April 5, 2021
Re: Upcoming debate on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism
Dear NDP Members,
We are known around the world as ‘Survivors.’ We were born into societies in Europe full of art, music, and vibrant culture. As political tides changed, we quickly saw our rights and our identities stripped away, and then our freedoms and finally our lives.
Today our numbers are dwindling, but our memories are as sharp as ever.
We remember our families gradually being excluded from the societies that they were once proud to be a part of. We remember being forced to wear yellow stars to visibly separate us from our neighbours, even if we looked and sounded otherwise alike. We remember being subject to laws meant to exclude us, piece by piece, from our surroundings, taking away our autonomy and humanity.
Most of us lost everyone that we knew, whether they were snatched from our homes in the early days of the war, separated from us as we moved from camp to camp, executed if they broke an arbitrary rule, gassed to death while they were sent for a ‘shower,’ or whether their bodies simply gave out from years of torture and abuse. We were young, but we emerged with nothing more than the shadows of the lives we once led.
We survived, and the luckiest among us made it to Canada. We were able to thrive here, and to start families and careers and businesses, to build a future for ourselves as Canadians. We have watched with pride as our children and grandchildren live out the dreams that our parents once had for us so long ago.
Today, as we share our stories to ensure that the world never forgets, we are alarmed at just how quickly the world seems to be forgetting. Hatred against Jews is on the rise in Canada, and while we remain a small minority group, hate crimes committed against us and our children and our grandchildren keep growing.
We cry with our grandchildren as they tell us about how they’re bullied at school for being Jewish, or we see our beloved community centres and places of worship vandalized with swastikas. We see Jewish cemeteries ransacked, and worry that our own graves may be among those destroyed in an attempt to erase our memories.
We also hear allegations of dual loyalties, or we are accused of having some secret agenda. We hear the ‘jokes’ and the comments and the blame and the demonization of our people that evoke a bias towards us which predates our parents and grandparents. This is a hatred that we know all too well, and we remember where it leads.
Now, more than ever, it is so important for us to recognize antisemitism, and call it out whenever we see it. Our faith dictates that we must do what we can to repair the world, and today we are the ones who need your help and support.
After thousands of years of persecution that continues to this day, we know antisemitism. We understand it better than anyone who has never been subjected to its ugliness. The global Jewish community alongside various government leaders worked tirelessly through the IHRA to spell out exactly what antisemitism is and what it looks like. The definition was hammered out over a decade, through consultations with scholars and academics and synagogues and community groups the world over and has been supported by numerous countries including Canada. The IHRA definition of antisemitism encompasses so much of what we deal with on a daily basis - a hatred that we would not wish upon anyone.
We are deeply alarmed by the motion that is being put forward at your convention to reject this definition. The IHRA definition of antisemitism is the majority consensus of the global Jewish community and, like every other group that has ever faced persecution, we have every right to name the prejudice and hatred we face. That right is ours.
We ask you to allow us and our community to speak for ourselves when defining the prejudices that we face. This is not just a matter of politics - it’s a matter of our voices being heard about an issue that uniquely affects us. We have had our voices silenced before as Jews, and we know exactly where it leads.
HedyBohm, Holocaust Survivor
Max Eisen, Holocaust Survivor
Andy Réti, Holocaust Survivor
Vera Schiff, Holocaust Survivor
Gershon Willinger, Holocaust Survivor