On Friday, many Winnipeggers paid tribute to the millions who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
Jan. 27 is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day designated by the United Nations to honour the six million Jewish men, women and children who lost their lives during the Holocaust and the millions of other victims of Nazism.
For Belle Jarniewski, it’s a day that is close to her heart. Her mother was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944 and survived. Her father was also a Holocaust survivor, and her half-brother tragically died in the Holocaust in 1942.
“This has impacted my life growing up, not having grandparents because they were murdered in the Holocaust and not having any extended family, really,” Jarniewski told Global News.
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An event commemorating International Holocaust day was held at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights on Friday. Earlier this week the Jewish Heritage Centre held an event to reopen its newly renovated Holocaust Education Centre.
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Jarniewski is the executive director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. The new space features modern display cases, new artifacts from the public and from the archives, a computer kiosk with a visual history archive, as well as a projection featuring the names of 1,050 Holocaust survivors who resettled in Winnipeg after the war.
“Something we added was to tell the story of life before the Holocaust,” Jarniewski said. “(It’s) something we felt was missing to give people an idea of the rich and diverse lives our survivors led, and also to give an idea of what was lost.”
“It’s a tribute to (the survivors), it’s a tribute to their courage for rebuilding their lives. I want (visitors) to understand that people who settled in Winnipeg have overcome really this incredible trauma,” she said, noting that many survivors had to regain years of lost education and then went on to build successful lives.
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“We also want people to understand how fragile democracy is. Because after all, it’s 90 years this year since the Nazis took power and really overturned democracy far too easily, and we need to remember that. We also need to remember that we have a responsibility to speak out, we have a responsibility to make choices, and want to especially preserve these stories as our survivors are still with us in their 90s.
“Now it’s our turn to ensure those stories are preserved.”
Jarniewski says Holocaust education is more important now than ever before, especially amid a troubling rise in antisemitic events in Canada and around the world.
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“I feel that the history of the Holocaust is really under siege. I feel that distortion is a huge problem. We saw that of course during COVID, with people comparing the health restrictions to the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust,” Jarniewski said.
Jarniewski also says recent polls also show a very low level of Holocaust knowledge among younger generations, adding Holocaust education is currently not mandated in Canada. She believes it should be.
“Antisemitism is on the rise. It’s on the rise here, in Canada, it’s risen year after year,” she said.
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“We’ve seen physical attacks, we’ve seen a lot of problems in schools, we’ve seen people putting swastikas on the walls, saying hateful things about Jews, blaming Jews for everything that goes wrong in the world. We need to do a better job educating and we need to do a better job understanding that this is a huge problem.”
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Jarniewski says it’s just one of many reasons why she’s committed to preserving the memory of the victims and sharing the stories of survivors, like her parents.
“This is something that I feel a responsibility to the memory of my parents having had the courage to even have a child after everything they lost – my father lost a child, who was murdered as well as his first wife during the Holocaust. I’m one of so many,” she said.
“There are six million men, women and children who did not survive and did not go on to have children and grandchildren and subsequent generations, and we need to remember them.”
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