Mr. Chair, before I begin my remarks, I will indicate that I will be splitting my time with the member for Ajax—Pickering, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
I would like to begin by saying that in 1945, when the horrors of the Shoah became known to the world, the world came together and said, “Never again”. “Never again” must not be seen as a hollow phrase. “Never again” must be a call to action for all people of good conscience to stand together against the scourge of anti-Semitism and racism, in whatever form it may take, and for all people to stand together and support each other when they face hatred.
My colleagues tonight on all sides of the House have spoken quite eloquently about anti-Semitism. I want to talk more about the personal side of my own experience.
My dad, as many members know, was a survivor of the Holocaust and was the only survivor from his family. My dad was in Auschwitz. He was 12 when he was interred in the ghetto in Lodz, which, before the war in 1939, had 225,000 Jewish inhabitants, out of 600,000 people. By the war's end, only 300 Jewish residents of Lodz had survived.
In 1944, my dad and grandfather were taken to Auschwitz on the last transport out of the ghetto. My grandmother and my dad's younger brother had already been taken earlier to another death camp two years earlier, Chelmno, which was located outside of Lodz, where the Germans had set up vans. These were not just ordinary vans. These were vans where the exhaust pipe fed back into them so that all of the people were asphyxiated who were put into the vans.
My dad was taken to Auschwitz in 1944 with the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto, and upon arrival there, the SS man sent my grandfather in one direction to the gas and my dad to slave labour.
My dad never spoke a word about what happened. When he came to Canada in 1947, he came with a number on his arm, a shirt on his back, but more importantly, hope in his heart, like most immigrants who come to Canada do. He built a family here. He built a life. He chose hope over despair.
I grew up in the Bathurst Manor area of Toronto, which has a large number of Holocaust survivors. Many of my friends' parents were survivors. As kids, we all wanted to know about our parents' experiences, but we did not dare ask, because we knew intuitively that we should not ask, because it just showed too much pain on our parents' faces for them to talk about, so we did not ask, and we grew up without knowing.
A couple of months ago, I was contacted by a fellow who lives in the riding of York Centre. He called and asked me if I am the Adler whose father was Abram Adler from Lodz. I said yes, and he said he had a story for me. He said he knew my dad's family in the ghetto and that there was something I should know. He said that before the Germans had sealed the ghetto, in the spring of 1940, my uncle, Chaim, was part of a group of Jewish men who would go out at night after the German curfew and smuggle food and clothes to Jewish children's orphanages. He said that one particular night, Chaim was told to drive the truck because he was the only one who knew how to drive a truck. They were caught by the Germans. They were all made to lie face down on the street outside of the orphanage, and they were all shot in the head. He then told me that the SS went into the orphanage and shot all the children. He thought I should know this story.
Another story is about friends of my parents. This fellow was a survivor who married a women from Canada. I remember my parents saying that when he went to sleep at night, he would wake up almost every night, screaming and in a cold sweat. His wife had to place a Canadian and an American flag at the foot of their bed to reassure him when he woke up, he was safe. The dreams he would have were so torturous, recalling what happened to him during the Shoah.
This is the kind of environment I grew up in as the child of a Holocaust survivor. When I went to my friends' bar mitzvahs, they were attended by hundreds of people, but at my own bar mitzvah there were no grandparents.
At Rosh Hashanah, at Passover, there are empty chairs at the table because there are no grandparents, there are no aunts and uncles, there are no cousins. These are the circumstances, this is the environment, the result of the anti-Semitism that we as Jewish people had to endure in Europe in the 1940s.
It all started with words which led to deeds. That is why it is so important. We are talking about a take-note debate. This is not a debate; it is an agreement. Let us all take note. Let us all say that we, as a people, who live in the great democracy of Canada, stand for Canadian values and as democratic people, we have a responsibility to each other to stand up for those Canadian values of democracy, of freedom and of the rule of law.
When one person is being persecuted, we are all being persecuted. It is incumbent upon all of us to stand together, to stand up for each other and to fight the evil of racism, hatred and anti-Semitism.