Jewish Montrealers remember Holocaust victims in sombre ceremony

Jewish Montrealers crowded into a Cote-St-Luc synagogue for a special service to remember the 6 million who perished during the Holocaust seven decades ago.

Officials from every level of government and beyond were present for the ceremony, including Premier Philippe Couillard and Israeli Consul-General David Levy.  Couillard spoke as the service began and remarked that the Jewish community has remained vibrant despite the challenges it has faced throughout history.  He paid special tribute to the Jewish tradition of education, saying, "You have sustained your diverse community, working in partnership with government to support a school network that is both effective and modern."

But despite the presence of Couillard, Levy and other government officials, the focus was not on them this evening.  Rather, it was on those who had survived the terrible tragedy that killed 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.  Montreal has the third-largest population of post-Holocaust refugees on the planet, after Israel and New York, and many participated in tonight's ceremony, lighting candles with their families, and telling their stories to those who were not there.

Vera Vertes was imprisoned in the notorious concentration camp Auschwitz with her two sisters when she was a teenager.  Eventually, she was moved to a German labour camp, but by then, both of her sisters had died.  "[When we were separated], I never saw them again," she told CJAD 800.

Her husband Leslie was imprisoned in a labour camp in Hungary, and eventually escaped.  Both of them say its important to pass on the memories of the Holocaust to younger generations.

He says "If you don't know the past, you don't know what happened, and why it happened, and then you cannot avoid it [happening again]." 

Leslie also added that as they learn more about the history of the Holocaust, young people are often inspired to fight against discrimination and injustice. "At that time, people didn't speak up, and now [young people] have to speak up, and you do", he said.