Holocaust Education Week will focus on liberation

Holocaust Education Week flyer
Holocaust Education Week flyer

This year’s Holocaust Education Week marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a springboard for its theme, “Liberation: Aftermath and Rebirth.”

The theme is “very complex,” says Marilyn Sinclair, chair of the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre. “We would like to think of liberation as a singularly joyful event, but [survivors] had to face the reality that their families were murdered, their communities in ruins, and virtually everything they held dear to them was lost… So they had to set their minds to rebuilding their families, their lives, their homes and communities – most in far away places.”

Toronto’s 35th annual Holocaust Education Week (HEW) offers 162 programs, including lectures, cultural programs, workshops and survivor testimonies, held at synagogues, churches and other venues.

The event, which runs from Nov. 2 to 9, with some programs before and after, is considered the largest of its kind in the world, Sinclair said. But when it began, HEW, co-chaired this year by Dori Ekstein and Lily Kim, was “a little Jewish grassroots program,” Sinclair noted. Last year, there were 32,000 attendees, with a similar number expected this year. The opening night program with historian David Eisenhower, grandson of former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower, has created “a buzz in the community,” Sinclair said. Eisenhower will discuss the liberation under his grandfather’s command and its aftermath, at Adath Israel  Congregation Nov. 2.

For Shael Rosenbaum, who takes over from Sinclair as the centre’s chair next month, Eisenhower’s talk has particular resonance. “He’s a grandson of the liberator, and I’m a grandson of the liberated, so personally, it’s very important to me,” he said. Rosenbaum, who will be the first third-generation chair of the centre, said his generation knows that they are the last ones to learn about the Holocaust from first-hand testimonies. “It’s really our obligation to learn about it,” he said.

One of his goals as incoming chair is to get more young people involved.

Hearing survivor speakers is powerful, according to both Sinclair and Rosenbaum. Sinclair said her late father, Ernie Weiss, received a letter from a Muslim girl after he spoke at her school, telling him that boys who used to pull on her hijab and tease her started being nice to her after hearing him. Stories like that fuel Sinclair’s optimism that Holocaust education is making a difference in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism.

One of the “highlight programs” of HEW is a symposium geared to young adults in their 20s and 30s, Rosenbaum said. The program, now in its sixth year, will be held Nov. 1 at Ryerson University’s Oakham House (registration is at www.holocaustcentre.com/YPs). Among the speakers are Martin Maxwell, who is both a Holocaust survivor and a war veteran, and keynote speaker Tomaz Jardim, a historian at the university, who will discuss the trials of Ilse Koch, “The Bitch of Buchenwald.”

Other programs during the week include “Restoring Family Trees Severed by the Holocaust” (Nov. 3 at Kehillat Shaarei Torah) and “Justice and Forgiveness,” with three survivors who attended this year’s trial of former Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening (Nov. 3 at Petah Tikva Congregation).

On Nov. 5 in the evening, scholar-in-residence Hilary Earl, a Holocaust historian at Nipissing University, will speak about the reintegration of Nazi war criminals into German society, at Beth Tzedec Congregation; while Adara Goldberg, education director of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, will discuss “Holocaust Survivors in Canada: Exclusion, Inclusion, Transformation,” at Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue.

On Oct. 22, the Azrieli Foundation held a gala at the Carlu to mark the 10th anniversary of its Holocaust survivors memoirs program and to launch “RE:COLLECTION,” a new online initiative that lets users explore the first-hand accounts of Holocaust survivors.

Portraits of HEW’s 46 survivor speakers, by Toronto photographer Elliot Sylman, will be on display at the Miles Nadal JCC from Nov. 1 to 26.

The week will finish on Nov. 9, the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, with a talk at Shaarei Shomayim Congregation by architecture professor Marc Grellert, of the Technical University of Darmstadt. He will discuss the digital reconstruction of synagogues in Germany that were destroyed during Kristallnacht.