THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: THE `UNIQUENESS OF THE HOLOCAUST’ AND THE QUESTION OF GENOCIDE
This article analyzes the debate about the controversial Canadian
Museum for Human Rights by reconstructing the efforts to establish a
government-sponsored Holocaust museum from the late 1990s. This history
reveals that the controversy inheres in part in the conflation of the
rival imperatives to promote atrocity memorialization on the one hand,
above all of the Holocaust, and human rights education/activism on
the other. In multicultural Canada, memory regimes, which utilize
the egalitarian concepts of genocide or crimes against humanity to
emphasize the suffering of all, also vie for official validation with
the Holocaust uniqueness agenda.
The article concludes that the museum is caught on the horns of a
dilemma of its own making: the more it emphasizes commemoration, the
greater the competition among migrant group leaders for exhibition
space dedicated to ‘their’ experience. The more that human rights
are emphasized, the less the interest from the private donors whose
generosity is essential to museum’s financial viability.
Introduction On 6 December 2011, senior staff of Canadian Museum for
Human Rights (CMHR), under construction in Winnipeg, ran its first,
annual public meeting.
After introductory encomia about the museum’s progress, the floor
was briefly opened to questions, revealing bitter disputes about key
elements of the planned exhibits, as CBC News reported: … there
were shouts about why the museum’s Examining the Holocaust gallery
will be devoted almost entirely to the genocide of European Jews,
while other genocides recognized by Canada will be squeezed into a
different gallery, Breaking the Silence.
`Is it the museum’s intention to teach our children that all human
rights flow from the Holocaust?’, shouted one woman, Anne Thompson,
from the gallery.
The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (UCCLA) and
Ukrainian Canadian Congress have previously raised concerns about the
lack of a full exhibit to mark the Holo- domor, a genocidal famine
that took place in Soviet-occupied Ukraine in the early 1930s.
`How did you concretely address some of these concerns that were raised
by the UCC, ISSN 1462-3528 print; ISSN 1469-9494 online/12/020215-24
CD 2012 Taylor & Francis
Page 2 A. DIRK MOSES regarding the… possibly too much concentration
on the Holocaust, vis-a-vis the other trage- dies of the world?’,
Ostap Hawaleshka, a Ukrainian-Canadian and retired professor asked
museum officials at Tuesday’s meeting.
`We think that there are other tragedies… that are at least
equivalent in terms of magni- tude to the Holocaust] but you know,
there’s nothing worse than counting my dead are more than your dead’.
Museum CEO Stuart Murray responded by saying they are listening
carefully to many groups and have done extensive consultation-and
the process is still evolving.
But ‘we try to be very clear with all communities we talk to, that
we’re not a genocide museum, that we’re really a human rights museum
in the sense of how we’re looking at some of these issues’, he said.
Museum spokesperson Angela Cassie added the exhibition plan has
changed significantly in response to concerns raised by the Ukrainian
community, as well as other genocide- affected national groups, such as
Rwandans and Armenians.’ These heated exchanges highlight the various
points of controversy about the CMHR: the Holocaust’s centrality in its
design concept; the vehement opposition to this placement, especially
by Ukrainian Canadians; general sensitivity about the representation
of particular migrant group leaders’ genocidal experiences; and the
museum’s attempts to acknowledge them while also insisting that its
subject matter is human rights rather than genocide. Several background
contexts are needed to understand this conflict.
The first is contemporary museum praxis. Over the last twenty years or
so, museums have tried to forge new relationships with their publics
by problematiz- ing issues and encouraging visitor reflection, rather
than by conveying high culture to the passive masses: ‘exhibition
as process rather than product’, like the Explor- atorium in San
Francisco, for example.
2 At the same time, other more political museum agendas have come to
the fore: a commemorative one that memorializes atrocities, and an
activist concern with combating racism and other sorts of preju- dice.
3 These are not easily commensurable agendas, but examples of their
success- ful reconciliation can be found in the Caen-Normandy Memorial
for History and Peace, and the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance
in Los Angeles.
4 Mention of the Museum of Tolerance points to a second context:
the prevalence of linking the Holocaust to human rights and genocide
awareness: for example, in the European Union Agency for Fundamental
Rights report on Holocaust and Human Rights Education; the Committee
on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM);
the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education,
Remembrance, and Research; Anne Frank House’s work on discrimination;
and the move to integrate ‘other genocides’ into Great Britain’s
Holocaust Memorial Day. In all these cases, the attempt is made to
elicit universal lessons from the particular events that have been
called, retrospectively, the Holocaust.
The proponents of this ‘lessons of the Holocaust’ approach would
likely sub- scribe to Holocaust’s uniqueness. The heated debate
about this contention since the 1980s is another important context
of the Canadian dispute. Its latest iteration centers on east-central
Europe-and especially in Lithuania-in the form of the 216
Page 3 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS `double-genocide thesis’
which posits that the Soviet and Nazi regimes committed genocides of
equal gravity against the Baltic, Slavic and Jewish inhabitants of
what Timothy Snyder calls the `bloodlands’ .
5 Thus in 2008 mainly central and eastern European states signed
the ‘Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism’
to highlight the crimes of the Soviet regimes, and soon after the
European Parliament inaugurated 23 August as the ‘European Day of
Remem- brance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism’ .
6 As might be expected, this memory competition in Europe occurs
wherever the affected Europeans have settled. So yet another context
is the struggle for recog- nition among immigrant community leaders
in multicultural Canada, an identity politics that threatens the
reconciliation of competing museum agendas mentioned above.’ These
leaders tend to invest ‘their’ groups with ontological status, so
that they, and not individuals, are the significant bearers of human
rights and memory.
The liberal agenda of individual human rights is thus undercut by such
communi- tarian assumptions, particularly when collective traumas that
occurred outside Canada are competitively invoked. The widespread use
of the genocide concept indicates the `groupness’ of traumatic injury
and its memory: the suffering of `the Jews’ and ‘the Ukrainians’,
for instance. Their experiences are not adequately captured by the
largely individualistic human rights terminology. In a democratic
system where political leaders can highlight these experiences
to court particular electoral constituencies, this struggle for
recognition is laden with irresistible pol- itical temptations,
especially in the contemporary global environment in which genocidal
intentions against Israel are ascribed to Iran; remembering the Holo-
caust thereby becomes enlisted into the ‘war on terror’, for example.
Finally, an important context pertains to Indigenous Canadians. They
have been conspicuously absent from the debate, perhaps because
attention has been focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
that has been investigating the fate of Indigenous children in
residential schools, or because the museum includes a dedicated
gallery to Indigenous experiences. At the same time, critics have
raised questions about the incomplete archaeological survey of the
museum site, which contains Indigenous heritage.
This article focuses on the first two contexts; I address the others
in another publication.
8 Here I highlight how the controversy about a human rights museum
in Canada since the late 1990s demonstrates the difficulty of
combining atrocity memorialization on the one hand, and human
rights education/activism on the other, in an entrenched culture
of identity politics. The CMHR became a lightning rode for such
claim-making by attempting to operationalize the new par- ticipatory
museum pedagogy: as an ‘ideas museum’ rather than display of arti-
facts, it invited Canadians in 2009 to contribute their experiences
of human rights-usually stories of their violation-for inclusion
in the planned exhibitions, thereby creating a commemorative
expectation. Overwhelmingly, the stories of suffering revealed
that their victimization related to their group membership-
as Indigenous people, Chinese or Ukrainian immigrants in Canada,
or Jews, Ukrainians, Armenians and Rwandan abroad-for which they
often invoked the genocide concept. What is more, this expectation
has been intensely experienced 217
Page 4 A. DIRK MOSES and publicly expressed by migrant community
leaders in heated debates about a government-sponsored Holocaust or
genocide museum since the 1990s.
Not surprisingly, this conjuncture set in motion a general political
dynamic: the attempt to institutionalize a particular memory regime
entailed seeking the support of governments that in turn need to
appease important electoral constituencies. All the while, the ability
of museum supporters to raise private monies depends on their ability
to deliver the promised memory regime, making the memory wars about
more than symbolic capital alone: actual capital is involved.
The attempt to place the Holocaust-as a unique event of
world-historical significance-at the CMHR’s center was initially
successful. In multicultural Canada, however, a rival memory regime,
which utilizes the concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity to
emphasize the equal suffering of all, vies for official vali- dation.
What follows is a dense narrative reconstruction that begins with
efforts to found an official Holocaust exhibition/museum in some form
in the late 1990s.
It will show that until 2003 governments avoided publicly validating
any particu- lar memory regime. Subsequent partiality by Ottawa then
opened a Pandora’s box of irreconcilable traumatic memory competition
between those who postulated the Holocaust’s uniqueness and those
who rejected it. Because no history of the debate about the CMHR has
been written, the purpose of this article is also to provide the first
account and analysis of its development, although it is necessarily a
prelimi- nary undertaking based on publicly available sources. In time,
hopefully, histor- ians will be able to draw on currently unavailable
documentation produced by the museum and government agencies.
