"To learn about the Holocaust is to learn about what it is to be human."
With those words, Shawnigan's Head of Social Studies, Tom Lupton, opened the School's 2018 Holocaust and Genocide Symposium.
An annual event at Shawnigan, this year's symposium saw a cast of compelling speakers, including a Holocaust survivor, a Canadian residential school survivor, and a pair of university professors specializing in genocide education. The day included lectures, breakout sessions, and panel discussions, as students had an opportunity to ask tough questions and engage with personal insights into some of humanity's darkest hours.
After words of welcome from Mr. Lupton and Headmaster David Robertson, students heard a historical overview from Dr. Adam Jones. A UBC professor and author, Dr. Jones discussed the psychological dimensions of genocide as well as the emergence of the concept of itself, citing examples from the Holocaust as well as Armenia and North America.
“Those who hear my story, because I was a witness, become witnesses too.”
Now an award-winning author and outreach speaker for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Lillian Boraks-Nemetz was incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto for eighteen months as a young child, and then hidden in Polish villages for the remainder of the war.
As the keynote speaker for this year's symposium, Ms. Boraks-Nemetz spoke honestly and vividly about the fear, deprivation and horrors she and countless other Jewish children suffered during the Second World War.
“The holocaust left a huge footprint on the world and on humanity,” she shared. “The depth of evil that created it cannot be fathomed, and there are more questions than answers. People have told me to let it go, but they don’t understand that this is not possible. Not for someone who has lived through events that have shaped them. The big question of 'Why did I survive, when so many perished?' follows survivors like a shadow.”
"He decided that saving eight thousand just wasn't enough."
Co-editor of Under Swiss Protection: Jewish Eyewitness Accounts from Wartime Budapest, Ms. Schallié told the incredible story of Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat who ran a rescue mission in wartime Hungary. By distributing tens of thousands of 'safe letters' to Jews trapped in Budapest, and by sheltering thousands more in the 'Glass House,' this little-known bureaucrat became one of the unsung heroes of the Second World War. Ms. Schallié stressed that Lutz was a shy and modest man, whose high-risk humanitarian gestures were done without the express consent of Swiss authorities, and who never earned the acknowledgment given to similar rescuers like Oskar Schindler.
“It’s my story, but it’s now yours as well.”
Alex Nelson, proud member of the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations in Kincome Inlet and residential school survivor, talked about his experience of being removed from his family, culture and language at the age of seven. He spoke about the impact this formative experience had on him, and how, as an adult, he has been able to use sport as a vehicle for freedom and healing. In response to questions from the student audience, Mr. Nelson addressed topics as wide-ranging as daily life at residential school, Truth and Reconciliation, and the impact of inter-generational trauma that has resulted from more than 100 years of enforced residential schooling.