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Brittany Kessler


By Brittany Kessler, Grade 12 Student at Gray Academy of Jewish Education

In the small town of Selkirk, Manitoba, there is not much emphasis placed on studying the Holocaust. In the past few months, however, many Aboriginal students began learning about and discussing the Holocaust after being asked by B’nai Brith in Manitoba to hold a Yom Hashoah service in their school.

The studying and learning culminated in a memorial service on April 14, 2010 in Lord Selkirk School. Students from the middle and high school were invited to attend while a group of high school students led the service. Eileen Monkman, an educator at the Aboriginal Student Center of the school consulted with B’nai Brith in deciding to put on this special service [see Eileen Monkman’s article below as to what motivated her to put this service together].

Edith Kimelman, a Holocaust survivor living in Winnipeg, was the honoured guest who participated in the service.  Her presence made the program very meaningful to the students, who had only learned about the Holocaust through books. Every attendee- students, teachers and dignitaries- wore a yellow star on their clothing to show solidarity with the Jewish people that were lost. The crowd was a group of individuals who were united by the small piece of fabric that once divided a nation.

The service included a candle lighting ceremony, a brief description of the Holocaust provided by B’nai Brith and quotes pertaining to the Holocaust read by the students hosting the service. The main portion of the service consisted of a formal reading of the names listed on the Holocaust monument at the Manitoba Legislature, (similar to what was done as part of “ B’nai Brith’s Unto Every Person there is a Name program.”)

Students and Selkirk dignitaries including the head of the school division and the Mayor of Selkirk read the names of the family members of Winnipeg survivors while Mrs. Kimelman recited the names of those she personally lost.

Ending the service was a poignant speech by Mrs. Kimelman who discussed her time in the war when she was as young as six years old. Though she was never placed in a camp, Mrs. Kimelman’s story was one of bravery, anguish and sadness. The room was silent with interest listening intently about this traumatic period in history. Mrs. Kimelman ended her story with a message to the students: Never give up on yourself, because you can do anything you put your mind to. After hearing how far Mrs. Kimelman came, it is impossible for anyone to think otherwise.

Following the formal event, some of the middle school attendees were allowed the opportunity to ask Mrs. Kimelman questions in a more informal environment. The questions were broad and showed the interest these students had in learning more about the Holocaust.

It is a shame that many schools do not have the time, resources or interest in studying the Holocaust, which was a terrible point in history not only for the Jews but also for all of  humanity.   If high school students and their community can get so passionate about holding a memorial service for the Holocaust and  about teaching  the event, many students would learn  and teach the world to ignore hate and intolerance and to instead respect and love others for their differences.

The event in Selkirk is just one stepping stone to creating greater understanding, empathy, and awareness of the Holocaust. The students were very enthusiastic and involved in the planning and execution of the event and hopefully will participate again next year.


By Eileen Monkman
Aboriginal Student Center
Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive Secondary School
Selkirk, Manitoba
Special to the Winnipeg Jewish Review

We decided to hold an event at my school commemorating the victims of the Holocaust  after we attended the Yom Ha Shoah service put on by B’nai Brith last year, at the Legislature Building, where 4 teachers and 10 students attended for the first time, from our school division.

Another reason I wanted to do this was because of a recent trip to Poland and Austria with Holocaust Survivors Felix and Regina Opatowski, that a student and I attended in September 2009. This was a life changing event that has deepened my commitment to not only remembering the Holocaust but also taking the lessons of what and how it happened and applying it to anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attacks that we e see today.  Our relationship with Felix started in 2007, when he spoke at our school for his first ever public speaking invitation.

In 2007, I also worked with two colleagues of mine with what started out as taking students to Israel but this turned into a full credited Human Rights course in which the students will visit concentration camps each year.  This spring will be their second trip.  In researching this trip, I came across Susy Goldstein, co-author of 10 Marks and a Train Ticket – Benno’s Escape to Freedom and she and her husband delivered a moving presentation to 200 students from grades 5 – 12 at my school.

On a cultural side, I worked with a colleague and his grade 12 Sociology class and we presented Israel as a country for the first time in the 30 years of our school’s Culturama Celebration.  I also took a group of students to the Israel Shared Values Multi-cultural event in October 2009 at the Pantages Theater and Israel’s 60 Birthday event, the year before, at the Centennial Concert Hall.

I have visited and remain in close contact with Danciger High School in Kiryat Shmona, Israel and last year during their visit to Winnipeg, an Aboriginal Student made a presentation to them at our school.

During my visit to Israel in 2007, I put together a video of interviews.  Featured in it is a grade 10 girl in Nahariyah who shared what it was like during the Second Lebanon war in 2006, a soldier who fought in that war, and students from Danciger School  and other students that I met in Jerusalem.   I have a dream to take students to Israel.

Along with all of this, I fly the Israeli and Jerusalem flag in the Aboriginal Student Center.  I also have a display of things I have picked up from my trips to Israel and Europe. 

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