Before the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, 1998-2003 The initial
debate about Holocaust memorialization in Canada warrants detailed
attention, because it shows the essential continuities between the
arguments for and against it since the later 1990s. A significant
flashpoint was the controversy about a proposed Holocaust gallery
in the Canadian War Museum. In early 1998, a subcommittee of the
Canadian Senate heard representatives of various ethnic communities
make respective submissions. Jewish groups argued that such a gallery
was consistent with the museum’s mission, indeed that it demon- strated
the moral stakes of the Second World War. As a ‘free-standing permanent
structure’ to symbolize ‘the nation’s commitment to memorializing
the horrors of the Holocaust for generations to come’, as the
Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and B’nai Brith expressed their bid,
the g,allery would fulfill their desire for a gov- ernment-sponsored
Opposing them were, among others, Ukrainian Canadian leaders, whose
sub- mission pleaded for a separate genocide museum, and argued
that any Holocaust exhibit should include all victims of Nazism,
not just Jews.”
) Veterans’ groups adamantly opposed the gallery, angered that they
had not been sufficiently con- sulted about possible inclusion. The
Chairman of the National Council of Veteran Associations, Cliff
Chadderton, suggested that, in any event, other 218
Page 5 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS genocides would need to be
included in such a gallery. The country’s most promi- nent Holocaust
historian, Michael Marrus, likewise had reservations about a Holo-
caust gallery, although he thought a Holocaust museum should be
built in ‘the national interest’. The subcommittee’s report, Guarding
history, approvingly recorded Man – us as advising that such a venture
‘should not be a project which pits groups of Canadians against each
11 In the end, noting ‘the many sensitive and complex aspects of the
possible con- struction of a Holocaust Gallery’, the subcommittee
reached a compromise that represented a setback for the CJC and B’nai
Brith: their gallery proposal was rejected even if the principle of
a ‘free standing [Holocaust] gallery’ in another context remained
intact. The subcommittee’s subsequent recommendation was cal- culated
to keep the social peace by offering all sides some hope. For what it
gave with one hand-‘a national Holocaust Gallery that will serve and
educate Cana- dians for years to come’-it took away with the other
in its twelfth recommen- dation: ‘that the Government undertake a
meaningful and thorough study as to the feasibility of a national
holocaust and/or other acts of genocide gallery’ .
12 Defeated but undeterred, Jewish groups read the recommendations
as a Balfour-Declaration-like commitment to a Holocaust museum,
in part because the museum’s accompanying press release stated that
the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation would ‘assist in the
exploration of an alternative site for the eventual development of
a stand-alone and independent Holocaust Museum’. Quoting this press
release in 2000, Eric Vernon, Director of Govern- ment Relations at the
CJC, insisted that ‘there is a commitment on the table to establish
a stand-alone Holocaust museum, which we now prefer to refer to as
a Holocaust and human rights museum’.
13 So far as I can tell, this is the first mention of a Holocaust
and human rights museum.
Jewish leaders had prevailed in the face of opposition before and were
confident that they could prosecute their case successfully. For
example, in 1995, Sarkis Assadourian, a Syrian-born member of
parliament of Armenian descent, proposed making 20-27 April an official
week to remember crimes against humanity, coinciding with 27 April,
Holocaust Memorial Day (`Yom Hashoah’). His inten- tion was plain;
he wanted ‘members of the House to view the Holocaust and gen- ocide
as more than crimes against one group, but to see them as crimes
14 In the event, Assadourian failed. All ten Canadian provinces recog-
nized Holocaust Memorial Day, followed by the national government
The successful Holocaust Memorial Day campaign was led by Moshe
Ronen, President of the CJC, who in early 1999 accompanied Canadian
Prime Minister Jean Chretien on an official visit to Auschwitz. His
Holocaust survivor father, Mordechai, and Jack Silverstone, the CJC’s
Executive Vice-President and General Counsel, also travelled with them.
15 This visit sparked a new chapter in the Canadian memory wars,
because the Prime Minister declined to consult with other victims
of Nazism in Canada, especially those of Polish background, who
felt affronted that the Nazis’ mass killing of their compatriots
during World War II was not honored. Soon after the trip, Jewish
groups claimed that the prime minister had verbally promised them a
Holocaust museum, a claim 219
Page 6 A. DIRK MOSES Chretien denied.
16 The CJC felt the national government should now honor its per-
Accurately sensing that a Holocaust museum was still on the agenda,
Assadour- ian applied public pressure on the prime minister while he
was still in Europe by urging the government to establish a museum
for all victims of mass violence.
`You can’t say one group of victims is more worthy than another’,
17 He then submitted a private members bill for an exhibition on
crimes against humanity in the Canadian Museum of Civilization as
soon as Chretrien returned in February 1999. The Ukrainian Canadian
Congress (UCC) immediately sup- ported the bill, just as it had used
Chretien’s visit to Europe, which included Ukraine, to advocate a
‘federally funded Genocide Museum in Ottawa’.
It was hard for the UCC to complain of bias when the prime minister
had participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the national memorial
for the Holodomor-the famine-genocide of 1932-1933-while in Kiev.’
8 The Canadian Ethnocultural Council and the new Canadians for a
Genocide Museum-a coalition of many immigrant communities led by
John Gregorovich of the UCC and founded in November 1998 after the
Guarding history recommendation-backed it as wel1.
19 The CJC declined to join the coalition. Manuel Prutschi, its
National Direc- tor of Community Relations, explained that ‘our clear
impression was that this was an effort to dilute the national Holocaust
museum project, so we didn’t see any way to be productively involved’ .
20 As might be expected, Ronen rejected Assadourian’s bill, which he
tried to out- flank by proposing two museums: We want a genocide museum
but we recognize that the Jewish community wants a Holocaust museum,
and that it’s appropriate for them to lobby for it… The Jewish
community feels it’s such a special case that it shouldn’t be included
with other genocides, as it would detract from [the Holocaust].
21 The Canadian Jewish News reported him as suggesting that ‘lobbying
for a gen- ocide museum was being orchestrated by individuals who
cannot tolerate the notion that the Holocaust was a form of genocide
unlike any other, and that it is unique in history in “terms of the
size and scope of its murderous agenda”‘ .
22 Other Jewish leaders criticized Assadourian in the same way:
‘not only does Assa- dourian oppose the construction of a Holocaust
museum’, said Amos Sochac- zevksi, National Chair of the B’nai Brith
Canada’s Institute for International Affairs, ‘he also opposes the
construction of any museum on intolerance that would place emphasis
on the Holocaust as a unique event in history’ .
23 Sol Littman, Canada’s representative at the Simon Wiesenthal
Center for Holocaust Studies, accused Gregorovich of ‘issue envy’
and of trying to portray Ukrainians as ‘victims’ .
24 In March 2000, Ronen called on Minister for Canadian Heritage,
Sheila Copps, ‘to allocate an existing site to house a museum on the
Holocaust and human rights, to be established in partnership with the
Canadian Jewish com- munity and Canadians of good will from across
the country’ .
25 Employing a different strategy, B’nai Brith was willing to entertain
Assadour- ian’s bill so long as the Holocaust stood at its core. The
alternative, said its 220
Page 7 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS president Ruth Klein, was
‘a scramble, almost like a competition for minorities to have their
particular historical pain recorded’.
26 Klein’s was a prescient obser- vation, as the debate about
Assadourian’s private member’s bill revealed. She would have likely
rejected the proposition that the bone of contention was the attempt
to have the government recognize the Holocaust as unique; or have pre-
dicted that Jewish communities leaders would participate in such a
scramble as avidly as other migrant group community leaders.
The Canadian parliament’s Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage
invited community and museum representatives to speak to Assadourian’s
bill in mid- 2000. He introduced the discussion by reminding all that
he did not propose a gen- ocide exhibit, because that would exclude
victims of other sorts of mass crimes, `like the Chinese, with 35
million slaughtered’. His preferred concept was the more inclusive
crimes against humanity. Giving prominence to the suffering of one
group entailed excluding that of another, which was discriminatory and,
he added, repeated the racist logic of the genocide.
27 James Kafieh, a Palestinian- Canadian lawyer of Canadians for a
Genocide Museum, followed with a lengthy submission. While welcoming
the bill’s emphasis on ‘equity and inclusiveness’, he did not think
it went far enough, as it did not form the basis of an education cam-
paign. Consciousness of genocide was lacking in Canadian schools,
‘except for perhaps one case of genocide, where material has been
proliferated widely’, namely the Holocaust. It was particularly
important to increase ‘knowledge and awareness of genocide’ and
‘the forgotten victims-the Gypsies, the Ukrainians, the Cambodians’
so that Canadians can ‘become more supportive in the effort to put
an end to these atrocities’.
28 Like Assadourian’s bill, these pedagogical notions struck at the
heart of the Jewish groups’ agenda to have schools teach the Holocaust
as the lesson about the Second World War, genocide and human rights.
