The Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES), Continuing Our Legacy: Learning from the Past for the Future

The year 2019 will mark the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II.  As the number of Holocaust Survivors decline, our focus must include their children and grandchildren – their descendants.  To mark this significant date, the plan is for a three pronged approach that focuses on the stories and life experiences of the Descendants of Holocaust Survivors and the research available about descendants as follows:

  1. Planning programs that provide Descendants of Ottawa Holocaust Survivors with a platform to share their stories amongst themselves and with survivors in the hope that Descendants will feel empowered to tell the stories of their families in the future (now including their own part in those stories) – and thus continue an important aspect of Holocaust Education.
  2. Hosting a conference in Ottawa about the varieties of the testimonial experience whether of Holocaust survivors or of their descendants. The program will include expert keynote speakers, workshops, and facilitated small group and panel discussions.
  3. Connecting Descendants of Holocaust Survivors and current refugees in Canada, including but not limited to the Syrian and Yazidi communities. The plan is to create small working groups with the goal of undertaking the development of future joint educational programs.

The Background

About 40,000 Holocaust Survivors came to Canada after World War II.  As that generation’s numbers are dwindling, their children feel an increasing sense of urgency to preserve and transmit their families’ history.  The Descendants of Holocaust Survivors frequently express their experience in the following ways:

We were the children with no grandparents. We had walls with no family pictures.  We secretly wished we had parents who wore blue jeans. We wanted parents who didn’t have an accent and who didn’t worry about us all the time.  We share memories of trauma from events that we didn’t even experience.  But despite our sometimes difficult childhoods, we recognize that our parents’ lives demonstrated strength, resilience and gratitude to Canada.  Survivor parents know what they lost.  Many did not have the words to tell us. Some parents kept silent; others told their children everything. They learned to live with the burden of their memories. (see the recent article here)

Reconciling growing up with immigrant parents who carry unimaginable burdens with the urgent need to make sure their parents’ stories are not forgotten, nor is the legacy of the descendants.  Much research about descendants of Holocaust survivors is available today. The conference will help descendants find their voices and realize that the stories of their parents will live on. The legacy of descendants is to tell their own stories, and in this way continue to tell their parents’ stories as well.


The Rollout

CHES estimates the budget for the above project at $40,000 broken down as follows;

1.  $10,000. for gathering testimony of Descendants of Holocaust Survivors;

2.  $20,000. for the conference including the cost of expert speakers, travel, location, audio / visual equipment and operator, food and advertising; and

3.  $10,000. for small working groups of Descendants of Holocaust Survivors and present day refugees developing future joint projects together.


The Impact

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 personally by sharing their stories with each other and the wider public.  The wider community will benefit from hearing about both the experiences of Survivors and Descendants first hand.  Present day refugees will benefit by hearing about these experiences, by finding common ground, and by discovering paths to find a place of comfort within the Canadian mosaic.

We will also reach out to the appropriate departments at the various local universities and colleges to bring our speakers to their classrooms. Content will be archived to be used for future academic research.  All programs 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.  As the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship and its programming continue to grow and gain prominence, the Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies and Carleton University, with which CHES is affiliated, will also benefit.

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