Holocaust. Holodomor. Armenian genocide. Cambodian killing fields. Darfur. Rwandan genocide. The list of past and present genocides is seemingly unending.
Most of you know a lot about one of these genocides. Maybe you have heard the names of another two or three more. There are, likely, some of which you have never even heard.
That’s OK. It’s not your fault. When you were in school, there was never a subject called genocide. The word “genocide” does not even appear once in The Modern Age, 3rd ed., the history textbook that my father used when he was a student at Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute in Toronto in the mid 1950s.
Fast forward to 2018, where high school students have one compulsory history course called Canadian history. In the curriculum, there are three references to different genocides. From experience, only the Holocaust is mentioned as part of the Canadian history course. Most students will not even hear of any other genocides. Students are left with the impression that genocide has happened only once in human history.
This is unacceptable and this needs to change.
As a Jew, I have grown up with the knowledge that my great-grandparents, Fritz and Lily Steiner, were murdered in Auschwitz. I have spent many hours in Toronto and in Nova Scotia teaching people about a genocide that happened approximately 40 years before my birth, but that defines me as a person. When I teach about this, it is to people who have no cultural, religious or familial connection to the Holocaust. It is my job to teach them about it so that they feel the lived human experience of those who were there: those who commit genocide, the bystanders, and the victims. All of these voices are important.
I have come to befriend Raffi Sarkissian, an Armenian teacher, who offers his time every year to come and speak with my students about how the Armenian genocide affects the Armenian community to this day. My mentor, the amazing Valentina Kurliyw, is a Ukrainian woman who has done so many things to make sure that as many people as possible learn about the Holodomor, Stalin’s terror-famine of Ukraine. There’s the tremendous team at ALPHA Education that teach about the horrific treatment of Filipinos, Chinese, and Koreans by the Japanese army during the Second World War. The list of genocide and human rights educators who I’ve met expands daily. I want them to know about the Holocaust, and they want me to know about the genocide and human rights atrocities against their people. Together, we want the same thing – for people to know that genocide happens and that we always need to be aware of what is going on in our midst to make sure that it does not happen again. Not here, not anywhere.
But human rights violations do happen here, and full blown genocide is happening right now, as you read this. Hopefully you know about the plight of the Rohingya, a religious minority group in Burma/Myanmar.
All students across Canada need to learn about genocide. Every school needs to offer the course and, at the very least, give students the opportunity to consider taking the course. Teachers need to work to get stories of genocide and lessons of genocide into their courses. English classes need to be infused with stories of genocide. Drama and art classes need to learn and creatively approach the subject of genocide. For this to happen though, teachers need to be given support and resources.
That is why I started the Ontario Association of Genocide Educators. We want to get people learning and taking action to commemorate the victims and survivors of past genocides, to act to end current genocides, and to work toward the true implementation of those oft repeated words: ”never again.”
If you are interested in working with us, please feel free to email me at [email protected].