Ontario’s government made a timely announcement last week when they unveiled plans to expand its mandatory Holocaust education for Grade 10 students.
With Remembrance Day ceremonies taking place across the province on Saturday, the announcement comes at a time when the events of the great wars should be top of mind.
Though the atrocities carried out by Nazis didn’t happen in Canada and Canadians weren’t the target, the Holocaust undeniably had a major impact on our history. First and foremost, Canadian soldiers were on the front lines overseas, one of the first nations to take up arms to halt Adolph Hitler’s diabolical attempt to eradicate the Jewish population. It’s often been argued that so many more lives could have been saved if nations had responded to Hitler’s advancements earlier-the notion of not standing up against fascism when it’s not your life at risk can come back to haunt you when suddenly the fascist turns his guns towards you and everyone that could have helped is no longer there.
There’s certainly lessons to be learned it what could have-or even should have-been done. But that shouldn’t take away from the admirable sacrifices made by the brave Canadian men and women who did answer the call. It’s been said that Canadians were renowned for their bravery on the front lines, so much so that it was demoralizing to Nazi soldiers when they learned a Canadian battalion was on the other side of the battlefield.
There’s also another very important reason why Canadians need to learn about the horrific crimes committed in places such as Auschwitz. When making the announcement, Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce noted the intent of strengthening Holocaust learning programs was to combat a rise in antisemitism and hate in all its forms.
Those familiar with the history of WWII know all too well how hatred and misinformation towards a particular group can snowball into something much worse. Those who risked their lives to end the Holocaust were adamant that they’d never let anything like that happen again. That was some 78 years ago. With each passing year, there are fewer people still living who were alive when those traumatic events took place. Losing those firsthand accounts will be a huge loss because as disturbing as some of those stories may be, they need to be told. The only way to ever truly ensure they never happen again is to learn about them, acknowledge them and most importantly, learn from them. Hard as it may be to believe, there are already a great number of people who deny these murders even took place. Aside from being beyond insulting to the victims and their families, it’s also a terrifying notion to think denying these historic events could be the first step towards having them repeated.
Ontario’s commitment to teaching this difficult subject should be commended.
Also to be commended and honoured are the many men and women who have served in Canada’s conflicts over the years. Through their service we are fortunate enough to learn of the horrors of war in a textbook, not through lived experience.