Holocaust and Genocide Symposium – Opening Address

I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples.

We are grateful for the opportunity to live, learn, and share in this beautiful region, and we aspire to healthy and respectful relationships with those that have lived on and cared for these lands for millennia.
It gives me great pleasure, on behalf of everyone at Shawnigan, to welcome the students of Queen Margaret’s School and our wonderful guest speakers for today’s Holocaust and Genocide Symposium.
I would also like to thank, at the outset, Marlese Plater, our Events Coordinator and the teachers in our Social Studies Department for putting this program together – and our Kitchen and IT departments for supporting the event.

I think one of the most profound and defining meetings of my teaching career was the first time I met Anita Lasker-Wallfisch – former 18-year-old cellist in the women’s orchestra in the infamous concentration camp, Auschwitz, and survivor of the Nazi’s Final Solution.

Arthur Miller, the American dramatist, wrote a play, Playing for Time, about the Auschwitz orchestra which she condemned as inaccurate. She is an insightful and formidable lady who, after some decades of silence, has dedicated the rest of her life to educating children - both in England, Germany and Austria – about the Holocaust.

She is a little intimidating (!) and, as a young teacher, I was little terrified of her….

A friendship by correspondence developed and she agreed to meet my English Literature students annually at the Imperial War Museum in London - where the jumper she wore on the day she was liberated from Auschwitz stands on display as testament to the  incarceration of her and many others.

She connected another world and another era with our present - and reminded the students of their responsibility to ensure that history never repeats itself.

On the way back to school, our 48-seater bus broke down at the end of Lambeth Bridge in central London and we needed to wait for about three hours for the coach company to send a replacement vehicle to rescue us. I remember the students were particularly difficult and mutinous - unable to get off the bus due to the dangerous traffic intersection, isolated in a residential urban area, and bored. I reflected at the time that the students had just spent a morning in the company of someone who, at their age, had experienced and survived the transport cattle-wagons of Auschwitz. Somehow, back in the present, they could not recognize the parallel and their response to temporary discomfort and inconvenience.

I asked for the designers of today’s booklet to use a reproduction of an image by Banksy, a famous yet anonymous graffiti artist of worldwide fame.

The artist drew upon a memoir of an officer who was amongst the first allied soldiers to liberate the concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen, in 1945.  In his memoir, he tells the tale of how the British Red Cross arrived with red lipstick at the women’s camp:

‘It was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance... At last someone had done something to make them individuals again… they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm.’

I am extremely proud that Shawnigan runs an annual Holocaust and Genocide Symposium, challenging all the students and staff present to learn from the past - from the Holocaust to the genocides of Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and elsewhere. Closer to home, there was the persecution of the Indigenous peoples of North America – including the creation of the Residential School system to ‘kill the Indian in the child.’

Today is about learning of the horrors of the past and committing to a common bond of humanity – and learning about how post-genocide societies and nations can strike a way forward through truth and reconciliation.
Today is about educating ourselves about both global and Canadian history and ensuring that ‘Conversation, Compassion and Community’ prevail no matter what.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch observed that more recent genocides have lacked the ‘sublime efficiency’ of the Holocaust and that ‘once we survivors are no longer around, the Holocaust will just be a few pages in a book….we have to keep the memory alive’.
As Anita and others pass on the torch, it is our responsibility to hold it high.

I would like to thank our presenters, Dr. Sebastian Huebel, Alex Buckman and Alex Nelson and the Symposium Coordinator, Cathy Paperny - and our governor, Zev Shafran (’74), whose commitment to education is deeply appreciated by our community.

Richard D A Lamont
4th March 2019
Shawnigan Lake School is an independent boarding school for Grades 8-12 on Canada's West Coast. Our modern, diverse and innovative programming helps shape the next generation of global leaders.