Toronto Star

‘We can never sacrifice morality to expedience’


The following is an excerpt from a speech by Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada on the 80th anniversar­y of Kristallna­cht, the destructio­n of Jewish homes and businesses in Germany and Austria in 1938, at an event organized by the German embassy in Ottawa.

If there are those who urge that we let time wipe away the memories, they must be told with equal urgency, that to forget the indignitie­s and horrors of the past is to permit their recurrence­s.

History does not exaggerate. It can be placed in context, but it can never be undone.

And in its explicatio­n of what was, history shows us what should never be again.

The Holocaust left those who survived dumbfounde­d by its inception, stunned by its continuanc­e, shaken by its acceptance, and decimated by its completion.

How can we be expected ever to forget the sheer horror of being denied the very right to exist?

Of course it was arbitrary, of course it was immoral, and of course it was uncivilize­d. But it was also unforgivab­le, and we ought not to waste the tiniest ounce of energy on persuading anyone of the need to remember, with tenacity and vigour, this cornerston­e of our generation’s history.

We in turn need ask no one to forgive us this preoccupat­ion. It has taught us much. It has taught us that we can never value anything more than justice; that we can never put economies over dignity; that we can never appease bigotry; and that we can never sacrifice morality to expedience. We can never be indifferen­t.

We are the generation that saw and survived the Holocaust. We must therefore be the generation – as Jews and non-Jews — that rails most vigilantly against the intoleranc­e that produced it.

The banality of evil must never blur our capacity to see it. And having seen it, to identify it, fight it, and extinguish it. What can we leave our children if not an intense loyalty to humanity and a passionate commitment to its civilized expansion?

We cannot undo history, but we can, as a generation humbled by its awesome power, contribute to a powerful momentum against its repetition.

We, those who have survived, are an accident of history’s fate but we must vindicate the accident on behalf of those millions who cannot. The memory must never die and we and our children and our children’s children must do everything in our power to keep it alive as a source of personal inspiratio­n, of commitment to justice and of pride in who we are.

And so, in the end, what do we learn from Kristallna­cht and the Holocaust? To fear nothing but injustice; to value little more than integrity; and to forgive everything but indifferen­ce.

Those values the world forgot for one horrible moment, and we, those of us who are lucky to be alive, must pledge to our children that we will do everything humanly possible to keep the world safer for them than it was for their grandparen­ts, a world where all children, regardless of race, colour, religion or gender, can wear their identities with dignity, with pride, and in peace. Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella was appointed to Canada’s highest court in 2004.

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