Representatives from 12 of the pre-eminent Holocaust education and remembrance organizations in North America gathered in Toronto on May 22 to plan the educational component of next year’s Liberation 75 conference, and as the hours passed, it became clear to everyone present that they were part of something special.
Liberation 75, which will mark three-quarters of a century since the end of the Holocaust, is scheduled to take place in Toronto from May 31 to June 2, 2020, and will be an international gathering of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, as well as educators. The conference will be open to the general public, but there will also be special educational programming for students on the final day and teachers on the second-last day.
At the meeting, the Liberation 75 education committee discussed the underlying ideas behind what they wanted to accomplish, before giving short presentations on the programs they would present to students and teachers.
“Today, we brought together 12 best-practice organizations in the area of Holocaust education and remembrance. This has never been done before in Toronto, and I think it was actually a really historic time today,” said Marilyn Sinclair, founder of Liberation 75. “Everybody is doing amazing programming, all across Canada and the United States, but never have they come together to say, ‘Let’s share our best practices. Let’s work towards a common goal.’ ”
Within the field of Holocaust education, there are some important practices to follow that might not be immediately apparent, said Claudia Weideman, director of education at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation and co-chair of the Liberation 75 education committee.
For one thing, it’s imperative to be cognizant of the students’ capacity to comprehend what they’re learning, and make sure to treat the very difficult material at a level in line with their knowledge and emotional maturity. Other best practices include relating to the students’ own experiences, and using a variety of resources to explore the history and make it seem as real to the students as possible.
“Teaching students that the Jews were not just victims” is also important, added Rachel Luke, a high school teacher and Holocaust educator at Glenforest Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., and the education committee’s other co-chair. “They were human beings. They all had a different story. And I think that changed my way of teaching, for sure, because sometimes people are quick to show the Jews as victims, and they weren’t just victims.”
As the various organizations presented their ideas for potential educational sessions, themes emerged. Many of them proposed using a variety of multimedia resources to make the lives of the survivors seem as tangible as possible, and all of them expressed thoughtfulness and caring in how best to present the information as respectfully as possible, while still having the most impact.
That’s not to say the meeting solved every challenge in one day. Aside from the logistical issues, like transportation, space and class size, the committee also discussed philosophical issues, such as how to contextualize the comments of survivors and how much to touch on other genocides, if at all. But the issues were addressed in a productive and constructive manner, and the positivity and camaraderie in the room left the co-chairs and founder feeling hopeful.
They are also excited about how the education work being done for Liberation 75 can be reused in the future, both through a website that will be filled with resources for teachers and the ability to bring the programming to other locales that may be underserved in terms of Holocaust education. It’s all part of the broader goal of exposing as many people as possible to the history of the Holocaust while first-hand accounts are still available.
“This is going to be, perhaps, the last major program where we’re going to have survivors to interact with,” said Sinclair. “Many of them are in their 80s and 90s now, and so time is limited. Time isn’t on our side, so we need to get as many participants to Liberation 75 as possible to come and interact with survivors.”
For more information, visit liberation75.org.