Prime Minister Trudeau delivers remarks at the March of the Living 30<sup>th</sup> Anniversary Gala
I want to say thanks to everyone gathered here at the March of the Living – A Gala, for the warm welcome. But I do want to begin by saying a few words about my dear friend Nate, who has so bravely shared his story with countless Canadians. He, along with other Holocaust survivors, many of whom are in the room tonight, have brought one of history’s darkest chapters to life. Reminding us of our shared responsibility to never let such hatred take root in our homes, our schools or our communities. To Eli Rubenstein, and the organizers of tonight’s event: National Chair Heshy Altbaum, Toronto Chair Marcy Abramsky, and dinner Chairs Ruth Ekstein, Tammy Gleid and Jennifer Green; I’d like to thank you for all you do to support this important, tremendous initiative.
And Tammy, as I did earlier, I want to publicly recognize the loss of your dad Bill – our loss of Bill – and salute all he did to support Holocaust education.
To my friends, our MPs Michael Levitt and Marco Mendicino, thank you for all that you do to promote and support this important initiative.
Justice Rosalie Abella, thank you for being here tonight, thank you for being such a friend. And one other friend here I want to recognize in the audience, for whom May 8th is also a special day, Irwin Cotler. Where are you Irwin? Irwin….
It’s Irwin’s birthday today. Irwin has been a good friend for a long time and helped me understand, as I started out as a politician, what matters and what doesn’t. And he still reminds me of that every time we see each other. He’s a true professor.
I’m honoured to be given the chance to share a few words with you on this meaningful evening. For the last thirty years, thousands of marchers have travelled to Poland to honour the memory of six million Jews who were brutally murdered by the Nazis. A tribute to both the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust, the March of the Living bears witness to the strength and resilience of the Jewish Community from generation to generation. I want to again commend the incredible leadership and dedication of Eli Rubenstein, who has led this march since its inception in 1988.
Through education and advocacy, he has reminded us of our collective responsibility, as Jews and of friends of the Jewish Community, to ensure that never again is never forgotten. So, thank you Eli, for all that you have done, especially in educating and inspiring our youth.
Being here with you today, on the 30th anniversary of the march, I’m reminded of my own visit to Poland, and my visit to Auschwitz accompanied by Rabbi Scheier. That was where I met Nate Leipciger, whose stories about his experience made my own experience that much more emotional. The memories Nate shared with me gave me a clear sense not just of the evil of the Holocaust, but also of hope in the face of a seemingly insurmountable situation.
Together, we stared at the barbed wire fences that once separated the victims from their captors. We marched along the railways that delivered so many Jews to their deaths. We laid our hands on the railcars that took mothers, sisters, fathers and sons away from their homes and away from each other – including Nate’s family. Together, we cried by the crematorium for all the innocent lives cut short by hatred, intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism. My visit to Auschwitz will forever stay with me and guide my time as Prime Minister. But also, my being a father, a husband, a son, a brother and a citizen, the heartbreaking reality of the Holocaust is one that I have not lived. But hearing Nate’s story and seeing the relics of this devastating chapter of history strengthened my resolve to carry on the legacy of those who perished. It was Eli Weisel who said, “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness.” That day I had become a witness to Nate, the same way thousands of marchers became witnesses to both the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust, every year, for the past thirty years.
The Holocaust taught us about the brutal power of silence. The devastating consequences of inaction underscored the guilt of those who stayed silent in the face of injustice, discrimination and racism. Countering hatred, intolerance and anti‑Semitism, every chance we get, in all its forms, is not just the responsibility of governments, or of members of a single religious community. It is a shared responsibility requiring the efforts and commitment of all members of society, regardless of belief, origin or age. As citizens, we have a duty to remember the stories of these innocent women and men, whose lives were stolen from them, and to ensure that these atrocities never happen again. Even today, according to the most recent figures, 17 percent of all hate crimes in Canada target Jewish people. And it pains me to say that Jewish people, more than other religious groups, are victims of hate crimes. We need to do more, as a society, to end xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still take root in our communities, in our schools and in our places of work.
According to the most recent figures, 17 percent of all hate crimes in Canada target Jewish people. And it pains me to say that Jewish people, more than other religious groups, are victims of hate crimes. We need to do more, as a society, to end xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still take root in our communities, our schools and in our places of work.
One of the things that I find so inspiring about the March is its commitment to education, which permeates everything you do. When I learned that you would be announcing scholarships that bear the names of survivors, I couldn’t help but think that there is truly no better tribute to their legacy. After all, education and knowledge is our most powerful tool against the ignorance and hatred that fueled the Holocaust. And I am proud to say that our government shares your commitment to the importance of Holocaust education. I would like to recognize the countless contributions the survivors and their families have made to the Jewish community, but also – and essentially – to our national fabric.
I stand here on May 8th, on Canada’s inaugural marking of Jewish Heritage Month, which was recently passed in the House of Commons.
But as a country, we must learn from our successes in tandem with our failures. Between 1933 and 1945, the Canadian government only accepted around 5,000 Jewish refugees, due to our discriminatory “none is too many” immigration policy of the time. A most egregious example of this misguided policy happened in 1939, when Canada turned away the MS St. Louis. The Canadian government infamously turned its back on 907 German Jews who were fleeing persecution. Forced to return to Europe, 254 were eventually killed in the Holocaust. We cannot turn away from this uncomfortable truth about ourselves and about our country, and of Canada’s part in it. We must learn from this story, remember this story, and let its lessons guide our actions going forward. And that is why I am proud to announce tonight that the Government of Canada will issue a formal apology in Parliament over the fate of the MS St. Louis and its passengers.
That is why I am proud to announce that the Government of Canada will issue a formal apology in Parliament over the fate of the MS St. Louis and its passengers. When we cruelly refused to allow the ship entry to Canada, we failed not just the passengers, but their descendants and our community as well. We did not show them the kindness and compassion they deserved.
Now, an apology in the House of Commons will not rewrite this shameful chapter of our history. It will not bring back those who perished, nor repair the lives shattered by tragedy. But it is our hope that this long overdue apology will bring awareness to our failings, as we vow to never let history repeat itself. I look forward to offering this apology on the floor of the House.
Once again, thank you all for all you do. And this, the March of the Living Gala, but all you do every day to contribute to the strength of your community. But mostly, to contribute every day to the strength of this extraordinary country.
Thank you, friends. Thank you.