Nate Leipicer, chair of the CJC’s Holocaust Remembrance Committee,
responded by first noting the great strides in Holocaust
memorialization made elsewhere in the world: the new Holocaust
exhibit in London’s Imperial War Museum and the International
Forum on the Holocaust in Stockholm whose charter was signed by
Canada. International government and academic recog- nition of
the Holocaust underwrote its special status, he said: ‘It was the
opinion of a large majority of those who attended [Stockholm], and
substantiated by historians and social scientists, that the Holocaust
Leipicer set out the reasons for this claim in detail, though trying
to avoid giving offence to others: `All genocide, all human tragic
events, are of equal importance.
There’s no ques- tion about that. We do not want to get into a
contest on whose tragedy was larger or who suffered more. This does
not lead us anywhere’. As so often happens in these debates, this
type of statement was immediately qualified: ‘However, the Holocaust
encompasses all genocide and all mass murders, wherever they happen
and whenever they occur’. On this basis, the CJC proposed ‘a Holocaust
and human rights museum that would focus on the Holocaust as such
and would also include the question of human rights’. This was still
an inclusive agenda, he insisted, mentioning the other victims of
Nazism. Holocaust education entailed talking ‘about all atrocities
that were perpetrated against other people’.
Page 8 A. DIRK MOSES Leipicer’s message was underlined by Sheldon
Howard, Director of Govern- ment Relations at B’nai Brith, Canada. The
Holocaust would be a ‘central theme’ and ‘springboard, if you like, for
a discussion about genocide, about crimes against humanity, and about
the horrors of this century’. He too empha- sized education. Justifying
the Holocaust’s centrality was easy: ‘The answer is so that crimes
against humanity witnessed in the past 100 years, the pinnacle of
which was the Holocaust, will never, ever happen again’. While it was
important to be inclusive ‘to reflect the spirit of our multicultural
Canadian identity’, the museum’s depiction of history also must be
‘exacting’, by which he meant that the Holocaust ‘was unique’: it was
‘not just another example of state-sponsored killing in the twentieth
century’. This was a fact, he continued, ‘that must be hon- oured,
honoured without in any way detracting from the other genocides perpe-
trated in the twentieth century’. The Holocaust, he thought, could
be a ‘central reference point’ without ‘undermining the experience
of other ethnic groups’, because its lessons were ‘universal’ and
invited comparisons with other cases, thereby drawing them into the
social field of vision.
30 Howard outlined three rationales for a Holocaust and human rights
museum. As nothing said by CMHR representatives and supporters in
2010 and 2011 was not already expressed by the CJC in 2000 for this
first iteration of a Holocaust and human rights museum, they warrant
First, the Holocaust is the most completely documented genocide of
the century, so from a practical perspective, the foundations exist
to support the study of other atrocities. Second, the lessons of
the Holocaust are particularly pertinent here in Canada since we
live in a western, industrialized democracy that shares many of
the cultural traditions and values of pre-war Germany. Third, the
Holocaust experience illustrates the step-by-step map that leads to
genocide: from pervasive social bias to legalized exclusion; from
state-sanctioned removal of rights to brutal dehumanization; from
ethnic cleansing to, finally, the systematic, industrialized mass
murder of the ‘final solution’ as an open and protected government
31 The only difference between the CMHR’s rhetoric and this list is
that human rights substitute for genocide, although a few lines later
Howard added that ‘the Holo- caust contains all the elements of human
As might be expected, speakers from other groups focused on their
own experi- ences and challenged the Jewish representatives’
case. Ukrainian, Arab and Rwandan representatives made the now
familiar pitch for an ‘equitable’ and `inclusive’ genocide museum
while pointing out the special, even ‘unique’ dimen- sions of their
own experiences. Another turn of phrase would recur a decade later.
Marsha Skypuch from the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association
(UCCLA), like Kafieh, stressed the ignorance about genocide among
Canadian school children, and added ‘I want them to think of themselves
as Canadians and to think that everyone is equal, not that anyone is
more equal than someone else’ .
32 The standing committee met again five days later to continue
deliberations, this time inviting officials from the Canadian Museum
of Civilization Corporation.
Page 9 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS John English and Victor
Rabinovich were models of tact, gently reminding ethnic community
leaders that the private memorialization of their tragedies should
be regarded as adequate while also empathizing with their suffering:
‘in a society as complex as our own’, said the latter, ‘memory is
not necessarily something that is state sanctioned or government
sanctioned’. What Rabinovich meant by `complex’ was indicated
by the multiple references to ‘social cohesion’ in the two men’s
presentations. So when pressed by Assadourian whether the museum would
sponsor a Holocaust museum, Rabinovich assured him that it would not.
Making plain the government line, he added that ‘All of us have terrors
in our past, whether as communities or as individual. Focusing history
only on terrors is not a constructive way of moving forward’ .
33 In light of the two hearings, the standing committee reached the
same decision as the Canadian War Museum: a strategic deferral of the
question. The only con- sensus it could discern among the quarreling
community representatives was to establish a separate museum that
focused on research, education and memory.
But whose model would prevail? The ‘Canadian way of reaching
consensus’, reported the committee, emphasized ‘tolerance and
reconciliation’, which entailed avoiding ‘disagreement over the form
and content of a traditional museum’.
Accordingly, it recommended that academic centers conduct research on
‘all gen- ocides and crimes against humanity’.
34 No-one’s memory would be officially con- secrated-at least for now.
Defeated yet again, Jewish community leaders kept up their contact with
high level government figures. Writing in December 2001, Dr. Israel
Unger and Eleanor Getzler, co-chairs of the CJC’s National Holocaust
Remembrance Com- mittee, were frustrated by the lack of progress. ‘Six
months have now elapsed since your frank and open dinner meeting
with leaders of the Jewish community of Canada’, they wrote to the
Minister of Canadian Heritage, at which you out- lined your vision
of how the Museum should unfold’. Invoking the terror attack in
New York and World Conference Against Racism in Durban a few months
earlier, they submitted that ‘now, perhaps more than ever, we need
to establish an edu- cational and research facility in the nation’s
capital dedicated to promoting human rights and Canadian values of
respect for diversity and equality while sen- sitizing visitors about
the dangers of extreme racism and hate that are the lessons of the
Holocaust, the supreme manifestation of race hate and genocide’.
35 After 9/ 11, geopolitics and the evocation of a ‘new antisemitism’
featured in the electoral calculus of the museum’s pitch.
36 The Museum is conceived, 2003-2009 In the event, it was the Asper
Foundation, led by media tycoon, Israel Asper, which achieved the
breakthrough. Set up in 1982, the foundation is a philanthropic
organization that in 1997 commenced a ‘Human Rights and Holocaust
Studies Program’ in Winnipeg, his home town. Among other elements,
the program entails the expensive and logistically complex exercise
of taking students to the USHMM in Washington, DC.
37 Why not have a similar institution in Canada, 223
Page 10 A. DIRK MOSES the Asper family asked after a visit there
38 Asper, a senior figure in the Manitoba Liberal Party scene as well
as a prominent businessman, understood that, after two parliamentary
committees on the subject, the government was uninterested in a
stand-alone Holocaust or genocide museum because it threatened the
official commitment to social cohesion. During 2000 and 2001, he
investigated the feasibility of a Canadian Museum for Human Rights in
Winnipeg, and sought the support of local and regional politicians. In
November 2001, he wrote to Chretien-they knew one another from Liberal
Party politics-and to all levels of government with a three-volume
feasibility study for a human rights and Holo- caust museum in the vein
of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
39 His supporters think he approached government after realizing that
private funding would be inadequate.
4 Already before the November 2001 submission, Chretien had been
attracted by the proposal’s link to the Canadian Charter of Rights
and Freedoms that he had championed, as well as the private- public
partnership funding model: while government would contribute funds,
Asper would raise private monies and contribute the balance himself.
Chretien agreed to fund 100 million Canadian dollars although no
written agreement to this effect was signed:” Negotiations dragged
on during 2002 as different levels of government weighed up the
opportunity cost of such an investment; federal monies for this
project would mean essential infrastructure could not be funded. In
April 2003, the Min- ister of Canadian Heritage agreed to contribute
as a way to stimulate private fun- draising that in turn might induce
further government backing.
