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Saturday, August 30, 2014

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Political leaders join in Holocaust Memorial Day

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OTTAWA — Our government is committed to standing firm with the Jewish people, said Environment Minister Peter Kent, speaking on behalf of the federal government at the annual ceremony commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.

Grazyna Swist, granddaughter of Righteous Among the Nations Julia Ciurko, and Beata Swierc, granddaughter of Righteous Among the Nations Wladyslaw and Petronela Ziolo, light a candle on the Yad Vashem menorah on behalf of the heroic actions of all the Righteous Among the Nations who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.  Beata’s children Paul Swierc, Elizabeth Christina Swierc, and the latter’s fiance Daniel Justin Biernacki  look on together with U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, second to right, and executive director of Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Yaron Ashkenazi.

The ceremony, held at the Canadian War Museum on June 14, recognized the heroism of three people designated Righteous Among the Nations for risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Family members received awards on behalf of Petronela Ziolo and Wladyslaw Ziolo and of Julia Ciurko, whose moving stories were told.

 “The threats facing Jews today are the gravest since the Shoah… we must confront those who would, if given a chance, perpetrate another Holocaust,” said Kent. “The Jewish people will never, ever stand alone again.”

The ceremony, organized by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem in co-operation with the Zachor Coalition – a group of 30 organizations – was attended by parliamentarians, senators, heads of diplomatic missions to Canada, Holocaust survivors and their families. Buses brought people from Montreal and Toronto as well, including students from Robbins Hebrew Academy and the Kachol Lavan Choir.

Toronto resident Joe Gottdenker spoke about his childhood hiding with a Christian family. He talked about the trauma of being separated from his birth mother and then, three years later, when the war ended, of being reunited with his birth mother and separated from the woman he had come to know and love as his mother.

Bob Rae, acting leader of the Liberal party, said antisemitism is “a chronic condition… always under the surface, and it doesn’t take much to ignite it.” He said that much of the criticism of Israel is really hatred for the Jewish people and warned that we must be vigilant. “The human soul is capable of such terrible things,” he added.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green party, and Thomas Mulcair, deputy leader of the New Democratic Party, both spoke of their commitment to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are learned and that it is never repeated.

 Eliaz Luf, Israel’s deputy chief of mission, said the Holocaust was not “just a Jewish tragedy, it was a human tragedy.” Praising the acts of tremendous courage of those who risked their lives to save Jews, he said: “They not only saved Jewish lives, but they saved the belief that the world was not hopelessly evil.”

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