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National Holocaust Monument Bill

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Statement made on 22 March 2011 by Senator Joan Fraser

Hon. Joan Fraser:

Honourable senators, first of all, I would like to say that I strongly support this bill. This bill, or one of its predecessors, should have been passed years ago. But here we are. Even though it is overdue, it is better late than never.

I support this bill for three main reasons.

The first reason is that the Holocaust is unique. The Holocaust is far from being the only example of man's mass inhumanity. We need think only of Ukraine, Cambodia or Rwanda. There are too many examples of our capacity for inhumanity. The new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg will help to teach all Canadians what we need to know.

The uniqueness of the Holocaust, therefore, lies not so much in its savagery as in the degree to which, over long years, the apparatus of one of the world's most civilized countries was devoted to the extermination of an entire people, the Jews, as well as a stunning range of other people such as gypsies, the handicapped and homosexuals. The murder was committed on such a vast and systematic scale that it almost defies belief. The Nazis ran scientific experiments to devise and use what Winston Churchill called perverted science to perfect an industrial system of mass murder. Those who wish to learn can do well by consulting, for example, the magisterial books by Richard J. Evans on the history of the Third Reich. In reading those or other books, you will learn where the unique horror of the Holocaust lies.

John Donne said, "Every man's death diminishes me . . ."

These millions of deaths diminished the world, including Canada.

We know that after the war, and in the ensuing decades, many thousands of the survivors came to Canada. Many of them came to my own city. Canada took in more of the refugees after the war, I believe, than any other country, except the United States and Israel.

We owe it to all those who came here with renewed hope, as well as to the millions who died, to acknowledge, in Canada's capital, in a public and permanent way, the unimaginable atrocities that we have come to call the Holocaust.

The second reason, honourable senators, I support this bill is because in any murder there are two parties. There is the victim, but there is also the murderer, and, in this case, the many murderers. We need this monument not only to honour the victims but also to remember the fact that horrors of this kind can be perpetrated even in the most civilized societies. No country is immune. The dark corners of the human soul exist everywhere. That is why we must be vigilant to ensure that they do not come out of the shadows and triumph again.

The third reason for my support of this bill is that Canada has its own inglorious chapter in the Holocaust. Not the worst, but it is our own and it is a stain on our history.

Many of you will have read the devastating book by Irving Abella and Harold Troper about the way that Canada behaved when Jewish refugees from Germany and the other countries the Nazis took over were trying desperately to come here. The book begins:

To the condemned Jews of Auschwitz, Canada had a special meaning. It was the name given to the camp barracks where the food, clothes, gold, diamonds, jewellery and other goods taken from prisoners were stored. It represented life, luxury and salvation; it was a Garden of Eden in Hell; it was also unreachable.

The fact is that all through the Hitler years, Canada systematically refused entry to Jewish refugees. Everybody knows the story of the ship St. Louis, with its 900-odd Jewish refugees who were turned away from this country in 1939 to go back to face the horrors that awaited them in Europe. There were many others who tried to get here. The powers that be in this country did everything imaginable to resist taking them in, even turning away as small a group as 20 teenagers.

This policy was not an oversight. It was decided at the highest levels of the bureaucracy and confirmed in repeated cabinet meetings. These decisions were taken here in Ottawa, many of them here on Parliament Hill.

No western country was particularly welcoming to the Jews in those years, but we were among the worst. From 1933 to 1945, we took in fewer than 5,000 Jewish refugees.

Our leaders knew what they were doing. In 1938, the senior bureaucrat in charge of immigration acknowledged in writing that the Jews of Europe faced "virtual extinction," but he did not think that was any reason to change our policy. Oh, no.

After the war, Georges Vanier, the distinguished diplomat who later became our Governor General, visited the camps. He said, in a broadcast on the CBC, "How deaf we were then to cruelty and the cries of pain which came to our ears . . ."

Honourable senators, it was actually in 1945, close to the end of the war, when we knew what had been happening to the Jews of Europe, that someone asked a senior bureaucrat how many Jews should be admitted to Canada after the war —how many of these desperate survivors should be admitted. The bureaucrat said, "None is too many."

That was where Irving Abella got the devastating title for his book. We opened our doors, grudgingly at first, only in 1947 or 1948.

Since then, many thousands have come to this country to build new lives and new hope. We now pride ourselves on being an open society. We have welcomed Hungarian refugees and the boat people and so many others. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms has become part of our bedrock, part of our identity. Still, memory matters. History matters.

In her speech on this bill, Senator Martin reminded us that the word "monument" comes from the Latin monere, to remind or warn. That is why we need a Holocaust memorial here, in the capital of this country, to remind us of what happened and to warn us against ever letting it happen again.

Honourable senators, I urge you to support this bill and to give it rapid passage.


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