42 This tentative support suggested that the communal differences
about such a museum might have been resolved to the government’s
43 Unlike in previous proposals by Jewish community leaders based
in Ottowa, the Asper Foundation’s executive director, Moe Levy,
assured all that the venture was a ‘museum for human rights,
not the Holocaust’. Asper also insisted that ‘This museum will be
totally apolitical and antiseptic in terms of trying to preach a
message of one kind of inhumanity over another’!” Significantly,
there was no opposition from the UCC, which purports to represent a
significant electoral con- stituency of over one million Canadians
who can claim some Ukrainian descent (more than three times as
many as Jewish Canadians), hundreds of thousands of whom live in
Manitoba. Levy promised the UCC in letter of 11 April 2003 that
the Asper Foundation proposal was for ‘an all-inclusive Canadian
genocide museum’, invoking that term much-used by non-Jewish groups
during the parlia- mentary committee debates of 2000. Indeed, the
proposed museum would house exhibits on many human rights abuses,
including those perpetrated by Canadian governments. The letter
continued in the manner of previous proposals: ‘As you are aware, the
CMHR goes well beyond a genocide museum. The CMHR’s objec- tive is to
recognize and celebrate human rights as the foundation for human equal-
ity, dignity and freedom’. The sweetener was the promise that the
‘Ukrainian Famine/Genocide’ would feature ‘very clearly, distinctly,
and permanently’, as would the internment of Ukrainians in World War
One. In return, Levy requested a letter of support to include in the
45 Indeed, the UCC was grateful 224
Page 11 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS that the Ukrainian story
would be told here. ‘The museum will be the first place in the world
where the famine will be given attention’, said the UCC’s executive
director, Ostap Skrypnyk.
46 The UCC was enamoured of the projected museum’s genocide memorial
function rather than solely its human rights agenda, as was the
Armenian community affiliated Zoryan Institute after a meeting with
Gail Asper at the same time. The Armenian-Canadian leadership was
trying to reach a compromise between the Holocaust and genocide
rivalry and thought the Asper approach provided the answer.
47 This Jewish-Ukrainian unanimity was remarkable in view of
the acrimony between the communities during the 1980s and 1990s
regarding the war crimes prosecution campaign against some Ukrainian
immigrants-above all the mainly Ukrainian-manned Waffen-SS Division
`Galicia’-for collaborating with Nazis in World War II and the
Holocaust. The UCC and UCCLA felt that Ukrai- nian-Canadians were
being unfairly singled out by the government’s Commis- sion of Inquiry
on War Criminals, established in 1985, especially in view of the fact
that communists responsible for Holodomor and other crimes, who might
also be in Canada, were not pursued. Ukrainian-Canadian leaders also
thought that Jewish leaders, who had pushed for the prosecutions,
were not sufficiently anti-communist, as they needed to rely on the
Soviet Union to furnish evidence for the war crimes cases. In fact, the
UCCLA was founded in the mid-1980s because its members felt that the
UCC was not campaigning effectively against the war crimes allegations.
48 In this vein, it declined to follow the UCC’s endorse- ment of the
project, instead advocating the position of the Canadians for a Geno-
cide Museum coalition-its spokesman, after all, was John Gregorovich,
then the UCCLA president-namely equal treatment for all genocides,
which meant no special treatment for the Holodomor either.
49 The UCCLA’s consistent view that the Asper plan was a Holocaust
museum in disguise was borne out by Jewish groups leaders’
expectations. They certainv did not interpret the new museum in the
terms that Levy set out in his letter to the UCC. Its attraction was
the Holocaust commemoration focus. It was no secret that the Asper
family wanted ‘to create a Canadian setting to explain the Holo-
5° The Asper Foundation press announcement of the project also made
plain the Holocaust’s centrality. A Holocaust gallery would be one
of the perma- nent ones; at this point, there was no mention of a
gallery for other genocides or crimes against humanity. As if to head
off the anticipated objections to the Holo- caust gallery, the museum
project’s announcement presented a detailed case for the Holocaust’s
uniqueness in the same terms as the parliamentary committee heard
three years earlier, although without relating it to human rights.
You may ask why there is a focus on the Holocaust in the Consequences
Gallery. The Holo- caust represents a singular, unprecedented event
in human history.
Though other systematic mass murders of specific groups in the
multi-millions represented great evil, many scholars around the
world are of the opinion that the Holocaust is unique in its breadth
and depth. It is the first and only time in history that an entire
people across the planet (referred to by the Nazis as ‘world Jewry’)
were openly targeted for annihilation for the sole purpose of their
religion by a democratically elected modern government of one of the
most advanced, 225
Page 12 A. DIRK MOSES cultured, and intellectual countries in the
world. Almost two thirds of European Jewry, one third of world Jewry,
were murdered because of government-sanctioned prejudice based on
ignorance, fear and misunderstanding. European Jewish civilization was
effectively wiped off the face of the planet. Another unique aspect
of the Holocaust is the fact that the Nazis were able to implement
their ‘Final Solution’ by maintaining the racist ideology that the
elimination of world Jewry (also referred to by the Nazis as ‘the
destructive race’) would benefit Germany and the world when in fact
the Jews were no threat.
Finally, the uniqueness of the Holocaust prompted the coining of the
word ‘genocide’ by Rafael Lempkin [sic] in his 1944 book Axis Rule
in Occupied Europe.
51 An Asper Foundation press release a month later mentioned its
commitment to create a major human rights museum that will also
‘incorporate the largest Holo- caust gallery in Canada’.
52 The continuity of this framing is apparent. In 2005, Kim Jasper, a
spokeswoman for Friends of the Canadian Human Rights Museum, was quoted
as saying that ‘the Holocaust will be a key part of the project’ .
53 And in 2008, Gail Asper-who led the foundation after Israel
Aspers’ death in 2003-praised the fact that the CMHR ‘will contain
the first national gallery in Canada dealing with the Holocaust. This
is something that is long overdue for Canada. It’s highly appropriate
that the gallery dealing with the Holocaust and anti-Semitism today
be in the museum for human rights’.
54 The battle over the Holocaust’s uniqueness, with the familiar
arguments from the earlier parliamentary committee debates, continued
in the press in 2003 and 2004. Barney Sneiderman, a law professor
at the University of Manitoba in Win- nipeg, reminded readers of
the Winnipeg Free Press that the ‘Holocaust is unique in a way’,
after Lubomyr Luciuk had contested Moe Levy’s statement that ‘the
Holocaust stands out as a unique event in history’.
55 Luciuk, the son of Ukrainian political refugees, director of
research for the UCCLA, and a much-published pol- itical geography
academic at the Royal Military College of Canada, responded with an
article in The Ukrainian Weekly called ‘All genocide victims must be
56 Referring to the guarantee of Gail Asper of ‘100% satisfaction’
with the museum, Luciuk wrote it could only mean that ‘many millions
of Ukraine’s victims are not marginalized, somehow made less worthy
of memory than the Holocaust’s victims. The Holodomor was arguably the
greatest act of genocide in 20th century Europe. Recognizing that would
not only ensure that the proposed Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a
unique institution, it would make it a truly world class one as well’ .
57 This debate may have been largely academic because, by the end of
2003, Asper had died and Chretien left office, leaving the museum’s
fate in the hands of his Liberal Party successors. The project
languished until a change of govern- ment in 2005 and election campaign
in the next year during which the Conservative Party leader Stephen
Harper agreed to make it a national priority.
58 Not surprisingly, the Aspers’ family-owned newspaper, the National
Post, run by Israel’s son David, also stood behind it; the paper
supported Harper during the election campaign. Harper was also
adamantly pro-Israel, and he was rewarded for both positions with
the CJC’ s ‘Saul Hayes Human Rights Award’ in 2009.
Page 13 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS These links between
the CMHR, Holocaust commemoration, combating global antisemitism and
anti-Zionism featured in parliamentary debate that year. While Irwin
Cotler, Chief Counsel to the CJC during the divisive war crimes
investi- gations in 1986, raised the spectre of Iran’s threat to
Israel, Brian Jean entreated the CMHR’s role to ‘allow people to learn
about the values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of
law, and indeed to remember such atrocities [like the Holocaust]’ .
6° Anita Neville, representing Winnipeg South Centre, reminded the
house about the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-
semitism established earlier that year to confront antisemitism in
the guise of anti- Zionism, before turning to what she saw as the
CMHR’s essential purpose, namely Holocaust memorialization.
However, the important issue is that the genesis of the Canadian
Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg was that it would be a Holocaust
museum. There was much discussion over it and much input from a whole
host of communities as to whether it should be a Holocaust museum or
indeed a museum of human rights, as it is now established.
It is equally important that there be a permanent Holocaust gallery
in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It was the vision of the
late Israel Asper in promoting this museum. It was the basis upon
which many private sector donors made their contributions to 4.
61 Neville understood the fund-raising logic of the Holocaust
commemoration focus. The financial dimension was also an inducement for
the Winnipeg business community, as it promised to bring much-needed
investment and jobs to the depressed inner city. Consistently
supportive was the Winnipeg Free Press, whose owners, Ronald Stern and
Bob Silver, donated between CAD$500,000 and CAD$999,999 to the CMHR.
62 Leo Ledohowski, the Ukrainian-Canadian owner of a large hotel
chain and supporter of Holodomor memory, gave between one and two
millions dollars, perhaps in keeping with Moe Levy’s encouragement
to ethnic communities to tell their stories and raise money so they
could participate in the museum’s orientation. ‘We believe the people
who pay should have a say in how it is run’, he said in 2003.
