This past Monday the Canadian government announced its pick for the design of a planned National Holocaust Monument, scheduled to open in the fall of 2015.
As reported by Tom Spears in the Ottawa Citizen,
…the monument is a gaunt concrete structure whose six triangles form a Star of David, to be built on the northeast corner of Booth and Wellington Streets.
Landscape architect Claude Cormier said visitors will walk in at one end, where a slope carries them down to the centre. Surrounded by concrete and cut off from their surroundings, they can see explanations of the horrors of the Holocaust.
“Then at the end there’s a stair that somehow emerges, and provides you with this notion of hope.” It leads upward with the Peace Tower visible at the end, “so it has positioned Canada in that reality: We don’t want this to ever happen again.
“So there’s a hope, and a harshness embedded in the hope at the same time.”
Here’s more about the design team and the design from CTV (with video).
I believe the Holocaust happened. That it was a terrible crime against humanity. That something like that should never happen again. (Sadly though, things of some similarity have happened/are happening since then.)
But I had another reaction too: “Why? Why now? Does every nation need to have one of these?”
Others have practically the opposite response, as expressed by Martin Knelman in the Toronto Star:
One question lingers about the Holocaust memorial to be built in Ottawa. What took so long? Why has Canada waited 70 years to build a Holocaust monument in its capital city?
The U.S., Great Britain and Russia all have Holocaust monuments or museums in their capital cities. So does South Africa.
It was a tragic mistake that the Holocaust was left out of the story when the Canadian War Museum was built.
Now at last that mistake will be corrected.
Indeed, this advocacy site proclaims that “Canada is the only Allied Nation without a Holocaust Museum in its National Capital. This must change.”
Maybe my own bewilderment stems for the latency of this memorial, which does show up looking like a “better late than never” effort. Considering this list of Holocaust Memorials and Museums around the world, it does sort of seem like Canada was asleep at that particular wheel. Having said that, it turns out Canada already has at least three memorials/educational centres on the Holocaust, in Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver (though those are not “national” in funding or scope).
Done right, monuments, memorials or museums commemorate and expand awareness in truly important ways. I also wonder, though, about the significance of location. Here’s the travel writer Rick Steves explaining how a specific place, Berlin, has incorporated different symbols of remembrance in deeply meaningful ways:
As you stroll through Berlin’s residential neighbourhoods, you might notice small bronze plaques in the pavement. These are a different sort of memorial, called Stolpersteine, or “stumbling blocks.” Meant to commemorate in a more personal way those persecuted by the Nazis, the stones are placed in front of the spot where victims resided. Each stone begins with “Here lived” and give one name, remembering just one person. The inscription ends with the place, usually a concentration camp, and the date on which the individual died. So far, there are more than 5,000 Stolpersteine are installed around Berlin.
Of course one can come at this broader topic from different sides. As in monuments are great and important. And the work is still markedly unfinished. Where are the memorials for slavery? For killing or displacing indigenous peoples? For oppressing women across so many centuries?
Or there’s the other point of view: does everything have to be viewed in terms of some group’s suffering that requires specific acknowledgement?
There’s no single answer, I suppose. It’s just something to ponder.