Today Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) had a group of thirty Grade 7 students from a Toronto area public school visit the Tom & Anna Koffler Tolerance Training Centre in North York to take part in our Leadership 101 workshop. They were an extremely energetic and enthusiastic group of young people who were both excited to learn the material, as well as share their own stories and experiences. The Leadership workshop really gives students a voice throughout the day, and the students today certainly took advantage of this opportunity. For every question FSWC Educator Emily posed, she got at least 5 or 6 hands up, and most times even more. Students of this age group tend to be very forthcoming, and that sort of passion for education is something we hope to foster as they move into their high school years.
Right before lunch, Emily had a great discussion that was prompted by someone noticing the “striped pants, like in the movie with the pajamas.” Time and time again this artifact has been a perfect jumping-off point to connect what students see in media and on television and to bring them back to the real history, as well as the acts of antisemitism that occur today. One of the students even mentioned that they had heard about the vandalism of the Jewish school last week on the news. It is important to both commend students for their interest in contemporary events, but also equally important is reminding them to continue to be curious and vigilant about hate crimes in the future.
FSWC Director of Education Melissa spoke with a community group of 50 people at a community event in Barrie today. The presentation was to introduce the work of FSWC and for Melissa to share her own personal experiences in travelling to sites of the Holocaust on Compassion to Action.
After introducing the group to Simon Wiesenthal, the advocacy and education work that is carried out as well as some stories about visiting both the camps in Poland and sites such as the Syrian border in Israel, two ladies from the group came up to share their personal stories with Melissa. The first woman was born in the Netherlands and her family hid Jewish families in their home. Her father, a part of the resistance, was reported on and had an execution warrant put out on him. He went into hiding and fortunately survived the war. However, she also very clearly recalled the day “the Jews were shipped out of town.” She said she could remember them lining up and being loaded onto trucks, “You just don’t forget things like that,” she said.
The second woman shared that she had worked for the Canadian government and was shocked when she heard the rumour that two members of the engineering team she worked on were rumoured to be Nazis. Once she left the position she did report the rumour to authorities. She couldn’t believe that Nazi war criminals would be employed by an Allied country, such as Canada, after carrying out such atrocities. She stated that the work of Simon Wiesenthal and the pursuit of Nazi war criminals was even more significant in her mind.