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Auschwitz survivors pay homage as world remembers Holocaust

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  • WARSAW, Poland — The world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday amid a revival of hate-inspired violence and signs that younger generations know less and less about the genocide of Jews, Roma and others during World War II.

    In Poland, which was under Nazi German occupation during the war, a far-right activist who has been imprisoned for burning the effigy of a Jew gathered with other nationalists Sunday outside the former death camp of Auschwitz ahead of official ceremonies remembering the 1.1 million people murdered there.

    Since last year’s observances, an 85-year-old French Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, was fatally stabbed in Paris and 11 Jews were gunned down in a Pittsburgh synagogue during Shabbat services, the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

    Human Rights First, a U.S. organization, recalled those killings and warned that “today’s threats do not come solely from the fringe.”

    “In places such as Hungary and Poland, once proudly democratic nations, government leaders are travelling the road to authoritarianism,” said Ira Forman, the group’s senior adviser for combatting anti-Semitism. “As they do so, they are distorting history to spin a fable about their nations and the Holocaust.”

    The Polish nationalist, Piotr Rybak, said his group was protesting the Polish government, accusing it of remembering only murdered Jews and not murdered Poles in yearly observances at Auschwitz.

    That accusation is incorrect. The observances at the memorial site pay homage each Jan. 27 to all of the camp’s victims, both Jews and gentiles.

    Counter-protesters at Auschwitz on Sunday held up a “Fascism Stop” sign and an Israeli flag, while police kept the two groups apart.

    Former prisoners placed flowers Sunday at an execution wall at Auschwitz. They wore striped scarves that recalled their uniforms, some with the red letter “P,” the symbol the Germans used to mark them as Poles.

    Early in World War II, most prisoners were Poles, rounded up by the occupying German forces. Later, Auschwitz was transformed into a mass killing site for Jews, Roma and others, operating until the liberation by Soviet forces on Jan. 27, 1945.

    The clashes of views at Auschwitz come amid a surge of right-wing extremism in Poland and elsewhere in the West. It is fed by a broader grievance many Poles have that their suffering during the war at German hands is little known abroad while there is greater knowledge of the Jewish tragedy.

    However recent surveys show that knowledge of the atrocities during World War II is declining generally.

    A new study released in recent days by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Azrieli Foundation found that 52 per cent of millennials in Canada cannot name even one concentration camp or ghetto and 62 per cent of millennials did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

    Its findings were similar to a similar study carried out a year before in the United States.

    The past year in Poland has also seen high emotions triggered by a Holocaust speech law that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for the crimes of Nazi Germany, something that sparked a diplomatic crisis with Israel and a surge of a surge of anti-Semitic hate speech.

    The United Nations recognized Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005.

    ____

    Czarek Sokolowski contributed reporting from Oswiecim, Poland.

    Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press









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    Construction

    Three instances when SNC-case was discussed with Wilson-Raybould, clerk says

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  • OTTAWA — Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, appeared at the House of Commons justice committee Thursday, to answer questions about his knowledge on the SNC-Lavalin affair and whether former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured not to prosecute the company.

    Wernick predicted Wilson-Raybould will express concerns about three meetings when she appears at the committee next week, two of which he attended and all of which he maintained did not cross the line into improper pressure on Wilson-Raybould.

    Here is Wernick’s version of those events:

    Sept. 17, 2018

    A meeting involving Wilson-Raybould, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Wernick, two weeks after the director of public prosecutions decided not to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.

    Wernick said Trudeau called the meeting to discuss the Indigenous rights recognition framework which had bogged down due to “a very serious policy difference” between Wilson-Raybould and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, and other colleagues, about how to proceed on the framework.

    Almost the entire meeting was devoted to that subject, he said, but Trudeau did also reassure Wilson-Raybould that any decision on whether to instruct the public prosecutor to drop the SNC-Lavalin prosecution was hers alone.

    Dec. 18, 2018

    A meeting between the prime minister’s staff and Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff. Wernick, who wasn’t involved, did not provide any details.

    Dec. 19, 2018

    A conversation between Wilson-Raybould and Wernick.

    Wernick said he was trying to get a handle on the issues that might confront the government when Parliament resumed sitting in January. He wanted to know, among other things, whether a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin was still an option and said he “conveyed to her that a lot of her colleagues and the prime minister were quite anxious about what they were hearing and reading in the business press … about the company moving or closing” if the prosecution continued. There were fears it would have consequences for innocent employees, shareholders, pensioners, third-party suppliers and affected communities.

    Wernick said he’s confident the conversation was “within the boundaries of what’s lawful and appropriate. I was informing the minister of context. She may have another view of the conversation but that’s something that the ethics commissioner could sort out.”

    The Canadian Press


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    Canadian shares story of abuse with church officials ahead of Vatican summit

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  • One by one, a dozen survivors shared their shattering tales of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy with high-ranking church officials gathered to listen to the stories they’d declined to hear for years.

    Leona Huggins, the only Canadian in the gathering that took place ahead of a historic summit at the Vatican this week, said the energy built “like a tsunami” as victims hailing from Spain to Jamaica urged clergy to take concrete action to begin a new chapter for the church.

    But she said the tide ebbed quickly as soon as the harrowing accounts were presented.

    Huggins said one archbishop reacted by saying “I guess we’ll have to get to work,” prompting her to ask why such work had not already begun. That question was answered with a demand to be respectful, she said, eroding hope that this week’s summit meant to tackle sexual abuse in clerical ranks would result in true change.

    “We were truth-tellers in that room,” the Vancouver-based school teacher said in a telephone interview from Rome. “It’s really hard for me to think how anyone could hear those stories and not take courageous action.”

    Huggins, 56, had limited hopes for the international meeting, called by Pope Francis in a bid to quell a scandal that has dogged his tenure as head of the Catholic Church.

    The pontiff himself was not at the gathering of survivors held a day before the official summit got underway Thursday, a point that did not sit well with those who shared their stories.

    Huggins, who has gone public with her story of abuse, said her experience played out like so many others. She said she was groomed and ultimately abused by a Catholic priest who worked in her British Columbia parish in the early 1970s.

    He was ultimately convicted in 1991 of sexual offences against two women, including Huggins, but continued working as a priest in communities ranging from Lethbridge, Alta., to Ottawa until his death in 2018.

    Huggins, who used some of her time at the closed-door gathering to call for recognition of Canadian Indigenous victims of abuse, said the Pope’s presence would have been an important sign that the church was serious about addressing past wrongs and preventing new ones from unfolding.

    Pope Francis expressed many high-minded intentions at the summit’s official opening on Thursday, acknowledging the need for concrete action and significant, internal change.

    “Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” he told the gathering. “The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established.”

    People from five continents shared their stories of abuse, including an unnamed woman from Africa who told the gathering of the three abortions her former priest forced her to have during the decades in which he raped her.

    The Pope, for his part, handed out a list of 21 proposals for the church to consider, including specific protocols to handle accusations against bishops.

    One idea called for raising the minimum age for marriage to 16 while another suggested a basic handbook showing bishops how to investigate cases.

    But for Huggins, the specifics of the 21 points did even more than Wednesday’s gathering to chip away at what little optimism remains, lamenting the newly raised minimum age is still wildly out of step with societal norms and criticizing the church for not having a handbook in circulation long ago.

    Huggins said she feels she still has to “hold out hope” that leaders will make good on their promises of reform. If they don’t, she said, she fears an entirely new generation would be at risk.

    “I don’t see how anyone can continue to bring their child to a church that will not promise their child’s safety,” she said.

    — with Files from the Associated Press.

    Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press


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