Veer: It’s important to learn from the horrors of the holocaust

By Tara Veer

On behalf of city council, we hope you’re all enjoying your summer (if it can be said we’ve actually had summer yet?), and that you’re making the most of every opportunity to experience our seasonal festivals, markets, and, above all, our city in a park.

Council remains in session and we are working to fulfill our strategic objectives over the coming months to position our city as:

* A safe community

* A socially responsible city

* A chosen destination

* An economic leader, and for:

* Citizen-focused service

The Office of the Mayor recently received an invitation for me to attend an educational and diplomatic delegation for Canadian elected officials and police chiefs on behalf of The City of Red Deer.

Over the next eight days, I am deeply humbled to be escorted by a Holocaust survivor on a diplomatic and educational tour to Berlin, Warsaw and Jerusalem to meet with government officials and commemorate Holocaust sites with fellow Canadian leaders who are currently focused on public security matters and building community for all citizens.

The purpose of the delegation is to further solidify the commitment of Canadian leaders to the safety of citizens in the communities we are responsible for, to expose us to the social and political conditions that have historically led to division, unrest, and the targeted discrimination and persecution of specific people groups.

This year’s delegation is hosted by Max Eisen, a Hungarian Jew who was eight years old when he was deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where his mother, father, siblings and other family members all tragically died.

Eisen was the sole survivor of his family and, after the war, emigrated to Canada.

This delegation, organized by Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies in Toronto, is how Eisen is fulfilling his promise to his father who, moments before he was transported to be gassed at Birkenau, said: “If you survive, you must tell the world what happened here. Now go.”

I cannot possibly convey how honoured I am to be invited to represent our community and country in this international effort to never forget the horrors of history; steadfastly prevent similar history from repeating itself, accept new responsibility to safeguard the democratic freedoms we so often take for granted, and to protect all people from political and social tyranny.

I anticipate that some Red Deerians may ask, “why Red Deer” and “why now,” especially given our economic climate.

Throughout my time as mayor, the office has occasionally received invitations for international representation and I have declined them all to date, as I feel very strongly that all council-related travel, whether provincial, domestic or international, must have demonstrable benefit and return for our community.

With previous international invitations, I respectfully declined because the benefit to our community did not, in my opinion, outweigh the time and associated expense.

When I considered the purpose of this delegation, and the safety and social challenges our community is contending with, I accepted because I am deeply concerned about the safety crisis and social divisiveness that is, at times, present in our community, and I welcome the opportunity to find new perspective and learn from some of the most respected leaders in public safety in our country and beyond.

From a pragmatic financial perspective, it was highly important to me that associated costs be reasonable and affordable. I applied for and received a scholarship to participate.

I declined other council conferences this year to keep the budget in absolute alignment, and I will also be incurring personal expense.

The delegation’s purpose aligns with council’s safety and inclusive community objectives, and meets both the letter and the spirit of council policy as well as the Code of Conduct Bylaw.

Our societal window of time to learn first hand, document and accurately commemorate the experiences and history of the Second World War and the Holocaust first hand is swiftly diminishing.

We cannot safely assume that our opportunities of today will be our opportunities of tomorrow. Much like other tragedies and traumas, the Canadian public, and government leaders in particular, have a responsibility to veterans and the victims of war to ensure their experiences are known, their stories are told, and most importantly, never experienced again.

As part of my delegation preparations, I have been required to do extensive readings and literature reviews of the Holocaust and, upon conclusion of the educational mission, am required to summarize my findings and communicate back home in Canada.

Early in the fall, for example, our local Royal Canadian Legion has expressed willingness to host a public presentation. Other local groups will also be invited to facilitate community discussion.

While I am on the delegation, I will, as always, be on duty to respond to calls, emails, texts and social media. Any community events requiring a physical presence will be attended by Deputy Handley.

The Second World War veterans among us, Canadians on the homefront, and survivors of the Holocaust are in the sunset years of their natural lives.

May their pleas to modern society to safeguard our freedom, and to stand for the equality of all persons, not go unheeded by us as their future stewards.

As we marked Canada Day this past weekend, I was reminded that our country is privileged to claim we are, indeed, “True North Strong” and “Glorious and Free,” neither of which was secured without sacrifice.

It is, my fellow Red Deerians and Canadians, the unequivocal responsibility of all of us to “Stand on Guard” for the freedom and safety that was paved in sacrifice.

I choose to do my part, and hope to share my commitment to our community safety and unity with you over the next eight days, and most certainly upon my imminent return.

As always, it is council’s privilege to serve you, and we look forward to seeing you throughout the community throughout the summer.

Tara Veer is mayor of Red Deer.

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