Two Canadian Jews reflect on the Holocaust… and on its consequences for their families, for Jews and for Palestinians

In a powerful book written in 2006, Avram Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, argued that Jews have been so traumatized by the horrific events of the Holocaust that they have lost the ability to trust the world around them. Burg used his own family history–his parents were Holocaust survivors–to suggest Jews need to move on and eventually live in peace with their Arab neighbors and feel comfortable in the world at large. That fear still haunts most Jews in Canada today. But not all. Here are candid recollection on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and Zionism by two Canadian Jews who are members of the Advisory Council of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine. Watch and learn.

It is often easy to overlook or minimise another person’s trauma or phobia – whether it is a fear of heights, fear of the dark, or fear of spiders or snakes. To those not directly affected, it can appear irrational and be easily dismissed. This also applies to the fear of persecution.

Modern-day Israel, and the Jewish community around the world, are still strongly influenced by the memory and horrors of Hitler and the Holocaust.

The deep concern of many Zionists is the survival of the Jewish people as a whole. Many believe that Israel is an “insurance policy”. If and when anti-semitism arises again in Canada, or around the world, Jews will have a place to flee to and the Jewish people will survive. 

But non Jews, whether in Canada or elsewhere, often find that fear exaggerated. After all, Canada has now recognized its shameful anti-Semitic past (from refusing Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, to excluding Jews from clubs and limiting university enrolment for Jews, but fortunately most (though not all) of that now appears to be well behind us.

And looking at Israel’s formidable military arsenal today and its “Qualitative Military Edge (“QME”), a US foreign policy directive which GUARANTEES that Israel has the military equipment to ensure it could win any war with any combination of enemies, most Canadians find it hard to accept the idea that Israel’s existence is really threatened by its neighbours at all.

But that does that mean that the trauma is not real, or that it is not a powerful motive? Those interested in promoting human rights for all, Palestinians and Israelis, make a mistake if they underestimate the trauma that remains in the Jewish community including in Canada, and ignore its effects on its actions.

Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes…

During the confinement of COVID, CTIP interviewed two members of the Advisory Council of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine, both Canadian Jews. They agreed to share, in the form of a series of short personal video interviews, what they know about the Holocaust, reflections on growing up Jewish in Canada (and the USA), their first trips to Israel, and their changing views on today’s Israel, Zionism and the situation of the Palestinians.

Arthur Milner

Arthur Milner’s parents spent several years in a refugee camp in Frankfurt, Germany, right after the war. They were Polish Jews and had lost almost all of their family – disappeared without a trace. In 1951, they brought their two kids to Montreal, where he grew up. Arthur has been very active in the Canadian theatre community, has written many plays and was Artistic Director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. His play, Facts, toured Palestine and Israel in Arabic in 2013. He currently lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Dr. David Lorge Parnas

David Parnas’ story is rather different, though with the same background of horrific events in Germany/Austria/Poland which led to the deaths of many of his own family members. Dr. Parnas’ parents (both doctors) escaped to the USA just prior to the war. He became a world famous software engineer invited to speak and teach at many universities around the world (including Israeli and Palestinian). He retired in 2008 and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Is it time to “forget” the Holocaust?

Of course not.

The Holocaust, which resulted in the deliberate extermination of nearly 19 million unwanted and unarmed civilians (including nearly 6 million Jews – almost all of Europe’s Jewry) was an unthinkably horrific act which still casts a long and dark shadow today. It should never be forgotten.

The trauma it inflicted on Jews, and the shame it rightfully cast on those who stood by and did so little to stop it, are the chief reasons that still today Israel benefits from a great deal of support around the world, despite its dispossession (and continued oppression) of the Palestinian people.

What is the issue relating the Holocaust and Palestinians?

Sometimes people defending Israel argue that two wrongs make a right. “We suffered so much in the Holocaust, that we have a right to create a Jewish state to serve as a refuge in case another Holocaust comes along. The Palestinians have to accept this.”

The issue is not whether the Jews have suffered but whether the Holocaust provides any justification for the Nakba, or for Israel’s present policies which continue to cause so much pain and loss for Palestinians?

Understanding the depth of the trauma for many and how some Jews have learned to “rise from its ashes”, is important for those who hope for a just and fair solution to the Israel/Palestine issue.

____________________________________

Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org.

11 comments

  1. When you start a post with misinformation, no matter how trivial, it leads academics to suspect that the post is agenda, rather than truth, driven. The date given to a book is publication, not the date an author started writing. The publication dates are 2007 for Hebrew and 2008 for English.

    You state that “nearly 19 million unwanted and unarmed civilians” were deliberately exterminated. But your source claims that the number of Russian and Polish dead cannot be substantiated because there is “not sufficient demographic tools to enable historians to distinguish between: racially targeted individuals, persons actually or believed to be active in underground resistance, persons killed in reprisal for some actual or perceived resistance activity carried out by someone else, losses due to so-called collateral damage in actual military operations. This is not trivial. This is deliberate misinformation designed to promote a fake narrative.

