There will come a time when it will no longer be possible for Holocaust survivors to visit schools to talk about their experiences, and hopes for the future to ensure students learn the lessons of the dreadful events that happened. Over 70 years now since the Holocaust occurred, the few survivors left are now in their late eighties and early nighties.
Western University Student, Nathan Olszewicki, decided to take Holocaust and Genocide courses throughout his undergraduate experience, “My grandpa was a Holocaust survivor, and my family has never been immersed in Judaism, which also could be because of the Holocaust since it changed the way Jewish people practiced their religion. So, I wanted to learn more because it has effected my family. My grandpa recently just passed and I wanted to learn more about his story.”
Olszewicki’s grandfather was interviewed as part of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Visual History Foundation, an organization that continues to collect testimonies from the Holocaust and other genocides, but the interview was in Polish. His family had the interview translated and transcribed into a script. His grandfather never spoke much about his experience because he did not want his trauma to become his family’s despair. And so, Olszewicki only grew more curious about how such atrocious events could ever become a reality.
Western’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies offers a specialized travel course with Comparative Genocide Scholar, Dr. Amanda Grzyb, in which a small group of students venture to Poland together to see significant Holocaust monuments and sites related to memory, as well as the ghettos, concentration and death camps.
“Seeing and hearing those stories while I was there, and the Holocaust Survivor that Dr. Grzyb brought into our class really got to me. Reading it for myself didn’t connect as much for me because you don’t get a sense of their voice as much as when they are actually there, or the sense of the scope or setting. You can understand how terrible it is, but you just don’t get the feeling as much,” shares Olszewicki.
The concern is how future generations will study and remember the Holocaust without survivors direct involvement as guest speakers. All that will be left will be survivors’ recordings and books.
“We’re moving further away from when historical events happened, such as World War I. But, the topic can still be taught responsibility it just depends on the teacher to do the survivors’ stories justice. They have to take the time, effort to think everything through to create a tone for the class. Empathy is important here, so we can think critically about the world today.”