|Adolf Hitler presenting pilot Hanna Reitsch the Iron Cross in 1941. (Credit: Wikipedia)|
March 9, 2017
By Marty York
Chief Media Officer
B'nai Brith Canada
The annual event, scheduled to take place Saturday in the small Québec city of Lachute to honour women who made significant contributions to aviation history, was supposed to include a tribute honouring the 80th anniversary for the late Hanna Reitsch becoming the first woman to fly a helicopter. The choice drew an abundance of criticism, especially from B'nai Brith Canada, whose voices took exception in several media outlets this week, including CBC, CTV, National Post and Toronto Star. The criticism surfaced because of Reitsch's close association with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime and because she remained unrepentant throughout her life.
The Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide, as part of Women Aviation Worldwide Week, resisted the criticisms and insisted on the Nazi propagandist honour, regardless. The City of Lachute and the region it is in, however, issued a combined communiqué Thursday saying it would not allow the event to take place in their area.
"The City of Lachute and the MRC of Argenteuil refuse this activity to be held (in our) territory and on. . .city-owned lands, unless the organizing committee revises their choice in honouring this person," the communiqué said in a French language release that was translated into English by B'nai Brith. "The city and the MRC will not tolerate at any time and under any circumstances activities that glorify people having a history associated with Nazism."
Lachute Mayor Carl Péloquin, who also serves as deputy prefect of the MRC of Argenteuil, added: "We would like to reiterate that we will never offer logistical support or allow an event that extols the merits of a person associated with Nazism or any other Extremist movement."
Organizers scrambled Thursday, sources said, and instead of cancelling the event -- at which 800 people are expected to attend -- they promised the city and region that they would refrain from honouring Reitsch or mentioning her name in any context.
"We have not cancelled the event strictly because we have received a letter from the organizing committee in which they have assured us that there will be no mention of this person whatsoever during the entire celebration," Alexandra Montminy, spokesperson for the City of Lachute, told B'nai Brith in an interview. "The agreement is on paper. We were informed in the media in the late stages of this event that there was a plan to honour this woman and we would in no way tolerate this."
Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada, said the organization is not satisfied with the organizers’ response.
"While it is significant that the organizers caved to public pressure, reversing their decision to glorify a leading Nazi propagandist,” Mostyn said, “it is unfortunate that they are not taking the opportunity to produce a learning moment by educating the young women who will be in attendance against the evils of the Nazis.”
Montminy said she is "pretty confident" that the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide will keep its promise and not mention Reitsch's name. "I'd say we're 99 per cent sure that there will be no mentions at all of this person," she said.