Prime Minister Trudeau delivers remarks at the 2017 National Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony
Hello. Thank you Fran and Bruce for those words, for your kindness, and most of all for your leadership over the years with the Society for Yad Vashem and this wonderful event for so many of us on the Hill. I would also like to thank the…the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem for bringing us all together today.
Yad Vashem works tirelessly here in Canada and around the world to educate people about the Holocaust. And in keeping with this year’s theme, as I have been reminded on a deeply personal level this past year, the facts and the universal lessons and stories of the Holocaust must be known by everyone.
One of the most powerful ways that we can come to understand these truths and learn these lessons is by listening to the stories of survivors. Survivors like Nate Leipciger, who I’m sure many of you know. Nate was at my side when I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau last summer. It was there that he told me his own survivor’s story, and I’ll never forget it.
Just being there. Being there with a survivor, who today is nearly 90 years old, who saw first hand, through the eyes of a child, the boxcars, the barbed wire, the smoking chimneys. He was just slightly older than my oldest son. Nate told me the story of his family. But what has struck me the most today, and every time I think about it…since then what I have thought about is how important it is for Nate to tell this story to everyone who is ready to hear it. Especially young people. More than 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, it is easy to feel removed in time and in space.
But it also is an opportunity to remember that while the Holocaust took place on distant shores, as Canadians, we must always ever acknowledge our own errors and misdeeds. The most egregious example of this misguided policy where between 1933 and 1945 the Canadian government accepted only about 5,000 Jewish refugees, was in 1939 when Canada turned away the MS St. Louis. There were more than 900 refugees on board—European Jews seeking sanctuary here in Canada—and our government turned them away.
Forced to return to Europe, 254 were eventually killed in the Holocaust. We cannot and we must not turn away from this uncomfortable truth and Canada’s part in it. We must learn from this story and let its lessons guide our actions today and in the days to come. Because as stories like these remind us, the cruelty, the indifference, and the hatred that made the Holocaust possible is still possible today—even here in Canada.
So we must be vigilant, and we must stand firm. Discrimination, racism, anti‑Semitism are not Canadian values and will not be tolerated. The least threat, the smallest act of vandalism against a Jewish community centre, against a synagogue is already too much. And the same is true for Christian churches, for mosques, for gurdwaras and for mandirs.
When Nate and his father came to Canada, as have generations of Jewish Canadians since 1760, they came seeking a better life, a safer, more peaceful life in a place that doesn’t just respect religious differences but embraces them; that protects them, as we do in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which turned 35 years old this year.
To the honoured survivors who are here with us today, I wish to say a few things. I want to thank you on behalf of all Canadians for choosing to make Canada your home. You have helped to build a country that is overwhelmingly peaceful and prosperous—a place we can all be proud of. I want to thank you for all the ways you have given back to your communities, for the leadership you have shown when other religious groups have faced persecution or hate. And, above all, I want to thank you for sharing your stories. Your stories must be told and heard. Your experiences—which stand as a testimony, not only to unspeakable horror, but also to tremendous courage and resilience—must be known. They must be known because your personal accounts are precious and irreplaceable. They are the keys that can unlock in every heart the true resolve needed to change our world for the better, to make a world where we can all say with conviction and with confidence: never again.