British Columbia’s premier David Eby announces the province has joined Ontario in making Holocaust education mandatory

Jewish groups in British Columbia are welcoming an announcement by Premier David Eby to make Holocaust education mandatory for all high school students in the province beginning in 2025.

Eby revealed the news Oct. 30 at the Jewish Community Centre in Vancouver, surrounded by Holocaust survivors and their descendants, along with representatives of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC), the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.

“For our friends and neighbours in the Jewish community, this has been an incredibly frightening time,” Eby said. “We have seen a rise in antisemitism here in B.C. following the terrorist attacks in Israel, which evokes a history of persecution against Jews.

“Combatting this kind of hate begins with learning from the darkest parts of our history, so the same horrors are never repeated. That’s why we are working with the Jewish community to make sure learning about the Holocaust becomes a requirement for all high school students.”

British Columbia’s Ministry of Education and Childcare will soon begin consultations with the province’s Jewish community and other stakeholders to develop the Holocaust education curriculum, which will be ushered in for Grade 10 students during the 2025-26 school year.

In announcing the change to the curriculum, the province referenced a 2022 study commissioned by Liberation75, a Canadian charity that advocates for Holocaust education, which showed that a third of North American high school students surveyed believe the Holocaust was either exaggerated or fabricated.

“While many students learn about the Holocaust, there is more work to do to ensure all students graduate with an understanding about this topic,” the premier’s office said.

Eby’s move makes B.C. the second province in Canada to mandate Holocaust education. In September, Ontario’s Ministry of Education implemented a mandatory learning requirement of Holocaust education in its Grade 6 curriculum. The Ontario ministry has also supported the development of Unlearn It, a free, bilingual online resource hub for educators and parents to support children in Grades 6 to 8 in learning about antisemitism, how to identify it and take action to address it.

For several years, Jewish organizations in British Columbia and throughout Canada have tried to bring attention to the rise of antisemitic incidents in the province and across the country and the need for better education to quash prejudice and eliminate hate crimes.

According to B’nai Brith’s 2022 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents in Canada, there were 242 antisemitic incidents in B.C. last year.  Such incidents, the organization says, have risen in frequency following the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7.

In the past month, a rabbi’s home in Surrey (south of Vancouver) was vandalized, two women were threatened with physical and sexual violence at a Vancouver vigil to honour those who died in the Hamas attacks, and the owner of an Israeli restaurant in Vancouver was verbally harassed.

“This is an important development,” said B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO Michael Mostyn. “This is something B’nai Brith and the League (for Human Rights) have been working on for a considerably long period. Six million Jews were murdered at the hands of Hitler and his henchmen and, sadly, many students have not been sufficiently educated in recent years about the Holocaust. So this is a step in the right direction.”

CIJA also pointed to several disturbing figures related to antisemitism in Canada in recent years, noting that hate incidents targeting Jewish people rose by 59 percent between 2019 and 2021 and that, though Jews in Canada represent only 1 percent of the population, they are victims of 67 percent of all religiously motivated hate incidents and 14 percent of overall reported hate crimes.

Further alarming statistics brought to light by CIJA include a 2 percent rise of hate crimes targeting the Jewish community between 2021 and 2022 – despite a 15 percent overall decline in religiously motivated hate crimes — and 502 reported hate crimes against the Jewish community in 2022.

Nina Krieger, the executive director of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, an organization which reaches 25,000 students a year, said. “The introduction of mandatory Holocaust education in B.C.’s K-12 curriculum builds on more than 30 years of work by VHEC, which is dedicated to supporting teaching and learning about the Holocaust and its relevance today.

“The Second World War ended 78 years ago and, each year, there are fewer Holocaust survivors who can share their first-hand experiences and insights with students. At a time when antisemitism is once again spiking, Holocaust education is more important than ever. It is now up to us to honour survivors’ legacies and share their lessons with future generations,” she added.

Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, a Vancouver-based writer and Holocaust survivor who frequently visits schools in British Columbia to talk about the Holocaust, praised the province’s announcement, “What a great step towards repairing our wounded world. Until society collectively understands the treachery and barbarism of the Holocaust, the evil will continue to exist as it is doing today fuelled by those who do not heed the lessons of history.”

The addition of Holocaust education will be part of a social studies curriculum that will include the destruction of Hogan’s Alley, a largely Black community in Vancouver, the Japanese internment and the discrimination against other culturally diverse groups, such as Muslim, East Asian and South Asian communities.

“When left unchecked, antisemitism culminates in some of the darkest chapters in human history. By learning from the Holocaust, we honour the memories of its victims and, we hope, contribute to preventing future tragedies,” Ezra Shanken, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, said following the announcement.

“Whether it’s distortion of Holocaust history or misinformation about Hamas’ terrorist attacks, both are rooted in antisemitism, and today’s announcement shows the B.C. government’s commitment to creating a safer society for all.”

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