Observing International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Winnipeg

On January 25 Belle Jarniewski addressed Winnipeg’s Mayor and City Council as part of that city's official acknowledgement (for the first time) of International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Winnipeg. Flags were lowered to half-mast from sunrise to sunset. 

Your worship Mayor Bowman, members of city council,

Thank you so much for welcoming me here today. Thank you especially to Councillor Morantz for bringing this idea forward to the mayor and council.  

It has now been 12 years since the United Nations General Assembly designated January 27, the anniversary of the date of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp —as an annual International Day of commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The Soviet troops who arrived at Auschwitz found approximately 7000 ill and mostly dying prisoners in this camp, a site of infamy which has come to depict the singular horror and suffering of the Holocaust – over one million human beings were murdered there – most of them Jews.  

An international date of remembrance commends us to honour with dignity the memory of victims, the courage of both survivors as well as the soldiers who liberated them and to reaffirm that this unprecedented genocide must be remembered by all people everywhere as a warning of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice. Unfortunately, in recent months, our world has witnessed a rise in manifestations of racism. There are sadly, some who see the world in different terms than those spelled out by the Resolution. Today, some 7 decades later, we are living in a time when vigilance is more important than ever and this annual date of remembrance reminds us of the importance of remembrance, reflection and education.

We remember that six million Jewish men, women and children were murdered – representing 67% of pre-war European Jewry. We also remember an estimated quarter to a half million Roma and Sinti (as we are unsure of the exact numbers) who were also singled out for genocide and the countless other victims which must forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice. 

The UN resolution asserts that Member States are to develop educational programmes that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide, and in this context commends the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. The Task Force’s name was changed a few years ago to the IHRA – the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and I am proud to represent Canada on this important organization on behalf of the Holocaust Education Centre, joined by Winnipeggers, Drs. Clint Curle and Jeremy Maron who represent the Canadian Museum For Human Rights and 6 other Canadians. This year, in Winnipeg, the Holocaust Education Centre joins with the University of Manitoba to launch the Canadian premiere of a prestigious exhibit from Berlin — at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery, Synagogues in Germany: A Virtual Reconstruction. The exhibit is accompanied by programming for Manitoba high school and university students, an academic symposium and lectures for the public.

The UN Resolution rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or in part; and “condemns without reserve all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur. Mayor Bowman, members of council, our City of Winnipeg offers refuge and new hope to immigrants, refugees and survivors, some of whom have escaped more recent genocides – and is a place which fosters dialogue, reconciliation and understanding, and is a place where people learn from each other and share cultures. How significant it is therefore, that we in Winnipeg commemorate this day and promote a better understanding of the tragedies that took place during WWll.

Mayor Bowman, members of council, for me –Auschwitz is not merely a name in a history book – it is a place where my late mother spent months, in the late summer and early autumn of 1944 after having lost her younger brother and parents. My parents and many other survivors made their way to Winnipeg to rebuild their lives just as today we welcome those who are trying to rebuild their lives having experienced trauma we cannot even imagine.

Just a short while ago, an antisemitic incident in the heart of Winnipeg employed ugly Holocaust imagery and rhetoric. Winnipeggers joined together in an outpouring of support for the victims and utter condemnation of this kind of hate. Your very meaningful gesture, Mayor Bowman to acknowledge and mark Int’l Holocaust Remembrance Day in our city and also to visually note this by lowering the flag to half mast will be much appreciated by survivors, their children and grandchildren and by all those who care about human rights everywhere. Thank you from a proud citizen of Winnipeg who is thankful each and every day that her parents found their way here – found each other and had the courage to rebuild their lives in this wonderful city. 

Belle Jarniewski is President of the Manitoba Multifaith Council. You can contact her at presmanitobamultifaithcouncil@gmail.com.