63 In August 2008, the Museums Act was amended to make the CMHR the
coun- try’s fifth national museum and the first outside Ottawa. Stuart
Murray, a Manito- ban Conservative Party leader, was appointed its
director a year later. Now the federal government would run the museum,
but its ‘say in how it is run’ was unclear in the transitional year
before Murray took control. In the meantime, a Ministerial Advisory
Committee consulted focus groups for a report about the museum’s
possible content. The Holocaust received a low 7 per cent support,
ranking below First Nations, genocide, women, internments, and war
and conflict, an outcome that mollified Luciuk at the time.
64 This ranking was inconsistent with the political and fund-raising
imperatives that had hitherto informed the museum’s plans.
After construction commenced in April 2009, near the junction of the
Red and Assiniboine Rivers, the historic center of Winnipeg known as
‘the Forks’, the museum’s staff conducted new meetings with citizens
across the country to 227
Page 14 A. DIRK MOSES ascertain their human rights experiences. The
results were collected with com- mentary and recommendations by a
Contents Advisory Committee led by Asper confidant, the lawyer Yude
Henteleff, also a member of the advisory board of the B’nai Brith
National Task Force Leadership whose executive director is Ruth Klein.
65 The Contents Advisory Committee Final Report was released on 25
66 It signaled a new phase in the museum wars.
The Contents Advisory Committee Report and its aftermath, 2009-2011
The report’s controversial recommendation was to effectively up-end the
ranking of the 2008 Ministerial Advisory Committee by now featuring the
Holocaust in the museum’s central gallery, a decision that journalist
Ira Basen regarded as all too `predictable’ in his much-cited article
on the CMHR.
67 The impression of partial- ity was hardly dispelled by the
report’s transparent reasoning, for, without explicit justification,
it adopted the perspective of Holocaust survivors rather than those of
other trauma victims, whose testimony it chose to exclude. Moreover,
the reason- ing repeated the now well-known arguments used a decade
before in the parlia- mentary committee hearings, plus the new
post-9/11 concern with the so-called new antisemitism: Those who
advocated that the Museum should recognize the centrality of the
Holocaust emphasized that it is the Holocaust that provides our
paradigm for understanding the causes and processes of all mass,
state-sponsored violence, as well as provides the inspiration for
human rights protection on a world-wide scale. As such, it merits
a permanent home and a major focus within the Museum. With such
an essential foundation secured, the Museum can and should explore
relationships between other genocides and the Nazi atrocities: for
example, how the Nazis learned from the earlier genocide in Armenia.
At the Vancouver bilateral meetings, we were exhorted to use the
experience of the Nazi Holocaust as a lens through which to view all
genocides… Indeed, many of those who attended the sessions across
Canada spoke not only of the Holocaust but also of the resurgence of
anti-Semitic views and behaviour.
68 That the Holocaust would always constitute the museum’s heart seems
likely considering that the architectural designs had been delegated to
Ralph Applebaum Associates, a New York firm that designed the USHMM,
in 2005 and completed already in late March 2007, at which stage
the Holocaust gallery was allocated `approximately 4,500 sq. ft.,
a significant part of the 47,000 sq.
ft. of exhibit space’ .
69 In other words, the Contents Advisory Committee Report seems to
have been tailored to match the architectural concept and designs that
were decided long before the public consultation. What changed is its
public rationale after the museum became a federal crown corporation
in 2008; the explicit appeals to Holocaust uniqueness were dropped
and the link to human rights asserted.
The CMHR was now proposing twelve galleries. After the
introductory gallery, a substantial one was to be devoted to First
Nations-Indigenous peoples, highlight- ing their survival and culture
as well as suffered wrongs. The next was the largest, the Holocaust
gallery. Then followed a smaller one on ‘mass atrocities’ in which
the Holodomor, internment of Ukrainians in World War One, and other
events in 228
Page 15 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS twentieth-century Canadian
and global history were each granted a little space.
The remaining galleries were devoted to human rights issues and
activism. In effect, the idea floated by the CJC and B’nai Brith
in 2000 that two museums be constructed-one for the Holocaust and
another for genocide-was incorpor- ated within the new CMHR, the
‘mass atrocity’ gallery representing other geno- cides and crimes
As might be expected, the UCC now felt that the deal sealed in
2003 had been broken, while the UCCLA was disma,yed that the 2008
MinisteriaUAdvisory Com- mittee report had beeen superseded.'” Being
‘lumped’ in the mass atrocity gallery was considered particularly
objectionable. The Ukrainian-Canadian leaders spent the rest of
2010 and 2011 mounting an unremitting campaign against the Advisory
Committee’s report. It took various forms: lobbying the museum,
lobbying poli- ticians and pressing their case in the media. They
were not alone.
Tony Bergrneier, National President of the German -Canadian Congress,
said ‘We shouldn’t have a Holocaust exhibit as a permanent exhibit if
no one else has one’, but on the whole it was the Ukrainian community
leaders who drove the campaign. Voices from First Nations, African and
Asian migrant communities were conspicuously absent.’ I Some of the
demands varied, as before. The UCC wanted a Holodomor gallery that
bore comparison with the Holocaust one, while the UCCLA advocated
twelve galleries that are ‘thematic, comparative and inclusive’,
in which no genocide pre- dominated; where the UCC wanted to elevate
the Holodomor to the Holocaust’s lofty status, the UCCLA wanted to
bring the Holocaust down to the same level.
Both agreed that Gail Asper and her foundation should not be associated
with the museum-she still chaired the Friends of the CMHR-and that
the museum’s leadership should be changed to reflect the demographic
diversity of the country. Tactics have included organizing their
own poll which showed that the Holocaust was not a popular priority,
and a postcard campaign featuring a cartoon from the 1947 Ukrainian
edition of George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, with a whip-bearing
pig overlain with the quotation that ‘All animals are equal but some
animals are more equal than others’, as well as `All galleries are
equal but some are more equal than others’, evoking Marsha Skypuch’s
remark to the parliamentary committee in 2000.
72 Not surprisingly, the postcard provoked accusations of
antisemitism. The UCCLA denied that the card painted Jews as
(communist) pigs although it is not hard to understand why it would
be interpreted in this way.
Luciuk could invoke the authority of Michael Marrus who criticized the
CMHR in an interview in April 2011. Marrus thought that the community
consultation had predictably resulted in the public preoccupation
with the museum’s memorializa- tion function as immigrant communities
sought to have their experiences rep- resented, thereby pitting them
against one another, as he had warned in 1998.
He also disputed the museum’s claim that the Holocaust animated the
postwar human rights movement. ‘Unfortunately, there is very little
evidence for this con- tention. To the contrary, in the immediate
postwar period there still does not seem to have been a very clear
sense about the nature of the Holocaust, and it takes until 229
Page 16 A. DIRK MOSES the 1960s or 1970s for this to really gel. I
think the prominence given to the Holo- caust, however well meaning,
is historically incorrect’ .
74 Marrus was consulted by the museum but ignored.
Predictably, he was dismissed by Dan Lett in the Winnipeg Free Press.
The author of many articles defending the CMHR, Lett reminded readers
that an open letter of 91 academics had attacked the UCC/UCCLA campaign
for inflating the death toll of the Holodomor so it exceeded the
Holocaust, and for failing to mention that Ukrainian nationalists
had collaborated with the Nazis in the Holo- caust.
75 But Marrus was not alone. Roger W. Smith and George Shirinian, both
of the Armenian-Canadian community-affiliated International Institute
for Geno- cide Studies, wrote separate pieces urging genocide as
the master concept of the CHMR because it was a de facto genocide
museum irrespective of official insis- tence that it was really a
human rights museum.
76 Like Paul Grod of the UCC, Shirinian argued that each unique
experience of genocide would be distorted if fil- tered through
the Holocaust lens. The latter did not in fact encompass all other
genocides, as so often asserted by Jewish leaders, they said.
77 The campaign began to bite by early 2011. One by one,
parliamentarians, especially those of Ukrainian background or with many
Ukrainian-Canadian con- stituents, publicly criticized the prominence
of the museum’s Holocaust gallery and pleaded for the Holodomor’
s equal status.
78 In March, the museum board invited Lindy Ledohowski, a literature
scholar of Ukrainian descent, to join it, much to the UCC’ s pleasure.
79 The museum also began to backpedal on its claim that the Holocaust
had given birth the human rights movement.
Now it stressed that Nazi Germany represented the ultimate assault on
human rights, and that the Holocaust gallery would include non-Jewish
victims of the Holocaust.
Finally, the museum’s spokesperson, Angela Cassie, began to stress
that the Con- tents Advisory Committee Report represented only interim
advice and that the museum’s contents were still under review.
80 At the same time, proponents of the museum’s Holocaust-centrism
continued to advance the older arguments. The Winnipeg Free Press
thought the Holocaust should take the ‘front seat’ in any human rights
museum because it had inspired postwar human rights, an argument
made by the same newspaper earlier when it observed that ‘The museum
is not saying that individual Jews suffered more than Ukrainians,
but it is saying that some crimes are more revealing and conse-
quential than others’ .
