Toronto charity pushes for mandatory Holocaust education

It’s been over 70 years, but the vivid details of Auschwitz remain fresh in the mind of 93-year-old Hedy Bohm.

“I see the barracks. I see the dirt that I slept on. I see the total absence of color everywhere,” said Bohm, who was 16 when she was taken from her home in the Oradea ghetto in present-day Romania and later sent to the infamous concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Bohm was separated from her parents. She remembers trying to sue her mother before being arrested.

“It’s so deep in my mind. I think it was the hardest time of my life.”

It was the last time Bohm saw his mother.

Bohm, seen here as a baby, is pictured with her parents. Bohm was separated from her mother and father in 1944 and never saw them again. (Hedy Bohm)

Bohm is now sharing her Holocaust survival story with students through an online program called Outschool.

“I hope there will always be one person in any group I speak with who will be inspired to do something they hadn’t thought of before,” Bohm said.

‘Lack of knowledge’

Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, the charity Liberation75 released the results of a survey it conducted of nearly 3,600 North American students.

While some boards — like the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) — have worked to incorporate teachings about genocide and the Holocaust at a younger age, there is no provincial mandate to do so. The group is calling on the province to expand genocide and Holocaust education and make it mandatory.

The call also comes at a time when hate crimes are on the rise in Toronto, with anti-Semitic incidents being the most prevalent, according to police statistics.

When asked in the study “which of the following statements comes closest to your view of the Holocaust”, 7.83% of the students who participated said they thought the number of deaths had been exaggerated, while 2.87% answered that they were not. sure that the Holocaust really happened. And 22.7% said they were “not sure what to answer” in response to the question.

The study included students in grades 6 through 12 from Canada and the United States, although the majority were Canadian. Participants were recruited based on their teachers’ registration, but students were given the option to participate or not. They were interrogated on everything from Holocaust history to Jewish identity and anti-Semitism.

Marilyn Sinclair is the founder of Liberation75. Her late father was a Holocaust survivor. (Justine Apple Photography)

Liberation75 founder Marilyn Sinclair said she was stunned by the findings.

“I find it amazing because there are so many books and movies and ways students encounter the Holocaust in various forms,” Sinclair said.

“And yet there’s still this huge amount of…lack of knowledge.”

About 40% of students surveyed said social media was one of the places they get information about the Holocaust, a finding that troubled the data scientist behind the project.

“I think the study is so important in an age of misinformation and misinformation,” said Alexis Lerner, who led the study at Western University. She is now an assistant professor of political science at the US Naval Academy.

“When students don’t get information about the Holocaust and genocide in schools, they don’t get factual information. And so they turn to these alternative sources of information.”

No mandate

It is ultimately up to Ontario teachers to decide how and when to discuss events like the Holocaust. The only class in which teaching is mandatory is a grade 10 Canadian history course.

Two years ago, the TDSB voted unanimously to call for more education about genocide — including the Holocaust — and to make it mandatory. The council wrote a letter to Ontario Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce.

Shari Schwartz-Maltz, a TDSB spokesperson who is also chair of the council’s Jewish heritage committee, says the TDSB has taken several of its own initiatives to introduce Holocaust and genocide education at a younger age. , including the presentation of educational films such as the tattooed torah.

The Toronto District School Board wrote to the Ontario Minister of Education in 2020 asking for genocide education to be mandatory in the provincial curriculum. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

“I would say there is a need for Holocaust education starting in grade 4. And we at the TDSB do our best repeatedly throughout the year,” Schwartz said. Maltese.

One of Liberation75’s findings was that 42% of students surveyed said they had witnessed an anti-Semitic event such as graffiti, slurs, bullying, property damage or in a news report. This is something Schwartz-Maltz is well aware of. The council has a new portal in which it tracks hate incidents.

“In the short two years that we have data from the portal, we find that anti-Semitism and largely the glorification of Nazi ideology or swastika graffiti … are the two most reported hate incidents in the TDSB. ”

Schwartz-Maltz said the board has adopted a policy under which it immediately responds to such incidents by trying to educate students about the historical context and how such symbols can be hurtful.

Provincial Response

CBC News asked the Ontario Ministry of Education if it plans to introduce compulsory education about historical genocide and the Holocaust.

The department issued a statement recognizing the rise of anti-Semitism in Canada and around the world, and the importance of combating it.

“Every student in Ontario deserves to learn in schools that are safe and free from discrimination and hate. We must continue to expand learning opportunities to ensure that all students remember the Holocaust and understand the real human rights issues facing Jewish people here in Canada and abroad,” the statement reads in part.

Sinclair says much of the work of Holocaust education has historically fallen to survivors who have shared their stories publicly, but now it’s more important to root it in the school system.

“Our survivors are now in their 80s or 90s. Many of them have passed away, and it’s so important that their memory not be forgotten,” Sinclair said.

Bohm, who turns 94 this year, says she will continue to do her educational sessions with students through Outschool’s online learning program. (Radio Canada)

Bohm says she will continue to do online outreach for as long as she can. She says it’s not just about learning history, but knowing how not to repeat mistakes and how to understand cultural differences.

“My only hope is that what I’m doing is something worthwhile and will help people deal with situations in the future,” Bohm said.

“If we don’t learn to accept each other’s differences and live together in this big but small world, there is no hope for us.”

Helen D. Jessen