“Did you all know that the last Holocaust survivor died this year?” a young woman asked the group of students she was leading through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C., when I was there one day. The woman, I later learned, was the students’ Grade 8 teacher at an elementary school in North Carolina.
Startled by her naivety and inaccuracy, I informed her that scores of Holocaust survivors worldwide are in fact still alive and well. Following her initial look of incredulity, she expressed her gratitude for my correction and carried on guiding her students.
If a well-intentioned North Carolina schoolteacher was reciting such flawed information to her impressionable students, one can easily conclude that there must be a profusion of others who are just as misinformed.
This year highlights the 67th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, which was arguably the most odious of genocides.
Most Holocaust survivors are living their final years, and many have passed away. Because of this, an immediate challenge has arisen, since their testimonies of resilience, suffering and survival are at risk of passing on with them.
Earlier this month, I volunteered at a Holocaust symposium for high school students, organized by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Such an event works as a constructive mechanism to actively engage students – especially those who are not Jewish – about the Holocaust.
As a granddaughter of three Holocaust survivors, I have had a deeply ingrained passion for Holocaust education since I can remember.
That passion has gradually increased through my Jewish schooling and involvement in the Jewish community as a teenager.
That said, it seems rather unlikely to me that someone who lacks a personal connection to this genocide could be as passionate about Holocaust education as most Jewish people are.
To my pleasant surprise, at the Holocaust symposium, I found the participants to be very respectful and interested in the subject matter and speakers, one of whom was Kay Andrews, the national outreach co-ordinator of the Institute of Education’s Holocaust Education Centre at the University of London.
It is vital that events such as the Holocaust symposium be organized to empower both Jewish and non-Jewish adolescents and young adults to preserve the legacy of the Holocaust. Learning about the genocide can only help youth to be historically and socially aware, and spark their interest in both global and local affairs.
Another method by which our community can instil the importance and education of the Holocaust into others is by providing aid and services to Jews and non-Jews alike. By constantly employing our Jewish commandment of tikkun olam (repairing the world), we can gradually help make non-Jewish communities more sensitive to the history of the Holocaust and its aftermath.
Numerous Jewish aid agencies are devoted to helping the community at large, not just the Jewish community, in offering services such as housing, children’s aid and elderly care.
Nonetheless, due to the fact that Ontario’s diversity is steadily growing in the wake of difficult economic times, social service practitioners are encountering challenges. Even amid Jewish social service agencies’ struggles to administer proper care to all citizens in the community, it is comforting to know that they are working tirelessly to pinpoint optimal methods of aid distribution.
Insomuch as the Jewish community continues to maintain tikkun olam as a high priority and work to assist and have regard for others, I believe that over time, other communities will begin to mirror our efforts.
The North Carolina schoolteacher should act as a catalyst in the effort to continue the pursuit of educating others about the Holocaust. Educational tools such as the annual Holocaust symposium are powerful and beneficial. However, the very existence of scores of Jewish aid agencies and their all-embracing mandates should also encourage non-Jews to view the Holocaust not simply as a Jewish tragedy, but as a profound calamity for all of humankind.