Muguette Myers, a child survivor of the Holocaust, was the guest speaker at the annual Shoah commemoration event held in Montreal, April 28, 2024. Peter Stockland

Mideast conflict affect felt at Montreal Shoah memorial

  • April 30, 2024

Shockwaves from the Gaza war impacted Christian-Jewish relations seriously enough to hamper a Montreal commemoration of the Shoah this year, say organizers of the 45th annual event held on April 28.

Only about 35 people attended the Holocaust memorial, one-third the normal number and markedly down from the record 2,000 who attended at St. Joseph’s Oratory in 2005, the president of Christian Jewish Dialogue of Montreal told The Catholic Register

“The current situation of war between Israel and Hamas has an impact on Christian Jewish relations even here in Montreal and made it more difficult to hold the commemoration this year,” said Jean Duhaime. “Our goal was not to have a large audience, but to hold the commemoration under safe conditions and to have it recorded and circulated afterward.”

The Holocaust memorial has long been one of CJDM’s keystone events. Choosing a date and location was fraught with difficulty this year. Duhaime said the planning committee hoped to invite a French Catholic parish to host the event. Finding willing hosts in a city where daily protests call for “intifada until victory,” and both synagogues and churches have been spraypainted with swastikas, proved impossible. 

The planning committee considered postponing the event, but “made the decision to hold the commemoration on April 28 as planned to show solidarity with Jewish members of the Dialogue and with the Jewish community in general,” Duhaime said.

Though the Dialogue has four Catholic members appointed by Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine, there were no takers at the several parishes approached. The city’s Unitarian Church then stepped up to offer safe ground. 

The CJDM Holocaust memorial coincided with the second day of a tent city demonstration on the McGill University campus, organized by a conglomeration of pro-Palestinian student groups and connected to similar occupation-style protests on U.S. campuses.

Funding and support for the Montreal student protests is connected to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The SJP say that they have “created a climate that will force administrators to fully divest from the Zionist entity or allow their university’s reputation to shatter.” 

Duhaime said security was a paramount concern. It meant limiting the publicity and requesting registration for participants.

“We also planned to keep the event exclusively religious to focus on the guest speaker and the commemorative ritual,” he added.

The focus was “children in turmoil.” 

Rev. Diane Rollert, minister of Unitarian Church of Montreal, and co-host Rabbi Ellen Greenspan welcomed the small number of participants in what they called a “challenging time,” and invited them to “pray for peace and the well-being of all peoples suffering because of war, especially with children who, if they survive, must carry the memories and life-long trauma of the choices made by adults.”

The invited guest speaker was Muguette Myers, a child survivor of the Holocaust.

The 93-year-old recounted her experiences as a Jewish child in France. Twice during the war, Myers, along with her mother and brother, took refuge in a tiny French village. They narrowly escaped the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup of Parisian Jews in 1942 and fled to Champlost in Normandy, where they remained until Paris was liberated in 1944.

“In a small village of 150 inhabitants, everyone including the children knew we were Jewish and they protected us.”

Founded in 1971 by then Montreal Archbishop Paul Gregoire, Fr. Stephane Valiquette of the Ecumenism Centre, and Rabbi Allan Lagner, then President of Jewish Ministers of Montreal, the Christian Jewish Dialogue of Montreal promotes “good relations between Christians and Jews.” 

The CJDM continues to receive support from the Archdiocese of Montreal. 

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