Holocaust education needed to address denial and antisemitism, says Sask. rabbi

·4 min read
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi concentration and death camp in the Second World War. It is now a memorial and museum in Oświęcim, about 350 km southwest of Warsaw. (Axel Schmidt/Reuters - image credit)
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi concentration and death camp in the Second World War. It is now a memorial and museum in Oświęcim, about 350 km southwest of Warsaw. (Axel Schmidt/Reuters - image credit)

It's been 77 years since prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp, were liberated near the end of the Second World War, but a Saskatchewan rabbi said people still don't understand the severity of the extermination camps.

Thursday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and as Rabbi Claudio Jodorkovsky, a part of Congregation Agudas Israel in Saskatoon, reflects on the commemorative day, he's also thinking about how racial and religious prejudice remains.

"I think it's an invitation for the entire world to remember the causes of the Holocaust, and they're still present today: hate, religious discrimination and specifically antisemitism," he told CBC Saskatoon Morning host Heather Morrison.

"It's a day to think about the horrors of the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators."

Submitted by Claudio Jodorkovsky
Submitted by Claudio Jodorkovsky

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed that sentiment in a statement on Thursday. "The atrocities of the Holocaust have left an unfathomable stain on our history, yet antisemitism, discrimination, xenophobia and violence remain a lived reality for Jewish communities, both here at home and around the world."

Jodorkovsky referred to the standoff at a Texas synagogue in mid-January as an example of the continuation of antisemitism. Four people were taken hostage inside Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, about 330 km north of Austin, although it wasn't clear why the attacker chose the synagogue.

Pandemic comparisons to Holocaust

Jodorkovsky also said that the inept comparison of restrictive public health measures imposed as a result of COVID-19 to the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi-occupied territory is borne from misinformation and poor education.

It's also deeply insulting. Jodorkovsky's grandparents were Holocaust survivors and to hear people compare the two instances is "an insult to their memory and their suffering."

Submitted by Claudio Jodorkovsky
Submitted by Claudio Jodorkovsky

"There is no comparison to the mass murder, the gas chambers, the tortures with restrictions in terms of social distancing and public gatherings; it's an absurd comparison."

He said the trivialization of the Holocaust aids in conspiracy theories that the Holocaust didn't happen "or that it was an exaggeration."

That can affect impressionable children, Jodorkovsky said, adding the history of the Holocaust should be incorporated into regular education.

Holocaust history in schools

Robert Jardine, a history and social studies teacher at Warman High School in Warman, about 280 km northwest of Regina, said he believes the Holocaust deserves more space in school curriculums and that more resources should be available for educators.

"I don't think there's enough professional development offered locally to meet the needs of beginning teachers," he said.

"It's out there and it's online ... but if you don't know what you're looking for, sometimes it can be hard to find the most useful materials.

He said that his teaching includes biographies of Holocaust survivors and deaths so that students understand from a personal, micro level — rather than losing the importance of each individual in the vast millions of people killed during the genocide.

Jardine believes it's important because genocide continues "around us today and students must be aware that this is happening, or else we've failed them."

He said while the Holocaust is covered in the History 20 class at the school, the course itself is not required.

Dalton Danaher, a co-teacher of grade seven and eight at St. Dominic Savio Elementary School in Regina alongside Robert Csada, said the curriculum doesn't require students learn about the Holocaust, but the two include it as an aspect of their social justice lessons.

He said it's a difficult concept to discuss, but it's also very challenging to describe the millions of people involved.

"We have a very narrow scope of what 200,000 people in Regina look like, or what just over a million people in Saskatchewan would look like," he said.

"I think students sometimes have a hard time understanding the sheer amount of death that was caused during the Holocaust."

LISTEN | Rabbi Claudio Jodorkovsky speaks about the importance of remembering the Holocaust:

Danaher said that while people may see similarities in how governments act between Germany in the 1930s to the current Canadian government, it's not an apt comparison when looking at pandemic restrictions.

Education plays a role in defining that, he said.

"We're looking at simple health care to ensure that we reduce the spread of the virus ... versus when you've got people that are being imprisoned and starved."

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