December 8, 2019

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Editorial

Museum complaint parochial

The campaign against a separate place for the Holocaust in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has always seemed parochial, but it has lost credibility with its latest effort to reduce the destruction of European Jewry during the Second World War to just another genocide.

The Ukrainian Civil Liberties Association has been demanding that if the Holocaust gets favoured treatment in the museum, then it wants a special gallery for the Holodomor, the man-made famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1931-32. They are opposed to being part of a separate zone devoted to mass atrocities while the Holocaust gets its own gallery. The Ukrainian group has since received support from Canadian associations that represent Poles, Germans, Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Hungarians and Slovaks, which reject what they call a "hierarchy of genocides."

In support of their drive to either eliminate a separate Holocaust gallery at the Winnipeg museum or get their own special place, the Ukrainian association and another group called Canadians for Genocide Education recently paid Nanos Research a small fee to add a single question to an omnibus poll.

Do you want one gallery for all genocides, the pollster asked, or one gallery for "a particular genocide permanently, while the others are grouped together in a separate exhibit?"

It was one question in a series of unrelated queries that could have asked about favourite breakfast cereals, pizza preferences, travel plans and, finally, genocide. There was no context or background information and no mention of the Holocaust. It's not even clear that the respondents had heard of the human rights museum or understood its mission.

The question was slanted to guarantee a negative response — who wouldn't support equality for all? — and it does not represent responsible or reliable research.

Despite the overwhelming odds in favour of getting the answer they wanted, however, the poll actually reported that nearly 25 per cent of Canadians support the idea of one gallery that highlights a particular, unnamed genocide. It's impossible to know, but this group might represent those who are familiar with the issues and who knew all atrocities are not the same, that some are qualitatively different and that one in particular, the Holocaust, stands out as the most educational.

Unlike all other genocides, the Holocaust was global in its reach. The Nazis killed Jews in all the nearly 30 countries they occupied in full or in part during the war. Unlike the Soviets, who wanted to end Ukrainian nationalism and were indifferent to Ukrainians elsewhere, the Nazis wanted to eliminate Jews wherever they could find them.

The hatred of Jews, moreover, was worldwide and continued even after the Second World War. Canada, in fact, had a policy against accepting Jews after the war and Jews in Poland continued to be killed by gangs of roving anti-Semites.

The Jews of Germany were fully integrated and, for the most part, barely recognizable as a minority. They were targets of prejudice, to be sure, but they attended the same schools as non-Jews and worked in the civil service, the military, the arts, business and the professions. They had legal rights and enjoyed the protection of the courts and police.

So what happened? How did they lose those rights and what did individual Germans do to stop it? Was resistance impossible, or were the Nazis masters of subterfuge who fooled everyone until it was too late?

The suffering of individual Jews was no greater than the pain of Ukrainians or others who have been targets of hatred, but the story of how they lost their rights, and how their neighbours — ordinary people — turned against them, is a unique cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy and human rights.

Why does the Holocaust get a place in the front seat? Only the uninformed ask questions like that.

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Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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