I woke up this morning to read that the city of Montreal, my city to which thousands of Holocaust survivors like my family flocked, the city which we loved, the city to which so many of us survivors and Jews in general contributed, that city now does not recognize our deepest problem: the sharp rise of anti-Semitism both here and around the world.
Deeply dismayed, I did not want to write today but listened again to some of the speeches on International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz and they kept saying: do not be indifferent: do not be silent, do not allow the lies to be told and retold. So, I speak with a very heavy heart to Mayor Plante and her council for rejecting the IRHA resolution, already adopted by Canada.
It is probably our fault, that of the Jewish community and the survivors. We have tried to educate thousands of Montreal and Quebec schoolchildren about the history and the impact of the Holocaust, but we have not spent enough time — obviously – educating the city councils.
If we had each sat down for a cup of coffee, in twos, and the survivors and children of survivors told our stories to each individual member of the Montreal city council, face to face, I do not believe you would have turned away from us today. If we had expressed to you our profound worries for our grandchildren, that after 75 years, they again have to encounter anti-Semitism and need to learn to protect themselves, I believe we would have touched your souls. Everyone worries for their grandchildren. In our case, we, as we are aging and we, who lost so many, these grandchildren are our hope. Many of the one and half million children that were murdered in the Holocaust were our relatives or schoolmates or came from our hometowns. Many of the six million were our families, our grandparents, aunts, uncles or siblings. When Holocaust survivors and their children picked themselves up and rebuilt lives, they marshaled their hope for an open society, free from hate.
We now face strong anti-Semitism again! You did not understand us yesterday. You stood by again!
The Holocaust did not just happen suddenly. It happened drop by drop, law by law, act by act. It did not just happen because of Germany or Austria but the whole world let it happen, by inaction, by indifference, by not allowing us into this country when you could have saved so many.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism does not explicitly mention Israel, but its guidelines say “targeting of the state of Israel could be considered as anti-Semitism." That may be where the problem lies for the city council of Montreal, who probably are not fully versed with the issue. Nowhere does it say you have to agree with Israel. It simply says that you have to treat Israel as you would any other country.
Because someone is Jewish does not mean that that person agrees with everything that Israel does. I am sure that Montrealers of Greek or Italian origin do not agree with everything Greece and Italy does – or Lebanese with everything Lebanon does, etc. Israel was created after the modern world rejected us Jews and we had no place to which to escape. If only Israel had existed in 1939…how many more would have survived? How many more medical and scientific breakthroughs there would have been? How many more great works of art and literature there would have been?
The city of Montreal made a terrible mistake. It lost an opportunity to show understanding and compassion on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. How can it correct it?
As for the Jewish community, we need to make fighting anti-Semitism our top priority, and focus strictly on that.
and Pinchus Gutter,
Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants