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National Holocaust Monument unveiled

Guests tour the new National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa.
Stephanie Slegtenhorst

Holocaust survivors, donors and members of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council gathered in Ottawa on Sept. 27 for the unveiling of the National Holocaust Monument.

A torrential rainstorm moved the invitation-only ceremony indoors, across the street to the Canadian War Museum, where dignitaries including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly attended.

For many, the long-awaited unveiling proved a sombre occasion. “Today is an extraordinary day in our history,” said National Holocaust Monument Development Council chair Rabbi Daniel Friedman. “But at the same time, today is a bittersweet day. The truth is, we’d all much rather not be here today…and so we gather today proud of the most incredible Holocaust monument in the world, but devastated at the memory of what has brought us to this point.”

Eva Kuper, a Holocaust survivor and a speaker at the Montreal Holocaust Museum, told the crowd her remarkable story of how, when she was only two years old, a family member saved her at the last minute from a cattle car destined for Treblinka extermination camp. Her mother was on board that cattle car, and was killed by the Nazis within an hour of arriving at Treblinka.

“My survival is a miracle,” Kuper told the audience. “But the story of each and every individual who survived the Holocaust is miraculous.… I am gratified to be a witness today to this momentous occasion when Canada unveils this striking and evocative monument to the Holocaust. It is a fitting tribute to the victims, to survivors and to the Canadians who took part in defeating the Nazis and liberating Europe.”

Joly, speaking of the strength and courage of the survivors, said,

“It is the courage of these survivors, their willingness to share their experiences, that will help ensure that this never happens again. This monument is not just a symbol of the past but a reminder of our collective responsibility.… We will never forget.”

Trudeau tactfully touched on Canada’s failure to aid Jewish refugees in June 1939. “Our refusal to welcome those on board the MS St. Louis, European Jews seeking sanctuary here in Canada,” he said, “led to the tragic deaths of 254 innocent people in the Holocaust.”

He spoke of the importance of the monument to Canada. “We now have a place in our nation’s capital where families can come together to learn, to ask those tough questions, to grieve and to remember,” he said. “May this monument remind us to always open our arms and our hearts to those in need.”

The Canadian War Museum had proposed creating a Holocaust gallery in its former building on Sussex Drive in the 1990s, but that idea was dropped when it was decided to build the new museum in Ottawa’s LeBreton Flats neighbourhood.

The impetus for a Holocaust monument was spearheaded by second-year university student Laura Grosman after she discovered in 2007 that Canada was one of the few Allied countries lacking a national commemoration for Holocaust victims and survivors.

In 2011, a bill to create a Holocaust monument in Ottawa was given royal assent. The National Holocaust Monument Development Council raised $4.5 million for the design and construction of the monument.

The multi-level star-shaped design was developed by Lord Cultural Resources of Toronto. Entitled Landscape of Loss, Memory and Survival, six tri-angular concrete walls create the points of a star, suggesting the cloth stars Jews and other persecuted victims were forced to wear.

Photographs by Toronto-based photographer Edward Burtynsky have been enlarged and applied to the concrete walls of the monument, depicting scenes from six Holocaust sites: Treblinka, Auschwitz, Berlin, Mauthausen, Theresienstadt and Warsaw. The upper level of the monument provides a direct view of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.


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