Address by Minister Uppal and Minister Moore at the National Holocaust Monument Development Council Announcement Event (Transcript)

April 2, 2012 - Ottawa, Ontario

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Hon. Tim Uppal: Thank you very much.  And it is an honour to be here this morning. In 1905, the philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Those words are inscribed on a plaque at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, serving as a reminder that the horrors of the Holocaust which stands alone in the annals of human history must never be allowed to be repeated. 

The Holocaust was not just a crime perpetrated against a specific group of people.  It violated the fundamental values all civilized people hold dear:  freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.  Jews were the primary victims of the Holocaust but millions more were also targeted for destruction, for racial, ethnic or national reasons.  Disabled persons, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war and political dissidents also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny.

In many countries, Holocaust monuments have been built to honour the memory of those who were persecuted and murdered by the German Nazi regime during the Second World War.  All across Canada as well, several monuments and museums were created to commemorate the Holocaust.  However, Canada is the only allied nation still without a national memorial to this darkest of chapters in our humanity’s history.

That is why in September 2009, with the invaluable assistance of Ms. Laura Grossman and the Honourable Peter Kent, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs at that time, I introduced a private member’s bill, C-442, an Act to Establish a National Holocaust Monument, commemorating the victims and Canadian survivors of the Holocaust. 

For me, the personal education on the Holocaust started with a conversation with a Holocaust survivor here from Ottawa, Ann Heineman.  And any of you that have had the opportunity to speak to a Holocaust survivor, you know what I mean.

My trip to Israel gave me an understanding of how it affected the people of Israel, Jewish people and people around the world.

And before all of that, my wife, speaking to my wife and she went on a trip called The March of the Living and how that trip affected her and how she had told me stories about that trip.  And it’s funny because the first time I told that story, a woman came up to me and said, “You married a Jewish girl?”  No, a Sikh girl, went to Catholic school, Jewish friends, and went on this trip.  So Canadian.

In the 2010 Speech from the Throne, the government committed to supporting a National Holocaust Monument and Bill C-442, which was unanimously supported by all members of the House of Commons, passed in December 2010.  On March 25th, 2011, a very proud day for me, I know for Laura and many others, the National Holocaust Monument Act received royal assent.  The National Holocaust Monument, which will be built in the National Capital Region, will help ensure that Canada remembers the losses of the Holocaust and that future generations of Canadians can learn about its roots and cause to prevent future acts of genocide.

It also will encourage visitors to reflect upon the events of the Holocaust and of the responsibilities of each citizen to value and protect human rights and human dignity.  It is, after all, a sad reality that racism, hatred and antisemitism were not confined to Germany during the Second World War but they persist around the world.  Members of local Jewish communities themselves have commended the government’s pledge to build a Holocaust monument, calling it a sign of respect and homage to all victims of Nazi brutality and persecution. 

The monument will also promote a better understanding of the historical events of the Holocaust and how they have affected Canadian history, an understanding that will benefit Canadians in every community across the country.  And it will be a monument to hope as well, serving not only as a lasting tribute to the victims of the Holocaust but also as a symbol of Canada’s diversity, its leadership in promoting values of pluralism and tolerance and its tradition of defending human rights, including the freedom of religion.

To establish the National Holocaust Monument, we set about creating a National Holocaust Monument Development Council, inviting Canadians possessed of strong interest in and connection to or familiarity with the Holocaust to apply online.  Eligible candidates were evaluated and selected based on various criteria and with a view to creating a dynamic, diverse and representative Development Council.  The Development Council will play an important role in realizing this project, particularly in spearheading a fundraising campaign to cover the cost of planning, construction and maintenance of the monument.  The Government of Canada will match funds raised by the campaign to a maximum of $4 million. 

It is a pleasure to have with us today the four members of the Development Council, all of them distinguished community or business leaders, each of them volunteering their unique talents to make this important commemoration a reality. 

Rabbi Daniel Friedman — where’s Rabbi? Rabbi Friedman -- (applause) -- Rabbi of the  Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton, is a grandchild of Holocaust survivors.  He has dedicated his life to ensuring that the world never again experience the horrors of the Holocaust and has worked to promote dialogue between different faiths and make the world a safe place for all.  Rabbi Friedman’s experience in fundraising has been extensive and successful and I know he is looking forward to the challenge of bringing this project to life.

Mr. Ralf E. Lean -- (applause) -- is a lawyer with Cassels Brock and Blackwell in Toronto, has been called one of Canada’s most influential businesspeople by the National Post newspaper.  He has earned an international reputation as a trusted advisor and established a truly impressive network of professional contacts not only in Canada but throughout the world.  If that doesn’t keep him busy enough, Mr. Lean also serves on the board of many Canadian public and private companies as well as several charities, foundations, and civic groups.

Mr. Alvin Segal -- (applause) -- is Chairman and Chief Executive Office (sic) of Peerless Clothing.  A seasoned and talented negotiator, Mr. Segal played a key role in negotiations leading to the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA.  I have no doubt that his experience in the art of diplomacy will be invaluable in the weeks and months ahead.  A recipient of the 2006 Montreal Arts Business Personality, Mr. Segal was also appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2002 and in 2010 was promoted to Office of the Order of Canada for his continued philanthropic engagement. 

