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Politics New plaque at Holocaust memorial will officially recognize murder of Jews, ‘other groups’

The National Holocaust Monument is pictured in Ottawa on Sept. 28, 2017.

Blair Gable/The Globe and Mail

The federal government will officially commemorate the murder of six million Jews on the main plaque at the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, but also the fact "other groups" were specifically targeted by the Nazis, officials said.

The new wording, to be officially unveiled in the spring, comes after the first version of the dedication plaque drew widespread condemnation in Canada and around the world for failing to mention Jews as the prime target of the Second World War genocide.

In its initial wording unveiled in September, the plaque simply said: "The National Holocaust Monument commemorates the millions of men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust and honours the survivors who persevered and were able to make their way to Canada after one of the darkest chapters in history."

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In response to the furor, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly quickly promised to remove the plaque and to replace it with "language that reflects the horrors experienced by the Jewish people."

In November, Ms. Joly approved a plan for a new plaque that would specifically point out that the monument was designed to commemorate "the six million Jewish men, women and children" murdered during the Holocaust, according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.

However, Ms. Joly has since decided to go farther and also acknowledge the murder of other identifiable groups on the plaque. The new plaque will not include a list of the all of the groups that were targeted by the Nazis, but the intention will be to recognize the organized murder of homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma, communists, Afro-Germans and the disabled.

"The National Holocaust Monument commemorates the six million Jewish victims murdered in the Holocaust as well as the other groups targeted by the Nazi regime and their collaborators. We are currently updating the dedication plaque and will be unveiling it in the spring," said Simon Ross, a spokesman for Ms. Joly.

Mr. Ross said the new plaque could not be installed over the winter because of logistical problems. He said the delay provided federal officials with additional time to conduct consultations before coming up with final wording.

"We understand the importance of learning from the past and recognizing historical wrongs through engagement with relevant communities," Mr. Ross said.

According to briefing documents prepared by Canadian Heritage in October, the initial decision not to make a specific reference to Jews was deliberate, with bureaucrats pointing out that not all Holocaust memorials around the world mention targeted groups.

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"By avoiding mentioning one group in particular, the proposed language aimed to ensure that the content would be inclusive to all other groups targeted and attacked by the Nazis," the document said.

The uproar among Jewish groups was swift after the inauguration of the monument, and the chairman of the National Holocaust Development Council, Rabbi Daniel Friedman, apologized for the wording on the original plaque.

In an interview, he said Jews were the "major target" of the Holocaust but that it is also important to recognize other victims.

"We certainly mourn the terror that Hitler [inflicted] on six million Jews as well as hundreds of thousands of other minorities, including homosexuals, the disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses and Roma. There is no doubt that they are an integral part of the historic Holocaust as well," Mr. Friedman said.

He said he hopes that the controversy surrounding the initial dedication plaque will not be forgotten.

"It's important that we learn from our mistakes, small and big," Mr. Friedman said. "This was an error and a learning experience and it will a part of the story of the Holocaust Monument for generations. Terror is something that is not indiscriminate; there are targets of terror."

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The federal briefing document said that after the plaque was removed, a number of groups, including members of the LGBTQ2S community, reached out to Canadian Heritage and asked "to be included in the dedication plaque."

Titled Landscape of Loss, Memory and Survival, the monument was created by a team including Studio Libeskind, Montreal landscape architects Claude Cormier and Associates, historian Doris Bergen, Lord Cultural Resources and the Toronto photographer Edward Burtynsky. It is an open-air pavilion that, seen from above, takes roughly the shape of the Star of David.

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