A well-attended ceremony to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was held at Ottawa City Hall on January 26th, 2018. In the audience were elected officials from all levels of government, Holocaust survivors, rabbis, and members of the public.

The memorial is a partnership between the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES), the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, the Wallenberg Citation Initiative, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

In his welcoming remarks, Master of Ceremonies Daniel Stringer mentioned the partners and greetings from government ministers and thanked the participants and embassy representatives for their attendance. He stressed the current importance of this commemoration given the unfortunate rise of hatred and intolerance in the world and reminded the audience of Pastor Martin Niemoeller’s well-known statement: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out …”

Mayor Jim Watson underlined the importance of never forgetting the Holocaust and those who perished under the Nazi regime. He also mentioned today’s ominous rise of antisemitism. The mayor then presented a Proclamation of the Day that urged all citizens of Ottawa to commemorate and honour the victims and the survivors of the Nazi era. The proclamation, the first by a mayor of Ottawa to address Holocaust remembrance, was accepted by CHES member Annette Wildgoose on behalf of the partnership.

Bergen-Belsen survivor Vera Gara delivered a powerful address highlighting her remarkable story of survival. Vera, who has made many presentations over the years about the Holocaust and is an advocate for the Wallenberg Citation Initiative, stressed the importance of education and tolerance. She then had a conversation with her granddaughter Rebecca Bosloy, who spoke of the impact Vera’s experiences have had on her life and the importance of listening and accepting people as they are if intolerance is to be reduced. She said that “humans are by nature afraid of the unknown and that which they do not understand. Therefore, education is very important and is perhaps the only way to confront hatred.” Vera concluded her remarks with a fitting quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Junior: “Our lives begin and end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

A highlight of the commemoration was the moving musical interludes ─ the theme from Schindler’s List and a piece entitled “Remembrance” ─ performed by classical violinist Ralitsa Tcholakova.

The commemoration concluded with a group photo being taken of each participant holding a sign with the words “We Remember,” the World Jewish Congress’ global campaign that encourages millions of people to raise awareness of the Holocaust and fight antisemitism through social media postings using the hashtag #WeRemember.

Excerpts from Vera Gara’s Speech

… I would like to thank my granddaughter, Rebecca Bosloy, who agreed to speak to you about how she, as a third-Generation Holocaust survivor, would counter the once again growing anti-Semitic hatred towards minorities and so help them to enjoy life in a peaceful world.

I was born in Vienna in 1933, but had to leave after the Anschluss in 1938. My father was arrested on false charges so the Nazis could take over his company. My mother and I left for Szeged, Hungary, where my grandmother had her home. A few months later my father was released, all charges were dropped, and he joined us in Szeged.

Five years later, in March 1944, Hungary, the last Central European country with a sizeable Jewish population, was occupied by the Nazis and the application of the Final Solution began.

First we were moved into a ghetto and by May we were taken into cattle cars and shipped to Strasshof, Austria. Here we were divided into groups. Seventeen of us went to a labour camp in a small village 0f 120 families. The adults [in our group] had to cut trees in the forest. We were lucky to find good people who risked their lives to help us in any way they could. I wrote about them in my book, The Least-Expected Heroes of the Holocaust.

Members of one family are still very close friends. We do remember and honour Raoul Wallenberg, Carl Lutz and other well-known heroes who risked and frequently lost their lives, but I felt the ordinary, common people had to be honored, too.

We were taken to another labour camp for a few months and landed in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on the 8th of December. My father died there in February 1945 after he was beaten on the way to the camp. At the end of April, we were shipped in cattle cars to Theresienstadt … The camp was mined and Hitler’s Final Solution was to gather survivors from all the other camps and kill them there. We were liberated by the Russians on May 6th and returned to Hungary by the end of June.

The greetings from the local population were rather unfriendly: “We hoped we would never see you again.” My mother and I started once again from scratch, like everyone else had to do. Half of Szeged’s population never returned.

In 1952, we moved to Vienna and two years later I left for London, England, where I became a nurse. I was married in 1959 and we have two daughters. In 1970, we moved to Ottawa when my husband was invited to work for Bell Northern Research. I got involved in volunteer work talking to high school students about my experience in the Holocaust …

I would like to leave you with some words of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior: “Our lives begin and end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Source: CIJA