81 The claim to uniqueness continued to be an article of faith for
academics like Arthur Schafer, who insisted that the Holocaust be
given `primacy of commemoration because of the ideology that was
behind the murder of the Jews’ ; 82 and to Catherine Chatterley of
the new Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, who argued
that the Holocaust is ‘unique because its antecedents are two thousand
years old and yet still persist today. One cannot say that about the
ideologies at work in other genocides’ .
83 An online petition of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg to support
the Holocaust gallery stated that ‘the Holocaust is unfortunately
the ultimate prototype for the study of human rights violations’
but that it ‘in no way detracts from the histories of other human
rights violations. In fact, the opposite will be the case; to learn
about the Holocaust 230
Page 17 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS will allow one to acquire
greater insight into other human rights violations’ .
84 They could not understand the UCC/UCCLA objections as other than
ignorarxe, bad faith or antisemitism.
The fear that the Holocaust gallery would be somehow diluted or
abandoned was most acutely expressed by Rhona Spivak, editor of the
Winnipeg Jewish Review. In an ‘Open Letter to Lubomyr Luciuk’ in March
2011, she rejected his polling ploy, arguing that, as a tiny minority,
Jews would always be unpopular with the non-Jewish majority. The
gallery decision should instead be made by `scholars of genocide’,
who she thought would agree that the Holocaust’s unique- ness was an
unassailable fact. Again, the evidence on the public record suggests
that the Jewish community’s interest in the CHMR was driven by the
commem- orative uniqueness agenda.
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 resent- ful if efforts to eliminate a permanent
Holocaust Gallery are successful.
85 If Luciuk thought the Asper Foundation broke its deal with the UCC,
Spivak was arguing that the Jewish community’s deal was being broken
Its expec- tation, as the critics had suspected all along, was that
the CMHR would be the vehicle for the Holocaust museum for which
Jewish leaders had been striving since the 1990s. Yude Henteleff’s
address to the University of Manitoba in January 2012 likewise
expressed alarm at the prospect of the Holocaust’s decen- tering:
‘If this [`position of the Holocaust separate zone’] is in any way
diminished it will significantly impair the museum in carrying out
its stated objectives as noted in its enabling legislation’. To ensure
that ‘this diminshment [sic] will not occur’, he urged the museum to
appoint a permanent ‘recognized international scholar with respect
to the Holocaust’, becuause ‘ad hoc consultations even with experts
in the field falls far short of the necessity of such a staff person’ .
86 In the event, Jewish journalists were quickly reassured about the
size and per- manence of the Holocaust gallery when they expressed
concern in late 2010.
87 A year later, they seemed less sanguine because of the continuous
changes underway in exhibition planning. Antisemitism, for one, seemed
underplayed for the tastes Jewish Post and News’s editor, Bernie
Bellan, who also noted the steady dimin- ution of the Holocaust’s
dedicated gallery space since Asper’s original 2003 concept. He
attributed the introduction of the Armenian genocide and Holodomor
into its space as contextual background-though he doubted whether
the Holodo- mor was really a genocide-to the CMHR’s need to find
‘a compromise approach’ with the Ukrainian lobby.
88 To be sure, the tone has changed. The public campaign against the
Contents Advisory Committee Report seems to have taken its toll on
the nerves of senior management, who also receive advice about best
practice from the museum’s pro- fessional researcher-curators. External
peer review by scholars like the historian 231
Page 18 A. DIRK MOSES Doris Bergen and sociologist Chris Powell
also led to a recasting of the Holocaust and mass atrocity
galleries in 2011. Whereas the Holocaust was once said to be `the
heart of the museum’, its `center-piece’, ‘conceptual core’ and
’emotional anchor’-the hitherto successful pitch to donors about its
uniqueness-now the planned gallery space is beginning to downplay its
memorialization function by instead highlighting three aspects that
intersect with human rights issues: the cor- ruption of state power,
the spreading of fear and hatred, and war.
Acknowledging that Nazi persecutions cannot be captured by the human
rights concept alone, an exhibit on Raphael Lemkin, the originator
of the genocide concept, is also envi- saged.
The mass atrocities gallery will now be called ‘breaking the
silence’. Its purpose is, again, to downplay the commemorative
dimension of the selected events by highlighting issues such as
resistance and responses to gross human rights violations, for
instance, breaking the silence about them.
Some of them are genocides, like the five formally recognized
by Canada’s parliament: Armenia, Holodomor, Holocaust, Rwanda and
Srebrenica. Some are not genocide, like Taliban restrictions on women
in Afghanistan. Moreover, material on Canadian Indigenous peoples
will now feature in all eleven galleries in addition to the gallery
devoted to Indigenous rights. The more the design process becomes
integrated into academic protocols, the more it tends in the direction
of a human rights museum, and the less the political imperative from
above to commemorate the Holocaust as unique can impose itself.
s9 Conclusion There are limits to this professionalization, however,
because the existence of a Holocaust gallery cannot be expunged for
political and financial reasons, even though its justification is
hardly convincing. Consider the strained reasoning of the museum’s head
Stuart Murray at a university event about the CMHR in Sep- tember 2011.
So if you look at the role of the Holocaust in the museum, as one
important example, com- memorating the suffering of the victims isn’t
going to be the aim.
But, examining how a modern, advanced, democratic society could
so quickly and vio- lently collapse into genocide? Well, there’s
an exceedingly relevant lesson there. In the same way, there are
lessons to be learned from other past abuses that our visitors will
find inside the walls of the museum.
But comparing the suffering of one individual over another? Not here.
Not ever. That’s never been our game. And if we need to be clearer
on that, then so we will. There’s no ques- tion that I’ve heard
concern, as one somewhat prominent example, from the Ukrainian-
9° Having abandoned two previous justifications for the Holocaust’s
centrality- namely that its horror led to the United Nations Universal
Declaration on Human Rights and the Genocide Convention in 1948; and
that it is the best documented and/or most commemorated genocide,
i.e., the only one of world historical sig- nificance-the CMHR now
presents the Holocaust as the archetypal collapse of 232
Page 19 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS democracy into genocide
from which human rights lessons can be drawn.
But why this archetype? Most societies where gross human rights
abuses have occurred in the twentieth century were not democracies
that collapsed. Why not take as a model the Great Leap Forward in
China in which so many millions starved or were killed?’ Moreover,
in Murray’s words, genocide is (again) commingled with human rights,
reintroducing the atrocity memorialization question through the back
door. By offering the Holocaust as the prototypical human rights viola-
tion, coupled with a separate gallery for other genocides and gross
human rights violations, a human rights museum perforce becomes,
at least in part, a genocide memorial whether it intends to or not.
Moreover, as presented here, Elie Wiesel’s formulation of universal and
essen- tially Jewish character of the Holocaust, designed to address
why others should learn about the Holocaust, is transformed into a
phenomenological stance that the Holocaust provides the archetype
for understanding all other genocides or human rights abuses. Yet
the ways in which the Holocaust is phenomenologically distinct make
it a poor archetype for understanding other genocides.
92 That is why to claim that singling out the Holocaust or the
Nazi regime as somehow paradig- matic does not implicitly compare
suffering is difficult to square with metaphors and judgments used
by museum supporters like ‘front seat’ and more `consequen- tial’;
by implication, others must occupy the back seat and are less
Whatever its amendments, the museum is still not studying and
presenting geno- cides comparatively, as Armenian-Canadian groups have
consistently advocated, which is why the International Institute for
Genocide and Human Rights Issues continues to criticize it, despite
the inclusion of the Armenian genocide in the breaking the silence
gallery. ‘It seems that the CHMR is playing community poli- tics by
contacting different groups at different times, while ignoring the
challen- ging questions raised by an institute whose mission is the
study of these very issue’ .
93 In view of Canada’s migrant demographic and multicultural policy
consensus, the museum’s current architecture cannot be better designed
to pit groups against one another, thereby ignoring Marrus’s warning
in 1998. The tension between commemoration and human rights education
outlined at the beginning of this article are irresolvable, despite
the best efforts of the museum researcher – curators, so long as
the museum’s management insists on its politically and finan- cially
driven vision. The researcher-curators have to emphasize the human
rights agenda as best they can within parameters set since 2003.
The signs are that the tension between commemoration and human rights
acti- vism, on the one hand, and the controversy it has generated,
on the other, is begin- ning to undermine the museum’s financial
viability. As was revealed in late 2011, the CMHR did not have the
money to finish construction and open as planned in 2013; that has
been postponed till 2014. No level of government any longer regards
the museum as an electoral asset, and they refuse to top-up promised
levels of funding, demanding that the Friends of the CMHR make up
the shortfall with private donations. Yet that source seems ever less
promising now that the museum’s commemorative dimension is perceived
as diminished. Amid these 233
Page 20 A. DIRK MOSES troubles, the museum’s chair of the board,
Winnipeg businessman Arni Thorstein- son, resigned, as did senior
94 At the time of writing (March 2012), the CMHR’s prospects appeared
as grim as a Winnipeg winter; a project foundering on its internal
contradictions and misjudged political calculations.
