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Some 4,000 Mark 40th Anniversary of Liberation of Death Camps

April 30, 1985
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Survivors of the Holocaust and their children, gathered here to mark the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps, pledged unrelenting pressure for remembrance lest the world forget or deny the terrible events of the Nazi era.

The Canadian Gathering of Holocaust Survivors began here yesterday and will end tomorrow. Some 4,000 participants stood in a cold rain on Parliament Hill yesterday afternoon to witness the kindling of six giant torches symbolizing the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The flames soared into the leaden skies, casting the buildings of Canada’s Parliament, a symbol of Western democracy, in sharp relief.

There were other ceremonies and speeches last night in the packed main hall of the Canadian Jewish Congress Center here.


For the survivors, their children and thousands of well-wishers, Jews and non-Jews, this anniversary is especially troubling. Deniers of the Holocaust have become bolder and more brazen in their propaganda in Canada and elsewhere.

And there seems to be a willingness, if not to forget, than to homogenize the Holocaust as just another incident in the carnage of World War II; manifested at the highest level by President Reagan’s determination, in face of world-wide protests, to visit the German military cemetery at Bitburg next Sunday where, in the name of “reconciliation, ” his presence will honor not just former German soldiers but members of the notorious Waffen SS — the executioners of the Final Solution — who are buried there.


Two indefatigable Nazi-hunters, French lawyer Serge Klarsfeld and his German-born wife, Beate Klarsfeld, were present at the ceremonies last night. “We shall demonstrate, Beate and myself, in Bergen-Belsen when President Reagan will be there, ” Klarsfeld declared. Reagan is to visit the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Wiemar on May 5, and will go to Bitburg later the same day.

The Bergen-Belsen visit was a last minute decision by his aides to try to mollify the rising anger over Bitburg. Reagan himself, as long ago as last March, rejected a suggestion by the Bonn government that he stop over at the Dachau concentration camp site.


A speaker at the outdoor gathering yesterday was Bie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor and author who is chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and an outspoken critic of the President’s itinerary.

“Memory is our shield,” said Wiesel. “Our generation is diminishing. Hence the necessity to transmit to our children the memory of the past. We are gathered here for the sake of our children and of their children. Let us remember that not all the victims were Jews but that all the Jews were victims.”

Wiesel added: “Here, in Canada, you have witnessed the outrageous outburst of people who, in their twisted minds dare say that this tragedy did not occur. How does one respond to such ugliness? It is to the honor of Canada that this outrage did not pass unpunished.”

Although Wiesel gave no specifics, he was obviously referring to two recent cases that have made world headlines: Ernst Zundel, an anti-Semitic Ontario publisher, was tried and convicted under Canada’s anti-hate laws for disseminating literature claiming the Holocaust was a Jewish hoax. He received a light sentence.

Jim Keegstra, a former high school teacher in the Alberta village of Eckville, is currently on trial for preaching the same lie to his pupils over a period of years.

Wiesel, who only a week ago appealed in person to Reagan to cancel his Bitburg visit, also referred, without mentioning his name, to the President’s incongruous remark that the German soldiers buried at Bitburg were “surely” as much victims of the Nazis as those incarcerated in the concentration camps.

“Such comparison is inadmissable because the SS symbolized absolute evil. There can be no reconciliation with the SS and what they represent,” he said.


Wiesel also called on the survivors and their children to “remember the righteous gentiles, the Allied armies, the Jewish Brigade.” He stressed further that “Our passion involves all those in jails in Soviet Russia, all those who want to remain Jews. We are here to say to the world that we, the survivors shall be the first to protest injustice anywhere in the world …”

The gathering on Parliament Hill yesterday was attended by members of the diplomatic corps, including the ambassadors of the U.S. and Israel; representatives of the Canadian government and of war veterans. Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, former spiritual leader of the Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto and now policy adviser to the Canadian government on refugees, read the invocation.

“We speak to our children, ” he said. “We speak to Canada, we speak to the world because we are the witnesses. Our eyes have seen what eyes should never see…”


Finance Minister Michael Wilson, speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who is out of the country, told the gathering, “We are united in our commitment to ensuring that the legacy of racism, oppression and genocide that the Holocaust represents, is never repeated.” He observed: “The shadow of the Holocaust can still stun us into an awful silence. For the dark side of humanity that the Nazi regime represented, is still with us, in the form of anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms. The danger of allowing racism to go unquestioned and unchecked remains. This danger must be challenged. We must accept this challenge because the unspeakable crime of the Holocaust revisits us every time any person is singled out or persecuted not for who they are but for what they are.”

Eliashev Ben Horin, the Israeli Ambassador to Canada, told the evening gathering, “We are told that new generations have nothing to do with the Holocaust but it is not only for the sake of the Jewish people that the Holocaust is remembered. Reconciliation is unreasonable if it means erasing our memories.”

Beate Klarsfeld remarked that for the German people, remembrance is not a collective guilt but a collective responsibility. Her husband, who is president of the Association of Jewish Deportees from France, said:

“Today in France, the Jewish youth affirms that they are children of the Holocaust. We have made the French government change the books of history and speak loudly to the French young people about the causes of the Holocaust. “He added, “We must make Germany create university chairs specializing in the Holocaust.”

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