Heritage minister’s snub won’t be forgotten, by Lubomyr Luciuk, The Kingston Whig Standard, July 6, 2018
As I write these words, it’s been 957 days since I sent the Honourable Melanie Joly, minister of Canadian Heritage, a letter. I’m still waiting for an answer. That’s a long time. A fit hiker could carry her reply from Ottawa to Kingston along the 327 kilometres of the Rideau Trail in nine to 16 days. Or, to put this in another Canadian timeline, there are 479 days before the next federal election.
I know Joly is a busy lady, but she does use Twitter a lot. Since I don’t, I posted letters to her again in October and November 2017. No response.
Yet Minister Joly has briskly reacted to others. After she was scolded in the House of Commons over the wording of the plaque she unveiled on Sept. 27, 2017, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the National Holocaust Monument, she quickly ordered a new one. The original text read:
"The National Holocaust Monument commemorates the millions of men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust and honours the survivors who persevered and were able to make their way to Canada after one of the darkest chapters in history."
I thought that inscription was fine. Apparently, others did not. On Oct. 4, 2017, the BBC boomed: "Canada forgets to mention Jewish people at Holocaust memorial." Within six days, Joly announced a rewording to emphasize Jewish losses. In truth, they were never discounted, minimized or ignored. On Nov. 15, 2015, I reminded Joly how the monument’s architect, Daniel Libeskind, shaped it as a Star of David — surely there can be no more iconic Judaic symbol? And wall plaques inside refer specifically and repeatedly to Jewish victims, resistance and survival, as they should.
What I asked Joly, well before the monument was built, was to make sure all victims of Nazi tyranny were hallowed there. I explained I knew people, like the late Stefan Petelycky (Auschwitz tattoo No. 154922), who were Holocaust survivors, even if they happened to be Ukrainian Catholic by faith and nationalist by political affiliation. A post-war refugee who immigrated to Canada, Petelycky recalled his circumstances on May 8, 1945, the day the Second World War ended:
"I lay in the cold embrace of other men who had been brought to this place and worked to death, men whom I had never known and never will, not in this world. I lay there and would have been shoved into the oven that had already consumed so many others if it had not been for my OUN comrades from the Melk camp [who] had come over "¦ to look for me and other survivors. They had just about given up and were leaving when they saw me twitching on a pile of corpses, atop my own Golgotha, near the crematorium building, ready to be burned alive. They pulled me down from the pile, saved me from those all-consuming flames. And that is how I came back to the world of the living, on the very day when Ukrainians celebrate the Resurrection of Christ."
On Jan. 15, 2018, Minister Joly pledged this Holocaust monument would acknowledge "other groups" victimized by the Nazis. When I visited, however, the only "other groups" included were homosexuals, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma and Sinti, the disabled, and Afro-Germans. Certainly, the United States Holocaust Museum confirms these were targeted communities. An estimated 25 per cent of Europe’s Gypsies perished. Dozens of Afro-Germans suffered, 200,000 disabled people were euthanized and about 3,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses killed. Including them is appropriate. But what about the two to three million Poles put to death? Or the millions of Ukrainians, Belarusians and Russians branded untermenschen (subhumans) and enslaved or murdered by the Nazis? My late mother was press-ganged into the service of the Third Reich. Why are people like her and all those other millions of victims not mentioned at our National Holocaust Monument?
Worse, there’s something abhorrent inside this memorial. Etched into its massive concrete walls are evocative photographs of Nazi death camps, gas chambers and ovens. And right there the builders installed an emergency gas shut-off (for an "eternal flame" not actually working when I was there), a rather unconscionable juxtaposition. Not wanting embarrassing public attention about this, I spoke with several well-placed friends in Ottawa who alerted the responsible Heritage bureaucrats, our assumption being they would quickly and quietly fix this faux pas. A gas shut-off valve near an image of gas ovens used to incinerate humans? Who cares?
Since I can’t be bothered with the twits on Twitter, south or north of the border, Minister Joly will get nothing more from me other than a postcard I just dropped into my local mailbox. It asks why Ukrainian victims of the Holocaust were deliberately excluded from a Canadian monument all taxpayers helped pay for. And I will be sure to remember her discourtesy when I vote in just 479 days. I can wait. I’ve already proven I’m a patient sort of fellow.
Lubomyr Luciuk is a member of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (www.uccla.ca). He lives in Kingston.