The example of the Montreal Holocaust Museum

After drawing your attention to the work of Support Refugees, this is the second time we present you an example of an organisation that is inspired by the past to focus on today’s refugees. In this post we let Alice Herscovitch explain how the Montreal Holocaust Museum builds respectful analogies between the current refugee situation and the Holocaust.

By Alice Herscovitch

The mission of the Montreal Holocaust Museum is to educate people of all ages and backgrounds about the Holocaust, while sensitizing the public to the universal perils of antisemitism, racism, hate and indifference. This broad mission has compelled us to address contemporary issues which relate to the promotion of respect for diversity and to counter policies or actions which violate the principle of respect for human dignity.

One of the issues which we have considered fundamental is that of refugee rights. We believe it is essential that we act, and encourage active citizenship based on values which we hold dear. These values reflect rights violated during the Holocaust, including freedom of religion and religious expression, the equal rights and protection of minorities, and particularly the sanctity of human life.

20151104_Fresh_off_the_Press 030
Example of thematic guided tours on propaganda and on the refugee situation, making links between past and present.
20141106_Visite_UnwelcomingtheOther_99
Example of thematic guided tours on propaganda and on the refugee situation, making links between past and present.

We have therefore defined a number of means which we believe respect our principal mandate as a Holocaust education institution, to do this work. Our policy states:

“The Centre shall use its moral authority on issues which can be linked to the Holocaust, and this can truly contribute positively to public reflection, discussion and decision-making. Furthermore, we will leverage this credibility and knowledge to make the link between the past and the present to keep our society open and tolerant.”

We have tried to walk the walk through our efforts on refugee rights. We have countered what we believe to be xenophobic responses to welcoming refugees in Canada.

  1. Solidarity with Muslim communities after the attack on the Quebec mosque

Our most recent action is a declaration on the islamophobic attack on a Quebec mosque and murder of six men at prayer on 29 January 2017. This attack was perhaps motivated by a fear of refugees, according to current reports.

  1. Urging the Canadian government to open its doors to refugees

In 2015 and 2016 we released statements on the global refugee situation urging the Canadian government to open Canada’s doors to refugees:

“Canadians had all sorts of supposedly good reasons not to take in Jews. They were accused of being communists, capitalists with the goal of world domination, of holding anti-Christian values, or incapable of adapting to Canada and of just being inferior. During the Holocaust, our immigration policy has been summarised as “None is too many”. To quote Prime Minister Mackenzie King, as cited in our Museum: “The admission of refugees posed perhaps a greater menace to Canada than did Hitler”. Is that how we think today? […] We are not in the Holocaust period; however we are facing the greatest refugee crisis since WWII. We can sit back, once again, in the comfort of knowing that we are far away. There are 2 million refugees in Lebanon, a country of four million. Can a developed and wealthy country like Canada, with a population of 33 million, which was named the most tolerant country according to the 2015 Prosperity Index, not accept 25,000? Our terrorist attacks in Canada have been homegrown by good native-born Canadians. Our security is being protected through UN and Canadian screening. We have gained much from the contributions of previous refugees to Canada. Our doors must be open.” – About the Refugee Crisis, 27 November 2015.

You can also read our statement “One Year Later” (20 May 2016).

  1. Discover refugee stories on Refugee Rights Day and World Refugee Day 2017

On Refugee Rights Day (4 April 2017) the museum hosted a discussion between three women: Rivka Augenfeld, an advocate for refugee rights, Rena Schondorf, a Holocaust survivor, and third, a recent refugee to Canada. Through their conversation we aimed to discover the experiences of people forced to flee their homes. We are participating in a powerful video campaign for World Refugee Day (20 June 2017) with Singa Quebec, a refugee rights organisation, featuring participants sharing life stories. We hope to “humanize” refugees, challenge misconceptions, break down walls and promote coexistence.

20160323_refugee_rights-discussion_small
Lecture “Solutions pour les migrants” by François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and Rifka Augenfeld, refugee and immigration activist, daughter of Holocaust survivors

Next to the above examples, we have held events on the situation of the Roma, the Rohingya minority in Burma, the Yazidi, and many other endangered minorities. We have worked with the Burundi community both to educate ourselves, and in support of their efforts to prevent genocide. The organisation’s Human Rights Committee, composed of young adults, has willfully become reflective of the diversity of Montreal, and includes several young refugees.

20160208_rohingyas_mcgill
Lecture on Rohingya minority in Burma

We have used our Museum, whose permanent exhibit is entirely focused on the Holocaust, to develop thematic guided tours which are relevant to contemporary issues, including one on propaganda, and another on the refugee situation, making links between past and present.

“It is, we believe, both important and opportune to offer respectful analogies as we see some countries today closing borders and governments engaging in divisive and dehumanising discourse about refugees, while others consciously produce refugees.”   

As we work to assure the ongoing relevance of the Holocaust education and remembrance, the Museum has defined a moral obligation to help the general public to reflect and act on the current refugee situation.

20170301_AliceAlice Herscovitch is the Executive Director of the Montreal Holocaust Museum since 2007. The Museum is devoted to Holocaust education and remembrance and to sensitising the public to the dangers of antisemitism, racism, hate and indifference. Alice was previously the Director of Social Development at the Conférence régionale des élus de Montréal, and Director of Project Genesis (1987-2003), a community organisation working at a grassroots level in the field of social rights. She has also been a lecturer for many years at the McGill University School of Social Work in the field of public policy. She has served on the Board of Directors of several community, institutional and planning bodies and has been a volunteer and an activist for social justice in several fields.