And also Ms. Fran Sonshine -- (applause) -- a former elementary school teacher, has been an outstanding leader in the Jewish community for many years.  She is currently the National Chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem which represents Yad Vashem, the foremost international centre of Holocaust education, commemoration, documentation and research.  Mrs. Sonshine’s love of family and community, not to mention her apparently boundless energy, have motivated her enduring and hugely successful involvement in philanthropy and volunteering.

We are honoured to welcome all four of the members of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council.  We thank you for agreeing to undertake this great task, to help create a fitting and enduring monument to those who saw and suffered the greatest of evils of our time. It is a great responsibility but there’s no doubt in my mind that we have chosen the right people for this solemn task. 

Thank you. (Applause.)

Hon. Linda Frum:  Thank you, Minister Uppal.  And thank you for the seminal role you have played in the creation of this monument. I would now ask the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages to say a few words. (Applause.)

Hon. James Moore: A sad fact but an important fact for those of us who are – count ourselves as champion in the teaching of history, not only Canadian history but world history, did you know that in the 13 provinces and territories of Canada in only three is it required that a student take a history class before they graduate from high school?  For those of you who are wondering where your kids are going to school, those provinces are Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.  In only three of 13.  And the dearth of understanding of Canadians about Canadian history, even local history, let alone world history or human history is atrocious and something for which we should all be ashamed.

Which is why I’m very pleased to be here on behalf of Prime Minister Harper to thank all of you who have been involved in this project for doing your part in taking some time, some money, some effort, labour and investing yourselves into a project that is really important here for the National Capital as we do take the opportunity when people come to Ottawa to try to learn a little bit about Ottawa’s past, about Canada’s past, that we also learn a lot about our human past and the horrors that were encompassed in the Holocaust.

You know in 2004 I took the opportunity that was the 60th anniversary of D-Day and I flew from Vancouver to Munich and I rented a car and I drove around and I visited all the D-Day beaches, I visited all the battle sites of the First and Second World War.  The following year, I did the same thing because in 2005 it was the 60th anniversary of the end of the war and the end of the Holocaust.  And it really is something, it really is something that really cannot be explained unless you’ve been there.

I went to 13 Holocaust camps.  I’ve been to Yad Vashem.  I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  I’ve been to the Imperial War Museum in London whose display and explanation and telling of the story of the Holocaust is something that is really to be commended.  But you really can’t understand it unless I think you begin to understand the sense of the systematic torture and the mechanized approach to extinguishing human beings that was the Holocaust until you really begin the conversation. And I had the opportunity to go to these places.

And when you go to Mauthausen and you see the torture cells – I began my tour, flew into Munich, drove south and just south just outside of Salzburg, you know, is Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.  I went to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and it was not long thereafter that I found myself at Auschwitz, after having visited a number of camps. And when you go to Auschwitz, there was a fellow who was standing next to me and he had actually been on this exact same path that I had been and he was saying to his little son, as we were standing in the torture cells in the basement of Auschwitz in a footprint that was about the size of – those of you who have been there, in the footprint about the size of a phone booth is where four prisoners would be taken, such a small footprint that when your feet, knees and hips and back had collapsed from exhaustion from having stood in a phone booth with three other people for days, that it was so tight that you couldn’t collapse and people would suffocate.  And this father said to his son, he said, “Do you remember two days ago we were up at the Eagle’s Nest and here now we are in the basement of Auschwitz in the torture cells.  And he said we’ve seen both ends of what this regime has done.  And it began a conversation.

And that’s what we I think all hope, that this monument will be here, what this memorial will be here in Ottawa, is the beginning of many conversations.  What I hope to hear – to overhear is parents walk by and maybe a daughter will say to her mom, “What was that about?  What happened there? What was that about?”  And it’ll begin greater conversations and greater understanding of things.

You know, “Agents of change must get accustomed to protracted conflict” is one of my favourite quotes.  And it is applicable to many aspects of life.  And in the teaching of history, human history, tragedies, in the evil that was the  Holocaust, it takes persistence and constant energy.  And it’s not only projects like this. It’s also of course the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg.  It’s also the programming that we hope to see in schools.  It’s also engaging organizations like the Historica Dominion Institute so that they can have greater programs in order to teach our kids greater understanding of our past, so that people can understand what happened Plaschau, what happened at Gusen, what happened at Westerbork, what happened at Bergen Belsen, what was Dachau about?  What happened at Nuremberg in the 1920s and ‘30s and what happened then in the 1940s and what have we or have we not learned since then?  All these conversations are things that need to happen again and again and again and again if we’re going to bring any sort of justice, any sort of understanding and any sort of real engagement with our kids so that they know the evils that we have all seen.

So I just wanted to be here again on behalf of the Government of Canada, on behalf of the Prime Minister to congratulate all of you — Minister Uppal, Senator Frum, the donors, the organizers, the volunteers, those of you who have put so much effort into a project that is so worthy of attention that it really is beyond words.  But just as a token of my gratitude as someone who is a passionate believer in the teaching of history, the effort that you’ve made here is something that is truly invaluable and something for which we will never forget because of course we cannot forget. Thank you.  (Applause.)