Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) was at the same Halton District School Board elementary school for the past two days with the Tour for Humanity program - and it was a unique experience. All of the classes on the bus over the last two days were also on the bus last year, but participated in different workshops. FSWC Educator Daniella began with the Grade 6s who took part in Simon’s Story last year (they were involved in the Canadian Experience today).
When the students came on the bus Daniella asked the classes if they remembered being on the bus (yes) - and then I asked if they remembered discussions from last year and she was very impressed that the students remembered learning about the Holocaust, Simon Wiesenthal’s history and about heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. and Anne Frank. This really allowed Daniella to build on last year's information. Daniella gave each class an overview of the Holocaust and then focused on Canada - especially Canada’s impact on the Holocaust, told through the story of the M.S. St. Louis.
The Grades 7 and 8 classes participated in the Canadian Experience last year, so this year Daniella focused specifically on the Holocaust, which allowed her to delve deeper into a topic that students were already familiar with. The Grade 7s especially had a lot of questions so she covered everything from how the Nazis classified who was considered Jewish to why the rest of the world did not step in to the conditions inside the cattle cars and life inside a concentration camp.
The Grade 8 classes were very interested in FSWC’s Based on Real Events video. They were shocked to learn that graffiti could cause that much damage and that one simple choice could change their lives forever. Discussions are already under way for the Tour for Humanity to return to the school next year.
The FSWC classroom was also busy today with our third Grade 10 English class from a Catholic high school in Brampton that participated in our Roots of Hate and Intolerance workshop. Today’s group was such a great example of what a difference it makes when a teacher goes above and beyond to prepare students for the workshop material. Students have read most of Night by Elie Wiesel, they were familiar with the background of antisemitism in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and had even watched the film Life is Beautiful as a class prior to their visit. This sort of preparation by the teachers allows FSWC educators to go into much greater detail about the events of the Holocaust and to really emphasize the human impact of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.
FSWC Educator Emily was also really touched at the end of the day, as a couple of the girls approached her and Elena as they were waiting for the elevator and asked about our work as historians with the Wiesenthal organization. They seemed surprised that this was a possible career route for someone interested in genocide and the history of the Holocaust. It was a great reminder that FSWC not only conveys the content of the workshops, but also represents the very human faces of human rights non-profits, which is of interest to many young people.
Holocaust survivor Faigie Libman and FSWC Director of Education Melissa were also busy today; they were invited to present a Lessons in Humanity program to all of the Chief Superintendents along with members of the Equity team from all northern OPP detachments. Melissa spent two hours in the morning discussing the history of the Holocaust with a focus on the role of law enforcement and Faigie presented her testimony in the afternoon.
The response was very positive – many members made a point to state how informative and important the information is today along with the importance of learning about this history. They asked questions about antisemitism and why the Jewish population was targeted. Several members also asked for recommended reading to further their study.