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Calgary officially marks Holocaust Remembrance Day

Last Updated Jan 27, 2020 at 5:07 pm MDT

Calgary students hold songbooks as they prepare to sing during an event commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (PHOTO: Tom Ross, 660 NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — A somber event at Calgary City Hall officially marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday.

It’s been 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the city proclaimed that it will commemorate the occasion every year on January 27.

A large crowd filled the Municipal Atrium, including young students, members of the local Jewish community, dignitaries and survivors of the Holocaust.

“I had been left to die at the camp by the retreating Nazi guards,” recalled Sid Cyngiser, who was freed from a death camp 75 years ago along with his wife — but not before the rest of his family died.

“On that day, in that place, the very thought that I would be alive and standing before you today in this fine city of Calgary, in this wonderful country of Canada, was something that did not seem even remotely possible.”

Along with telling about the horrors of the Holocaust — which claimed the lives of 11 million Jews, Roma, Slavs, disabled people, members of the LGBT+ community and many more the Nazis deemed “undesirable” — was a message to continue the fight against hate and discrimination.

“Yes, we live in a world, where hate crimes are up. Acts of anti-Semitism, discrimination, hatred, religious bigotry of all kinds, are growing and growing and growing,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. “We have to understand how easy it is for us as a community to slip back.”

 

“Our job today and every day must be to stand against that evil, we must never, ever, ever, forget what has transpired.”

Prayers and songs were sung, with some people in the crowd moved to tears.

Displays at the back of the atrium also highlighted what happened during the Nazi campaign before and during the Second World War, to give even more information and reinforce that message to never forget.

Hearing accounts from survivors like Cyngiser was also noted to be very important.

“There’s really nothing that can teach you the truths of the Holocaust than hearing it firsthand,” said Calgary Jewish Federation President Yannai Segal. “While there’s archives and those will be preserved, while people can they should really reach out and hear the stories of survivors, be able to questions and really take everything to heart.”

Segal added while it may be hard for some people to relate to what happened more than seven decades ago, the lessons that stretch from it remain extremely relevant.

“One (lesson) is the importance of life, the beauty of life, and how we can ourselves go and move forward knowing how life is fleeting and how these survivors — that really were reduced to human skeletons — went on to build homes and families and communities, including Calgary. The other piece is to be aware of our actions,” Segal said.

PHOTOS: Calgary marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day

There are also calls to keep young generations informed of the Holocaust, as one speaker cited a study that one in five youth in Canada are not sure of the events that took place.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the Roman Empire or the Holocaust, because it’s that far away,” said Dr. Melanie Carina Schmoll with the University of Calgary. “It’s always older people talking about this topic, we need a connection to younger people and their heroes.”

Schmoll said some efforts are encouraging, such as engaging celebrities in getting the message out and utilizing new technology like virtual reality and holograms to tell the story.

“It’s more than just lip services,” she said. “Maybe we haven’t learned that much from history.”

Cyngiser echoed these concerns and urged people to stay vigilant as he sees some of the same issues coming up now as when he did when he was young.

“Seventy-five years later, amid worrisome signs of anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination and hatred are on the rise and becoming an increasing threat to not only Canada but around the world,” he said. “The lessons of the Holocaust remain as relevant and crucial as ever.”

Across Alberta, other politicians took time to mark the day of remembrance.

Premier Jason Kenney tweeted a video to mark the occasion saying, “Every January 27, we remember the unfathomable crime of the Holocaust and vow to educate future generations about the Shoah.”

Opposition leader Rachel Notley tweeted saying, “We recommit to confronting anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. By remembering the horror of the Shoah, we ensure future generations never forget.”