Trudeau’s Holocaust blunder
Rarely do local Canadian events receive widespread “real- time” attention in Europe, America and Israel, with coverage in top- tier media, like The New York Times, The Washington Post and the BBC.
The recent unveiling of the commemorative plaque at Canada’s Holocaust memorial in Ottawa by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was such an occasion. The memorial was long overdue. Until the Harper government commissioned it in 2011, Canada was distinguished as the only major allied country to not have installed any official public memorial to the Holocaust’s victims. This “oversight,” whatever the reason for it, has finally been addressed. The ensuing flap, however, arises from the memorial plaque that was unveiled at the site, with the following engraving:
“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.”
What drew international gasps was the fact that there was no explicit recognition of the uniquely Jewish aspect of the Holocaust. The plaque was hastily removed, to be revised, one assumes, to more appropriately reflect the proper historical significance of the Holocaust.
Still, some have asked, why is this so controversial? What’s the big deal? Didn’t many millions, not just Jews, perish during the Nazi years?
Why? Because the Holocaust was and remains singular. The Holocaust is a one-word shorthand specifically devised to refer to the Nazi obsession with murdering every last Jew on earth. This outcome — to make the world “judenfrei”, or “Jew-free”, was a core Nazi principle.
Their plan was formalized at what has come to be known as the “Wannsee Conference,” a gathering of senior Nazi leaders and their key functionaries in a suburban, lakeside Berlin mansion on Jan. 20, 1942. Relaxed in bucolic surroundings, the Nazi leaders methodically and very deliberately put the final touches on the exquisitely detailed operational plan for the “Final Solution,” their euphemism for the highly efficient murder of every Jew in Europe and beyond.
This program was the paramount goal of the Third Reich, even above its territorial ambitions, since the Nazis believed that their racial supremacy and continental dominance would never be possible if Jews continued to exist. While there were millions of “undesirables” killed in the camps and elsewhere, the Nazis saw these victims as “untermenschen” — subhuman.
The Jews, however, were not even considered human. They were seen as vermin, rats, to be “exterminated.”
Over the last century there have been many vicious, murderous campaigns. Each one is unique, as was the Holocaust.
Consider, for example, the Holodomor, the Ukrainian word for “to inflict death by hunger,” which is precisely what Josef Stalin did in 1932-33 in Ukraine. His primary goal was to eradicate every scintilla of Ukrainian nationalism and assert total control over all aspects of life, including dignity. At least seven million Ukrainians perished. Those who survived were terrorized into submission.
In 1975, the Khmer Rouge began its campaign of state-backed mass murder in Cambodia. Where Stalin and Hitler targeted the “other” as the enemy, the Khmer Rouge destroyed their own in a Maoist- inspired agrarian class warfare that particularly vilified and massacred city dwellers and intellectuals, which pretty much meant anyone who was borderline literate. In Pol Pot’s campaign of organized murder, torture, starvation, extreme forced labour and familial and societal disintegration, an estimated two million people are believed to have been killed — roughly a quarter of Cambodia’s population.
To generalize any genocide is to rewrite history, both factually and morally. Each one is a human tragedy, but each one is also the expression of a particular hatred.
The Nazi demonization of Jews was extreme and politically sophisticated. It began with words and laws, very civilized stuff. Step by step the general public came to accept that Jews were not only less than human, but were also responsible for all the ills plaguing humanity: disease; usury; sexual perversion; worldwide financial manipulation and domination; subversion of every standard of decency; and, of course, the subjugation of Germany by the dominant powers of the post-First World War order. The Nazis persuaded Germans that their country’s national and economic humiliation was a Jewish triumph, as the Jews, they alleged, profited directly from German misery.
Disabled people, homosexuals, communists, intellectuals, Poles, Slavs and the Roma all suffered terribly during the Nazi years. No group, however, was targeted with the fervency that the Nazis persecuted Jews, ferociously determined to annihilate every last one.
The Holocaust was a time and place when the hottest, darkest, most horrific corner of a living hell was reserved especially for Jews.
The National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa.