Spirit Matters – Yom Hashoah in Cornwall Ontario 2013 by Shirley Barr – April 19, 2013


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CFN – Yom Hashoah is a yearly commemoration of the Holocaust, serving as a reminder of the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II. The gathering offers healing and remembrance to the participants. Originated in Israel in 1953 by the Israeli government, Yom Hashoah serves as a focal point for Jews all over the world to bring attention to the annihilation of millions of individuals and families of Jewish origin. The reason this particular group of people was targeted for destruction was due to their religion. Initially, Jews were tolerated, then gradually as Hitler developed a plan to unite the German population and build a war machine he created a diabolical plan that could have resulted in eradicating all Jews and any other human being who could be labelled as an “other”.


It is interesting to note that it seems that “othering” is used by anyone who wants to exercise supremacy over anyone else. I discovered in my research that of the millions who were massacred by the Nazi regime, those who had a label were subjected to the most horrifying acts ever devised by the human mind. Anyone who had an intellectual or physical deficiency, who had a different religion from the traditional Christian German denominations was a target, people of sexual orientations other than heterosexuals, different races, all encountered brutal, cruel, relentless persecution and extermination. It is important to take the time to ponder the lessons embedded in the commemoration of Yom HaShoah if only to commit ourselves to taking a stand to live our lives in such a way as to uphold a standard of peace and good conduct.

It turns out that the gathering held in Cornwall may be one of the only ones in North America, and perhaps in the world that was supported and organized and attended by a majority of people who are not of Jewish origin. That makes this gathering extra-ordinary. About one hundred people attended this years event, many of them from the village of Williamstown, a community who welcomed a Jewish family- the Kaplan family found refuge there for a few years.This is a story every Canadian should know since it demonstrated what being a Canadian is really supposed to be about- creating a tapestry that treasures all human diversity. I know that is what I believe, that being a Canadian is all about being magnanimous- a quality that goes beyond tolerance and includes compassion and relatedness. As Canadians we ought to make an effort to identify those who have been named “Righteous Among Nations”, non-Jews who performed heroic acts to protect Jews during times of persecution.

Please take the time to watch these three videos which will give you a background for our Cornwall gathering.

Neil Macmillan & John Towndrow talk about the local Cornwall event.

Gary Friedman introduces speaker.

Ilona Weinstein & Ellayne Kaplan tell their Family Story at Yom HaShoah in Cornwall Ontario 2013


“None is too many”- this was the unofficial policy of the Canadian government towards those of Jewish ancestry during the years surrounding World War II. Canada could have taken a large portion of the German and European Jewish population but, to its eternal shame, it actively worked against offering them shelter. It is at odds with the spiritual principle of the oneness of humanity to “other” anyone. I pray that we may discover our inherent humanity and overcome these deep, long standing prejudices and learn to create a tapestry that truly reflects and includes the principle of the oneness of humanity as a way forward to reorganize ourselves into a peaceful world community.


Shirley lives and works in Cornwall and is a member of the Baha’i community.


  1. It is wonderful that people join together and remember, tragic that they need to.

  2. Poland commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising on Friday, marking the day by bestowing honors on survivors and opening a new Jewish history museum.

    Poland marked the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising on Friday, honoring the armed revolt by Jews against Nazi German forces with ceremonies and the opening of a new Jewish history museum.

    Throughout the Polish capital church bells rang and sirens sounded in tribute to the fighters who began the first and largest armed insurrection by Jews against the German troops in World War II on this day in 1943.

    Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, two uprising survivors and other officials commemorated the event at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, a ceremony that was part of larger efforts to rally collective remembrance of the fighters and the horrors that Jews suffered during the war.

    Komorowski gave one of the country’s highest honors, the Grand Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland, to 88-year-old survivor Simha Rotem. “The Nazis made a hell on earth of the ghetto,” Rotem said in a speech. “Persecuting the Jews appealed to the lowest of human instincts.”

    The new Museum of the History of Polish Jews also opened its doors on Friday at the site of the former Warsaw ghetto, where Jews were held in the Nazi-occupied city. In today’s Warsaw, there are few signs that it was once home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities. But the museum aims to introduce visitors to their 1,000-year history in the country, one that is often overshadowed by the Holocaust and Nazi death camps like Auschwitz, which was located in Poland.

    According to curators, the museum will also try to educate visitors about Jews to help overcome the anti-Semitic ideas held by some in the largely Catholic country. “I want this museum to be a museum of life, not a museum of death,” museum director Andrzej Cudak told news agency Reuters.

