Holocaust and Genocide Education is the Best Medicine Against Hate
In 2015, the House of Commons of Canada officially designated April as Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation, and Prevention Month commemorating the Armenian genocide, the Holodomor, the Holocaust, and the Rwandan Tutsi genocide. This followed the adoption, in 2003, of the bill I introduced when I was sitting in Parliament to recognize Holocaust Memorial Day – Yom HaShoah, which, this year, falls on April 17-18.
Canada’s Parliament and provincial legislatures mark these days to urge all of us to remember, honour, and grieve those lost. But solemnly observing holidays or remembering the atrocities is not enough. We must do more.
We must understand what led to these tragic events and steps we must take to prevent their recurrence, not one day or one month each year, but every day.
Why? Because, close to 80 years after the end of the Nazi regime, where hate led to the near annihilation of an entire people, hate – against Jews and many communities deemed “different” or “other” –is growing. Though only part of fighting hate, education is vital.
Today’s youth – so exposed to hate online that it has become a scourge necessitating government intervention – should be the priority for genocide and Holocaust education. The lessons of what can happen when hate and discrimination take root are critical to shattering prejudice and instilling in the next generation the values of respect, inclusion, and diversity we, as Canadians, hold dear.
Already, some encouraging work is underway:
Responding to increasing incidents of antisemitism in middle school, the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Education announced that, beginning September 2023, rather than in Grade 10, mandatory Holocaust education would be introduced into the Grade 6 curriculum, signaling the critical role of Holocaust education in combating rising antisemitism today. Education Minister Stephen Lecce connected those dots directly: “We are taking action to counter antisemitism and hate, because those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
The Ontario government also supported development by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the Toronto Holocaust Museum, and Facing History & Ourselves Canada of Unlearn It, a free online hub, geared to educators and parents, to teach grade 6-8 students to how identify, unlearn, and stand against antisemitism. The content balances modern manifestations of antisemitism with historical context and lessons from the Holocaust applicable today.
Other tools, including the Genocide Education Guide released by Quebec’s Ministry of Education in 2022 and the Holodomor Mobile Classroom, which visits public schools across the Province of Alberta, go beyond dates and numbers to teach about the crime of genocide and its consequences. It is not difficult to draw parallels between the causes that led to each genocide, showing that, when it comes to hate, no group – no one – is safe.
Awareness and education are not limited to school children, however. The federal and Quebec governments each invested $20M for the relocation and expansion the Montreal Holocaust Museum, to which the City of Montreal also contributed. Ottawa also invested $3M in the development of the new Toronto Holocaust Museum, both of which will help educate Canadians about the Nazi efforts to exterminate Jews and what lessons should be drawn from that horrific genocide to fight antisemitism and hate today.
While it is crucial to use history as a mirror to reflect potential outcomes today, we must underscore the modern manifestations of hate communities now face and incorporate both when teaching our youth how to identify – and address – all hate and racism. The fight against Jew-hatred is a perfect example of this.
While antisemitism may be the “world’s oldest hatred,” it is nevertheless thriving today. In Canada, the Jewish community has remained the most targeted by those perpetrating hate crimes based on religion, and antisemitic sentiment is growing worldwide. Here, in 2023, the age-old tropes that have fueled antisemitism for centuries now intersect with the limitless reach of the internet where multiple hate groups recruit and radicalize youth. The lessons from Nazi-era Germany remain as relevant today as they ever were.
Because most hate is born of ignorance, education is the best means to combat it. With both Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation, and Prevention Month and Yom HaShoah commemorated this month, we ask all provinces to follow Ontario’s lead and make Holocaust education mandatory in their school curricula.
The combination of a sustained, focused effort in our schools with resources such as Holocaust museums and an efficient national strategy to combat online hate is critical to making a dent against antisemitism and, indeed, against all hate.