Shoah education still key for human rights museum

Canadian Museum for Human Rights remains in development

WINNIPEG — Despite complaints from some quarters, Holocaust education remains an important focal point of the still-in-development Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

According to an internal working document released recently to the media by the museum’s board, a display on the Holocaust will fill a 4,500-square-foot space, making it the facility’s largest stand-alone gallery after its Canada’s Journey gallery.

As outlined in the working document, the Examining the Holocaust gallery is intended to be a case study in the “systematic destruction of human rights.”

“The lessons of the Holocaust demand that we be vigilant,” the working paper states.

The gallery will feature photos and graphic panels, videos, text and small, open drawers containing “fragile or secret documents.” Among the exhibits will be an overview of Lemkin’s Techniques of Genocide, a touch-screen panel that explains eight “techniques” that the Nazis used to try to destroy the Jewish People.

The outer structure of the $350-million-plus museum was completed late last year. The museum is expected to open to the public in 2014.

Canada’s Journey, the largest gallery at 9,500 square feet, will consider past historical wrongs such as the internment of Japanese people during World War II, the Chinese head tax, residential schools for native peoples and modern issues such as same-sex marriage and disability rights.

Other galleries include an aboriginal section, human rights today and taking action in defence of human right.

The Holodomor, the Soviet Union’s forced starvation of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian farmers – estimates of the number of dead run from 1.8 to 12 million – in the 1930s, will be examined in a film that will be art of a gallery called Breaking the Silence.

The gallery would “recognize the role of Diaspora communities and Parliament in breaking the silence” on five genocides – the Armenian genocide, the Holodomor, the Holocaust and, more recently, Rwanda and Srebenica.

The status of the Holodomor relative to the Holocaust among the museum’s educational programs has been the main bone of contention from critics of the museum, and from one group in particular, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which has been pushing for the Holodomor to be given equal space with the Holocaust in the museum.

“We have the support of most Ukrainain Canadian organizations, which are working with us,” said Maureen Fitzhenry, the museum’s media relations manager. 

“They seem to understand what we are trying to do and appreciate our efforts to incorporate information about the Holodomor.” 

Fitzhenry noted that the working document is not an exhaustive list of every component and story of every gallery.

“The document is not a good way to assess what might be missing from the museum, although some are using it in that way,” she said. “We have actually redacted some of the specific lists of stories being considered because they are not yet solid enough to release publicly.”

She added: “The goal of the document is to ensure that museum programs are completely aligned with the galleries and built exhibits. Both components [exhibits and interpretive programs] are a very important part of the visitor experience in an ‘ideas museum.’”