    ‘A Testimony to Honor’

    Eventually put down after a month, the Warsaw ghetto uprising was staged by some 750 poorly armed Jews inside as German forces moved to liquidate the enclosure and transport its remaining residents to the Treblinka extermination camp. After the revolt was crushed, the ghetto was razed and the remaining residents killed.

    These fighters “knew that they had to die, but they wanted to leave a trace of their existence, hence those acts of heroism, a testimony to honor,” Jakub Gutenbaum, an 83-year-old survivor of the uprising, told news agency AP on Thursday.

    Gutenbaum lost his mother and brother to the gas chambers of the Majdanek concentration camp, but he managed to survive and was eventually liberated by the Soviet Red Army at another camp.

    “The fact that I survived is a matter of luck,” he told AP. “Maybe I was at the wrong places, or rather at the right places at the right times.”

    More than 90 percent of Poland’s 3 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and a 2011 census found that there are now just 7,500 living in the country.

  3. Thank you so much for this remarkable story Ludwig, it is so important that we share the signs of our progress in terms of taking responsibiity for remembering and consecrating ourselves to establishing the foundations of a truly peaceful world. Poland has truly given us a shining example of a country that has forged ahead and created a significant structure for transformation.

    One of the most touching memories I have of the commemoration evening was hearing the voices of the Kaplan family members as they named their children, grand-children and great-grand children.
    Every human being comes in to the world as a trust of the whole. e.We have to learn how valuable and incredibly full of potential we are, each and every one of us. Thank you to all who contribute.

  4. An excellent article, Shirley. Alas, I sometimes wonder if we, as human beings, have learned anything from those dark days.
    Today, in the aftermath of 9/11 in New York, July 7 in London, and most recently, in Boston, we condemn all Muslims. We forget that most of them want nothing to do with the terrorists, that the vast majority of them want only to live in peace and care for their families.
    Most Canadians, English and French, want nothing more than to be able to make a living and look after their families, and only ask for a certain amount of respect and tolerance from the other side, but there are a few people (French and English) who see the other side as a threat. All they manage to do is cause discord and make politicians and trouble-makers richer and more powerful.
    Sadly, there are people, even here in Cornwall, who seem to make a living by telling us we should hate gays, Muslims, Catholics, French, English, liberals, etc. etc., that these people are no good, that they are stupid and even evil, and need to be eradicated.
    All I can say is God help us, because we seem incapable of learning from our mistakes.

    As an aside to Ludwig’s comment, there are many stories of Christian Poles risking (and often losing) their lives whilst trying to help their Jewish neighbours. Jewish people, too, often helped Christians. In 1939, some Jewish neighbours warned my grandmother that the NKVD (now the KGB) were on their way to arrest and execute her and her two children. They left town in a hurry, and when they were finally arrested by the Russians, they had assumed identities and were lucky enough to survive the Russian Holocaust.

  5. @ Ludwik
    Sorry, Ludwik. You were gracious enough to spell my name correctly — I should have double checked to make sure I spelled your name properly too.

  6. Richard…..you mention certain people “need to be eradicated”….those are strong words Richard. Isn’t it thoughts and words like those that supported the Holocaust? I would agree that some behaviours and thoughts could use an adjustment and suggest that encouraging the eradication of any person with a certain mindset, religion, skin colour is treading on dangerous ground.

  7. Jacqueline, before you accuse me of being in favour of “eradicating” various groups, read the {moderated} sentence again!
    I said there are people here in Cornwall who make a {moderated} living preaching such hate. Do I have to name names?

  8. @ Richard

    Just wanted to address that very important question as to how to deal with those people who are promoters of hatred and dissension, I think that we can take a very strong stand with such people and tell them that we disagree with them, at the very least, when subjects are brought up that are demonstrating prejudice. Prejudice is the root of all this othering that we all do, most of us unconsciously.

    To become more conscious, to evolve, to bring our dark aspects out to the light, this is how we can overcome those forces deep within us that are causing us to be estranged and to distance ourselves from others and from seeing ourselves as the members of the same race, the human race. Yes, we do have infinite diversity, and this is good, we have to learn, gradually, how to open ourselves up to connect and relate to others so that we overcome those things that are painful and cause us to behave in the usual dysfunctional patterns.
    I cannot think of anything more courageous than to take a stand with those that are close to us when they express a prejudice and just to say gently, I hear you and I do not see it the same way, I just want you to know that. I love you but I do not agree that those people are inferior…that is about as powerful as it gets….

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