Today Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) hosted 30 Grade 6 students from a Toronto public school for a special day of presentations. FSWC Educator Elena provided our Media Literacy & Propaganda workshop for two hours in the morning and then hosted the same group of students after lunch for our Digital Hate & Cyberbullying program.
During the Media Literacy & Propaganda workshop Elena spent a lot of time providing context for the ways that media and propaganda were used by the Nazi regime to play on public fears and dehumanize Jewish people. The workshop began with a look at Simon Wiesenthal’s life and his quote about the fact that knowledge about the past is a defense against repeating the crimes of history. Elena talked about the activities of the Ministry of Propaganda under the leadership of Joseph Goebbels and shared some quotes from Goebbels and Hitler about the utility of lies to manipulate public opinion including Goebbel’s statement that, “A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.” Elena also shared a clip of Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, which depicts the adoring crowds as Hitler arrived at the 1935 Nuremberg Rally. Elena reviewed several examples of propaganda posters with the students and as a group had a long discussion about the hero and villain dichotomy created in their depictions of Jewish people and Germans in these posters.
The second workshop of the day was an excellent companion to the first half. Elena began once again with wise words from Simon Wiesenthal who wrote that, “Technology without hatred can be a blessing. Technology with hate is always a disaster.” His words are truer today than ever before and we have seen the direct results of hate online in some of the violent hate crimes committed in recent times. A Jewish student in the group actually brought up the incident from last Saturday where 11 Jewish people were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. He also brought up the fact that the perpetrator of these murders, Robert Bowers, had a long-standing online history of spewing antisemitism and was a frequent poster on the social media platform favoured by antisemites and nationalist extremists called Gab.
Elena also spent time this afternoon talking about how hate online effects young people through cyberbullying, harassment, and stalking. Elena talked about ways that we all can protect ourselves online and about how students can take action in our schools and communities. Speaker’s Idol is a great example of a way students can learn to use their voices for positive change and many students who had never heard of the competition before expressed interest in competing this year after watching the video.
Tour for Humanity spent today at a public school in the small rural community of Pefferlaw (part of Georgina). The school is located on the side of a busy highway, and as such every student is either bused in or dropped off by parents from surrounding towns.
An interesting moment occurred during the first workshop. FSWC Educator Daniella was discussing Japanese Internment Camps in Canada during the war, and one student shared that his grandmother had been in a camp. This was something quite unique as a similar has not been shared before in a Tour for Humanity program, but it allowed Daniella to make the student feel a part of the workshop and to make it more personal for the rest of the class. When Daniella explained that people of “Japanese racial origin” were sent to Internment Camps, she asked the class what that meant. When no one answered, Daniella asked the student if his grandmother had been born in Japan, and he said no. Daniella went on to explain that people of Japanese descent were sent into the camps, even though they were Canadian.
There were 5 workshops during the day, which means Tour for Humanity was able to reach every student in Grades 5-8 in this small rural school.