Acknowledgement Thanks to Alex Hinton, Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann,
Adam Jones, Jo Carole Jones, Adam Muller, Chris Powell and the
anonymous referees for critical com- ments on previous drafts. The
usual disclaimers apply.
Notes and References 1 CBC News, ‘Human rights museum criticized
at public meeting’, 7 December 2011,
2 Marjorie M. Halpin, – Play it again, Sam”: reflections of a new
museology’, in Sheila Watson (ed.), Museums and their communities
(Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2007), p.
50; Tony Bennett, The birth of the museum: history, theory, politics
(London: Routledge, 1995); Exploritorium: the museum of science,
art and human perception:
3 Paul Williams, Memorial museums: the global rush to commemorate
atrocities (Oxford: Berg, 2008); Vivien Golding, Learning at the
museum frontiers: identity, race and power (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009);
Richard Sandell, Museums, prejudice and the reframing of difference
(Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2007).
4 Caen-Normandy Memorial for History and Peace:
The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles:
5 On the uniqueness debate, see A. Dirk Moses, ‘Conceptual blockages
and definitional dilemmas in the racial century: genocide of Indigenous
peoples and the Holocaust’, Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 36, No. 4,
2002, pp. 7-36; Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, ‘Between uniqueness and
universalization: Holocaust memory at a dialec- tical crossroads’,
Dapim, Vol. 2011, pp. 359-369. An articulation of the double genocide
thesis is Dovile Budryte, “‘We call it genocide”: Soviet deportations
and repression in the memory of Lithuanians’, in Robert S. Frey (ed.),
The genocidal temptation: Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Rwanda, and beyond
(Lanham, MD: University Press of America), p. 79. On the `bloodlands’,
see the forum on Timothy Snyder’s Blood- lands: Europe between Hitler
and Stalin (New York: Basic Books, 2010) in this journal, Vol. 13,
No. 3, 2011, pp. 313-352.
6 For the rival sites, see
nism. For the European Day of Remembrance, see
7 On the question of multiculturalism and Canadian identity, see Rhoda
E. Howard-Hassmann, “‘Canadian” as an ethnic category: implications
for multiculturalism and national unity’, Canadian Public Policy,
Vol. 25, No. 4, 1999, pp. 523-537, and the rejoinder by Yasmeen
Abu-Laban and Daiva Stasiulis, ‘Constructing “ethnic Canadians”:
the implications for public policy’, Canadian Public Policy, Vol. 26,
No. 4, 2000, pp. 477-487.
8 A. Dirk Moses, ‘Has the Holocaust helped us remember or forget other
genocides? The Canadian Museum for Human Rights and its critics’, in
Doug Irvin, Alexander Hinton and Tom LaPointe (eds.), Hidden genocides:
power, knowledge, memory (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press,
9 Quoted in Guarding history: a study into the future, funding,
and independence of the Canadian War Museum.
Report of the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs of the Standing Senate
Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (May 1998).
10 Stefan Petelycky, Into Auschwitz, for Ukraine (Kingston and Kyiv:
The Kashtan Press 1999/2008), p. 50.
11 Guarding history. Emphasis added.
12 Guarding history. Emphasis added.
13 Quoted in Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
Minutes-Evidence (7 June 2000), para. 1645. The sense of entitlement
was palpable with other Jewish representatives as well. See the
statement of Nate Leipicer, Chair of the Holocaust Remembrance
Committee for the CJC, para. 1605.
14 ‘Sarkis Assadourian on Holocaust Memorial Day’, Hansard, 27
Page 21 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 15
16 David Singer and Lawrence Grossman (eds.), American Jewish year
book, 2000 (New York: American Jewish Committee, 2000), p. 275.
17 Jeff Sallot, ‘PM urged to set up genocide museum’, Globe and Mail,
27 January 1999.
18 Andrij Kudla Wynnyckyj, ‘Canadian MP submits bill supporting
Genocide exhibit in Ottawa’, Ukrainian Weekly, 7 March 1999. In fact,
the editorial of the Ukrainian Weekly lambasted Sallot for apparently
lam- pooning the ethnic appeasement gestures of the prime minister:
`The Globe and Mail’s clumsy dance of divi- siveness’, Ukrainian
Weekly, 31 January1999.
19 Raja George Khouri, ‘There is no hierarchy in genocide’, National
Post, 11 August 1999. Khouri was vice- president of the Canadian
20 David Lazarus and Paul Lungen, ‘Holocaust museum may be derailed:
Ukrainian-led effort could disrupt plans’, Canadian Jewish News,
9 April 1999.
21 Lazarus and Lungen, ‘Holocaust museum may be derailed’.
22 Lazarus and Lungen, ‘Holocaust museum may be derailed’. See
also Singer and Grossman, American Jewish year book, 2000, p. 275:
`Jewish groups declined to join this effort, fearing that such a
genocide museum would lead to the abandonment of the Holocaust museum
project. CJC president Ronen, pointing out that the idea for a genocide
museum was being promoted primarily by Eastern European ethnic groups,
charged that it was motivated by opposition to official recognition
of the Holocaust’s uniqueness’.
23 Lynne Cohen, `Assadourian to advise PM on Foreign Policy’, B’nai
Brith Canada Press Release, 21 May 2004.
24 Lazarus and Lungen, `Holocaust museum may be derailed’.
25 `CJC welcomes government funding for new Canadian War Museum;
renews call for Museum on the Holocaust and Human Rights’: Press
Release, No.19, 21 March 2000,
26 Enzo Di Matteo, ‘No, it’s my genocide’, Now Toronto, Vol. 19,
No. 43, 22 June 2000, http://www.nowtoronto.
27 Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Minutes-Evidence (7 June
2000), para. 1545.
28 Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, paras. 1555-1600. Kafieh
was formerly President of the Cana- dian Arab Federation and in 2010
was legal counsel for the Canadian Islamic Congress.
29 Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, paras. 1615-1620.
30 Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, paras. 1625-1630.
31 Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, paras. 1630.
32 Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Minutes-Evidence (8
33 Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Minutes-Evidence (13 June
2000), paras. 1120, 1140, 1150.
34 Third Report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
Subject-matter of Bill C-224, An Act to estab- lish by the beginning
of the twenty-first century an exhibit in the Canadian Museum of
Civilization to recog- nize the crimes against humanity as defined by
the United Nations that have been perpetrated during the 20th century.
Clifford Lincoln, Chair (June 2000).
35 `Co-Chairs of the National Holocaust Remembrance Committee of
Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), hoping that Minister of Canadian
Heritage would build National Museum on the Holocaust and Human
Rights’, 19 December 2001,
36 On this debate, see Brian Klug, ‘The collective Jew: Israel and
the new antisemitism’, Patterns of Prejudice, Vol. 37, No. 2, 2003,
38 Aldo Santin, ‘Vibrant stories to come alive’, Winnipeg Free Press,
9 May 2003.
39 Dan Lett, ‘Making the museum’, Winnipeg Free Press, 24 December
2011; Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, ‘Timeline’,
40 Dan Lett, ‘Human rights museum’s ideals may be tough to attain’,
Winnipeg Free Press, 21 September 2009.
41 Lett, `Making the museum’.
42 Lett, ‘Making the museum’; CBC News, `Feds fund
national human rights museum’, 17 April 2003, http://
Gladstone, ‘Canadian philanthropist wants new museum with Holocaust
gallery’, Canadian Jewish Con- gress/Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
19 May 2003,
44 Gladstone, `Canadian philanthropist wants new museum with Holocaust
45 A copy of the letter, addressed to Paul M. Grod and Andrew
Hladyshevsky of the UCC, is attached to the Ukrainian Canadian Civil
Liberties Association submission to the Content Advisory Committee
of the 235
Page 22 A. DIRK MOSES CMHR, 11 June 2009: ‘The Canadian Museum
for Human Rights: a Canadian Ukrainian perspective’, http://
46 David O’Brien, ‘Museum to respect Ukrainian rights’, Winnipeg Free
Press, 1 December 2003.
47 George Shirinian, ‘Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Armenian
community’, Asbarez, 21 Febru- ary 2012.
48 Petelycky, Into Auschwitz, for Ukraine, p. 50. Roman Serbyn,
‘Echoes of the Holocaust in Jewish-Ukrainian relations: the
Canadian experience’, Ukrainian Quarterly, Vol. 60, No 12, 2004,
pp. 215-226. Members of the ‘Galicia’ Division were screened by
British authorities before emigration to Canada, where the commis- sion
indicted none for war crimes for lack of evidence. Howard Margolian,
Unauthorized Entry: the truth about Nazi war criminals in Canada,
1946-1956 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000).
49 Paul Samyn, ‘Asper-led museum sets off alarm bells: view of genocide
said too exclusive’, Winnipeg Free Press, 27 February 2003.
