The Holocaust is a genocide that took the lives of millions of individuals from 1933 to 1945. The purpose of the genocide was to cleanse the population of Central and Eastern Europe in such way to impose the Nazi regime ideal of the Aryan race. To the Nazis, this race was believed to be the superior type of humanity. However, Nazi racial ideology viewed Jews as being sub-human. Therefore, they carried out, under Adolph Hitler, a systematic extermination of the Jewish population killing 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews. Many other groups were also targeted by these attacks including twins and triplets (for medical experiments), Romani people, LGBTQ and people with mental disabilities.
These individuals were often placed in concentration camps, like Auschwitz. Sent to this camp by train, many believed they were to enter a room for a hot shower following travel. However, it wasn’t a room, but rather a chamber, where a pesticide called Zyklon B. would be used to exterminate them, making those the final walls they would see. Approximately one in six Jewish deaths occurred at this very camp, with a grand total of roughly one million lives lost.
This antisemitism wasn’t unknown in Canada. For example, in Manitoba, there was a beach with a sign that stated, “No Jews alowed”. In fact, there were antisemetic groups scattered around Canada. However, Jews were especially vulnerable in Quebec. A Roman Catholic priest under the name of Lionel Giroux, enforced anti-refugee rhetoric on the radio and in journals. Additionally, Adrien Arcand established Le Parti National Social Crétien, an anti-Jewish political group. Furthermore, many “swastika clubs” were also organized in Ontario.
Unbeknownst to many Canadians, the country turned away many Jewish seeking asylum. On June 7th of 1939, 907 Jewish refugees were aboard the MS St. Louis. These passengers were denied entry into numerous countries, including Cuba and the United States. Canada was a last hope for these individuals. Sadly, Canada treated them no differently and also closed its’ doors to them, leaving many to stray on the ship and to die of starvation. Jews were categorized as being the “least desirable” of immigrant groups in Canada. Tragically, Canada was the Western country that accepted the fewest Jewish refugees during the Second World War, accounting for only 5,000 saved souls.
Following this tragedy, Raphael Lempkin a lawyer of Polish and Jewish decent coined the word Genocide. This term stems from the Greek word genos (family, tribe, or race) and –cide, Latin for killing. Now, mass murder of a group using physical, biological and cultural measures is forbidden by international law.
A whopping 90% of the Holocaust survivors were aged of 16 to 45 years, leaving the youngest survivors at over age 70 today. As time progresses, the number of survivors steadily decreases. We remember the victims, especially on January 27th, the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Many survivors are raising their voices, to speak on behalf of those who no longer can. Take a minute, two days from today, to remember them.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.