Through education and remembrance, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre engages British Columbian students, educators and the broader public with the history of the Holocaust – the Shoah – and its ongoing relevance. Building on the VHEC’s achievements as Western Canada’s foremost Holocaust teaching museum, the centre’s renewal project, currently underway, will reconfigure the centre’s space to better serve the community and advance the organization’s vital mission.
The preservation of the VHEC’s collection of artifacts, and their use in support of Holocaust education in the post-eyewitness era, has emerged as a new area of emphasis for the future. To provide access to its archival collections and to better meet the needs of students and educators, the centre is proceeding with needed infrastructure upgrades, with support from the Government of Canada (Canada 150 Cultural Infrastructure Program), the Province of British Columbia (British Columbia/Canada 150: Celebrating B.C. Communities and their Contributions to Canada) and the Jewish Community Foundation.
The project will feature temperature and humidity-controlled archival storage and display facilities to enhance the visitor experience. The centre also looks forward to incorporating electronic access portals, which will allow visitors to interact with key themes in Holocaust history and with artifacts, documents and testimonies from the collections at the touch of a screen. Additionally, the VHEC is developing a designated audio-visual programming space that will allow Holocaust survivor outreach speakers – perhaps the centre’s most powerful, and certainly most in-demand, educators – to interact with students and participants in remote locations throughout British Columbia and beyond.
The VHEC renewal project will enable the centre to reach more students, to fulfil its obligation to archival donors and to engage in the time-sensitive work around ensuring that Holocaust-era artifacts from the community can be collected and integrated into exhibits and educational programs.
With plans for an eventual redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver in progress, the VHEC is ensuring that key aspects of the renewal are modular and transferable, in the event that the centre relocates in the coming years. The renewal will build in flexibility and sustainability.
The VHEC looks forward to welcoming students, teachers and community members to its renewed facility in early 2018, and to using its improved facility as a platform for carrying out its programming and interacting with the community. Guests attending the Nov. 22 special event in support of the VHEC, called “Looking Back … Moving Forward: Expanding the Reach of Holocaust Education,” will learn more about the centre’s upcoming plans, and preview the inaugural exhibition that will open in its renewed space.
Featuring a commissioned series of portraits of VHEC Holocaust survivor volunteers, the exhibition will honour and put a human face on those who survived the Shoah and have contributed to the VHEC community. Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Marissa Roth created a similar exhibition of portraits of Holocaust survivors associated with the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, currently on permanent exhibition at the museum. Inspired by this remarkable project, the VHEC is launching a documentation and exhibition project by Roth at an important time of transition for the centre and for Holocaust education.
The exhibition of black-and-white, matted and framed archival silver gelatin prints will be accompanied by biographical and historical information, and reflections on survival and the importance of education and remembrance. Representing and honouring the survivor volunteers who are no longer with us is an important aspect of the project, which will feature posthumous portraits – photographs of photographs of survivors, in some cases held by descendants.
Embodying the VHEC’s commitment to engaging with the past with eyes fixed firmly on the future, the renewal project and the Roth portrait exhibition will honour survivors, invite the participation of next generations and extend the reach of the VHEC’s work to new audiences, asking ever-more-challenging questions of how we extrapolate insights from history to navigate present-day affronts to social justice and human rights.
Nina Krieger is executive director of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. This article originally appeared in the centre’s magazine, Zachor.