Reflections on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The following piece by MP Murray Rankin appeared in a collection of reflections on the Holocaust and antisemitism from Canadian political leaders published in 2017 by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies.


On a bookshelf in my office, beside a window looking out on the Peace Tower, is a copy of None Is Too Many, the story of how Canada shut its doors to European Jews during the 1930s and 40s. Many Canadians today would be shocked to learn that those callous words were spoken by a senior bureaucrat not in 1933 or ’38, but in 1945, with the full horror of the Holocaust visible to the world.


Perhaps that small fact alone is enough to remind us that although today we are rightly proud of Canada’s diversity and vibrancy, the values that sustain an inclusive and pluralistic society cannot be taken for granted. Their preservation and defence demand a degree of dedication and vigilance that we have not always met.


Nor are we immune today from the troubling rise in anti-Semitism around the globe. Cities in Europe have seen Jewish targets attacked. Here in Ottawa, a neighbourhood awoke to find a swastika painted on the door of the local rabbi. And in the United States, a man rose to the presidency not inspiteofhis exploitation of economic anxiety, nativism and racial tensions—including playing on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories—but arguably because of it.


It’s saddening, but perhaps not surprising, that in times of economic anxiety and social change some people turn easily to well-worn myths that offer an Other to blame for our troubles—a nefarious order behind events that too often seem jarring and random. That division and disillusion is the soil in which casual bigotry, and then extremism, and then violence, can grow if left unchecked.


In some ways, however, that old dynamic has been altered by new technologies and means of communication. The same tools that enrich learning and trade, and bind together far-flung communities, now help extremists find like-minded peers and let baseless conspiracy theories rival the readership of real journalism. We are challenged, as elected leaders and legislators, to combat the dissemination of hate without corroding the very principles that underpin our free society.


Zero tolerance for anti-Semitism—as for discrimination in any form—must be engrained in our discourse. But it’s not enough. “Never again” must be more than a warning. It’s a common call—an obligation incumbent on all of us—to take positive action not only to honour and memorialize the victims of genocides, but also to build a society that offers greater inclusion and diversity, and an economy that works more fairly and equitably for all. 


Those are values that led me to politics, and to a social democratic party. As the Member of Parliament for Victoria, I represent an engaged community never short of volunteers and activists working to restore dignity and security to those on the margins. It’s also a riding with a vibrant Jewish community, at the heart of which is Canada’s oldest surviving synagogue. I’m proud that among the scores of my constituents opening their doors to Syrian refugees today are several families from that historic synagogue.


Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, Elie Wiesel said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” So now, more than ever, let us not be silent.


Now, more than ever, we need to learn from the shameful chapters in our history, displace hatred with love, and replace the politics of division with one that promotes greater inclusion, equality, and justice for all.