roads, trying to stay one step ahead of the advancing Nazis. It was there that Righteous Among the Nations Aristides De Sousa Mendes, Portugal’s Consul General to France, issued visas to the Hecht family, who arrived in Montreal in 1942.
Paying homage to Aristides de Sousa Mendez, who he said saved an astonishing 30,000 Jews, Dr. Hecht went on to speak about what made the Holocaust a unique form of genocide:
"I want to congratulate you on your revitalized monument because the Holocaust is a unique form of genocide. To remember the Holocaust is to remember the threat directed to a part of the human race. This is how the Holocaust is different from other genocides."
Dr. Thomas Hecht
MPP Monte Kwinter, who spoke on behalf of the Ontario government, reminded us of the failure of Canada’s educational system that resulted recently in a candidate in the federal election admitting her ignorance of what Auschwitz was.
"One of these teachable moments occurred late last month when a candidate in the federal election admitted that she had never heard until very recently about the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps…. But nothing explains why a reasonably educated Canadian can reach adulthood and not know of Auschwitz and the primary role it played in the monstrous evil of the Holocaust."
MPP Monte Kwinter
Erin Lily Sade, a 13-year-old girl who was twinned with Lily Friedman z”l, as part of the Yad Vashem twinning program spoke beautifully and powerfully about how the experienced changed her life and challenged the children in the audience to imagine what it must have been like for Lily Friedman and other children in the Holocaust:
“To the children in the audience, I want you to ask yourself, What do you wish you could have? A new cell phone? New clothes? Tickets to a sold out concert? Now ask yourself, What would the children of the Holocaust have wanted? They wanted to know if their Zadie would come home. They wanted a piece of bread. They wanted a warm place to be. They wanted to know if their mother would be there for them tomorrow. But, they also wanted to play. They wanted to be with their friends. After all, they were children.”
Erin closed her speech with a musical homage to Lily Friedman, playing "Schindler’s List" and the "Hatikvah" on the violin.
A highlight of the unveiling segment of the program occurred when Canadian children who adopted the Yad Vashem Twinning Program were invited to join in the unveiling of the Ed and Fran Sonshine Children’s Memorial Wall.
Another high point took place when mbassadors and heads of diplomatic missions from 10 countries, representing Israel, Croatia, Romania, Turkey, Macedonia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Austria, and the Slovak Republic, were invited to attend the unveiling of the Drimmer Family True Heroes Wall, which paid tribute to Righteous Among the Nations.
The renovated and revitalized site is a beautiful and appropriate space for Holocaust survivors and their families, educators and their students, and the community at large to reflect upon the lessons of the Holocaust and to recommit themselves to a better future.
The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem thanks its generous donors for their contribution. Their dedications to loved ones who perished in the Shoah or who survived and have since passed away are true testaments to their loved ones’ enduring legacy.