CFN – Remembrance Day has a lot of meaning for millions around the world. 2013 marks the 75th Anniversary of The Night of Broken Glass or Kristallnacht as it’s known.
At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, as the attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Over 1,000 synagogues were burned (95 in Vienna alone) and over 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged. Martin Gilbert writes that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from the foreign journalists working in Germany sent shock waves around the world.
(Jews forced to march during Kristallnacht)
The Times wrote at the time:
“No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.“
In these days of video games and rampant violence on television people lose sight of the reality of something like this happening. Imagine sitting in your home and the doors being ripped down and your home ransacked and family hurt or killed; taken away with you not sure if they were coming back?
Going to work and seeing it destroyed? Being told that because of your religion or colour of your skin, or language that you speak that you can’t work in your field no matter how much expertise or experience you have; even if it means a community suffers by your absence? This was the insanity of Nazi Germany during the years prior and during World War 2.
There are so few survivors left and after all do young people really listen to older people any more now than they did 75 years ago?
What people don’t realize is that because of little things turning to huge things is why so many wear a poppy and so many sacrificed their lives in war after war.
Here in the city I am writing from, Cornwall Ontario, we are now in the midst of a scandal related to Swastikas in a local high school. It’s not that a bit of graffiti is the issue. It happens; but it’s been the reactions from the school principal not taking prompt action; to the head of the Upper Canada District School Board threatening this writer; to the Premier of Ontario’s office refusing to issue a statement directly related to this incident on a day that she issued a press release about remembering victims of the Holocaust.
What we know about our incident here in Cornwall Ontario is that a person whose family were survivors of the Holocaust, while attending the school for an activity at night noticed Swastikas in the school bathrooms. A call was made to CCVS Principal Patricia Brown, and then another one the following week, followed by a visit the week after. Each time the victim said the principal said the images would be taken care of. After the fourth week CFN was called for assistance.
We went to the school the following morning and as we entered were met by a Vice Principal who grabbed two maintenance staff and escorted us to the washroom where the Swastikas were both still in place. After a chat in the VP’s office which included both staff stating that they had never been asked to remove the graffiti I returned to my office and tried to contact the Principal (who was not in at the early morning we visited) and then the head of the school board who did not return my call until the following Monday when my story was released. The VP called back a few hours later relating that the Swastikas were gone thus further indicting Principal Brown.
David K Thomas, Director of Education was hostile from the start of the call questioning my ethics and agenda. He then went on to threaten to report me to journalistic agencies and then finally to bring in the lawyers. After I explained to him that besides being a journalist I created what became the 2003 Oscar Nominated Holocaust Feature Documentary (we lost to Michael Moore) Prisoner of Paradise and that perhaps he should do some fact checking he did simmer down.
He stated that he had not talked to Principal Brown as of yet (Monday) (the event happened on a Friday) Yet the principal was at the School Monday, and Tuesday. She clearly had not been suspended nor fired.
After further speaking with Superintendent Valerie Allen who refused to supply a printed statement from the School board I was informed there would be a day of action with a holocaust survivor speaking to the students and faculty. Why I asked? The school was very clean and certainly not filled with Graffiti. The only issue was Principal Brown’s judgement and then Mr. Thomas’s behavior.
That led to conversations with Trustee David MacDonald who while totally getting it; still stood by the company line of seeming to protecting the principal instead of the students who were exposed to a hate symbol for nearly one month in multiple locations. As a matter of fact it was confirmed that after our story there was a rash of Swastikas put up around the school and nobody had been apprehended in spite of close circuit cameras at the school.
The UCDSB finally issued a statement in print, but it completely ignored Principal Brown.
I asked Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for a statement on this incident via her office including a link to our original story which was picked up in print and online via The Jewish Tribune.
Lauren Ramey from the Ministry of Education sent along the following:
Zita passed along your media request to our office. I can tell you that, while we can’t speak to the specifics of this incident, the government has engaged schools, students, parents and the communities to improve school climate. Our Safe Schools Strategy requires every school board employee, including principals, to play a role in promoting positive student behaviour to improve school climate.
We expect our education leaders to work with students and parents on any concerns they may have. School safety has been a priority for this government from the beginning, and that’s why all school boards must have policies and procedures on bullying prevention, antiracism and equity. It’s incumbent on each and every one of us to make sure that every student to feels safe, included and welcome in Ontario’s schools.
Let me know if you need anything further.
Well I sent Lauren & Zita Astravas back two emails, both clearly requesting a comment about this specific incident dated nearly two weeks apart and have not had back a single word.
I mean if the washroom had had the term “DYKE” plastered on the wall and a gay adult had called the principal would there have been faster action?
There is no justifiable reason for the swastikas being on school walls for nearly a month after three notifications; none.
Our Premier has specifically commented on issues such as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, so why not a principal in this day and age not removing a hate symbol?
And embarrassingly not one of the large media chains in Cornwall Ontario, the Sun, Corus, or Cogeco, or Trans Con covered this story even though none of the facts have been disputed.
The Cornwall Police Service today confirmed that the school board has not contacted them about a single Swastika issue in 2013 and that they have read our coverage and is the only reason they are aware of what’s happened.
And that is how hate grows and starts; when good people stand down. If the school board had taken swift clear action; even if simply having an apology from the Principal and maybe a short term off and some educational and sensitivity training it would have sent a message to the school students and family that racism and hate are not tolerated.
And for the Ministry of Education and the Premier’s office to take no action that sanctions all of the incident right down to whomever defaced the school in the first place, and second and subsequent times is again tacitly ignoring an issue that surely can only lead to hate being more acceptable.
Canada has a bad enough track record when it comes to the Holocaust as escapees were turned away from landing in Canada. Those few who were able to escape (The Nazi’s refused Jews to leave Europe at a certain point) were forced to find other sanctuary during the war.
Cornwall itself has a murky history as most Jewish families have left. From having its first official Mayor, Aaron Horowitz and a vibrant commercial marketplace on Pitt Street with many Jewish businesses and factories that employed thousands to a few stores and services today. The home of Nathan Phillips, great Toronto Mayor, directly across the street of the school, is now a health centre. The former synagogue is now a private home that was celebrated on a Christmas tour a few years ago.
And of course it’s not just local here in Cornwall. Intolerance and ignorance in this day of smart phones and social media is rampant.
The daughter of the late veteran John Gervais describes how after a life of sacrifice her father and family were told in a hospital in Gatineau Quebec (Directly across from Ottawa) to speak French instead of English. Her father passed away not long after the incident. Surely when we stand down in silence to these types of actions we all suffer.
Hate doesn’t start off with violence. Hate starts off with Indifference. And eventually leads to sad days in the rain saluting brave soldiers who died because we didn’t stop mole hills from becoming grave markers in foreign lands or at home.
For those who have lost and sacrificed we salute you; but if we really care about our soldiers and for them to never have to be mourned prematurely we need to stop hate in its tracks; early and often.
And we need to take care of our brave soldiers after they have given their bones and body in our names;especially our wounded who have lives that should be lived out in honour and security after the sacrifices that they and their families have made.
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