Students today will be the last generation to hear directly from survivors of the Holocaust.
Teaching the Holocaust to younger generations is essential, even if it is a complex and sensitive subject. The Azrieli Foundation has worked in communities throughout the country and partnered with organizations dedicated to teaching about this watershed event in human history. The Foundation has also created a unique program that brings the voices of Canadian Holocaust survivors to classrooms from coast to coast to coast.
Connecting educators and students with first-hand accounts of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Canada.
The Azrieli Foundation established the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program in 2005 to collect, preserve and share the memoirs and diaries written by survivors of the Holocaust who came to Canada. To date, the program has published the stories of 110 Canadian Holocaust survivors. These diverse memoirs — published in both English and French — are distributed free of charge to educational institutions across Canada and are for sale online.
The stories, told personally from the perspective of those who lived through the Holocaust, have a powerful impact on students. The narratives portray people in the fullness of their lives, adding individual voices to a collective experience and helping students make meaning out of the statistics. When taught in their broader historical contexts, survivor memoirs engage students in an educational experience that deepens their understanding of the Holocaust. This approach to Holocaust education emphasizes the importance of the individual story and is based on a few key principles:
Memoirs can only be properly understood in each of their specific historical, geographical, sociological and political contexts.
By focusing on the particularities of the experiences of one or more authors, students realize the enormous multiplicity of stories that make up this historical event.
Emphasizing the ordinary lives lived by people before they were disrupted by war and genocide highlights our shared humanity.
Students form connections with the authors and see them as individuals they can learn from and engage with, rather than as statistics or victims.
First-person accounts demonstrate the impact of the Holocaust on individuals and the struggles they faced in its aftermath, including in their immigration to Canada.
Students engage in historical empathy by understanding how people navigated their way through an unprecedented historical situation.
Educational programs need to challenge students to think critically about complex and sensitive topics.
Students develop the capacity to understand contemporary global issues and debates as they grow into an informed and thoughtful younger generation.
“In telling these stories, the writers have liberated themselves. For so many years we did not speak about it, even when we became free people living in a free society. Now, when at last we are writing about what happened to us in this dark period of history, knowing that our stories will be read and live on allows us to feel truly free.”
– David J. Azrieli z”l, C.M., C.Q., M.Arch.
The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program’s education team connects teachers and students across Canada to these first-hand accounts by working with educators interested in using survivor memoirs to teach their students about the Holocaust. The program trains teachers in how to use the free educational materials and resources — memoirs, education programs and lesson plans, short films and the innovative digital resource, Re:Collection. In 2019, school programming and teacher workshops were held in over thirty Canadian cities and over 6,000 English and French speaking students had the opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors. For the first time, program staff went to Red Deer, Alberta; Digby, Nova Scotia; and travelled as far as Whitehorse, Yukon; and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The Azrieli Foundation’s commitment to Holocaust education remains strong as the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program expands to support and encourage more and more educators in Canada to teach the Holocaust.
Canadians committed to education and commemoration about the Holocaust
Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre
Through education and remembrance, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre engages students, educators and the broader public in British Columbia and beyond with the history of the Holocaust — the Shoah — and its ongoing relevance. As a teaching museum that stewards programs and collections initiated by Holocaust survivors, the centre honours and supports those who survived and remembers those who perished.
Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre
Through its museum and programs, the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre generates knowledge and understanding about the Holocaust and serves as a forum for dialogue about civil society for present and future generations.
The Neuberger reaches 20,000 students annually through school visits to the museum and education programs, and an additional 30,000 members of the general community through its signature program, Holocaust Education Week. Cited by scholars as one of the most comprehensive vehicles for Holocaust education and remembrance in the world, it has been recognized as a “Best Practice” in the field by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Montreal Holocaust Museum
Established in 1979, the Montreal Holocaust Museum educates people of all ages and backgrounds about the Holocaust, and the universal perils of antisemitism, racism, hate and indifference. Through its exhibitions, commemorative programs and educational initiatives, the Montreal Holocaust Museum promotes respect for diversity and the sanctity of human life.
The Museum holds a collection of over 13,500 artefacts (documents, photograph collections, and precious objects) and the largest collection of Holocaust survivor interview testimony in Canada with 850 survivor stories, fully digitized and accessible. It is the only museum in the country that tells the complete history of events leading up to the Holocaust, and its impact on individuals, communities and countries after the war. There were 21,750 visitors to the permanent exhibition last year, an increase of 50% in 3 years, in an exhibition space of only 5,000 square feet. Almost 600 teachers from across Canada were trained by the Museum in the last 18 months.
The Azrieli Foundation is supporting the museum in its process of building a new facility which will offer more space for school groups and a better experience for students to learn about the Holocaust in a multisensory and multi-faceted way, unique to the Museum. A central downtown location including a larger permanent exhibit, temporary exhibit gallery and improved facilities is expected to reach over 70,000 visitors a year.
Find a Holocaust education and commemoration organization serving your community:
- Atlantic Jewish Council
- The Azrieli Foundation Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program (Canada-wide)
- Calgary Jewish Federation
- Edmonton Jewish Federation
- Facing History and Ourselves (Canada-wide)
- Freeman Family Holocaust Education Centre (Winnipeg)
- Hamilton Jewish Federation
- Montreal Holocaust Museum
- The Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre (Toronto)
- Ottawa Jewish Federation
- Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (Ottawa)
- Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre
A Canadian voice in Holocaust Education on the world stage
The Azrieli Foundation is a member of the Canadian delegation to IHRA: The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. As the Canadian voice on IHRA’s Education Working Group we actively collaborate and engage on a transnational platform creating best practices in Holocaust education. These guidelines bring important pedagogical grounding for the study of first-person accounts of the Holocaust.