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Shelley Faintuch, Director of Community Relations for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, and Jeremy Jones, Director of International and Community Affairs for the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.

Faintuch Attends International Conference on Holocaust Remembrance and Education

By Rebecca Walberg, July 8, 2010

At the seventh International Conference on Holocaust Education and Remembrance, held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem last month, a number of themes emerged surrounding the challenges of teaching about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in the 21st century.  Shelley Faintuch, Director of Community Relations for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, was invited to attend the conference, and found that while some issues affect how communities remember and teach about the Holocaust around the world, Canadian Jews are much more free to discuss anti-Semitism and the Holocaust than their counterparts in Europe.

“We have more freedom to teach and discuss anti-Semitism and the Holocaust here, because anti-Semitism isn’t as deeply ingrained as it is in much of Europe,” Faintuch explains. “Israelis are still more open about the subject.  Their hands aren’t tied by political correctness, and for them it’s a matter of survival, as well as something to remember.”

A number of speakers at the conference touched upon a pervasive anti-American and anti-Israel slant that is particularly prevalent in Europe, and particularly to the left of the political spectrum.  At the extreme this translates into Holocaust denial, but many Europeans who recognize the evil of the Holocaust and believe that students must be taught about it are unwilling to examine the connection between the Holocaust and the centuries of anti-Semitism that preceded it, and the anti-Semitism that still exists today. One conclusion that emerged from the conference, the proceedings of which can be found online at, is that there is a need for more resources to help teachers address questions not only about the Holocaust but about
anti-Semitism more generally, and about Israel.

Especially with regard to anti-Jewish propaganda, it is crucial to make the connections between the accusations and vilification directed at pre-War Jews in Europe and those flung at Israel today.  Often in Europe, this is impossible, because the trope of the Jew as the “new Nazi” is too insidious and has found fertile ground there.

Another issue is the difficulty of teaching about the Holocaust and helping to make it real for younger students when there are no more Holocaust survivors to tell their stories.  Winnipeg is one of the trailblazers in this area,  Faintuch points out, due to initiatives like “Voices of Winnipeg Survivors,” the book by Belle Millo released in April that tells the stories of 70 Holocaust survivors from the Winnipeg community, the TV series “Silent Echoes,” as well as the Asper Human Rights and Holocaust Program.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Yehuda Bauer, a Holocaust survivor and world-renowned historian of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. He emphasized the importance of teaching text before context, particularly for this subject.  There is a tendency, he argues, to look for wider lessons from the Holocaust, such as how to prevent genocides in general, what human rights are and ought to be, and the implications of the Holocaust for today.  While this is
valuable, it sometimes comes at the expense of teaching the actual events that led up to and constituted the Holocaust. Before asking students to draw conclusions and make their own analysis, Bauer and others stated, it is imperative that they first learn the basic facts.

At the meeting of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, which immediately followed the conference, many of the ideas and themes emerging from the conference were discussed with delegates from around the world. Faintuch, whose parents were survivors, attended these events as an observer, and reports that the commitment to education and remembrance on the part of many Eastern European countries in particular was impressive.

“A former head of state spoke about being the child of people on the wrong side of the Holocaust,” she says, “and how, as much as he admired his parents and loved them, he knew they had made a terrible mistake.”  The Task Force, like the conference, is concerned not only with how Jews commemorate and learn about the Holocaust, but also non-Jews around the world.  Countries represented include Canada, the US, most European states, Australia and Japan.

“It was one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended,” Faintuch concludes.  “Not only in terms of organization and logistics, but the content, the speakers and the level of discussion were all exceptionally good.”

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