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Pivotal Moments

37th Annual Neuberger Holocaust Education Week: November 2-9, 2017

This year’s Holocaust Education Week examines the post-Holocaust period, specifically the key events and moments that have shaped our understanding of the Shoah since the end of the Second World War. As time moves forward, new memoirs are written, geo-political dynamics shift and access to historical records improves; we recognize our knowledge of, and relationship to, the Shoah is both complicated and fluid. 

Over the course of HEW 2017, panelists, speakers, Neuberger staff and guests will help illuminate key moments over the past 70-plus year-period and examine why these moments were so significant in shaping our knowledge of the Holocaust. They may be seminal films, television programs, museums, newsworthy events such as the trials of former Nazis, major incidents of Holocaust denial and art restitution claims and recovery.

For Toronto’s Jewish community, a major pivotal moment was the opening of the (now called) Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre at the Lipa Green Centre in 1985. The Centre has its roots in a Toronto-based group of Polish immigrants that formed in the 1940s to help Jews in Europe. By the 1950s and 60s, they began organizing commemorative events to honour the victims of the Holocaust and by the 1970s their mandate had been expanded to teach Holocaust education, working with school boards and other community groups. By 1985, the museum at Lipa Green was built and school visits with survivor speakers who were committed to sharing their stories became its core activity. In fact, the Neuberger was one of the earliest organizations in North America to record and preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. That same year, our community experienced another major turning point with the highly publicized trial of Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel. This was a watershed moment for many survivors who appeared in court and subsequently felt the urgency to tell their stories to counter such denial.

Today, we are fortunate to have the privilege of working with survivor speakers who remain committed to sharing their stories with thousands of students each year at the Neuberger. The journey from survivor to Holocaust educator was not an easy one as not only was it emotionally difficult to share their stories, but the readiness of the community to listen only developed after time. Without their early commitment to “Never Forget,” generations of students would not have had the powerful experience of hearing first-hand Holocaust testimony and learning about the richness of Jewish life before the war.

The photo above represents another remarkable moment in the post-Holocaust era—the World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem in June 1981. Toronto Holocaust survivor and cofounder of the Neuberger, Gerda Frieberg, recalls travelling to Israel with her adult children for this momentous occasion and marching with 10,000 other survivors and their families towards the Kotel (the Wailing Wall). There, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin declared in Yiddish, “Mir zayned do.” We are here.

As we approach yet another pivotal moment in the post-Holocaust period—when survivors are no longer here to share their powerful voices—the Neuberger remains committed to developing new ways to provide meaningful Holocaust education. We will continue to explore inspiring new developments across disciplines—history, science, technology and culture—that will shape our understanding and remembrance of the Holocaust in the years to come.

Dara Solomon
Executive Director, Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre
Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto