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I remember my first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Sterile buildings representing the darkest days of Jewish history, echoing the horrors of human hate. It was incomprehensible to me then, as it is to me now, how the world stood silent as Jews were marched into the gas chambers. My anger and pain only amplified as I witnessed the stories of Survivors recounting the days, months and sometimes years they spent in the camp. The brave souls holding back tears with every breath so that they could impart their story to me and hundreds of other high school students… so that WE WILL NEVER FORGET!
On January 27, 1945, the Red Army marched into and passed the town of Oscwitzen to liberate Auschwitz-Birkenau, the notorious Nazi death camp in occupied Poland where almost 1 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Last week, world leaders gathered at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to commemorate the 75th anniversary, to honour the lives that were tragically lost in the mass killing machine, and to take a stand against contemporary antisemitism.
In the present political climate, and with our Survivor population now largely in their 90s, witnessing and remembering is more important than ever. Montreal is home to almost 5,000 Survivors and we are committed to perpetuating their stories for future generations through March of the Living. We are proud to be a community that is sending over 250 kids on MOL this year, educating the next generation about the horrors of the Holocaust, and teaching them how to recognize and fight intolerance in all its forms.
Through the Montreal Holocaust Museum, which sees thousands of visitors every year, we educate about the atrocities and warn against antisemitism and hate. I encourage you to visit the museum today, which is offering free admission as well as a special event at 7 pm with Holocaust survivor Max Eisen in conversation with Jeanne Beker. Click here for more information.
Since my first time visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2003, I have made the difficult journey seven additional times. I have had the privilege of sharing this experience with hundreds of Montrealers as they bear witness to our history and commit themselves to never forget. Our responsibility and duty to the victims and Survivors is to make sure that their stories are never forgotten and will be told for generations to come.
Today, as we commemorate 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, the Jewish community of Montreal mourns the deaths and remembers the lives of the millions of innocent Jewish victims of the Holocaust. May their memories forever be a blessing.
Yair Szlak, LL.B
Chief Executive Officer, Federation CJA