by Daniella Lurion, Reference Services Research Intern, Center for Jewish History
To coincide with the anniversary of Kristallnacht (November 9th) the first week of November is always Holocaust Education Week in my hometown of Toronto, Canada. The local JCC and Holocaust Museum promote awareness by organizing events and lectures throughout the week and throughout the city.
I thought I would share a personal story with all of you about the events of this week a few years back. I was in the process of completing an education degree and fulfilling my practicum hours by student teaching in a suburban high school in the Toronto area.
The class was a required course – 10th Grade Modern History. The students were primarily Christian from upper middle-class families in a bedroom community about 30 minutes north of Toronto. In general, they liked to chat amongst themselves and showed no particular interest in learning about the past. In short, most of them were there simply because they needed the credit.
My first lesson occurred spontaneously when my supervising teacher pushed me in front of the class to introduce their next unit: The Holocaust. This would be the first introduction to the Holocaust for most of these students. I stood facing 26 fourteen-year-olds.
I launched into a brief lecture about the Holocaust, familiarizing them with terms like Auschwitz, Zyklon B Gas, Anti-Semitism and Nazis.
As I talked, I noticed a tentative hand go up. Rosie. She was part of the usually loud and obnoxious group that sat at the back of the class. At that point, I realized the class had been listening to me in complete silence.
I stopped my lesson and addressed Rosie’s question. She asked one of the most powerful and poignant questions. One that is difficult to answer even now, 75 years later.
“Why did the Nazis do that?”
I could not adequately answer her question.
A few days later, I led this same class on a field trip to the Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto. They had time to explore the exhibits, saw a short film, and then gathered to hear a survivor speak about her experiences.
I kept my eye on Rosie and her friends, lest they use this opportunity to pull out the ever-present cell phones. No one moved a muscle.
At the end of the presentation, the class filed out of the dimly lit room in contemplative semi-silence. Tyler (class-clown, school basketball star and one of Rosie’s friends) caught my attention as he was surreptitiously trying to wipe away a fallen tear before his friends could see. I pretended not to notice.
It was compelling to see an event so far removed from their lives resonate with a group of Canadian teenagers.