50 Aldo Santin, ‘Vibrant stories come to life’, Winnipeg Free Press,
9 May 2003. This quotation is Santin’s ren- dering of Gail Asper’s
statement to him.
51 Asper Foundation, Irael [sic] Asper announces plans to
create Canadian Museum for Human Rights’, 17 April 2003,
The next short paragraph is tacked on as an un-integrated afterthought:
‘The Nazis also targeted for murder people with mental and physical
disabilities, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) and Poles for racial, ethnic,
or national reasons.
Millions more, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Soviet
prisoners of war, Ukrainians and politi- cal dissidents also suffered
serious subjugation and death under Nazi Germany’.
52 Asper Foundation, Medial Advisory, ‘Congressman Tom Lantos to
meet with 250 Asper Foundation Holo- caust and Human Rights Studies
program participants from Canada on Capitol Hill’, 20 May 2003,
53 Paul Samyn, ‘War museum lacks gallery on Holocaust’, Winnipeg Free
Press, 8 May 2005.
54 Rhonda Spivak, ‘Tanenbaum donates $1 million to rights museum’,
Canadian Jewish News, 13 March 2008.
55 Barney Sneiderman, ‘Holocaust is unique in way’, Winnipeg Free
Press, 13 December 2003. See also his `Holocaust bashing: the profaning
of history’, Manitoba Law Journal, No. 26, No. 3, 1999, pp. 319-334.
56 Lubomyr Luciuk, ‘All genocide victims must be hallowed’, Ukrainian
Weekly, 7 March 2004.
57 Lubomyr Luciuk, ‘The Holodomor was unique’, UCCLA, 5 February 2004,
58 Colin Campbell, ‘Controversy over National
Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg’, Maclean’s, 27 March
59 In his acceptance speech, Harper said that ‘I know that one set of
policies that has led you to confer this honour is the more balanced,
consistent and principled stands we have upheld on critical foreign
policy issues like the Middle East since taking office more than three
years ago…. One of the most lasting and tangible of all our actions
is one in which the Jewish community has played a very large role,
particularly the Asper family of Winnipeg, and that is, of course,
the establishment of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’. ‘Prime
Minister Harper Receives Saul Hayes Human Rights Award, May 31, 2009’,
media.asp?id=2603. During the 2011 elections,
David Asper wrote to Jewish voters urging them to support Harper
because he ‘defended the right of the Jewish people to live in peace
and security, without equi- vocating and pandering for votes from
Israel’s enemies’. See ‘The letter that David Asper wrote’, http://www.
60 Private members’ bill for Holocaust memorial. Parliamentary Debates,
Hansard, 8 December 2009, paras 1805, 1830.
61 Private members’ bill for Holocaust memorial. Parliamentary Debates,
Hansard, 8 December 2009, para.
1835. The site of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat
Antisemitism is about.htm.
62 The Canadian Museum for Human Rights major donors, 28 September
63 The Canadian Museum for Human Rights major donors; O’Brien,
‘Museum to respect Ukrainian rights’.
64 An – 1i Thorsteinson, chairperson, ‘Report to the Minister of
Canadian Heritage on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’, Table 7,
Luciuk, ‘A politicized museum’, The Mark, 1 April 2011.
65 See also the site of its
parent, The National Task Force for Holo- caust Education, Remembrance,
67 Ira Basen, ‘Memory becomes a minefield at Canada’s Museum for
Human Rights’, Globe and Mail, 20 August 2011.
Page 23 THE CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 68 Contents Advisory
Committee Final Report (25 May 2010), pp. 42-43. Cf. p. 88.
69 Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, ‘Timeline’,
Cassie, Letter to Editor, Jewish Post and News, 17 November 2010.
70 `UCCLA: broken promise made to Ukrainian
Canadians provoked controversy’, 17 December 2010, http://
71 ‘German-Canadian group criticizes museum for focus on Holocaust’,
Ottawa Citizen, 19 December 2010.
72 The card also states, inter alia, that ‘Instead two communities are
being given privileged, permanent and pro- minent exhibition spaces,
elevating the horrors suffered by a few above all others’.
73 Rhonda Spivak, ‘Postcard suggests Jews as pigs, critics say’,
Canadian Jewish News, 14 April 2011; UCCLA Media Release, ‘Controversy
over Canadian Museum for Human Rights: UCCLA’s Position’, 8 April
74 Charles Lewis, ‘Rights museum needs a rethink, academic says’,
National Post, 5 April 2011. Sam Moyn’s book, The last utopia: human
rights in history (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010)
also takes this line. Marrus and Moyn were invited to discuss their
views with the CMHR on 11 November 2011.
75 Dan Lett, ‘My academic is bigger than your academic’, Winnipeg
Free Press, 15 April 2011; Dan Lett, `Measured museum debate welcome’,
Winnipeg Free Press, 6 September 2011.
76 Roger Smith, ‘How genocide should be represented
in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’, 24 February
Represente d%20in%20the%20CMHR%20v20.pdf; George Shirinian,
‘Genocide is not genocide in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’,
22 August 2011,
20Multicultural ism %20and%20the%20CMHR.pdf.
77 On Grod’s views, see Charles Lewis, ‘Rights museum: is it proper
that the Holocaust gets special billing?’, National Post, 7 January
78 James Bezan, ‘Why the Holodomor deserves a place
in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’, 2 February
2011, http://www. ucc.ca/2011/02/03/statement-by-mp-j
ames-bezan-on-the-canadi an -museum-of-human-
rights; Leon Bennoit, ‘Ukrainians deserve appropriate
spot in Canadian Museum for Human Rights’, 8 February
n_museu m_of human_rights; Statement of Liberal Members of
Parliament on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights’, 23 February 2011,
museum-for-human-rights; Myron Love, ‘Tory MP wants Holodomor display
in Museum’, Canadian Jewish News, 17 March 2011.
79 UCC Media Release, `UCC Welcomes appointment of
Dr. Lindy Ledohowski to Human Rights Museum board’, 18 March
80 James Adams, ‘Ukrainian Canadian Congress Campaigns for inclusion
in Human Rights Museum’, Globe and Mail, 21 December 2010.
81 Editorial, ‘Museum complaint parochial’, Winnipeg Free Press,
24 March 2011; Staff Writer ‘The Jewish Perspective’, Winnipeg Free
Press, 14 December 2010.
82 Michael Kaminer, ‘Ukrainian Association objects to Rights Museum’s
special treatment of Holocaust’, Forward, 10 January 2011. See also
Eric Vernon, ‘Canadian Museum for Human Rights is quite Canadian’,
Kingston Whig-Standard, 22 December 2010.
83 Catherine Chatterley, ‘Director’s Log: why create an Institute
for the Study of Antisemitism?’,
com/cisa/CISA/Director.html. See also her ‘The war against the
Holocaust’, Winnipeg Free Press, 2 April 2011.
85 Rhonda Spivak, ‘Open letter to Lubomyr Luciuk, Director of Research,
Ukrainian Civil Liberties Association, Re: CMHR’, Winnipeg Jewish
Review, 31 March 2011.
86 Yude Henteleff, ‘Critical conversations
with Canadians: the work of the Content Advisory
Committee’, University of Manitoba, 5 January 2012,
87 Bernie Bellan, ‘What’s happening with the Holocaust gallery in
the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights?’ Jewish Post and News,
17 November 2010.
88 Bernie Bellan, ‘Human rights museum won’t open until 2014’, Jewish
Post and News, 8 December 2011.
89 Clint Curie, ‘Imagining a human rights museum’, CMHR talking point
paper, 11 November 2011.
90 Stuart Murray, presentation at the University of Manitoba in the
‘The idea of a human rights museum’ speaker series, 9 September 2011:
other contributions to this series organized by Adam Muller,
Page 24 A. DIRK MOSES 91 On that question, see Vinay Lal, ‘Genocide,
barbaric others, and the violence of categories’, American His-
torical Review, Vol. 103, 1998, pp. 1187-1190, and Mark Mazower,
‘Violence and the state in the twentieth century’, American Historical
Review, Vol. 107 No. 4, 2002, p. 1160.
92 I make this point in Moses, ‘Conceptual blockages and definitional
dilemmas in the racial century’, p. 15, but owe this formulation to
one of the anonymous referees.
93 Shirinian, ‘Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Armenian
94 Myron Love ‘Cash shortfall delays human rights museum’, Canadian
Jewish News, 5 January 2012. Thor- steinson remains on the board of
the Friends of the CMHR. As of March 2012, museum supporters are trying
to raise ‘almost $200 from private and corporate donors’: James Adams,
‘Fundraising goal jumps for human rights museum’, Winnipeg Free Press,
7 March 2012.
Notes on contributor A. Dirk Moses is professor of global and colonial
history at the European Univer- sity Institute in Florence, Italy,
and associate professor of history at the University of Sydney. He
is the author of German intellectuals and the Nazi past (2007) and
senior editor of the Journal of Genocide Research.