Learning and remembering: Students and teachers dive deep to prepare for International Holocaust Remembrance Day
As we prepare for International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, we hear from students and teachers at Thunderbird Elementary, Point Grey Secondary and Lord Byng Secondary about how they are preparing to mark this important day of remembrance in the classroom.
Thunderbird Elementary students dive deep into critical discussions about the Holocaust
Written by Curtis Lai, Grade 5/6/7 teacher at Thunderbird Elementary
“On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Thunderbird is diving deep into critical discussions, reflections and inquiry. Three student council members took it upon themselves to do research and create a stunning visual information board for the entire school to learn from.
Grade 6/7 students Abi Levi, Rahaf Halak and Athenna Verzosa thoughtfully chose topics on Judaism, the Holocaust and antisemitism to include on the information board. They thought that the board would help the school community understand the significance of the day, even if they had no prior knowledge about it.
Other classes also participated in Holocaust education lessons this week. In one intermediate class, short films from the National Film Board of Canada were shown to provoke questions and thoughtful discussions. The films were called "My Yiddish Papi" by Éléonore Goldbergfrom and "The Basketball Game" by Hart Snider.
Our school is incredibly diverse, and many meaningful cross-cultural connections were brought up, some tears were shed, and the most supportive sentiments were made. It was a bonding moment for us all, and the connective themes surpassed any differences we had between us.
In another class, a study of the novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, also served as a vehicle for learning. Students tied in prior learning about how the first immigrants to Canada were treated and discovered the incredible power that literature has as we unpack history.
Another class examined photo evidence from World War II and the concentration camps, which helped students think critically about the magnitude of lives lost. This class is now working to create a large hallway display of children’s names who were victims of the Holocaust.
It was important that we took a thoughtful approach when considering the weight of the day, the challenging themes, and the age of students. Teachers at Thunderbird approached this teaching with an inclusivity and anti-racism lens. Some questions we asked ourselves were:
"When considering the Holocaust, what has continued today and what has changed?"
"How can we use historical evidence to inform our present-day understanding?"
After unpacking necessary terms such as hatred, racism, exclusion and antisemitism, we asked ourselves what factors led to such an atrocity. Parallels were drawn to Residential Schools and Internment Camps, but we took time to understand there is no sense in comparing trauma or atrocities. We can acknowledge these events and their effects without weighing them against each other. Trauma-informed teaching also reminds us to never call upon students to "step in the shoes" of traumatic events.
Overall, our explorations led to insightful noticing of how our environment, the people around us, and how propaganda, have powerful influence on our world perspective. We concluded that diversity and education is necessary to decrease (and hopefully eliminate) hatred and disparity in the world.
Point Grey student club promotes We Remember campaign
Resource teacher from Point Grey Secondary, Ginaya Peters, works with her students in the Reconciliation, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (REDI) club at the school to raise awareness about important initiatives, such as the We Remember campaign. This student-led club is comprised of about 10 students in Grades 9 through 12 who strive to create a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for all students in the Point Grey community.
“In this time of record-high levels of anti-Jewish racism, more and more Jews, myself included consider ourselves as white passing,” Peters explains. “It is crucial to remember, teach and talk about the Holocaust and its atrocities to ensure it never happens again, whether to Jews, or any other marginalized or racialized group.”
Peters says other Point Grey teachers will show a documentary from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to all grades on Friday. On Monday, Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, an author and child survivor will visit the school to speak about her experiences during the Holocaust.
“On this annual day of remembrance, our school will participate in 'We Remember' as we need to signify the importance of never forgetting about this event,” says Linda Wang, Grade 12 student and president of the REDI club. “By familiarizing ourselves with the Holocaust and its atrocities, we as a community can assist in preventing a similar scenario from happening again in the future.”
Lord Byng students learn about the Holocaust and First Peoples Principals of Learning
Lord Byng Secondary will also mark the day. English First Peoples teacher, Scott McKeen says he will take the opportunity in his BC First Peoples course to explain how the International Holocaust Remembrance Day applies to the First Peoples Principals of Learning, including:
"Learning is embedded in memory, history and story."
"Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities."
McKeen plans to show a film from the NFB called "Martha" by Vancouver-based filmmaker, Daniel Schubert. McKeen says students will learn from Elders and examine survivor stories from both Jewish and Indigenous communities.
“This work supports the theme of home and belonging, and how Holocaust victims and survivors had their homes and sense of belonging ripped away from them," says McKeen. “It also connects to the experiences of First Nations communities and how their children were taken from them to be assimilated as part of a cultural genocide.”
But the work does not stop after the one day of remembrance. On April 17 and 18, McKeen and his class are planning a live event for students to mark Yom HaShoah, which will include a panel of guest speakers who will share their stories, lived experiences and difficult histories as Elders and survivors of the Holocaust. McKeen says that by embedding stories from Elders throughout the school year, he hopes to centralize these experiences for students.
"I hope that it never gets easier for me to learn about the Holocaust,” says a Grade 11 student from Lord Byng Secondary. “I hope that it brings people to tears and makes them feel so indescribably lucky. The second it doesn't make our hearts ache is the moment we are at risk of repeating the past."