Luciuk: Ottawa’s National Holocaust Monument must include Ukrainians

The challenge with all monuments and memorials is to respond to the groups that made the demand for a memorial with other groups that were less central to the atrocities and genocide.

In somewhat crass political terms, Ukrainian Canadians deservedly obtained recognition of the Holodomor as a genocide and funding to commemorate WW1 internment of Ukrainian Canadians and some other groups, just as Jewish and other ethnic groups have received recognition of past historical injustices. And it is churlish to criticize other groups and their memorials:

I’m offended.

My mother was a teenager when the Nazis kidnapped her, one of millions of Ukrainians enslaved by Hitler’s legions. Even so, she was lucky. She survived. Millions did not. Another victim, whom I befriended later in life, was Stefan Petelycky. A Ukrainian nationalist, he was interned in the most notorious Nazi concentration camps. He never forgot what the Germans did to him. He couldn’t. His forearm was branded with Auschwitz tattoo #154922.

Certainly, Ukrainians weren’t the Holocaust’s only victims. Millions of Jews died. Millions of Polish Catholics were murdered. And I acknowledge the Russians who ran afoul of Nazi racism, even if I despise the fascism infecting Russia today. Indeed all Slavic peoples were considered untermenschen (subhumans). The Nazis planned to exterminate or deport most of them, leaving only a few to serve as helots, bond servants of the Third Reich’s settler-colonial imperialism. Thankfully, the Nazis were defeated. Millions of Ukrainians died making sure of that.

Does the federal government know this? I doubt it. Within hours of the official unveiling of the National Holocaust Monument on Sept. 17, 2017, featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-minister of Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly, a controversy erupted over the dedication plaque. Originally, it stated: “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. This monument recognizes the contributions these survivors have made to Canada and serves as a reminder that we must be vigilant in standing guard against hate, intolerance and discrimination.”

This saccharine inscription was denounced. Now it reads: “The National Holocaust Monument commemorates the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.”

Underscoring Nazi Germany’s responsibility for a genocide is essential. Emphasizing the six million Jewish dead is required. But why, despite almost two dozen other plaques, was the suffering of millions of non-Jewish victims largely ignored?

This becomes even less comprehensible as you discover who is remembered. For example, several hundred Afro-Germans are — yet few, if any, ever ended up here. The same is true of other victim groups, such as Roma, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses. At a time when the federal government goes on and on about being inclusive, why were Ukrainian, Russian and Polish victims excluded, seemingly by design? Did someone decide they were the “collaborators” seemingly targeted by the revised text? That would be grossly unfair: far more of them fell fighting fascism as compared to the few who collaborated.

This could be fixed by adding another plaque. There’s room and a precedent for revising; I’ll even pay for it. So why hasn’t it been done? I have asked more than one minister, more than once, over several years. They don’t answer. Federal promises about how all  the victims would be hallowed were nothing but ballyhoo.

As it stands today, the National Holocaust Monument intentionally ignores the suffering of millions of people. It neglects the contributions many Holocaust survivors made to Canada — among them Stefan Petelycky and Maria Luciuk. At a time when Ukrainians are again defending themselves against a genocidal agenda, this deliberate slight is particularly galling. Why is Pablo Rodriguez, the minister responsible, refusing to address this monument’s discriminatory messaging? Why hasn’t he ordered a revision that would transform this site into a truly inclusive place of memory?

There are too many hungry people out there for me to toss tomato soup at this monument; I’ll donate the can to a food bank instead. Likewise, I won’t indulge in criminal vandalism, like those hooligans who spray-paint statues at night. Armed with the courage of my convictions, I protest in daylight, sans balaclava. As for those stoked-up packs tearing up about tearing down statues — doing so neither erases their purportedly unhappy pasts nor does it compensate for present-day failings.

Frankly, we should all be more grateful for the good country we live in. But, should you come across a publicly funded monument perpetuating a prejudice, let’s talk about it. Meanwhile, redoing the National Holocaust Monument shouldn’t be too difficult. After all, it has been done before.

Lubomyr Luciuk is a Fellow of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto and a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Source: Luciuk: Ottawa’s National Holocaust Monument must include Ukrainians

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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