Tuesday marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz and as time goes by the first hand accounts of the holocaust are lost with the survivors.
Roughly 300 Auschwitz survivors will be making the journey to Oświęcim, Poland Tuesday to mark the date and remember those who met their fate in the camp. The former prisoners as well as family members and others who will tour the camp will pass under the infamous sign reading “arbeit macht frei” or “work will set you free”, the same sign that 1.1 million prisoners of Auschwitz never had the opportunity to escape from.
“If we don’t pay attention and if we don’t remember then nothing will ever change, nothing will ever get better,” says Stacey Starkman, the director of communications and external relations at the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. “It was an incomprehensible tragedy, you cannot forget something like that.”
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center of Holocaust Studies aims to educate the public, focusing on youth in school and those who may not know what the Holocaust was. The Center of Holocaust Studies makes its mission to preserve and tell the stories of victims of the Holocaust and brings in survivors to the students across southern Ontario.
“If you’re 15, 70 years ago is ancient history and when we bring in Holocaust survivors these are things they’ve never heard about,” says Starkman. “Most kids are not into politics, they’re not into history to a large extent and when they learn about the Holocaust and speak to a survivor they’re overwhelmed.”
The Simon Wiesenthal center says one of the best ways to educate youth who are unaware or who could better understand WW2 and the holocaust is the telling of stories by those who lived it, something that won’t last forever with the aging of the remaining survivors.
Commemorations like this can help illuminate the past, even for direct descendants of Holocaust survivors.
Rob Yellin, a fourth-year honours business administration student at the Ivey business school of Western University points out the fact at how many books were written by survivors of camps and of WW2, his grandfather included. “In the holocaust museum in Israel there’s the same picture that we have of my grandfather, that’s up there.” Says Yellin. “So that’s really interesting to see.”
“I think it’s important for there to be gatherings where people can tell their stories or where people can tell stories of their grandparents,” says Sean Globerman, a third-year business commerce student at McMaster University. “And for those who don’t know to show the films of the camps and things like that.”