The Whig Standard

17 December 2022

by Lubomyr Luciuk


I’m offended.

My mother was a teenager when the Nazis kidnapped her, one of millions of Ukrainians enslaved by Hitler’s legions. Even so she was lucky. She survived. Millions of Ukrainians did not. Another victim, whom I befriended later in life, was Stefan Petelycky. A Ukrainian nationalist, he was captured and spent the war in the most notorious Nazi concentration camps. He never forgot what the Germans did to him. He couldn’t. His forearm was branded with an Auschwitz tattoo, #154922.

Certainly, Ukrainians weren’t the Holocaust’s only victims. Millions of Polish Catholics were murdered. And I acknowledge the Russians who ran afoul of Nazi racism, even if I despise the fascism infecting Russia today. Indeed all Slavic peoples were considered untermenschen (subhumans). The Nazis planned to exterminate or deport most of them, leaving only numbers sufficient to serve as helots, bond servants of the Third Reich’s settler-colonial imperialism. Thankfully, the Nazis were defeated. Millions of Ukrainians died making sure of that.

Does Ottawa know this? I doubt it. Within hours of the official unveiling of the National Holocaust Monument, 17 September 2017, featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the then-Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly, a controversy erupted over the dedication plaque. Originally, it read: “The National Holocaust Monument commemorates the millions of men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust and honours the survivors who persevered and were able to make their way to Canada after one of the darkest chapters in history. This monument recognizes the contributions these survivors have made to Canada and serves as a reminder that we must be vigilant in standing guard against hate, intolerance and discrimination.” Surprisingly, this saccharine inscription was deemed objectionable. The opening line is now: “The National Holocaust Monument commemorates the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.”

Underscoring Nazi Germany’s responsibility for a genocide is essential. Emphasizing the 6 million Jewish dead is required. But why, despite almost two dozen other plaques around the site, was the suffering of millions of non-Jewish victims largely ignored?

This becomes even less comprehensible as a visitor discovers which victim groups were listed. For example, several hundred Afro-Germans are mentioned even if few, if any, ended up here. The same is true of other minorities, like the Roma, homosexuals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In this day and age, when Ottawa goes on about the imperative for being inclusive, why were Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish victims excluded, seemingly by design? Was it because someone decided they were those “collaborators” targeted by the revised text? That would be grossly unfair – far greater numbers of them fell fighting fascism as compared to those who collaborated.

This could be fixed simply by adding another plaque. There’s room and a precedent for revisioning. I’ll even pay for it. So why hasn’t it been done? I have asked more than one Minister, more than once, over several years. They don’t answer. Federal promises about how all  the victims would be hallowed are nothing but ballyhoo.

As it stands today the National Holocaust Monument intentionally ignores the suffering of millions of people. It ignores the contributions many survivors made to this country – among them Stefan Petelycky and Maria Luciuk. At a time when Ukrainians are again defending themselves against a genocidal agenda this deliberate slight is particularly galling. Why is the Minister responsible for Canadian Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez, refusing to address this monument’s discriminatory messaging? Why hasn’t he ordered a revision to so transform this into a truly inclusive place of memory?

There are too many hungry people out there for me to toss tomato soup at this monument. I’ll donate the can to a local foodbank instead. Likewise, I won’t indulge in criminal vandalism, like those hooligans who spray-paint statues at night. Armed with the courage of my convictions, I make my protests in daylight, sans a balaclava. As for those stoked-up packs tearing about tearing down statues – doing so neither erases their purportedly unhappy pasts nor compensates for present-day failings. Frankly, we should all be more grateful for the good country we live in. But should you come across a publicly-funded monument perpetuating a prejudice let’s talk about how to change it. Meanwhile, redoing the National Holocaust Monument shouldn’t be too difficult. After all they have done it before.