In September of 2017, a memorial plaque unveiled by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the National Holocaust Museum in Ottawa was criticised for omitting the identity of the victims in the Holocaust.
Visitors had noticed that the big steel “dedication plaque” said that it was dedicated to millions of victims killed by the Nazi regime, but said nothing about their Jewish identity. It only mentioned that “millions of men, women and children [were] murdered during the Holocaust.”
Some Jewish groups felt that this was a failure.
Newly released government documents show that Canadian Heritage staffers focused on many details when planning the construction of the plaque. These were mainly related to measurements, manufacturing, and layout. However, none of these seemed to focus on the actual content of the plaque.
The Ottawa Citizen reports that hundreds of pages of emails from Canadian Heritage show that the design team discussed “the nuts and bolts of
manufacturing and positioning the plaque,” but never discussed the content of the message, which left them “unprepared for the public reaction.”
Three months before the opening, the team was analysing the layout and text of the plaque, and specifying the dimensions for the manufacturer. They were also editing and proofreading the text, and making sure the translations were correct.
Then, a month before the unveiling, discussions were had about the positioning of the plaque, approving the text of mural labels, interpretive panels, and the big plaques. Finally, the plaques were ordered, costing about $53,810.
When the monument was unveiled, it was noticed that although the 13 interpretive panels and other content of the monument clearly mentioned Jewish people, the dedication plaque did not.
The then minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly scrambled to get answers about how this mistake could have been made. She asked employees. “What was the approval process for this text? Did it go by the committee? Was it included in the final decision note?” The final decision note signed by Joly did not mention the next.
They inquired as to whether the plaque could be removed and replaced. A few days later, it was removed. They told the media that the plaque was being rewritten to “better align with the interpretive panels.”
It cost $5,000 to remove it, and it is estimated to cost $50,000 to replace it.
When asked why the content of the plaque was not discussed, they said this:
“The content of these panels went through a comprehensive review process that included the National Holocaust Monument Development Council.”
After the inauguration of the monument, the text of the dedication plaque was revised to specifically refer to the Jewish community, while making a global reference to the other groups that were also targeted during the Holocaust. The content was reviewed by historians and the National Holocaust Monument Development Council to ensure it aligned with the interpretive panels inside the monument.”
Rabbi Daniel Friedman, the then chair of the Holocaust Museum Committee, said that “in amongst the debates over wording and plaque positioning, somehow the one plaque that introduced the others — and made no sense outside the context of the plaques detailing the Nazi genocide of six million Jews along with homosexuals, the disabled and others — ended up mounted all on its own on a separate wall. Visitors to the site were rightly disturbed to encounter this major injustice to the memory of the six million Jews for whom the monument was built. All of the parties involved are deeply remorseful and we apologize unconditionally for the pain we have caused by this oversight.”