Survivors, Montrealers commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day

At sundown on May 1, Montrealers gathered at the Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem in Côte Saint-Luc for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

This year’s ceremony, titled When Life Changed Forever, allowed the hundreds who came to hear from six Holocaust survivors.

Rachel Abish, Nettie Herscher, Bill Lewkowict, Judith Nemes Black, Edmond Silber, and Charlotte Wexler all shared their stories of courage and survival.

Among the lit candles and the sounds of the Jewish Children’s Choir singing, sat 95-year-old Leslie Vertes.

Vertes escaped from a forced labour camp in Hungary. After taking on a fake name, he thought he was going to be free. He ended up spending another two years in a Soviet labour camp. He eventually came to Montreal in the 1950s.

Now the retired businessman and survivor is active in Holocaust education.

“The young ones, they have less fear, and they are more open here in Quebec,” said Vertes.

Vertes says he is concerned about the rise in populism and the rise of anti-Semitism but is hopeful that today’s generation can see the warning signs and has learned from the mistakes of the past.

“When I was liberated, I thought, no more war, no more killing. I was wrong,” said Vertes.

The day of remembrance, known as Yom HaShoah, allows the community to honour the victims and remember the courageous stories and the strength of those who survived.

More than six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Vertes and other survivors hope education and remembrance ceremonies like the one held Wednesday will help keep some of the hatred at bay.

But according to the League for Human Rights, an arm of B’nai Brith, anti-Semitism in Canada is on the rise.

The organization’s audit showed there were 2,041 incidents of hate crimes against Jewish Canadians in 2018, up 16.5 per cent from the previous year.

An estimated 4,000 survivors have taken part in Yom HaShoah commemorations in Montreal over the past 70 years.

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