Nathan Leipciger , convocation 2019 honorary degree recipient

Nathan Leipciger , convocation 2019 honorary degree recipient


Madame Chancellor. Mister President. Faculty members. Graduating class. Ladies and gentlemen, and my dear family, Before I start, I’d like to thank somebody. An organization which equipped
every one of the graduates with a copy of my book. The book entitled “The Weight of
Freedom” reflects my struggle to be worthy of being free.
It’s not an easy task. We’re daily bombarded by different
thoughts, by different ideas but we must prevail. I’m very grateful to the Azrieli Foundation who made it
possible to, and gave you a copy of my book. I hope you read it and I hope you
take something out of it which I thought would be meaningful to you. My dear friends. It’s 76 years ago in 1943. I stood as a 15-year-old boy in the
shadows of a Nazi gas chamber, deprived of my humanity, my human rights. I was a worthless number to be eliminated at any moment. What was the probability then that I would be standing here today to be so honoured by
my alma mater? I’m humbled and thank the University
Governing Council for selecting me for this honour. I also thank all of those who
submitted recommendations on my behalf. I’m forever grateful to all of you. Thank you. For nearly two years we were incarcerated in various Nazi
concentration camps, suffering hunger despair and living in constant fear for
our lives. Every day more painful,
and every day more uncertain. Sick, near to death, we were finally liberated on May the 2nd, 1945
by the American army. My dear friends. As wonderful as it was, it was an empty
victory. You see, we were deprived of our family, our home, our possessions. We had nowhere to go.
No country would accept us. So we had family in Canada. The attitude
to Jewish refugees was none too many in those years. We were stuck in Germany
among our former persecutors for over three years. Finally, in the fall of 1948 we
were admitted to Canada. For nine years, I lost my education.
I had no education for nine years. But with the help of my Canadian family, much perseverance I
graduated from Harvard Collegiate in 1950 and entered this wonderful
University of Toronto. It was here that I started my new life.
This institution equipped me with tools that allowed me to grow and accomplish
my life’s dream and I hope this happens to you as well graduating here today. My life in Canada was not always easy. However we prevail our difficulties
and we built a successful engineering consulting firm Together with my dear wife,
wonderful and beautiful wife, we raised a large and great family only
recently to be marred by the loss of our dear daughter, a dear wife, a dear mother,
a dear granddaughter, a dear sister of Lisa and Arla, our daughter Rhonda. Then in 2016, together with my wife, my daughter Arla,
my granddaughter Jennifer, I accompanied the Prime Minister of Canada Justin
Trudeau to Auschwitz-Birkenau. We stood at the ruins of the gas chamber where
many of my family members were murdered. The prime minister embraced me. After we
said a prayer and we both cried. You can imagine this event. You can imagine how
proud and honoured I was. Only a few years prior that I was a person of
non-value. Canada is a wonderful country today but it was not always so. Before
1948 Canada had a discriminatory immigration policy
not only for Jews but also for many other visible minority refugees.
Look at the country now. What a great and diversified country Canada is.
Our diversity is our strength and Canada is an example to the rest of the world
of what can be done if good men of goodwill get together and we overcome
our prejudices. We have proven that we can all live in a lawful, safe and
peaceful environment – respecting and accepting each other. Accepting each other’s customs and religions. However we cannot rest on our laurels.
We live in a time when a number of countries have elected
populist governments and the level of hatred, anti-Semitism, xenophobia is
reaching new heights. Hatred against one group invariably does not stop there. Have no illusions.
It spreads like wildfire. In the last few months we have seen the
results of hatred. Horrendous terror attacks against religious institutions
in Pittsburgh, Christchurch, Sri Lanka California. The resulting unprecedented,
wonderful community rallies, the vigils were much better than a response of
silence. Silence does not help the victims only the perpetrators. Hatred, anti-semitism, xenophobia are products of
misinformation, ignorance, generalization and can be overcome, or at least
diminished, by education. However my dear friends, education is alone is not enough. The leading perpetrators of the Nazi Holocaust were
well-educated people. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects and engineers. From this we can see that education must include compassion, fairness, justice,
and above all, empathy. Empathy for our fellow man regardless of where
they came from and what their beliefs are. Tolerance also is not enough. It is
temporary and it reduces the individual to a lower level with the expectation
that they will conform to our ways before we accept them as equals. So what is the answer? In my opinion it is respect for the law of the host country, primarily. Mutual respect and mutual acceptance of
the individual and the willingness for us to learn from each other. Mutual
acceptance is not easy but it is possible . I don’t want to change the way
you believe, the way you dress, or what language you speak. I want to
accept you as you are provided that you accept me as I am. Dear graduates you
had no choice to who you were born to but you
can choose your destiny. You should not be a bystander
because bystanders through the inaction are giving tacit approval to the
perpetrators. You should stand up for the truth, for the right of free expression
that does not promote hatred. Beware of false news and generalizations, for
generalizations are our greatest enemies. They promote misunderstanding,
prejudice and hatefulness. Hateful words always are the
precursor to violence. Dear graduates, you are embarking on a new career
and a new way of life as I have many decades ago. As educators
and teachers you are entrusted with the most precious and the greatest assets of
our nation: the hearts and minds of our young people. You have our future in your hands.
You may encounter some hard and difficult times. Never despair. And now that is hope. Hope is the most wonderful element in human beings because it takes us
through the greatest difficulties and leads us on the right way. You have been
equipped with great knowledge and wonderful tools. Use them successfully. And I hope you will continue to learn and I wish you much luck and greater success
in your career and in your life. Thank you. you

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