Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Culture is intangible and almost indefinable. The Canadian experience is of several cultures co-existing side by side. Culture can be passed down from generation to generation, but by the third it may mean no more than a type of food in the cupboard, an expression or two, melodies learned at the mother's knee, and a dearly-held respect for the elderly. All the rest will have become the culture of the new home, perhaps of a downtown like Montreal or Toronto, perhaps of a small town in Quebec or Ontario or B.C., a culture which is homogenous with one's neighbours and friends - attitudes and behaviours of which, being akin to everyone else's, one is essentially unaware. The much-debated Canadian identity has often been defined vis-à-vis the United States. An editorial in Maclean's spoke of the U.S. as a superpower, and Canadians thinking of themselves as a "moral superpower."
Footnote1 Canadians see themselves as multicultural, non-racist peacekeepers with a strong sense of environmental responsibility and human ethics. We have a national health program that we fight to keep strong, and a welfare net for those in need. However, if we were to look closely, we would find that the facts belie the myth: that emission controls are slow in coming, that police across Canada are more likely to stop a citizen of colour than a white one, and that women are more likely to head impoverished, single-parent families.
There are other myths which are creeping into our vocabulary, like the one that says, "The Holocaust that we speak of today emerged slowly as a separable, singular, paradigmatic event from the overall course of the war and the deaths of 50 million people in that war. Familiar as it is now, it was unknown at the time. 
"Footnote2 This statement is patently untrue. As David Boyle summarizes,
Anyone with the least interest in current events had been aware of the Nazi persecution of Jews from the very beginning of Hitler's rule. Newspapers the world over had reported how the Jewish middle-class - intellectuals, financiers, physicians - had been forced out of public life. They knew that Nazis regarded Arabs, Africans, Slavs and Orientals in general as untermenschen (subhuman), but that they reserved their special venom for Jews.... 
Hitler had deprived Jews of German citizenship and basic human rights as far back as 1935. They were forbidden to go to concerts or films, to drive, to sit on park benches or buy newspapers; marrying an 'Aryan' was punishable by death. Hatred of Jewry culminated in the infamous Kristallnacht ('night of the broken glass') of 1938, which took place after a Jewish youth assassinated the German ambassador to Paris. Thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses were looted and burned while the police looked on.
Concentration camps such as Dachau had been set up as early as 1933, though as yet there was no policy of genocide. Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, gypsies and pacifists all joined the Jews behind barbed wire. But with Hitler's conquests of 1939-41, the number of Jews under German rule increased to up to 10 million. Hitler planned to resettle them in Madagascar, though by this stage tens of thousands had already been murdered in Poland and Russia.... It was not until 1942 that Himmler unveiled what he described as the 'Final Solution' - the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe.Footnote
Anti-Jewish Laws Tightened. The Montreal Daily Star. March 20, 1942. np.
Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia Adopt New Restrictions
Berne, Switzerland, March 20 (A.P.) - Already stringent anti-Jewish measures have been tightened in three Axis countries - Hungar [sic], Bulgaria and Slovkia.
Hungary announced that all Jewish-owned lands had been placed under state control, while the new Premier, Nicolas Kallay, told Parliament one of his first tasks would be to eliminate "Judaism as far as it puts a check on the development of the nation."
The Bulgarian Interior Minister decreed that only 15 Jewish technicians of a total of 125 with technical degrees would be allowed to work in that country.
The Slovak Government ordered all Jews to remain in their homes between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
The Montreal Daily Star, March 20, 1942, np.
Why, then, are we beginning to say that we only became aware of the Holocaust gradually and after the war had ended? Certainly, it is putting a fine point on the deprivation of human rights and the murder of humans if only the ultimate and organized genocidal actions are considered to be 'the Holocaust'. If we date the 'true' Holocaust as beginning with Krystallnacht, that would place it as early as 1938. Certainly, the plight of the S.S. St. Louis, in 1939, received widespread media coverage. Canada was one of the countries to deny entrance to these refugees, much to our present-day shame.
For Hitler, the case of the S.S. St. Louis marked a stunning victory. It proved that, in spite of the protestations of the Allied leaders to the contrary, they didn't want Jews in their countries any more than he wanted them in his. In fact, when a Canadian official was asked how many Jews fleeing from Nazi Europe could be admitted to Canada, he responded: "None is too many." This eventually became the title of a book, describing Canada's draconian refugee policies.Footnote4
Several reasons come to mind for this conscious de-emphasizing of the world's knowledge. First of all, it excuses the governments who did not immediately go to war, and moreover who did not enter the war on behalf of the citizens of the world who were being murdered. Secondly, it is a reaction to the present-day movement which claims the Holocaust was a 'unique' event in the history of the world. The reaction is complex. On the one hand there are those who agree it was a unique event, since European Jewry was all but destroyed, and by such highly organized technology. On the other hand there are those who point out that the number of people who died in the concentration camps far exceeds as a whole the number of Jewish people murdered, and that it is the strength of the Jewish lobbyists for Holocaust memorializing that has created the memory of the Holocaust as it now exists. Finally, the present-day focus serves to downplay the extent to which people at the time participated in antisemitism all too similar to that which took over in Germany.
Nazis Execute 100,000 Jews. The Montreal Daily Star. March 17, 1942. np.
Nazis Execute 100,000 Jews
Campaign of Extermination Waged in Occupied Areas
Stockholm, March 17 (B.U.P.) - Germans have executed more than 100,000 Jews in a systematic "campaign of extermination" in White Russia and Baltic countries, reliable neutral reports said yesterday.
The Montreal Daily Star, March 17, 1942, np.
Nanette Norris
Royal Military College, St. jean, Quebec

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