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Courtney Greenberg

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Holocaust Education Week: The Canadian experience

Holocaust Education Week: The Canadian experience

On Monday, I went a discussion at the Royal Ontario Museum for Holocaust Education Week. There were three speakers, including activist and Holocaust survivor Gerda Frieberg, who illuminated the issues surrounding freedom of speech and Holocaust denial. Frieberg, journalist Bill Dunphy and lawyer Warren Kinsella talked about their involvement dealing with Holocaust denier Ersnt Zundel. The latter handed out anti-Semitic pamphlets in Toronto in the 1970s. He later faced charges and jail time when he returned to Germany. 

Frieberg, now in her early nineties, said more than 120 members of her family were killed during the Holocaust. As a girl, she survived the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland before settling in Toronto. Frieberg said no one wanted to talk about the Holocaust when she arrived in Canada, but she wouldn't allow the memory of her family to be extinguished. She was horrified to learn someone like Zundel was distributing information that denied what she and her family went through, she told the crowd at the ROM. She eventually laid criminal charges against Zundel. (Zundel died in August.)

In the video from the conference (below), Frieberg talks about her experiences.

We're facing the same problems today that Frieberg faced when she came to Canada after the Second World War. Kinsella and Dunphy offered two differing opinions on how deniers and distributors of false news should be treated (and also how to deal with the blatant anti-Semitism.)

The former highlighted the fact that publications like Your Ward News are being distributed currently in Toronto that promote white supremacist ideals and could possibly incite more violence and hatred.  "This sort of evil is spreading across the country," said Kinsella, as he held up a copy of the paper. In its pagers, there were anti-Semitic, homophobic, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and images.

"The problem Zundel created persists," he said. "The beast is awake."

 Warren Kinsella holds up a copy of a recent Your Ward News paper.

Warren Kinsella holds up a copy of a recent Your Ward News paper.

Kinsella's point is that if one person is influenced and corrupted by hate speech against Jews, gays, Muslims etc—then that is one person too many. He brought up the example of Tim McVeigh, the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. It only took McVeigh, one person, to blow up a building and to kill more than 160 innocent people.

Publications like Your Ward News post hateful and derogatory comments and distribute these  messages to neighbourhoods. Here's an example from their latest issue, below, featuring Kinsella.

Dunphy, however, doesn't think distributing pamphlets, newspapers or other publications promoting Holocaust denial should be considered criminal. He said he's approaching the subject from a journalist's perspective. His interest in Jewish history and the Holocaust was sparked when he was a child, growing up in a house that was sandwiched between the homes of two Holocaust survivors. 

"That was my education," he said. 

Dunphy strongly believes in the freedom of speech that allows him to do his job. Even so, he said he's not blind to the power of words and he still doesn't agree with hate speech despite his differing opinions.

"We have to fight words with words," he said. "We have to fight ideas with ideas."

Dunphy said the key to understanding white supremacy, which he researched and studied, was taking a look back at the history. He said he believes that freedom of speech should not be taken away from any Canadian, and respectfully disagreed with both Frieberg's and Kinsella's positions on the matter.

To learn more about Holocaust Education Week, go here.


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