January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. People around the world honour victims and survivors of the Holocaust, bringing the importance of Holocaust education to the forefront.
Holocaust education and commemoration is one of the Azrieli Foundation’s priority areas. Remembrance is not a passive act: it is an active process, which involves not just listening but also making meaning out of what is learned. Learning about the Holocaust and developing accurate, thorough knowledge in which to ground remembrance is essential. Otherwise, society risks losing sight of why—and what—must be remembered.
The education team at the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program is committed to engaging students and teachers with history in meaningful ways. Launched in 2005, the program expanded in 2016 to address gaps in the education system by building educational programs and activities to teach students about the Holocaust. The team creates resources aimed at effectively educating students and conducts workshops and training for teachers across Canada. In September 2021, the Memoirs Program launched a new resource specifically designed to support educators: The First Step: A Guide for Educators Preparing to Teach about the Holocaust.
A survey conducted by the Memoirs Program in 2019 revealed several challenges teachers faced when teaching about the Holocaust, including finding age-appropriate materials for their students, responding to the range of student reactions, lack of time and their own lack of confidence in dealing with the material. The First Step aids teachers in building their knowledge base to bring this subject into their classrooms. With active engagement and a willingness to further their learning, teachers can use the guide to take their “first step” in the right direction.
The guide is divided into three sections, helping educators answer these key questions:
- What was the Holocaust?
- Why do I want my students to learn about the Holocaust?
- How do I safely, respectfully and successfully teach my students about the Holocaust?
Educators start by defining the Holocaust and developing a solid grasp of the core content. They are encouraged to identify key gaps in their knowledge and are provided with resources that will help close those gaps. Then they create a rationale statement and determine learning goals for their students. The final section addresses the question of how to teach the Holocaust in a way that is safe for students and respectful of victims and survivors.
While the guide does not need to be used alongside one of the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program’s published survivor memoirs, it emphasizes the importance of survivor testimony in developing an understanding of the Holocaust.
The First Step is not a passive document to read and put away; rather, it provides reflective exercises and tangible takeaways for teachers to use in the classroom, making it an excellent tool for professional development. The interactive elements give teachers a unique opportunity to engage critically with the material. New teachers gain a frame of reference, while experienced teachers can reimagine ways to deliver the content and modify their approach to fit current best practices. Teachers can either use The First Step independently or participate in one of the education team’s supported workshops for real-time guidance with experts.
The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program has made, and continues to make, great efforts to understand what educators need and the challenges they face when teaching about the Holocaust. With that knowledge, the Program continues to develop innovative resources, working to ensure that Holocaust remembrance is not simply an acknowledgment, but an action.