Monthly Education Report: March 30, 2023

March 30, 2023


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FSWC Education Report

Here's what the Education Department at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) has been up to over the last month.

'We Are the Antidote to Hate': Canadian Educators Learn About Lessons from the Holocaust

Compassion to Action for Educators group at the site of the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, March 2023

A group of 24 remarkable Ontario educators returned mid-March from an incredibly powerful journey through Poland as participants in Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center's pilot program, Compassion to Action for Educators.

Our journey started in Warsaw, Poland with a visit to the award-winning POLIN Museum. It was what many participants referred to as a “crash course” into the more than 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland, and by extension, in Europe. This visit, along with a stop at the Gensia cemetery, demonstrated the rich cultural and religious life that existed in pre-war days. It was with this foundation of knowledge that we headed off to some of the most unimaginable Nazi sites of genocide: from the mass graves of Chelmno concentration camp just outside of Lodz, Poland, to the lone-standing lamppost in Lublin, the only original remnant of the pre-war Jewish community; and from the chilling gas chamber with blue-stained walls from the Zyklon B gas standing in its original form in Majdanek concentration camp, to the rows and rows of barracks and the haunting Arbeit Macht Frei sign above the gates at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.  

What we noticed amongst the participants as we travelled to each of these sites and listened to expert speakers was an intense dedication to learning alongside a willingness to truly “feel” the emotional side of the journey. One participant stated what many other participants echoed, “My first impression each day has been the same, and that is how my academic knowledge of the subject of the Holocaust has been completely overshadowed by the emotional response I’m feeling each day.” This was not just a history lesson that was being presented, this was a lesson on the lasting impact of the Holocaust in our world today.

Participants leaned on each other throughout the journey, sharing the emotional experience and discussing what they were learning. They spoke about the sheer magnitude of the evil they were standing witness to. They also spoke about the importance of finding hope amongst the destruction. There was a fierce effort by participants to see those murdered on these sites not only as victims but as individuals with rich, fulfilling lives that were torn out from under them. The effort to find humanity amongst the horror was a lasting impression that many expressed as well.

Each participant has committed to creating Holocaust education opportunities in their schools and classrooms over the next year. We will be meeting multiple times over the next year as a group to discuss progress, successes and challenges. Each participant will also submit a one-month, six-month and one-year report on their commitment. As Toronto District School Board vice principal Shawn Robertson said while walking out of Auschwitz, “We are the antidote to hate.”

Compassion to Action for Educators in the News:

​​​​Windsor educator hopes to highlight Jewish contributions after Polish trip

This Windsor educator took a Holocaust education trip. Now she's bringing it to classrooms

Local educator inspired to implement Holocaust education following return from Poland

Windsor Morning with Nav Nanwa

'You feel the magnitude': Area educators visit Holocaust sites

Huron-Perth educators bring home lessons on hate from Holocaust education tour in Poland

Read more about Compassion to Action journey

Connecting the Past: German Students Discover Connection to Holocaust Survivor Gershon Willinger

Daniella Lurion (left) with Comenius-Gymnasium Düsseldorf history club students and teacher Markus Bußmann (right).

Daniella Lurion, FSWC's Tour for Humanity Director, visited Düsseldorf, Germany in March in response to a very special invitation.  

Teacher Markus Bußmann from Comenius-Gymnasium Düsseldorf runs an after-school history club at the school. He recently reached out to FSWC because his history club students were going through school archives, trying to connect records in the archive to living family members. They had come across a file belonging to Guido Willinger, one of only 41 Jewish students who attended the school in the early 1900s. The students wanted to know what had happened to him so they jumped into online databases and followed trails of records until they found out that Guido had been murdered in the Holocaust at Sobibor concentration camp. However, their research also revealed that Guido had a son. Students found a name - Gershon Willinger - and continued their research, which led to FSWC and Toronto area Holocaust survivor Gershon Willinger.

Daniella's trip included a day of workshops with the German students at Comenius-Gymnasium Düsseldorf along with a very special Zoom call with Gershon and the history club students.  

Further details about this very special exchange will be shared later in April. Stay tuned to learn about this remarkable connection!

FSWC's Lessons in Digital Citizenship

'It can be really dangerous if you don’t use it the right way'

FSWC educator Sarelle Sheldon visited a local elementary school this month to deliver one of the many equity and diversity workshops that our educators are delivering on a daily basis to students in classrooms across Canada. In this particular workshop, Digital Citizenship, Sarelle led the students in a discussion about the positive and negative impacts of the internet and technology. She highlighted the incredible opportunities that technology provides for learning, exploring and connecting with others, while also emphasizing its potential for spreading hate and intolerance. Through her interactive presentation, students reflected on their own technology use and shared personal experiences with digital hate.

The teacher who arranged the workshop shared that it "served as a valuable reminder for us to be aware of our online behaviour and its lasting effects on others." She also shared some feedback from some of the Grade 6 students who had participated in the workshop:

“I’ve just watched a presentation about cyberbullying. I realized it’s okay to tell other people how you feel about things that happen on the Net. I learned that it is always okay to stand up for other people if they’re getting bullied.”

“I just watched a presentation about cyberbullying . . .  I learned that one rude thing can turn into a thousand rude things, and that sometimes cyberbullying can get too out of hand and can lead to teenagers committing suicide. One of the most shocking facts was about how one comment can turn into a thousand or more.”

“I watched this presentation and I think that since we’re living in 2023 and we have all of this access to all of this Internet and social media, we should be careful with who we interact with. I think we should get more information and people should spread more awareness because people my age are so open to all of this, and I think it is important that we are informed properly, and I think that it can be really dangerous if you don’t use it the right way, and if people don’t teach you correctly how to use all of this.”

Tour for Humanity: Notes from the Road

From Barrie to Ottawa, and now Sault Ste. Marie, the Tour for Humanity program has been travelling the province of Ontario educating elementary and secondary school students about the Holocaust, antisemitism and the history of hate in Canada. The response at each of the schools we visit continues to be overwhelmingly positive.  

In Sault Ste. Marie, after participating in the Canadian Experience program, several Indigenous students shared their person family histories being children of residential school survivors. This initiated a great conversation in the session with all of the students about the impact of generational trauma.

The presentations on the Tour for Humanity have also led to a lot of students discussing how they see hate in online spaces and, most importantly, sharing ways they had combatted it in the past.

Tour for Humanity II is gearing up for its east coast tour, which starts after Passover, travelling to Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The original Tour for Humanity bus will continue the important work across Ontario over the coming months!

Tour for Humanity in the News:

'Tour for Humanity' stops in Sault Ste. Marie

Tour teaches Sault students about racism and skeletons in Canada's closet

Up North with Jonathan Pinto

CTV News Ottawa (at the 18:40 mark)

Learn more about Tour for Humanity

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