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Collingwood students step into mobile human rights centre for lesson on Holocaust

The lesson was delivered onboard a coach bus outfitted as an accessible, state-of-the-art classroom and taught by an educator who works alongside Holocaust survivors

Editor's Note: This article has been corrected from an earlier version. The article incorrectly stated Karl Silberbauer was arrested and imprisoned, but the case against him was dismissed. CollingwoodToday apologizes for the error.

Students at St. Mary’s Catholic School didn’t have to go further than the school’s parking lot for a field trip to a human rights education centre.

The field trip came to them in the form of the Tour for Humanity, a 30-seat, wheelchair accessible, state-of-the-art classroom on a coach bus.

Onboard, educator Emily Barsanti-Innes was waiting and ready to teach Grade 6 through 8 students about the lessons and legacy of the Holocaust through Simon’s Story.

Simon Wiesenthal was an architect in Ukraine, and a Jew, in the years leading up to the holocaust. He survived several death camps and managed to help his wife, Cyla Mueller, hide in Warsaw under a false identity.

They were reunited a year after the war. Between them, 89 of their relatives were killed in the Holocaust.

Wiesenthal founded the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna and became a freelance Nazi hunter, using research skills and undercover work to find Nazis who had fled at the end of the Second World War and were living in hiding abroad.

He is credited with finding 1,100 Nazis through his and his team’s research, and that list includes Adolf Eichmann, who was the chief of the Gestapo’s Jewish department and had supervised the implementation of what was called the “final solution,” the planned genocide of all Jewish people. Eichmann was tried and convicted and given the death penalty.

Wiesenthal also found Karl Silberbauer, the Gestapo officer who arrested Anne Frank, and admitted to it. Silberbauer was working for the Vienna police force at the time. There were legal proceedings, but the case against him was dismissed and he was cleared on the grounds he was following orders and did not know about the Holocaust. 

The Tour for Humanity came out of Wiesenthal’s legacy and his Center for Holocaust Studies, which includes the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

The bus has been operating for six years in Canada and has visited 750 schools to bring lessons on tolerance, human rights, and justice to 170,000 students.

Barsanti-Innes said the idea for the bus was a solution to accessibility challenges for students in rural centres.

“We know rural areas don’t have the Rural Ontario Museum or Holocaust education centres, and if you don’t have access to cultural centres, we need to get to you,” said Barsanti-Innes. “We know those are the communities least-exposed to these cultural differences and diversity.”

Barsanti-Innes has a Masters degree in history with a focus on the Holocaust, and she is glad to have a job that allows her to teach kids about it and other instances of genocide and human rights crimes, including some in Canada. She said the tour bus curriculum can change based on the requests of the schools and the age of the students. She’s taught on subjects such as Canadian human rights abuses like Japanese internment camps and residential schools. She will also often tie in her history lessons with modern-day events of anti-semitism and genocide (like the 1998 Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting or the Chinese prison camps where hundreds of thousands of Muslims are held captive).

“These are things happening right now,” she said. “Politics are dividing everyone today, and [the Holocaust] is a reminder of what can result from divisiveness and propaganda … we owe it to the people who went through it to make sure we learn it and teach it.”

Today (Feb. 20) Barsanti-Innes led six classes through 50-minute workshops on how the Holocaust was carried out. Her lesson focused on the ramping up of discrimination and antisemitism with dehumanizing propaganda in the 1930s.

To learn more about Simon Wiesenthal, click here. For more on the Tour of Humanity, or to book the bus, click here.

Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter, photographer and community editor.
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