Photo description: CHES Ottawa Holocaust Survivors with students

The Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES) at the Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies is proposing the development of a smartphone app to help Canadians better understand the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa and make it a more enriching experience for all visitors. The research and development parts of the project will provide a learning experience for Carleton students in a variety of disciplines such as history, sociology, religious studies, literature, communications, computer science, and fine arts. The National Holocaust Monument was designed as a place of memory and mourning, honouring and commemorating in a space for questioning and learning. While there are some photos of concentration camps on the concrete wall of the Monument, visitors (real and virtual) would have to search for in-depth information or the voices or survivors on many platforms and across many websites. There are no guided tours offered by the Department of Canadian Heritage who – with the National Capital Commission – has the responsibility for the maintenance and security of the Monument. The app will be developed in consultation with the Department of Canadian Heritage and local, provincial and national organizations dedicated to fighting antisemitism and racism.

The Background

The year 2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Jewish survivors from Nazi concentration camps.  As the number of Holocaust survivors declines, there is an increasing sense of urgency to pass on their stories to their children and grandchildren and to those who are witnessing overt antisemitism for the first time. In the face of increasing antisemitism, Holocaust denial and racism today, there is also a need to extend our vision of teaching the lessons of the Holocaust to the general public. Located in the heart of our nation’s capital, steps away from the War Museum, and just minutes from popular landmarks including the Parliament buildings, the National Holocaust Monument is well-positioned to draw visitors from all over Canada and the world.

Surveys have shown that most people, especially those under 30, have very little knowledge of the Holocaust. While the current story boards at the Monument are historically accurate (and do not shy away from acknowledging Canada’s refusal before and during WWII to accept Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution in Europe) they are two – dimensional. As museums like the USHMM and Yad Vashem demonstrate so powerfully, it is the voices of survivors that connect us, viewers and listeners, to their personally lived history. With advancing technology, we are more and more accustomed to using smartphone apps that are linked to national landmarks.

The research required to develop a smartphone app linked to the National Holocaust Monument will offer both students and faculty at Carleton an opportunity to play a role in developing educational materials for outside the academy to better inform Canadians about the universal perils of antisemitism, racism, hate and indifference. Last but not least, this project will also have a global reach in that anyone with access to the internet will be able to use the app and access all of its audio and visual content.

The Rollout

For Phase I CHES will work in partnership with the Zelikovitz Centre and other Carleton faculty as appropriate to identify and guide the work of students from the relevant disciplines to start on research and content development. This will include a review of existing literature and apps with similar objectives. Students will receive a stipend as necessary according to Carleton guidelines. For the first phase of the project a research coordinator will also be hired with knowledge and experience in the fields of Holocaust, antisemitism, and anti-racism education – and materials development in traditional and new technology formats.  An advisory committee of educators, students, Holocaust survivors and descendants, Holocaust scholars, electronic and print publishing professionals, arts and culture professionals, and multimedia specialists will be established to advise on the project through all its phases.  CHES will use resources from other sources and continue to fundraise for this project (outside of Future Funder ) so that all phases can be carried out successfully. Outreach and promotion will be important aspects of the project throughout and we will work in collaboration with other Canadian and international Holocaust Education centres and museums.

The Impact

The research and development of the content of the Monument app will allow for the continuation of some preliminary work already undertaken by Carleton students and faculty affiliated with the Zelikovitz Centre and beyond. The finished product will provide an enriching experience for the general public and visitors to the Monument as they gain more information about the Holocaust, antisemitism, and hate. Holocaust survivors will benefit by sharing the burden and privilege of telling their stories and by continuing to educate about the Holocaust. The descendants of Holocaust survivors will benefit by sharing their stories with each other and the wider public.  The wider community will benefit from hearing about the experiences of both survivors and descendants, first hand.  Present day refugees will also benefit by finding common ground in shared experiences, and by understanding how other traumatized immigrants found a place of comfort within the Canadian mosaic. The app will help the public learn about one of the worst genocides in modern history; gain courage from the resilience of survivors, and work towards a better future. It will also help raise the profile of the Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies at Carleton while educating about the Holocaust and the consequences of racism generally.

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