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Holocaust Education Symposium 2015

Each year, more than 2,500 high school students from across Calgary attend the Holocaust Education Symposium to hear and meet Holocaust survivors in person.

During the three-day event (May 12-14) organized by the Calgary Jewish Federation and Mount Royal University, Calgary Holocaust survivors take the stage to speak about their experiences. Grade 11 and 12 students gather in the Mount Royal Leacock, Wright and Jenkins Theatres where they will hear the first-hand accounts of those persecuted by the Nazis.

Judy Shapiro from the Calgary Jewish Federation says speakers encourage tough questions from the students. She adds that in a world where anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and discrimination persist, it is important for high school students to understand that one must never be a bystander to injustice.

“We have the power to effect change, to stand up for others. We are responsible for preserving the freedom and openness which makes Canada unique,” she says.

The Holocaust Education Symposium has reached over 54,000 Calgary high school students since it began 31-years-ago. It's held at Mount Royal University each year to ensure awareness and understanding of this complex period in history by our youth, in a very personal and memorable way.

Pearl Herscovitch, chair, Mount Royal University Library, says “the act of bearing witness to a survivor's experience can be life changing.”

In 2005, the Cyngisers donated funds to create the Sid and Bronia Cyngiser Holocaust Education Collection housed in the Library at Mount Royal, the first donation of its kind in Calgary. This generous donation has allowed the Library to develop a diverse collection of survivor testimonies, scholarly publications, fiction and films to help increase awareness and understanding of the Holocaust.

Herscovitch adds that the University is committed to working toward the development of informed, active and engaged citizens.

"Ordinary citizens played a part in the Holocaust. Many made decisions and choices that condoned and supported hatred and mass murder. The hope is that students will understand the important role they play as responsible citizens in the face of injustice they may encounter in every day life," she says.

The survivors, now in their 80’s, were originally motivated to tell their stories because they were furious that Holocaust deniers were attempting to erase their experience and disrespect the memory of those who perished.

Over time, Shapiro says their motivation has changed. The conversation at the Holocaust Education Symposium will focus on spreading a message to students about the history of the Holocaust and where racism and discrimination can lead.

Each year, there are fewer and fewer survivors to tell their story.

“Many survivors personally experienced the erosion of human rights and the brutal murder of their family members,” says Shapiro. “When they speak of their experiences, they relive them. Some have nightmares for days before and after.”

The Mount Royal University Library is home to the Holocaust: Sid and Bronia Cyngiser Holocaust Education Collection. This donation has allowed the development of a collection that supports those who want to learn more about the Holocaust, and includes recently published and classic material, available to the public.

Holocaust Education Symposium speakers include:

  • Judith Arato (2nd Gen)
  • Lillian Boraks-Nemetz
  • Alex Buckman
  • Bronia Cyngiser
  • Sid Cyngiser
  • Ann Dancyger
  • Sahbra Markus
  • Jacques Mydlarski
  • Fira Oussatinski
  • Marcel Segal
  • Fred Van Zuiden
  • Fanny Wedro

May, 13, 2015 — Karen Richards