“The World has not changed enough.” That’s what Ziv Nevo Kulman, the Israeli Consul General, told the small audience gathered in Vanier’s conference room for the college’s 24th annual Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony. Several distinguished guests made an appearance on the 13th of April, including Mr. Kulman, representatives from Germany and Austria, as well as several first and second-generation Holocaust survivors.
The theme of the ceremony, and of Vanier’s Holocaust Symposium Week, was “Fear of the Other”, a theme which was frequently connected to current events around the world. Perhaps a better statement of the day’s theme could have gone something like this: What have we learned? Have we learned anything? Are atrocities the likes of which were carried out in World War II behind us for good?
Answers from the day’s guests were very mixed, some optimistic, some already seeing danger signs in the headlines. One speaker used the theme of “Fear of the Other” to mention the meteoric rise in popularity of American presidential candidate Donald Trump. Ingrid, an invitee from Austria, grimly informed the audience of her country’s lack of proper Holocaust education during her childhood, and unwillingness to properly accept blame for Austria’s role in the genocide.
Perhaps the speaker with the greatest cause for concern was Mr. Kulman, himself descended from Holocaust survivors. He expressed fears that the young people of today would dismiss the lessons of the Holocaust the same way he and his generation did. “We often did not want to listen to our parents and grandparents. How can we expect someone from the other side of the world to understand?”
There were still glimmers of optimism throughout the presentation. Walter Leuchs, the German consul general, did not beat around the issue with his speech, saying that Germany had long since accepted responsibility for the atrocities committed during the Second World War. However, he was not willing to accept the guilt himself. “I am not ashamed to be German,” he said. “Germany has changed very much since then.”
Perhaps the most affecting presentation came from Yulia Yugay, a Vanier student enrolled in the Holocaust and Totalitarianism course who had the chance to visit former concentration camps in central and Eastern Europe. An emotional video prepared by Ms. Yugay of her journey, which included handheld footage of concentration camps, was the surest sign that the Millennial generation understood the severity of this dark moment in history.
The commemoration was concluded with a number of ceremonial presentations; A performance of a Jewish prayer by two music students, words and prayers from the Rabbi Ruben Poupko, and the lighting of ceremonial candles. It was a quiet, sombre ending to a somewhat tense, bleak but insightful ceremony. The only thing missing was a larger audience to take in the discussion. Hopefully the ceremony will be able to secure a larger venue, and an eager audience of young listeners, this time next year.
Written By: Ian Down