Holocaust education aims to build ‘common ground’

Student events include discussion, multimedia for Holocaust Education Week

Yasmine Mucher holds a photograph of her grandfather, a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau included in a gallery display during Holocaust Education Week. Photo: Evelyn Brotherston

For a group of students at Dalhousie University, the 11th annual Holocaust Education Week meant the opportunity to offer new perspectives on the Holocaust.

Three students – Shael Brown, Yasmine Mucher and Ashley Promislow – presented on-campus programming in connection with the Atlantic Jewish Council’s weeklong series of events.

“We set up a personal goal of exploring facets of the Holocaust that aren’t normally so well known, such as the stories of different countries, other ethnicities, religions, sexualities, or politics,” says Brown.

Yasmine Mucher, who has Holocaust survivors on both sides of her family, put together a display of photographs as part of a multi-sensory gallery experience that also included poetry reading, music, and video streaming.

She says it was tough going at times:

“There was one picture: I remember as we were putting it up I just took it down, crumpled it up and threw it away because I was like ‘I don’t want anyone to see this’. It was a picture of a wall, with lots of hand-scratches on it: the inside of a gas chamber at Auschwitz.”

“To people who don’t have as much of a connection to it, how do you bring up this awful thing? It’s like ‘let’s learn about massacres’,” Mucher says.

Creating dialogue

The students’ aim was to focus on dialogue, not just contemplation. They hosted a talk that took on the topic of Holocaust denial.

Arielle Branitsy, director of Jewish Student Life for the Atlantic branch of Hillel Canada, co-ordinated the funding and helped guide the Dal students’ work.

“[Holocaust denial] is an issue, whether it be individual academics or leaders of countries,” says Branitsky, citing statements by former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

She says Holocaust education should connect the past to the present.

Students and community members attend a discussion about Holocaust denial during this year’s Holocaust Education Week (Photo: Arielle Branitsky)
Students and community members attend a discussion about Holocaust denial during this year’s Holocaust Education Week. Photo: Arielle Branitsky

Should that involve a discussion about Israel?

Branitsky says that one of the problems with discussions about Israel is that often “there’s not enough common ground at the table to talk about it. Building relationships helps to build common ground.”

With that in mind one of the students’ principal aims was to engage non-Jewish students.

“We don’t see it as a Jewish week of learning, but as an opportunity to educate the whole community,” says Branitsky, adding that “we’re very focused on relationship building.”

The talk addressing Holocaust denial, held at King’s College, drew a group of close to 50.

Tamar Ellis, who attended some of the week’s events, is the president of the student group Israel on Campus. She says education is key – both to coming to terms with the past and engaging in constructive dialogue about issues in the present.

The week-long event series included the gallery exhibit and Holocaust denial discussion, as well as a film-screening, teaching workshop and live theatre performance hosted by the Atlantic Jewish Council.

Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. At least 11 million people were killed over all. Their deaths occurred in what are now 35 different European states.