Holocaust education in a time of transition


- Tara Sharpe

What will the Holocaust mean to new generations in the 21st century? This summer, the world saw shocking film footage of Edward VIII in 1933 teaching the Nazi salute to the Queen as a young girl in the same year Hitler came to power in Germany, with subsequent international media coverage putting pressure on the royal family to open its archives and also raising important questions about a real risk of losing the educational legacies of the 1940s.

As home to the I-witness Holocaust Field School (the first of its kind for undergraduate students at a Canadian university) and the UVic Holocaust Archive, UVic hosted a global gathering early this month to explore Holocaust education as a means to tackle contemporary issues of hatred, racism, antisemitism, islamophobia, xenophobia, ethnic conflict and genocide.

Critical Holocaust education in a time of transition

From Sept. 1 to 3, "Global Connections: Critical Holocaust Education in a Time of Transition" brought together participants-from the US, Canada, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Switzerland-to focus on Holocaust studies, the continuum of displacement and destruction and the incredible human costs and trauma, and related issues of multi-cultural human rights education including Canadian contexts such as the atrocities of the Indian Residential Schools and Japanese-Canadian internment.

"This annual conference challenged us to view Holocaust education in new ways, at a critical time in history when the generation which experienced it firsthand will not be with us for too much longer," says Dr. Helga Thorson, chair of UVic's Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies and a co-founder of the UVic field school. She explained how the annual conference came together due to "contacts we had made during the first two field schools and as an extension of an international research collective" established by Thorson and Dr. Charlotte Schalli&e#180;, a former co-director of the field school and professor within the department.

Alumna goes from I-witness field school to Shoah Foundation

Andrea van Noord, a UVic alumna (BA '11 - English major, with a minor in religious studies) who is employed in her chosen field of study as a Holocaust testimony indexer with the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California, returned to Victoria to manage the three-day conference along with a team of dedicated volunteers and committee members.

Van Noord audited the UVic field school in 2011 and, while living in Berlin, also worked as a research consultant during the 2014 field school and travelled with the group. She speaks from the perspective of the next generation: "Since the field school, I would say I tend to think of history more and more as a story that we tell ourselves about the past, which can help us to make sense of the present, and perhaps even guide decision-making in the future. But it is also a story that can change in time from person to culture to nation to government."

"Living in the wake of not only the Holocaust, but also the First Nations Residential School System, the wars in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and more-the slogan 'never again' represents the worst kind of institutionalized rhetoric that on the one hand champions a sense of responsibility-and more importantly, a capacity for change-while on the other hand completely fails to acknowledge the mass violence that we have inflicted upon one another since, and before, the Holocaust."

"How are we supposed to safeguard against distortions of the past? As of today, I'm not sure we can safeguard against such a thing. But we can increase our awareness of history."

Multi-cultural human rights education in a Canadian context

Schalli&e#180; added, "What makes our conference unique is that it brings together scholars from a multitude of disciplines, socially engaged artists, activists and survivors. In order to foster interaction and cooperation among the conference participants, including the audience members, we decided to keep the traditional lecture format to a minimum. The afternoon sessions were thus comprised of panel discussions and reflective group meetings sharing best practices in Holocaust Education."

Visit the conference website to view the full program of conference events and activities.

Photos from the first I-witness field schools, as well as student viewpoints and additional storytelling about the program, are also available on The Ring, including: http://bit.ly/1Eha3bf and http://bit.ly/1L5UPFw.

UVic News Release (August 2015)


In this story

Keywords: Holocaust, history, human rights, alumni, Germanic and Slavic studies

People: Helga Thorson, Charlotte Schallié

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