Home News Canada Holocaust Education Week will explore the lesser-known narratives of the Shoah

Holocaust Education Week will explore the lesser-known narratives of the Shoah

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Ruth Westheimer (Ryan McGrady/CC BY-SA 4.0)

It might be difficult to believe that while the Holocaust is the most documented genocide in history, we still don’t know everything about it.

For example, scholars were shocked in 2013, when the culmination of a dozen years of research revealed that there had been thousands more ghettos, slave labour sites, internment centres, concentration camps and killing factories in Nazi-held Europe than was previously believed.

The 38th annual Holocaust Education Week (HEW) in Toronto, which runs from Nov. 1 to 8, asks why certain words and places – Auschwitz, gas chambers, the Warsaw Ghetto – have become synonymous with the Holocaust, while others are much less familiar.

How is it, HEW organizers ponder, that we know so much about Anne Frank’s diary, but few recognize the name Yitzhak Rudashevski (who diarized his experience in the Vilna Ghetto)?

The theme of HEW 2018, “Illuminating the Shadows: Untold Stories of the Holocaust,” will shine a light on the lesser-known narratives of the Shoah.

“We arrived at this theme after examining many possibilities,” Dara Solomon, executive director of the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, told The CJN. “We started looking at recent scholarship and so many new developments that are counter to the typical narratives that you hear continuously. We thought, ‘what a wonderful topic – to illuminate the shadows and bring forth all these narratives.’

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“Certain narratives have been archetypal (and) almost prevent other stories from coming forward,” Solomon said.

Among the roughly 100 programs, lectures, concerts, film screenings and talks, Solomon points to two that illuminate this year’s theme.

“Hierarchy and Queer Desire in the Holocaust,” on Nov. 5 at the Glad Day Bookshop (499 Church St.) at 7:30 p.m., will look at a topic that may have been considered taboo until only recently: sexuality behind the barbed wire.

It will examine the relationship that developed between Anneliese Kohlmann, a female guard at Tiefstack, a subcamp near Hamburg, and prisoner Lotte Winter, a young Czech Jewish woman.

A major factor, apparently, was the “brutal homophobia of the prisoner society and survivors, a subject only recently studied by scholars,” according to the program notes.

Anna Hájková, an associate professor of history at the University of Warwick, will analyze prisoner society as a site of same-sex behaviour, whether consensual or not, and “how can we write a queer history of the Holocaust?”

Certain narratives have been archetypal (and) almost prevent other stories from coming forward.
– Dara Solomon

In a similar vein, “Gender and Holocaust Memory” on Nov. 6 at the George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Pl.) at 7:30 p.m., will examine the unique experience of women in the Holocaust and other genocides, why those narratives have been largely excluded from the canon and the ethics of writing gender history.

“Only now that gender studies have become so much more significant are these questions being asked,” Solomon said.

She said that this year’s program has undergone a rebranding, with a more contemporary-looking brochure and website, and that the organization has made an effort to appeal to busy young professionals who work downtown.

To that end, several programs will take place downtown during the day, some during the lunch hour.

Also in keeping with this year’s theme will be a program on Nov. 7 at 1 p.m. at the Munk Centre for Global Affairs (315 Bloor St. W.) – which is spearheaded by the consulate of France in Toronto, with participation from the missions of Germany and Austria – called “Uncovering New Narratives of the Holocaust in European and Canadian Archives.”

“As new archives are opened, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for scholars to start digging deeper into some of these primary sources that hadn’t been available,” Solomon said.

As new archives are opened, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for scholars to start digging deeper into some of these primary sources that hadn’t been available.
– Dara Solomon

As well, a related exhibit at the Miles Nadal JCC that runs from Nov. 1 to 28, titled “The Unknowable,” will feature a number of artifacts that will shine a light on rarely told aspects of the Holocaust.

Items will include a ketubbah (marriage contract) written in Theresienstadt in March 1945, among the few known examples of a ketubbah that was written and used in a wedding ceremony in a concentration camp, and a spoon with Hebrew lettering that belonged to an unknown victim of a euthanasia killing centre in Austria.

HEW’s opening takes place Nov. 1 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge St.) at 7:30 p.m. and will feature renowned sex educator Ruth Westheimer, who survived the Holocaust at an orphanage in Switzerland. She will be interviewed by local Yiddishist and author Michael Wex.