    “Sometimes people defending Israel argue that two wrongs make a right.” So what? Sometimes, okay, many times, you promote inaccurate information to make your point. The truth of the matter is that Jews legally immigrated to Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine. the Arabs living there started a genocidal war, aided by their neighboring Arab states and lost that war. Israel was established on that victory and the absence of sovereignty once the British abandoned the land. The UN did not give the Jews anything. They merely recommended partitioning the land between a Jewish state containing 1 million Jews and Arabs and an Arab state containing 800,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem being an international enclave.

    There will be no fair or just settlement as the Arabs have a concept of fair and just that does not coincide with the Israeli concept of fair and just. As the Arabs cannot accept that fact, no fair and just settlement offered by Israel will ever satisfy Arab demands. The rest of the Arab world apparently knows this and more Arab states will align with Israel.

    1. Hey Jack,
      thanks for your very helpful info. Wonderful of you to clarify the issue of date written vs. publication etc. It has been republished several times since. I didn’t mention that either.

      As far as your challenging the stats re: the Holocaust goes – I relied on the info provided by the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. If they are wrong, you should perhaps take it up with them. Have a good day.

      1. Peter, the data is correct. Your changed the data. It appears that you did not read where the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington states – there is “not sufficient demographic tools to enable historians to distinguish between: racially targeted individuals, persons actually or believed to be active in underground resistance, persons killed in reprisal for some actual or perceived resistance activity carried out by someone else, losses due to so-called collateral damage in actual military operations.

        You erroneously used a figure of 19 million. Nowhere on your referenced site is that number used. This is not trivial. This is deliberate misinformation designed to promote a fake narrative.

        You are the one whose stats are challenged. Essentially, deliberately or not, you cheated to support your agenda. that is propaganda.

  2. Hey Mr. Larson,

    Check it out yourself. You state “nearly 6 million Jews.” The site states “6 million.” the word “nearly” is not there. You state “nearly 19 million unwanted and unarmed civilians.” The site never states “19 million” anything. Further, the word “unarmed” is written nowhere on the site. Additionally, you are adding nearly 3 million Soviet Prisoners of War. They are not civilians. Finally, for the third time, the state cites “With regard to the Polish and Soviet civilian figures, at this time there are not sufficient demographic tools to enable historians to distinguish between:

    1.racially targeted individuals
    2.persons actually or believed to be active in underground resistance
    3.persons killed in reprisal for some actual or perceived resistance activity carried out by someone else
    4.losses due to so-called collateral damage in actual military operations

    So, however you came up with your fictional “nearly 19 million unwanted and unarmed civilians,” you violated the rules. Of course, the New York Times did the very same thing regarding their report of over 1400 violent attacks against Palestinian Arab civilians since 2005. However, they had the honesty to correct their report when pointed out that using their own source, there were only about 470 violent attacks over the same 15 years.

    The actual facts are terrible enough. When you distort the fact, you dishonor the victims.

    1. Hey Mr. Sigman,
      If you are concerned about my saying “nearly” 6 million, I think you miss the main point.

      The important point was that a HUGE number of people were killed by the Nazis for a number of reasons, among them a very high percentage of Europe’s Jews. It was done on a basis of supposed racial superiority of the Ayrians.

      As you indicate its impossible to know exactly. It could be “nearly 6 million Jews”, it could be “exactly”, it could be “about” or it could be “more than”. If you have a better number for Jewish deaths, pls share it with us. Until then, I will use the NHMM figure.

      It was an unthinkable act, that we should never forget.

      1. Hey Mr. Larson,

        I am concerned about you misrepresenting factual information to make your political point. When you do so, your message becomes little but propaganda. That there might be a kernel of truth or a slight position that might be worth discussing is lost when you deliberately alter the facts.

        Yet you still defend your misrepresentation of the numbers provided by the source you use. It appears you are wedded to your argument, no matter how bad it is as you cannot take the possible humiliation of admitting you are wrong to do so.

      2. Hey Mr. Sigman, I am wrong from time to time. And when I am shown where/how I don’t normally feel humiliated.

        I am not clear on the political point you think I am making. I say that many, many Jews – millions of Jews – were wiped out in the Holocaust. So were millions of others. It was atrocious and should not be forgotten. But the Palestinians had nothing to do with it, of course. Do you not agree?

    2. Mr. Sigman?
      Why do you think that repeated quibbling about small variations in huge but approximate numbers is so important? Those estimates are part of an introduction to a relatively long post; they are not critical the discussion. Are you perhaps trying to distract the readers from the actual content of the interviews?

  3. I don’t know Mr. Sigman’s motives, but the effect of his repeated interventions is to divert attention from the substance of these blog postings. Dr. Larson has offered a sensitive meditation on Jewish trauma and fear arising from the Holocaust, and two Canadian Jews have courageously shared their personal journeys and evolving views on Zionism and Israel.

    Understanding the trauma of the Holocaust is important for those who hope for a just and fair solution to the Israel/Palestine issue. Indeed, Canadians seem more worried about what might happen to Jews if Israel did not continue to exist as a “Jewish” State than they are about what Israel is actually doing to the Palestinians. How should we address this issue?

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