TDSB plans wide-ranging Shoah education

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is gearing up for Liberation75, which is billed as a “global gathering of Holocaust survivors, descendants, educators and friends,” to take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from May 31 to June 2.

As a participating sponsor of Liberation75, the TDSB’s Jewish heritage committee “is committed to Holocaust and genocide prevention education over the next school year and beyond,” reads a TDSB press release.

Things will kick off on Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, with the “One Book Event” that will feature Hana’s Suitcase, the award-winning true story of Hana Brady, a young Jewish girl from Czechoslovakia who was murdered at Auschwitz, along with most of her family.

In partnership with Indigo Books and Music and Second Story Press, all of the nearly 18,000 Grade 6 students across the TDSB will receive a copy of Hana’s Suitcase. The book “is an excellent resource for introducing children to the Holocaust,” the board says. It is Canada’s most awarded children’s book, has been translated into more than 40 languages, was turned into a stage play and is the subject of a prize-winning radio documentary and feature-length documentary film.

The launch will take place at 10 a.m. at TDSB headquarters (5050 Yonge St.) on Jan. 27, which also marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The event will feature Indigo founder and CEO Heather Reisman and Lara Hana Brady, Hana Brady’s niece and the keeper of family artifacts, including some that belonged to Hana. It will be streamed live to all Grade 6 classes across the system. Mayor John Tory is also expected to attend.

TDSB students in Grade 6 are also invited to submit individual or group art projects to showcase what they learned from reading Hana’s Suitcase. Students may submit poems, short stories, songs, sculptures, paintings, a suitcase filled with artifacts or letters written to Hana Brady or the book’s author, Karen Levine. Selected projects will be displayed during Jewish Heritage Month in May and during Liberation75.

The TDSB’s 110 high schools will experience The Last Goodbye, an award-winning, virtual-reality film that transports viewers inside the Nazi death camp Majdanek in Poland with Toronto survivor Pinchas Gutter, the only member of his family of four who survived the Holocaust. Since its 2017 debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, this 17-minute film, produced in association with the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation, has achieved critical acclaim and won numerous awards.

It will be housed at Oakwood Collegiate Institute from February until May and will bring thousands of Grade 10 students, and some in the Grade 11 genocide course, there on field trips to participate in the experience. Students will also be provided a copy of Gutter’s memoir, Memories in Focus.

Finally, the TDSB has launched a Holocaust and Genocide Prevention Education website for teachers that highlights a selection of French and English Holocaust and genocide prevention educational resources curated by the Jewish heritage committee. It includes material selected from FAST (Fighting Anti-Semitism Together) and the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.

The lessons touch on learning about prejudice, human rights and social justice, with the intention of helping students in grades 9 to 12 learn to speak out and make a difference.

Resources for teaching tolerance and kindness in primary grades are also on the website, along with materials and programs for other Jewish heritage committee initiatives.

In addition, the Jewish heritage committee, which is comprised of about 70 staff members, is working with other TDSB heritage committees on joint projects throughout the year to provide more Holocaust and genocide prevention learning opportunities for students.