||Volume 18, Number 1, September 2005
Marking 60 years of liberation and 30 years of the symposium
by Frieda Miller
As the world marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, two friends, whose lives dramatically intersected 60 years ago in Buchenwald concentration camp, were reunited in Vancouver at the 30th Annual High School Symposium on the Holocaust. Sixty years ago, Leon Bass, a 19-year-old, Black American soldier walked into Buchenwald and witnessed atrocities that would affect him for the rest of his life. Despite his personal experiences with racism and segregation, he was unprepared for what he encountered. Reaching out to touch his liberator was Robbie Waisman, a 14-year old Jewish boy, who had been imprisoned in the camp and was now orphaned by the Holocaust.
Today, Leon Bass is a retired school principal and an internationally active antiracism speaker. Robbie Waisman is a past president of the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society and a survivor speaker who addresses hundreds of students annually. On May 10 and 11, 2005, they addressed 1,200 high school students and their teachers at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s symposium, which is held every spring at UBC. This year, a third day was organized to accommodate the many schools hoping to register. As a result, an additional 600 students were able to attend and in total, over 40 schools participated over the three days.
The program included an address by Professor Chris Friedrichs, Department of History, UBC, on the topic "After 60 Years: Why the Holocaust Still Matters." Students also heard from survivors in small group sessions and posed questions to a panel of speakers. Teachers joined VHEC’s Education Co-ordinator, Frieda Miller, at lunchtime roundtables.
Many teachers who brought their students to this year’s symposium, remember coming to the symposium when they themselves were in high school. Over the last 30 years, the VHEC has helped educate some 30,000 students about the Holocaust, an event, which calls into question our most basic assumptions about human nature and our role as global citizens.
Each participating school received a copy of the video The Boys of Buchenwald and a new teaching resource, a CD ROM, Canada Responds to the Holocaust, 1944—1945 for their school’s library.
This new teaching CD ROM recognizes the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the concentration camps as a "teachable moment" and was developed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the end of the war. It is a PowerPoint presentation designed for use in Canadian secondary schools and makes use of multimedia including film footage, video interviews, and art reproductions. The resource explores the reactions of Canadians at the front and at home to the discovery of the extent of the Holocaust. This project brings new historical research and primary source materials to students, teachers, and the wider public. It features letters, paintings, photographs, newspaper articles, and first-hand accounts. These sources portray the reactions of Canadian soldiers, journalists, official war artists, and civilians at home, to Nazi Germany’s genocidal policies.
The project engages students and others in serious historical reflection on Canada’s involvement in World War II and its confrontation with Nazi Germany. In the future, the VHEC hopes to mount this resource on the web for greater public access.
Teachers wishing to order the resource, or bring classes to future high school symposia, should contact Frieda Miller at email@example.com or contact the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre at 604-264-0499, www.vhec.org.
Frieda Miller is education co-ordinator, Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.