Participants leave wooden plaques with the names of Holocaust victims at the annual March of the Living at Aushwitz (Photo: AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Sixty-nine years ago today, the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau — where more than a million people were killed during the Second World War — was liberated by the 322nd Rifle Division of the Soviet Army. In 2005, the United Nations set aside the day to commemorate those who lost their lives and to educate younger generations about the past.
“My hope is that our generation, and those to come, will summon that same sense of collective purpose to prevent such horror from happening again anywhere, to anyone or any group," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a ceremony this month at a synagogue in New York. “As we have seen from Cambodia to Rwanda to Srebrenica, we have not eliminated the poison that led to genocide,” he added.
In a statement today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, "This deliberate, systematic and industrial slaughter of innocent men, women, and children will forever be a stain on human history. Let us join with the families and friends in remembering and honouring those who perished during this senseless horror." Last week, on his first trip to the Middle East, the prime minister laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial.
A number of communities across Canada are marking the day in different ways. Here are a few of the events that are taking place:
- The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre is hosting the premiere screening of The Lady in Number 6, a documentary that tells the story of the world's oldest living Holocaust survivor Alice Herz Sommer, who turned 110 in November.
- The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre is holding a memorial featuring a speech from Louise Sorensen, a child survivor of the Holocaust, which will double as the opening for a new exhibit, Anne Frank — A History for Today.
- The Hamilton Jewish Federation will be handing out 50 sets of Holocaust survivor memoirs to area schoolteachers.
- On Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its Tour for Humanity, a mobile classroom on a bus meant to educate Canadians about diversity and tolerance.
- In Winnipeg, the Freeman Family Holocaust Education Centre held an interfaith concert yesterday featuring the choirs of the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue and three local churches.
- Toronto's Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre also held an event yesterday; its annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day lecture featured a keynote address by Walter Stechel, Consul General of Germany.
- Tomorrow, the International March of the Living Exhibit will open at the UN Headquarters in New York. The exhibit, an initiative of various Canadian groups, documents the work of the March, which brings high school students from around the world to Poland and Israel to study the Holocaust.
Today isn't the only day set aside to commemorate the Holocaust. In Israel, Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) will be celebrated on April 27 and 28, in memory of the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.