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by Rhonda Spivak, March 31, 2011

I am writing this in response to your article in the Winnipeg Free Press on March 25, 2011 regarding the content of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, entitled “Museum Editorial Misleading Uninformed," which can be accessed by clicking here:

Reading your article made it very clear to me that there is absolutely no reason why anyone in the Jewish community should hold back and not speak their mind on this issue. How are we as a community going to feel if in the final result, there is no permanent Holocaust gallery in the CMHR?

At the very beginning of this project, even before it ever became a government funded museum (remember that time Mr. Luciuk?), it was held out to the Jewish  community that there would be a permanent gallery dedicated to the Holocaust in the CMHR. If you and your supporters have your way, that will not be the case. Clearly, there is no point in waiting to speak out, or holding back.   We as a community are going to feel extremely resentful if efforts to eliminate a permanent Holocaust Gallery are successful.  Why should we be silent  on this issue when you are out there making all sorts of noise?

I, for one, don’t think that the decision of whether or not there ought to be a permanent Holocaust gallery in the CMHR ought to be based on a poll, by Nanos or any other company.

The Jewish people have never done very well in polls—we have never been that  ‘popular’ historically (in fact we have been expelled from numerous countries over our long history, prevented from owning land, etc ). If you had taken a poll during the Holocaust and asked Canadians and other countries whether they ought to intervene and bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz  to save the  Jewish people—guess what? We probably wouldn’t have done well in the poll. We probably would have ranked as a very low priority on the world agenda.

If during the time our ancestors in Manitoba wanted to be physicians, but couldn’t be because there were quotas against Jews being in medical school, and one had commissioned a poll - guess what? The majority probably would have said that the quotas should remain. 

And if at the time we had taken a poll about how many Jewish refugees between 1933-1948, Canada ought to have let into the country, how well would we have done in that poll? (As Irving Abella and Harold Troper have shown in thier book  “None is Too Many”  the Canadian government did less than other Western countries to help Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1948. According to official statistics, only 5,000 Jewish refugees entered Canada during this period, the lowest record of any Western country. The book’s title is based on the following anecdote:  In early 1945, an unidentified immigration agent was asked how many Jews would be allowed in Canada after the war. He replied, "None is too many.") 

Unlike you, I think that the question of whether there ought to be a permanent Holocaust gallery in the Museum ought to be decided not by polls, but ought to be the result of the reasoned analysis of scholars of genocide—and if that is the case, I have no doubt that there will be a permanent Holocaust gallery. Of course if the number of Jews in Canada was much larger than it is, I rather doubt you would be so quick to want to make this into an election issue, where the decision will be politicized and not be based on scholarly analysis.


There are a few questions that arise as a result of your rather ferocious campaign to turn the clock back and reduce or eliminate  the permanent Holocaust gallery that the Jewish community was led to believe would exist in the CMHR.

Are you willing to say publicly that if any private donor gave money to the CMHR on the basis that it was  represented to them at the time of the donation that there would be a permanent Holocaust gallery, that they are entitled to have their money returned if they so desire? 

And  should those in our community who have designated bequests to the  CMHR on the basis that they naively believed that there would be a permanent Holocaust gallery, consider changing their bequest? It seems like that may be a prudent course.

I guess it’s time to raise all these issues now since everything here seems to be an open question and a moving target.

Is it time to begin considering the options of what we as a Jewish community would like to have happen if there is no permanent Holocaust gallery?

 Should we begin fundraising for the building of a gallery that will be at least as large as the 13,000 square foot  Holocaust gallery we were originally told  would be included in the  CMHR.  After all, if the size of the permanent Holocaust gallery becomes no larger than a quarter to an eighth of that, maybe we’d be better to buy land near the Forks and  put up our own museum, with a big sign that says “ THIS IS THE PERMANENT HOLOCAUST GALLERY” THAT WE NAIVELY BELIEVED WOULD BE PART OF THE CMHR.” At least that way we wouldn’t be subject to the whims of this or that poll, or the upcoming election.

Or maybe it’s time to begin penning a book where every member of our community can at least use their freedom of expression to say how they will feel if it turns out there is no  permanent Holocaust gallery? 

Should we as a Jewish community keep in mind  that in the not too distant future there will be no more survivors alive, to educate first hand about the Holocaust—which will make exhibits in museums all the more important educational tools? 

Is it time for the backers of a permanent Holocaust gallery to start sending public letters, making phone calls to the CEO and Board of Trustees of the Museum, and taking other initiatives to speak out? It’s now or never. I don’t see any point in waiting.

Should our Jewish community institutions both locally and in other parts of Canada be speaking out? In my view the answer is yes.

Should we be reaching out to non-Jewish Canadians who support the existence of a permanent Holocaust gallery and asking them to raise

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.