Holocaust Remembrance Day sparks conversations about global rise of antisemitism

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Holocaust Remembrance Day sparks conversations over antisemitism
WATCH:Saturday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It's a time to reflect and remember one of the darkest times in human history. As part of the campaign in Canada, public venues across the country, including monuments, city halls, public legislatures, and more will be bathed in yellow light in memorial of those murdered. Our Caryn Lieberman sits down with a Holocaust survivor to discuss her story and her life today – Jan 27, 2024

The only token Hedy Bohm has left from her mother is a handwritten letter from 1939.

In fact, all the Holocaust survivor has to show for her life during the Second World War is a notebook and her vivid memories.

“I was in hell in Auschwitz. It was truly hell,” Bohm told Global News.

It hasn’t always been easy for Bohm to relive her past since she began to share her story 15 years ago, but she says it’s been worth the educational impact it’s had on a new generation.

She says she and other fellow survivors felt they were contributing to a positive change in the global perception of Jews, but current conflict overseas has brought on new doubts.

“To see the faces of the students (and) the eyes as they understood and learned new things that they weren’t aware of … kept me going. Looking back, we question if there was any good in what we did,” Bohm said.

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“Whatever we did, it wasn’t enough.”

The world marked 79 years since Auschwitz’s liberation on Saturday, Jan. 27. However, Holocaust Remembrance Day this year comes at a dark time for the Jewish community as authorities from multiple countries report a rise in antisemitic crimes.

“What we see now is devastating – a worldwide hatred of Jews,” Bohm said.

Hedy Bohm
Hedy Bohm is a Holocaust survivor living in Toronto. Toronto Holocaust Museum
PICTURED: Hedy Bohm with her mother. Toronto Holocaust Museum

Muslim and Jewish community groups have told Global News that incidents of verbal abuse, vandalism, hate and intimidation targeting Canadians across the country have spiked since Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

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B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy and rights organization, said in mid-October they were observing a “great threat assessment increase” against the Jewish community, with incitement at university campuses and on the streets, and genocidal slogans targeting Jews at rallies.

In Toronto alone, local police said there were 98 hate crimes reported between Oct. 7 and Dec. 17, 2023, compared to 48 during the same period in 2022. More than half of the incidents were antisemitic.

Click to play video: 'Canada sees rise in antisemitic incidents since start of Hamas-Israel conflict'
Canada sees rise in antisemitic incidents since start of Hamas-Israel conflict

Educational institutions have been hot spots for hate related to the Middle East conflict the past few months, including Concordia University in Montreal where a brawl between two students in November led to multiple injuries and an arrest.

Raheel Raza from the Council of Muslims against Antisemitism says Canada’s Jewish community has every right to be scared.

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“What is happening in synagogues, schools and businesses, people’s homes … this is not Canada,” she told Global News.

Two Jewish schools in Montreal were also targets of antisemitic attacks in November, with one school being hit by gunfire twice within the same week. No injuries were reported, but the incidents prompted urgent calls for action.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians in a news conference that month to denounce violent antisemitism in the strongest terms and called for calm.

“This hate doesn’t have its place here in Montreal, or anywhere in Quebec or anywhere in Canada,” Trudeau told reporters in Longueuil.

Rabbi Menachem Karmel, the principal of Yeshiva Gedola’s Elementary, said the antisemitic school attack is “unconscionable.”

“I looked at it not just literally as someone shooting bullets through the door of the school, but figuratively (as) someone shooting a bullet into this warm,  beautiful community, and just shaking us up for absolutely no reason other than hatred and bias,” he told Global News on Nov. 12.

Click to play video: 'Holocaust Remembrance Day'
Holocaust Remembrance Day

On Saturday, about 20 survivors from various camps set up by Nazi Germany around Europe laid wreaths at the Death Wall in Auschwitz to mark the 79th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.

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The ceremony in southern Poland memorialized the 1.1 million camp victims, most of whom were Jews. Nearly 6 million European Jews were killed by the Nazis before and during the Second World War.

Jan Grabowski, a history professor at the University of Ottawa, says the Holocaust has “unfortunately” become a tension point on the political landscape.

“What you see now is that, from the left and from the right, you will have … attempts to influence the celebration, the commemoration of (Holocaust Remembrance Day),” he told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Hate crimes increase in 2023, most calls about antisemitism: Toronto police'
Hate crimes increase in 2023, most calls about antisemitism: Toronto police

From a historical perspective, Grabowski says it’s not surprising that the conflicts in the Middle East would have an impact on how the world reflects on the Holocaust.

“The left is (attempting) to justify the policies of the state of Israel, while the right side will have typical old antisemitism fueled by this atmosphere of conflict and war. So we have now a fairly unprecedented explosion of antisemitism which is fueled by several political movements,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Bohm hopes that people will take every opportunity to hear the stories of the past to prevent history from repeating itself.

“I can imagine a world where people are kind to one another, regardless of colour and religion and nationality,” she said.

— with files from Global’s Saba Aziz and Caryn Lieberman

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