On May 2, William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute (Mackenzie) hosted the launch of Liberation 75, an international gathering of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, as well as educators, that will take place in Toronto from May 31 to June 2, 2020, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Shoah.
Over 5,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event, where they will be able to hear survivors’ stories, world-renown Holocaust educators and keynote speakers, as well as music, and see exhibits from Holocaust education centres around the world.
Liberation 75 was founded by Marilyn Sinclair, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and former student at Mackenzie. Her father moved to the Bathurst Manor neighbourhood in Toronto after the war. He was one of a number of survivors who made the area home. At the launch, Sinclair recalled what life was like for her and many of her friends in postwar Canada.
“We were the children of survivors of the largest genocide in history. Our parents had accents, many had concentration camp tattoos on their arms. But as children of survivors, we didn’t know anything about their past. Because the mantra of the survivors who settled here was, ‘rebuild, rebuild, don’t talk, don’t tell,’ ” she said.
Eventually, the survivors began to share their stories and “rebuild, rebuild” turned into “remember, retell,” Sinclair said. Survivors began to share their stories, record their testimonies and build monuments and museums. But as time passes, more and more survivors are dying. That’s why Sinclair felt it was important to hold a global gathering to remember the Holocaust.
“Together, as a global community, we will remember the victims, honour the survivors and celebrate the role of our proud liberators. Liberation 75 will help shape the future of Holocaust and genocide education and inspire all of us, particularly students, to protect our freedoms and uphold the values of tolerance and inclusion that Canadians hold so dear,” she said.
An important component of Liberation 75 is the creation of a new Holocaust and genocide education curriculum for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Recent surveys of Canadian millennials show that over 20 per cent don’t know, or aren’t sure if they know, about the Holocaust, and over half can’t name a ghetto or concentration camp.
“We have 600 schools. We have 250,000 students. Our kids want to learn. Our kids want to learn about the Holocaust, they want to learn programs of genocide prevention,” said Shari Schwartz-Maltz, a TDSB spokesperson and the chair of its Jewish committee. “So this gives us the opportunity because the best Holocaust education in the world is coming to Toronto.”
The Sherman Foundation will be the lead sponsor of Liberation 75, and Barry and Honey Sherman’s daughter, Alex Krawcyzk, spoke about the importance of the event at the launch.
“It is a true honour to be with you today to continue discussions of how we can work together to defend and codify human rights in Canada and throughout the world,” she said. “We must learn from our past to never allow such atrocities to go unnoticed and unchallenged, and we must pay attention to the teachings of our elders and listen to the world with open hearts each day to do our part in creating a more harmonious, peaceful and inclusive future.”
Also speaking at the launch were Liberal MP Michael Levitt, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, TDSB chair and Ward 7 trustee Robin Pilkey and Ward 5 trustee Alexandra Lulka. The choir from North Toronto Collegiate Institute sang Hannah Senesh’s “Eli Eli,” Mackenzie’s dance company performed to the song “Yet We Persist” and Mackenzie student Isaac Rosenberg sang a song called “My Mother’s Grave,” which was written by a 14-year-old survivor who lost her mother in the Holocaust.