Holocaust education cultivates more empathetic and engaged students with critical thinking skills.
“Tomorrow’s world is born in what we teach our children today.” — Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Before the Nazis took power in 1933, European Jewish culture was flourishing. By 1945, Nazis had ensured two out of every three European Jews were dead and the Jewish communities of eastern Europe were shattered.
I was born in 1932 in Lodz, Poland.
I was separated from my mother, father, and twin sister when we were sent from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Majdanek concentration camp. I was 10. I never saw them again.
On May 8, 1945, having survived six concentration camps and a death march to Theresienstadt, I was liberated by the Soviet Army. I was 12.
While not easy, I have chosen to speak about my experience as a survivor. I honour the memory of my family and the six million Jewish children, women, and men who did not survive, and I do my part to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are not lost to time.
I am now 90.
Over the years, I have addressed people of all ages, backgrounds, and locations. While almost every audience has expressed interest in my story, I have found it especially gratifying to speak with students and youth, most of whom have little or no knowledge of the Holocaust or of Jewish history or culture.
I found them engaged, eager to learn, their minds open to the lesson I was trying to teach: that hate and discrimination against anyone — including Jews — is wrong. We should welcome our differences, reject hate, and learn from each other.
Holocaust education cultivates more empathetic and engaged students with critical thinking skills and sense of social responsibility, enhanced when they hear firsthand the horrors of the Holocaust.
But, as more survivors die, we must prepare for when none are left to recount their stories of survival. We need to develop methods geared toward elementary students that will convey lessons of the Holocaust that endure to adulthood.
As antisemitism has risen in Canada so have antisemitic incidents among children in Grades 6 to 8 — in school, outside, and on social media. We cannot wait until Grade 10 to teach youth about antisemitism and the Holocaust. Children are already confronted by it — but without understanding its context, its impacts, or how to stop it.
The Ontario government will introduce Holocaust education to the Grade 6 curriculum next year, and educators will be trained to teach it. This is a formative time in a child’s life when they will learn important lessons about how hate poisons society; how words engender violence; and how each of us must stand up against it.
I hope other provinces follow suit, so that all Canadian children learn that yesterday’s atrocities must never recur.
Holocaust education is crucial, but so too is the context that bridges understanding of the antisemitism of the past and the hate students experience today.
It is in this context that the government supported the development of Unlearn It, a free online resource hub for educators and parents to help them teach 10- to 12-year-olds what antisemitism is, how to identify it, and how to address it. Unlearn It offers educational videos — based on relevant, engaging case studies — as well as discussion guides to help adults navigate difficult discussions about antisemitism and its impact on preteens.
Education equips us for success in today’s world which, in turn, creates a better tomorrow. The lessons of the Holocaust and an understanding of antisemitism are crucial to uproot all forms of hate and discrimination and to preserve the values of respect, inclusion, and diversity that, as Canadians, we cherish. Education is the best antidote to the forces taking us backward into hate.
No child today should ever have to face what my generation did. Surely, we know better now.