Holocaust Education Week Coming Up!

By Belinda
Note: I almost forgot to add that this post was submitted as Whatever He Says's entry in Dave Hingsburger's 6th Annual Disability Blog Carnival!

My continuing story about Mum is not forgotten, but the 32nd annual Holocaust Education starts next week (it runs from November 1-8,) and this year I intend to participate in it by attending as many local events as I can manage. I reviewed the brochure, Culture of Memory,  published by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto and chose carefully from an overwhelming number of options.

Yesterday I had the honour of attending the grand opening ceremony of The Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden, at the Reena Community Residence in the City of Vaughan.

Paul had the greater honour of having participated for two years on the committee designing the garden and of being the keynote speaker. Sometime in the next week I will share a story, or maybe more than one, from yesterday, but for today I will share a short part of his speech and some photos of the day.

 “Memory is what shapes us. Memory is what teaches us. We must understand that’s where our redemption is.”

“It is not enough to curse the darkness of the past. Above all, we have to illuminate the future. "

These statements, made by Estelle Laughlin, Holocaust survivor, encapsulate the vision of the Education Centre and the Holocaust Remembrance Garden: 

We must learn the dark lessons of the past so that our future is brighter and better for all people.

The vision of the education centre and garden is to promote tolerance of racial minorities and those who are marginalized in our society; to highlight what can happen when people who are different become devalued.

In the case of the Holocaust as in other genocides, those who were most vulnerable were the first victims. The dehumanization and marginalization of people was the initial step in desensitizing the public to inhumane acts, beginning with compulsory sterilization of those judged unworthy to reproduce.

But the eugenics movement, with its roots in Social Darwinism and “survival of the fittest,” did not begin in Nazi Germany and this philosophy was embraced in rural North America well beyond the first half of the 20th century.

In 1933, it was an American Eugenics Society ‘model sterilization law’ that was adopted in Nazi Germany. 

The eugenics movement helped justify class systems and racism and implied that some groups of people had less value. The movement argued that people with an intellectual disability were the cause of many social problems and needed to be removed from society.

“The Law for the Prevention of Diseased Offspring” came into effect in Nazi Germany on July 14, 1933, laying the groundwork for the 1935 Nuremberg Laws.These laws formed the legal basis for the killing of the disabled, political dissenters, Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, and religious minorities under the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945. [1]

It’s important to remember that no society is immune to ideologies that devalue people. In Canada, Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act, received Royal assent on March 21, 1928 and was only repealed in 1972. This legislation enabled the government to perform involuntary sterilizations on individuals classified as “mentally deficient.” Over the span of 43 years, 2,832 procedures were actually performed.

Ontario too, under the influence of the eugenics movement, separated men and women from one another in institutions. It is likely that involuntary sterilizations occurred here too. In Nazi Germany, sterilizations were followed by the so called “mercy killing” of children with disabilities through the program known as “T4.” Next came the killing of “impaired” adults from mental institutions in centres equipped with carbon monoxide gas.

The organization and creation of the infrastructure and killing centres resulted in the rounding up and killing of over 200,000 people who had disabilities, with little public opposition. This led to genocide; the attempt to destroy the entire Jewish race.

Holocaust survivor, Sara Bloomfield, says that, “The important thing to understand about this cataclysmic event is that it happened in the heart of Europe. Germany was respected around the world for its leading scientists, its physicians, its theologians. It was a very civilized, advanced country. It was a young democracy, but it was a democracy. And yet it descended not only into social collapse but world war and eventually mass murder.”[2]...

Standing here today reminds me of a winter morning in 2011 when I visited Yad Vashem the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. There the names of every child that perished in the Holocaust are read out perpetually.

Yad Vashem means "a place and a name" or "a monument and a memorial": Preserving the Past to Ensure the Future.

Today, we remember those who have come from a culture that threatened them with death to one that celebrates their life; those who have come from the shadows of exclusion to inclusion; and from captivity, to freedom. We congratulate Reena and celebrate with them, the outstanding contribution of these wonderful resources to the community and society.

[1] Eugenics and the Firewall, Canada’s Nasty Little Secret, p. 15 -Jane Harris-Zsovan, J.Gordon Shillingford Publishing Inc.
[2] Sara Bloomfield, Director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, from the video, “Why We Remember the Holocaust.”


CapriUni said…
Thank you for this report. The fact that the Holocaust started with the disabled is too often forgotten, and it's one reason why the preference for "cure" and "prevention" over rights, inclusion, and dignity in our current culture still sends shivers down my spine.

I live far from Toronto. But just the knowledge that this memorial garden exists is a joy.
Belinda said…
Thank you CapriUni, I didn't know how to add my name to my comment on your powerful post, but in the blog carnaval, but I was the anonymous who loved your singing voice! :)
CapriUni said…
Aha! So now, that "Anonymous" is anonymous no more...

And... Thank you. My singing voice is iffy, but both those songs happen to be in my comfort key, so...
Susan said…
What a privilege and honour for you to have shared so intimately in this event...

Paul's speech was both moving and enlightening - and supportive, and however serious and sober the occasion, hope was skilfully woven in . I don't want to say "I loved reading this" but I did. Well done.

P.S. He looks great in a yarmulke! :)
Rickismom said…
thank you, well written
Belinda said…
Susan it truly did feel like a privilege and honour.
Belinda said…
Dear Ricki's Mom, Thank you. My thoughts are with you often.

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