The Holocaust Monument is not just about the Jewish community

Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, 6 June 2014

Recently, Minister Baird announced the winner of the design competition for the National Holocaust Monument. The winning team was put together by Lord Cultural Resources of Toronto and features world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, who designed the Berlin Jewish Museum and many other famed works. Following the announcement, reporters were offered the opportunity for questions.

“What’s the minister’s opinion about the referendum in the Ukraine?” one reporter asked.

“What are we are doing to save the kidnapped girls in Nigeria?” inquired another.

“Will the human traffickers in the Philippine embassy be prosecuted?” was a further question.

Minister Baird responded to each of the questions confidently and clearly. But the members of the design team and development council felt a little despondent. When they arrived that morning they were thrilled to see all the media in attendance for this historic event. Now they realized that they were not there for the Monument announcement. They had gathered just to get an opportunity to catch the foreign minister for other issues that seemed irrelevant to the occasion.

In March 2011, Bill C-442, the National Holocaust Monument Act, was passed unanimously by the Federal government. Why is Canada building a Holocaust monument?

During WWII, Canada, along with the rest of the world, stood idly by as Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and other undesirables. Over the last half century, we have grown and matured as a nation. Today, Canada is a country that leads the world in the promotion of freedom and democracy, combating human rights abuses across the globe and taking in refugees to our shores.

The National Holocaust Monument will be an eternal testimony to who we are as a nation. Never will we allow for any minority anywhere in the world to be persecuted. Never will we stand for intolerance for any reason – religion, ethnicity, skin colour or sexual orientation. We are eternally committed to the welfare of every individual in every society and country. The Monument will remind every Canadian that this is our duty.

The questions asked to Minister Baird at the announcement were entirely relevant to the occasion. The minister understood that and responded accordingly. What’s our feeling on the situation on the Ukraine? Are we increasing sanctions on Russia? What are we doing to save the girls in Nigeria? Are we caring for an oppressed foreign worker living in our country? These questions speak directly to what this monument is about.

The building of the Holocaust Monument is a commitment by our nation and a reminder to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of our Canadian values. To be Canadian is to dedicate oneself to freedom and tolerance in our country and around the world.

When you walk into the Monument, your first feeling will be one of bewilderment and confusion. The towering concrete structure is designed to overwhelm. You will try to go to the left and to the right, each time in vain as you enter a chamber that has no further exit. Finally, you will find the staircase leading out of the Monument. As you ascend the stairs, in the distance you will see the Peace Tower of the Parliament of Canada. And you will breathe a sigh of relief.

The feelings of confusion and uncertainty were certainly experienced by survivors of the concentration and death camps of Nazi Germany. But it was a time when our nation too was doubt-stricken. We did not know how to respond.

Today, that is no longer the case. As a nation that stands together as Jews, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and others, we look to the Peace Tower and we say ‘We are proud to be Canadian. And we will promote tolerance for all peoples around the world.’

This is our monument. Let’s build it together as a nation.