HOLOCAUST EDUCATION WEEK: Facing a future without survivors

Hipster Hitler
Hipster Hitler is a comic that satirizes both hipster culture and the Third Reich. Here, Hitler is a bespectacled urbanite whose T-shirt is a play on the name of popular indie rock band Arcade Fire. IMAGE COURTESY OF HIPSTERHITLER.COM

This year’s Holocaust Education Week (HEW) takes stock of the fact that first-person Holocaust testimonies are an increasingly rare commodity.

The theme of the week of educational, cultural and community programming, which is now in its 36th year and runs Nov. 2 to Nov. 9, is the Future of Memory.

“Sadly, we’re coming to a point where this is the last generation of students who will be able to hear first-hand from Holocaust survivors about what they experienced. The Neuberger Centre has for some time been thinking deeply about Holocaust memory and education without these first-hand accounts,” said Dara Solomon, interim director of the UJA Federation’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre.

HEW 2016 will explore the ways future generations will engage with and perpetuate Holocaust education and remembrance.

It will examine innovations in the field of Holocaust education, looking at how memory of the atrocity and teachings about it will adapt not just to the loss of direct survivor accounts, but to a changing technological landscape and global context.

For example, HEW’s scholar-in-residence this year, Ron Levi, who holds the George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto, will speak Nov. 2 at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue with HEW’s opening night speaker Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, professor of history at Fairfield University in Connecticut, about how the Holocaust fits into the current political climate.

“Rosenfeld will address the normalization of Hitler that we’ve seen on the Internet and in popular culture. There’s been a real shift in the way we talk about the Holocaust, and the [speakers] will be looking at the opportunities and challenges that come with that,” Solomon explained.

Levi will subsequently moderate a discussion about the inflated place of Hitler, Nazism and fascism in present-day western political discourse.

On the subject of technology, the Neuberger Centre will, during this week, be demonstrating New Dimensions in Testimony, a project that uses three-dimensional digital projection to enable students to interact virtually with Holocaust survivors, who appear as holograms and respond to questions in real time. 

The project, which officially launches Nov. 14, is in partnership with the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation.

A portion of the programming will focus on ways educators can bring innovative tools into the classroom to teach students about the Holocaust.

“We’ll have an educator workshop in which experts from the Holocaust museum in Washington will teach different pedagogical approaches to teaching about the Holocaust in Jewish and non-Jewish schools,” Solomon said.

HEW 2016 offers more than 100 programs at venues across the city, including survivor talks at libraries and schools and a range of exhibits, panel discussions, cultural performances, musical programs, lectures and film screenings.

Other highlights include a legacy symposium for young professionals, a talk on the power of memoir and storytelling, which features Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger in conversation with Theodore Fontaine, former chief of the Sagkeeng Ojibway First Nation and residential school survivor, and a talk by Jennifer Teege, a black writer who will discuss the book she wrote about discovering her family’s Nazi past.

HEW’s closing night event at Temple Sinai will feature Austrian National Fund director Hannah Lessing sharing her family’s personal account of Holocaust restitution.