Global Dispatches: Canada—Dead Grandparents

November 8, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015
The diary of Holocaust survivor Baruch Milch on display at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)
The diary of Holocaust survivor Baruch Milch on display at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)

OTTAWA—Dead grandparents.

Two words, but for one brief moment they stripped me of my ignorant innocence and stunned me with the reality of the Holocaust.

Parliamentarians and congressmen from around the world are in Canada this week for a massive conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa about combatting antisemitism.They’re talking about a growing tide of hate against Jews, and while concerning, none of it really affected me until I heard those two words: “Dead grandparents.”

I had a grandmother, a proper English woman, wonderfully elegant and refined. She taught me the proper way to use all those forks and spoons and what it meant to have manners, to be considerate and, dare I say, civilized.

She died after a full life, surrounded by her loved ones and in reasonable health right until the end.

One middle-aged man, whom I can tell you only little about because of rules surrounding the conference that prevent me from sharing names or affiliations, shared a story.

He went to the market with his mother as a child in Israel and as they walked he asked her why so many people had numbers tattooed on their wrists. She didn’t answer.

He later learned the reason, of course. These were the identification tattoos used to brand Jews imprisoned in Nazi death camps.

His grandparents, all of them, from his mother’s and his father’s side, had died in those camps. For many of his friends, it was the same.

Suddenly, the demonization of Jews became a reality. The holocaust and the fear, maybe even the horror, that many Jews must feel at the prospect of it being repeated struck me with ugly truth: Websites propagating hate, political parties that shelter Holocaust deniers, countries with regimes that sanction the genocide of the Jews—these are not abstractions.

What if my family was Jewish? What if my Grams had been hauled onto a train and carted off to her death? How violated I would feel if she had been stolen from me. How horrified I would be if the specter of anti-Semitism rose again.

The Jews died in numbers rarely seen, a stain on our history that can never be washed clean, however hard some may want to ignore it. And yet, their loss gave the world much.

Among the staunchest defenders of human rights I know are several Jews. Their intimacy with genocide has lent them a courage to face down the scourge of hate propaganda with an energy and fearlessness I respect deeply. They do not limit their causes to the fears of Israel; they’ve spoken for those in Darfur, China, and countries around the world where lies lead to murder.

The horrific killing of the Jews has left the world sober to the power of hate. We are more careful now, attentive, but maybe not enough.

In the next few days, the Inter-parliamentary Coalition Combating Antisemitism will hear a barrage of information, much of it indicating that the world is witnessing a fearsome rise in hate against Jews not seen since the end of the second World War.

They will form some plans to turn this tide, but in the words of many who attend, the key is education. In some countries, schools do not teach the lesson of the Holocaust and in some democracies, there is pressure again to leave this from the history books. University campuses are also seeing a turn against the Jews, say many.

There was a price the Jews paid and they paid it for all of us. We ignored the signs while millions died and now a generation of people have grown up without the wisdom of their Grams.

Surprised by the tears swelling in my eyes, I wonder about the numbness I’ve always had toward the Holocaust. Sheltered in wonderful safe Canada, what was the death of millions I never knew? Or the seemingly far-fetched possibility it could happen again?

Now I know. It’s the grandparents. There she is, my Grams, still teaching me how to think about others.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.