Holocaust Remembrance Day takes somber tone as war rages on: Canada’s anti-Semitism envoy

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

Published Saturday, January 27, 2024 2:34 pm EST

Canada’s anti-Semitism envoy said the annual Saturday day to commemorate the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during World War II is more important and more poignant this year amid what she described as a rampant rise in anti-Jewish sentiment sparked by the last war in the Middle East. .

“This year’s commemoration has a particularly somber tone, almost foreboding, given the alarming rise of anti-Semitism around the world and, even more sadly, here in our precious Canada,” Deborah Lyons said at a ceremony at the National Monument. of the Holocaust on September 20. Friday.

She attributed the mood to the rise in anti-Semitism that has come as the war between Israel and Hamas approaches its fourth month, leaving Jews in a “state of prolonged mourning” and facing pain and fear.

They have had to watch people deny, justify and even celebrate the hostage taking and an October massacre in Israel, Lyons said, referring to the Oct. 7 attack that killed at least 1,200 people and sparked the latest war.

“We, as Canadians, cannot and will not allow the truth of the Holocaust to be distorted or denied,” he said.

“It is our individual and collective responsibility to do so.”

More than six million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazis and their allies between 1933 and 1945.

In more recent months, police and members of the Jewish community have been sounding the alarm about a rise in anti-Semitism since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas militants. During the attacks, more than 1,200 people in Israel, including hundreds of civilians, were killed and about 240 people were taken hostage.

Health authorities in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip say more than 25,000 Palestinians have died during the war, and many others have survived regular bombardment by Israeli airstrikes and have been cut off from access to water, electricity and other supplies.

As Lyons spoke, dignitaries and members of national Jewish associations filled the audience, drenched by freezing rain during the hour-long outdoor ceremony. Most carried black umbrellas.

“We are not going to let a few drops of rain bother us on this solemn day,” said Lyons, a former ambassador to Israel who was named special envoy to preserve Holocaust memory and combat anti-Semitism in October.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre attended but did not give speeches, instead each recited a prayer.

Both issued statements Saturday acknowledging the rise in anti-Semitic violence in Canada.

Governor General Mary Simon echoed some of Lyons’ sentiments on Saturday, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, which has been recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Simon said the recent rapid rise of anti-Semitism in communities across Canada and around the world is “concerning.”

“No one should be attacked, harassed or abused for who they are or what they believe,” he said in a statement.

“When we see hate rising in Canada, in all its forms and iterations, we cannot remain silent.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2024.

– With files from Laura Osman in Ottawa.

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