This fall, a select number of Langara College students embarked on a project to write the memoirs of local Holocaust survivors, capturing personal stories from the Second World War. The project is called Writing Lives: the Holocaust Survivor Memoir Project.
Writing Lives is an eight-month collaboration between Langara’s English and history departments, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) and the Azrieli Foundation. In the first half, students learn about the history and impact of the Holocaust. In the second half, students are paired with local Holocaust survivors associated with the VHEC.
“Writing Lives provides an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the history of the Holocaust beyond physical textbooks,” said Rachel Mines, Langara English instructor, and project coordinator. For example, on Nov. 9, students commemorated Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) by lighting candles in memory of the violent anti-Jewish events that took place on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938. The course also regularly features a series of guest speakers from different organizations giving their perspective on the events surrounding the Holocaust.
“I feel grateful for the opportunity to investigate the events and prejudices that served as a catalyst for the Holocaust. With the help of survivors, professors, librarians and fellow students, I am learning that individuals, communities and organizations all have agency when it comes to fighting racism, and how we can work together to prevent such tragedies in the future,” said Lucille Welburn, a peace and conflict studies student who is taking the course.
Robin Macqueen, a Langara instructor and chair of the health sciences division, is auditing the course out of personal interest. He said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to engage with and honor people who survived a time of unimaginable prejudice. I’m getting a lot out of the course, and enjoy being a student again.”
For the VHEC, survivor testimonies are seen as a useful and powerful method for teaching about the Holocaust.
“Holocaust testimony provides a connection with people, culture, persecution and survival,” said Ilona Shulman Sparr, education director for the VHEC. “Eyewitness testimonies have proven to be a powerful and effective teaching tool, which affords a personal connection to the events of the Holocaust as we hear survivors’ accounts of their experiences. Testimonies provide a way for students to connect with survivors’ stories and gain an understanding of events that other sources can’t give them.”
This spring, students will be matched with Holocaust survivors to write their memoirs. The memoirs will be archived at the Azrieli Foundation and the VHEC, with a possibility of being published for public awareness.