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From left to right: Belle Millo (Chair, Holocaust Education Centre of the Jewish Heritage Centre), Ilana Abrams, General Manager, Jewish Heritage Centre) and Saul Alpern next to the new panel in the Holocaust ducation Centre, November 25, 2010.
Photo courtesy of Stan Carbone.

Saul Alpern, Winnipeg,c.1952
Photo courtesy of Saul Alpern.

Avrum Alpern, Israel, 1946 Brother of Saul Alpern, Avrum enlisted with Palmach, Israel's military elite and died in action in Latrun in July of 1948. He was buried in Har Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.
Photo courtesy of Saul Alpern.

Holocaust Education Centre Installs New Exhibit Panel

by Stan Carbone, Jewish Heritage Centre, December 16, 2010

If the practice of interpreting history involves empowering people by making them aware of their role in society and how they fit in the uneven, complicated and often convoluted path that connects the past with the present it can be stated that the Jewish community has been served well by the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre (HEC) of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada.

Since its inception in 1999, the HEC has developed and coordinated numerous projects and initiatives. The Centre has played a critical role in raising consciousness on the history and contemporary implications of the Holocaust to a broad audience with particular emphasis on high school students. It offers presentations by local survivors to about 75 school groups from across Manitoba annually in its exhibit space at the Asper Jewish Community Campus.

Further, the Holocaust Education Centre has adopted other instruments for imparting knowledge. It administers the Asper Foundation Human Rights and Holocaust Studies Program which includes courses for Jewish high school students and ends with a visit to the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, and hosts an annual one – day symposium at the University of Winnipeg that attracts some 1,200 students. The Centre also operates an exhibit space at the Asper Jewish Community Campus which integrates the history of the Holocaust with the experiences of local survivors through the medium of material culture. The result is a multisensory display of text, photos and three dimensional objects.

The aim of the HEC is to encourage create awareness, encourage dialogue and inspire visitors to take up the cause of human rights advocacy. Its activities have had the effect of creating and fostering an important dialogue that cuts across ethnic, gender and social class lines, and in the belief that understanding the Holocaust is a matter of universal concern and can serve as an important point of reference for studying and addressing other human rights violations.

Cognizant of its role in ensuring that education is an ongoing process and that its effectiveness as a pedagogical institution and agent of social change is based on a commitment to updating the information conveyed, just recently the HEC installed a new text panel. Following the lead of Yad Vashem, the HEC rewrote its list of Holocaust victims by country and listed them on a new map. The new panel on THE CAMPS now includes up-to-date information on the significant role that Romania played during the Holocaust by Romania during the Holocaust. Romanian authorities took the initiative in systematically killing and deporting Jews from Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Dorhoi without Nazi prompting.

As Germany’s ally in the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Romania established a military administration in an area between the Bug and Dniester rivers in the Ukraine. In autumn 1941, this region, called Transnistria served as a killing field. By autumn of 1941, Romanian authorities began deporting Romanian Jews to Transnistria where they established several ghettos and two concentration camps. From December 21 to December 31, 1941, some 54,000 Jews were murdered by the Romanians in Bogdanovka. Ultimately, the Romanians were responsible for the deaths of some 280,000 to 380,000 Jews including tens of thousands of Jews in Romanian – occupied Odessa.

This tragic story was well – known to survivors but was poorly documented for many years until the fall of communism made it possible to do significant interviewing and archival research in Romania. The Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre would like to thank Saul Alpern for bringing this matter to the attention of Chair Belle Millo.

Saul Alpern, who was born in Bukovina, Romania, was force-marched with his family to Transnistria in 1941. He and his brother Avrum were to witness “the cruel destruction of their own parents and many others.” Years later Mr. Alpern was to write about his experiences resulting in the publication of "No One Awaiting Me" (Calgary, University of Calgary Press, 2001).Mr. Alpern brought great moral courage, a fine sensibility to detail and the right balance of intellect and emotion in capturing the many episodes and events of this sad chapter in the history of the twentieth century.  As Mr. Alpern rightly points out “a lack of knowledge can open the door to injustice”.

As Alpern wrote "…I believe that silence too often can be misconstrued as guilt. If I don’t tell people about what happened to me, if I don’t express my pain, which more often that not is accompanied by emotion, I feel I would be doing an injustice to all those who perished. Most importantly, silence allows the perpetrators of repression to get away with their crimes and history to be repeated. It’s easy to sway a person to one’s point of view if they are ill – informed on a topic. Therefore, it is crucial to make people aware about events of the Holocaust. Just as knowledge can serve as a springboard for truth, a lack of knowledge can open the door to injustice.[Saul Alpern, "No One Awaiting Me" (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2001), p.233]

For his book, Mr. Alpern received the Alexander Isbister Award for non-fiction, the Aileen Mctavish Sykes Award for best first book (both presented at the 2002 Manitoba Writing and Publishing Awards ceremony) and the Canadian Jewish book award in 2003. Yad Vashem translated the book in Hebrew and published it in that language in 2005.

We of the Jewish Heritage Centre encourage others in the community to follow Mr. Alpern’s example by helping us to shut the door to injustice and open a new one based on respect and understanding.


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