Robbie Waisman, left, and Éloge Butera will be the keynote speakers on May 26. (photo from Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre)
At a first-in-a-decade gala dinner this month, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre will mark three significant anniversaries.
“It’s more than 40 years since the first Holocaust symposium for high school students at the University of B.C.,” said Nina Krieger, VHEC’s executive director. “It is more than 30 years since survivors of the Holocaust formed the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society for Remembrance and Education with the vision of creating a permanent legacy in the form of a teaching museum. And it is now just over 20 years since the doors to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre opened.”
Krieger said it seemed like an appropriate time to invite the community to celebrate the achievements of the past, learn about the diverse programs in which the centre is currently engaged and also the ambitious plans for the future. The event, titled Looking Back … Moving Forward, takes place May 26, 5:30 p.m., at Congregation Beth Israel.
“As an organization, we are at a turning point,” she said. “What started as a small Holocaust museum on the edge of the continent has grown into an institution that is renowned in its field for innovative, impactful pedagogy, exhibits, programs and collections.”
Thanks to a grant from Citizenship and Immigration Canada and a legacy gift from the estate of Edwina and Paul Heller, she said, the centre is digitizing its artifacts and archival collections, including one of the earliest extensive collections of audiovisual survivor testimonies.
“When Dr. Rob Krell began interviewing survivors on videotape in the 1970s, he was among the first to do so in North America,” Krieger said. “The collection now includes more than 200 testimonies, which have been shared with other archives, including Yale University’s Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, and are currently catalogued into a new VHEC system that will support access to these first-person accounts of the Holocaust.
“With these digitization projects, we are going to be able to reach exponentially more scholars, students and members of the general public in Vancouver, in Canada and around the world,” she continued. “The impact we can have on Holocaust studies will be enormously increased. More importantly, thousands more people will be able to access our impressive collections. Furthermore, thanks to a related project in which we are developing complementary pedagogical materials, educators worldwide will be able to access multimedia teaching resources at age-appropriate levels to share this history in impactful ways.”
Krieger said Looking Back … Moving Forward will introduce attendees to the power of firsthand eyewitness testimony. The keynote speakers will be Robbie Waisman, a survivor of the Holocaust, and Éloge Butera, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. Their stories of survival are examples of the kinds of VHEC programs that reach more than 25,000 B.C. students annually.
The event is also intended as an opportunity for attendees to learn about the breadth of VHEC programming.
“People are often surprised at the diversity of the programs and services we deliver,” Krieger said.
Earlier this month, the 41st annual Symposium on the Holocaust at UBC brought about 1,000 students from across Metro Vancouver to the university for two days of meetings with Holocaust survivors and historians. In addition to this annual event, VHEC now delivers similar “satellite” programs in 10 school districts and sends outreach speakers to schools all year round. Teachers’ conferences, learning resources and hands-on Discovery Kits help teachers educate about the Holocaust at age-appropriate levels. School groups and the general public visit VHEC to experience locally and internationally developed exhibits. Survivors access services including financial, medical and social supports. Scholars and other researchers use Western Canada’s largest collections of Holocaust-related materials. Four annual commemorative events – International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah, the High Holidays cemetery service and the Kristallnacht Commemorative Lecture – provide opportunities for both mourning and learning.
“We hope that attendees of Looking Back … Moving Forward will come away with a deeper appreciation of the work we are doing,” Krieger said. “And with our deep appreciation that everything we accomplish is due to the support of people who understand the value of what we are doing.”
The event is co-chaired by Mariette Doduck, Shoshana Lewis and Helen Heacock Rivers. Honorary chairs are the four past presidents of the organization: Waisman, Krell, Rita Akselrod and Jody Dales. For tickets, visit vhec.org.
Pat Johnson is communications and development consultant at Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, as well as a member of the Independent’s editorial board.