Why we must honour our veterans every day of the year
By Michael Levitt
Last week, Canadians across the country paused at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, to honour the memory and sacrifices of our veterans. While we have a sacred duty to commemorate Remembrance Day each year, we have a moral responsibility to care for and respect our veterans on the other 364 days as well.
Sitting in our Toronto office at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center is a black, leather-bound photo album. Contained within its pages are dozens of photos taken by a 21-year-old RCAF pilot, Robert Robinson, who had a camera with him in 1945 when he entered the gates of Bergen Belsen concentration camp and became a witness to the horrific crimes of the Nazi regime. The photos he captured are explicit and disturbing, giving us a small glimpse into what Allied soldiers experienced while liberating Nazi concentration camps at the end of the Second World War.
Tragically, we don’t have a first-hand account of the liberation from Robinson himself; he never spoke of these memories and the photos only came to light after his death, discovered by relatives in a long-forgotten drawer.
How did the experience of liberating a concentration camp affect Robinson in the years after the war? Why did he bear the burden of these horrific memories in silence for so many years?
We can’t know for certain, but he likely buried these memories for the same reasons that many veterans struggle to speak about their wartime experiences. Veterans often have difficulty reconciling their pre-and postwar lives and many live with the added burden of physical and mental trauma. The process of re-entering civilian life can be incredibly difficult and isolating.
The best way we can honour the courage and sacrifices of our veterans, beyond passing the torch of remembrance, is to take proactive steps to strengthen community support networks and veteran-oriented social services, many of which are threatened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.