Holocaust Education Week is being marked this week on campus with a variety of lectures, presentations and memorial ceremonies. This year’s theme is the Heroes of the Holocaust.
On Monday evening, Dr. Randolph L. Braham, a retired political scientist and historian from the City College of New York, gave a lecture at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology on the Holocaust in Hungary. He stated that the Hungarian Holocaust was “a unique and controversial chapter in the history of the Holocaust,” in part because almost all the Nazis’ Hungarian victims were killed towards the end of the war when an Allied victory was in sight.
Dr. Braham told the story of how Hungarian Jews, used to better relations with the gentile community than existed elsewhere in central Europe, held the tragic illusion that this protected them from the Final Solution. This illusion made them vulnerable to the Nazis even after some Hungarian Jewish leaders knew of the fate of Jews elsewhere in Europe.
Dr. Braham concluded by speaking of various myths that had been created by Communists and Hungarian nationalists about the Hungarian Holocaust, saying that historians “must be on guard to protect the integrity of the story” and “protect truth wherever it may be lost.”
Also on Monday, doctoral student Valerie Hébert gave a lecture on women’s experiences in the Holocaust. Hébert stated that women’s roles in wartime Jewish communities gave them different experiences of persecution. She also noted, fitting in with this year’s theme, that some of the heroes of the Holocaust were women, citing the example of Zivia Lubetkin, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
On Tuesday, a ceremony was held at Hart House to honour and remember instances of heroism in the Holocaust. The ceremony featured readings, songs and the lighting of candles. In addition to readings concerning the experiences of Jewish victims and survivors, David Azides of LGBTOUT read from the writings of a homosexual who lived in Nazi Germany, while Father Patrick O’Dea of the Newman Centre for Roman Catholic Chaplaincy read testimonies from Christians and others who risked their lives to save Jews under the Nazis.
From noon today to noon tomorrow, the 24-hour Reading of the Names will occur on the porch of Sidney Smith Hall. In this annual ceremony, names of victims are read aloud in public by a succession of people, “to ensure that their memories are kept alive,” said Holocaust Education Committee co-chair Shayna Goldberg. The number of victims is so vast that every year only a tiny fraction of the total victims’ names can be read every year. As well as two Holocaust survivors and various others, U of T President Robert Birgeneau will read names.
Organizers agreed that the week’s events have so far been successful. Eli Savage, director of Jewish Education for Hillel of Greater Toronto, said that this year’s theme of heroes and heroism offers a rare opportunity to focus on the bright spots and acts of goodness that occurred amidst the Holocaust.
Related events this week included piano performances at University and St. Michael’s College residences on Wednesday and an exhibit of photographs accompanied by music entitled Children of a Vanished World at Hart House Theatre on Monday.