The federal government will acknowledge the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust as well as “millions of other victims” of the Nazis on its main dedication plaque at Ottawa’s Holocaust Monument, The CJN has learned.
The new plaque, to be installed this spring at the monument’s entrance, comes after the original version drew worldwide condemnation after its inauguration last September by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau because it failed to mention Jews as the main victims of the Holocaust.
The new text of the plaque, provided exclusively to The CJN, will read: “The National Holocaust Monument commemorates the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust and the millions of other victims of Nazi Germany and its collaborators. It also stands as a tribute to the courage and resilience of the survivors who were able to make their way to Canada following one of the darkest chapters in human history. The monument recognizes the immense contributions these survivors have made to Canada and serves as a reminder that we must be vigilant in standing guard against antisemitism, hatred and intolerance.”
The original dedication plaque read: “The National Holocaust Monument commemorates the millions of men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust and honours the survivors who persevered and were able to make their way to Canada after one of the darkest chapters in history. The monument recognizes the contribution these survivors have made to Canada and serves as a reminder that we must be vigilant in standing guard against hate, intolerance and discrimination.”
After several days of brutal media criticism and online furor that noted the omission of Jews and anti-Semitism from the original Holocaust Monument, red-faced officials ordered the plaque removed. Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly pledged last October, just days after the monument was dedicated, that the new one would contain language “that reflects the horrors experienced by the Jewish people.”
Amid the uproar, the chair of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council, Rabbi Daniel Friedman of Edmonton, apologized “unconditionally for the pain we have caused by this oversight.”
In January, the Globe and Mail said it obtained briefing documents prepared by the Canadian Heritage Ministry in October, stating that the initial decision to omit specific reference to Jews was “deliberate, with bureaucrats pointing out that not all Holocaust memorials around the world mention targeted groups.”
By avoiding mentioning one group in particular, “the proposed language aimed to ensure that the content would be inclusive to all other groups targeted and attacked by the Nazis,” the document said, as cited by the Globe and Mail.
According to Rachel Rappaport, a spokesperson for Joly, “neither the minister’s office nor the Prime Minister’s Office were given the opportunity to review the original text of the plaque prior to the installation. As soon as we became aware of this glaring omission, the plaque was removed.”
She said the new wording was checked with a few historians and researchers, and then “run through political checks,” according to usual procedure.
Just weeks after the plaque fiasco, there was more controversy when the National Capital Commission announced that the $8.9 million memorial would be closed for the winter because snow-clearing operations could damage it. This was after Joly said the monument would be open year-round.
Critics blasted the move, saying it would prevent thousands of students from visiting the monument.
A compromise was later reached in which slightly less than half of the open-air pavilion’s floor space would be cleared of snow and ice during winter months, using specialized equipment.
The federal briefing document quoted by the Globe and Mail also said that after the plaque was removed, a number of groups, including members of the LGBTQ community, contacted Canadian Heritage and asked to be included in the new text.
“Seventy-two years after the war, we are happy to hear the wording is going to be changed,” Hank Rosenbaum, co-president of Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, told The CJN. “It will give us survivors a wonderful feeling that a lot of people will see it and understand it.”
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, on Match 16, issued a statement in which it said it appreciates that the revision “was taken seriously.” However, FSWC president and CEO Avi Benlolo said he was “disappointed” that the Heritage Ministry did not heed his group’s recommendation that the word “Jewish” be included in reference to “survivors” in the final text.
The omission fails to acknowledge “Jewish Holocaust survivors who struggled to find a safe haven in this country due to discriminatory immigration policies lifted only after the war,” Benlolo said.
Consisting of six large triangular concrete structures in the shape of a star, reminiscent of the yellow Stars of David Jews were forced to wear during the Second World War, the memorial is at the corner of Booth and Wellington streets, next to the Canadian War Museum.