Nov 9, 2016

Lest we forget: Penning the memoirs of local Holocaust survivors 

Vancouver BC –This fall, a select number of Langara College students embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime project to write the memoirs of local Holocaust survivors, capturing personal stories from the turbulent times of World War II. The project is called Writing Lives: the Holocaust Survivor Memoir Project.

Writing Lives is an 8-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,” says Rachel Mines, Langara English instructor, and project coordinator. For example, on November 9, students commemorated Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) by lighting candles in memory of the violent anti-Jewish events that took place on November 9th and 10th, 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,” says 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 adds: “This is a fantastic opportunity to engage with and honour 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. 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,” says Ilona Shulman Spaar, Education Director for the VHEC. “The VHEC is proud to partner with Langara College and the Azrieli Foundation on the Writing Lives: the Holocaust Survivor Memoir Project,” she adds.

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.

About Langara College

Located in beautiful Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Langara College provides University, Career, and Continuing Studies education to more than 21,000 students annually. With more than 1,700 courses and 130 programs, Langara’s expansive academic breadth and depth allows students of all ages, backgrounds, and life stages to choose their own educational path. Langara is also known as house of teachings, a name given to it by the Musqueam people on whose unceded traditional territory the College is located. 

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