by Alan Simons
“The week of November 1-9, 2010, provides an opportunity for all Canadians to honour and preserve the memory of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Among the many odious crimes of the 20th century, few, if any, can match the extent and evil of the Shoah…”
-Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada.
TORONTO, October 24, 2010- The 30th anniversary of Holocaust Education Week will take place in Toronto and the surrounding region, from November 1 to November 9. This year more than 30,000 participants are expected to attend over 150 educational and cultural programmes. The central theme for 2010 is “We Who Survived.”
Toronto’s Annual Holocaust Education Week is a vast undertaking. It is regarded as the largest event of its kind in North America. The events, some of which are in French, Hebrew and Russian, take place in synagogues, churches, hospitals, universities, public libraries, seniors’ residences and in over 35 schools. About eighty volunteers, with the support of four staff members of Toronto’s Holocaust Education Centre, are responsible for the week.
Once again, as in previous years, it is unfortunate that Toronto’s vibrant Muslim community, estimated at nearly half a million people, seem incapable or perhaps lack the courage to come forward to participate and extend their community’s involvement against racism, hate, intolerance and Holocaust denial.
This is not a trivial matter. Toronto’s religious landscape is significantly changing in the greater Toronto area. By 2017, according to projections by Stats Canada, approximately one out of six residents will be non-Christian. And coupled with the decline in the population of the Jewish community, these are potentially important challenges on the horizon Holocaust Education Week will have to address.
However, that said, Holocaust Education Week has already started to rise to this challenge.
One event is particularly worth attending, especially in view of the current sad state of political Israeli-Turkish relations. Dr. Arnold Reisman, noted authority on Turkey’s role during the Holocaust, will talk about the little known role played by the Muslim-born Turkish diplomat Behiç Erkin, Ambassador to France, as well as other courageous Turkish diplomats in France, who were instrumental in saving thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. Yet, as Reisman indicates in his new book “An Ambassador and a Mensch,” (seen here on the right) few have heard of their noble and often harrowing efforts. “They acted independently against the extant policy of Ankara, risking the wrath and ire of their own government as well as those of Germany and its puppet regime, Vichy France,” Reisman added. This event is scheduled for Sunday November 7 at 10:00 am.
In addition, the Albanian rescue of Jews – Albanian Muslim families who sheltered and welcomed Jews until the war ended – will be examined by Albanian Jews, whose families survived, as well as by their Albanian Muslim rescuers.
Other events also include subjects dealing with African genocide experiences. Mariatu Kamara gives an account of how, at 12 years of age, she became a genocide survivor during the brutal wars in Sierra Leone, and Régine Uwibereyeho King, a survivor of the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, will discuss some of the consequences of the Rwanda genocide, initiated by the Hutus, and steps made towards recovery.
There’s a Turkish proverb: “A cup of coffee commits one to forty years of friendship.” One would hope that over a cup of coffee the 30th Annual Holocaust Education Week’s programme will help to extend a hand in friendship between all communities, irrespective of race, religion and colour.
– Even while the heinous crime of all time, the Shoa, was being perpetrated, acts of kindness were offered from diverse sources, even Germans! In our own family’s case, as I related in a recent lecture in Michigan, we were spirited and hidden in a mountain cave on Mt. Pelion, Greece. With the unfolding tragedy to the Jews now certain, confirmation of what transpired to their co-religionists set in motion desperation, and panic. Metropolitan Ioakim, Chief Rabbi Moshe Pessah, even the kindly-disposed German Consul Helmut Scheffel, sought to warn the Jews and urge their dispersion into the countryside, to blend with the local population. My own survival was directly due to the humanity of a German officer head of patrol who, upon discovering our hideout, shouted “raus,” ordering exit to his troops, never to bother us again! Our everlasting lament must still be that there were not enough such expressions of humane behavior, otherwise 87% of the pre-war Jewish population of Greece would not have perished.
Comment by Prof. Asher J Matathias (USA) | October 26, 2010
– With all due respect, I think that Dr. Reisman (an engineer and not an historian) fails to prove his point. He uses a pseudo-mathematical approach to support his claim that Behic Erkin and his subordinates went out of their ways to save Jews of Turkish origin.
He does not apply valid historical tools to underpin his claims.
Above all, one has to understand that Turkey was neutral during the greatest part of the war, and as such, it was obliged to protect its citizens. The question remains as to whether Turkey has protected Jews whose Turkish citizenship were not in order. To the best of my knowledge, this claim has been never proved.
Presenting Dr. Reisman as an authority in this subject, is misleading.
Comment by Saul Benderovich (Israel) | October 28, 2010