Table of Content

  1. Unit 1 Human Rights
  2. Unit 2 Genocide
  3. Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination
  4. Unit 4 Immigration
  5. Unit 5 Personal Action
  6. Unit 6 Living Together in Today's World

Unit 1 Human Rights

Overview Why are Human Rights Important?

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Ask yourself:

  • What are human rights? Why are they necessary?
  • How do we make them a reality in our world today?
Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors

Did You Know?

  • Thomas Jefferson wrote 82 drafts before the Declaration of Independence was published.
  • The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was written largely by the Marquis de Lafayette, a veteran of the American War of Independence and a friend of Thomas Jefferson (who may have helped him write the French Declaration).
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has been translated into over 400 different languages and is the most translated document ever, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
  • The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms influenced the South African Bill of Rights written into its constitution following the end of the apartheid era.
Professor Irwin Cotler

Former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada - Interview on Human Rights

Action 1


Quiz to test your knowledge:
Match the excerpts with the documents by putting the number on the line
Excerpts from the documents:MatchDocuments
Match the excerpts with the documents by putting the number on the line
Excerpts from the documents: Match Documents

A. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness


1. Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982

B. Men are born free and remain free and equal in rights….These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression


2. American Declaration of Independence, 1776

C. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood


3. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, France, 1789

D. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

  • freedom of conscience and religion;
  • freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression;
  • freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  • freedom of association

4. American Declaration of Independence, 1776

Action 2


John Peters Humphrey
  • Which of the human rights documents is connected to the work of Canadian legal scholar John Peters Humphrey? (Answers are at the end of the overview.)

What Are Human Rights?

According to the United Nations “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights -

  1. We Are All Born Free and Equal
  2. Don’t Discriminate
  3. The Right to Life
  4. No Slavery
  5. No Torture
  6. You Have Rights No Matter Where You Go
  7. We’re All Equal Before the Law
  8. Your Human Rights Are Protected by Law
  9. No Unfair Detainment
  10. The Right to Trial
  11. We’re Always Innocent Till Proven Guilty 
  12. The Right to Privacy
  13. Freedom to Move
  14. The Right to Seek a Safe Place to Live
  15. Right to a Nationality
  16. Marriage and Family
  17. The Right to Your Own Things
  18. Freedom of Thought
  19. Freedom of Expression
  20. The Right to Public Assembly
  21. The Right to Democracy
  22. Social Security
  23. Workers’ Rights
  24. The Right to Play
  25. Food and Shelter for All
  26. The Right to Education
  27. Copyright
  28. A Fair and Free World
  29. Responsibility
  30. No One Can Take Away Your Human Rights


As you explore the cases here are some additional questions to ask yourself:
  • Which of the 30 UDHR human rights are accepted? Which are denied?
  • Can Canada be proud of its human rights record?

Action 3


Historical Graph: Timeline with Attitude!

We often construct graphs exploring the relationships between price and demand in economics and sets of demographic data in geography.

Historical graphs add a dimension to traditional timelines by helping us explore the nature of significance and chronology (change over time) in rigorous and meaningful ways. We can see patterns over time and recognize that history is not an unbroken line of progress.

Historical graphs push us to construct meaning from the graph through making connections between the abstract nature of data and the people and events that lay behind it.


Procedure for Building a Timeline Graph

Begin with a blank 8 1/2” x 11” or 11” x 14” paper.
The horizontal axis usually represents an element of chronology such as: decisions by a leader or a group, or a series of events around a common theme (e.g. strikes, inventions, diary entries or public speeches by an historical figure).

The vertical axis represents some comparative criteria such as:

  • unimportant—very important
  • more push factor—more pull factor
  • good example—poor example
  • strongest influence—weakest influence
  • more or fewer examples
  • more welcoming—less welcoming.
Timeline Graph

Place the events or a number corresponding to each event on the graph depending on their assessment of the degree to which the event, quote, feeling, decision, etc., meet the vertical axis criteria.

In this unit, the vertical axis represents a continuum towards the achievement of human rights. The horizontal axis can represent key dates relevant to the cases studied.

After the graphs have been constructed, discussed and defended, you can write position papers on critical questions such as:

  • Has the struggle for human rights been a steady smooth one?
  • What is the trend in the past century / millennium / recorded history in the recognition of human rights?
  • How do you account for the trends you have determined in the struggle for universal human rights?
Extensions and Resources

In chronological order the horizontal axis has many options. The significance of historical figures in the struggle for human rights (world history).

The examples below are political/military but we could substitute philosophers, writers, or artists from Confucius to Mary Wollstonecraft.

Historical graph for major figures

Here is a hypothetical example of an historical graph for major figures in the history of human rights

Timeline Graph 2

If you join the lines you see that progress is not smooth.

Other places for using historical graphs include:

  • A chronology of Supreme Court decisions (American history) or cases in Canadian law (Canadian history).
  • Key documents in world history such as Magna Carta and the Petition of Rights in England or the Edict of Nantes in France.
  • A clipping thesis of events over a period of two weeks to one month. In this case there could be several graphs representing economic rights, religious rights, or any of the 30 rights identified in the United Nations’ UDHR.

And for some terms such as “Genocide” a graph such as the one below would generate much discussion.

Timeline Graph 3 introduces you to a world of resources and ideas for teaching human rights, using the UDHR as the standard. The kit, including poster, DVD, lesson guides, student books, and more are free for teachers.

A more detailed and academic treatment of the development of human rights is Lynn Hunt’s Inventing Human Rights: A History. Published in 2007 by W.W. Norton. It looks at the context and implications of the creation of the Declaration of Independence, Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Action 4


Learn about your province’s Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Laws


Canadian Legal Information Institute

Search and examine human rights laws and legislation in this free website: Canadian Legal Information Institute.
To browse the site:

  1. Enter “human rights” in the first field called “Document text”
  2. Choose a province or Canada (Federal) under Jurisdiction on the left
  3. Results will show from the Supreme Court of Canada. Click on each one that is relevant or useful to you. You can choose by All, Cases, Legislation or Commentary (top listing under the empty fields)

Answers to the quiz:
A- 2, B-3, C-4, D-1 
John Peters Humphrey wrote the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Unit 1 Human Rights

Chapter 1 Examining the Holocaust

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Ask yourself:

  • Why are personal stories so valuable in considering and reconsidering history?
  • Should we continue to search for leaders involved in past “crimes against humanity”?

This chapter examines the Holocaust through a survivor’s story retold by a close relative. The horror of this historical crime is revealed as we encounter the events in the life of Evie Abeles. This is followed by a timeline of the events leading up to the Holocaust, and a summary of the Jewish population in the countries involved in the Holocaust.

Max Eisen – Holocaust survivor

This really happened!

The Story of Evie Abeles

by Joan O'Callaghan

Young, blonde, Jewish girl with yellow star on her chest stands before a few piles of wheat. enlarge image

Evie Abeles
Permission: from author

The china cabinet in my dining room houses a collection of delicate little dishes. Made of porcelain and hand-painted with colorful scenes reminiscent of fairy tales and the innocence of childhood, they are intended to be used by little girls hosting tea parties for dolls and for friends. The dishes come from Bohemia, where they were made, probably in the 1920s or 1930s.

A photograph of the owner of the dishes sits nearby. It is an old photograph, taken in 1939. She is a pretty little girl, twelve years of age. Her hair, the color and texture of corn silk, is pulled back from her forehead, and cut evenly below the ears. She is squinting a little into the sun. But there is something unusual about the photograph, a note which jars the senses. It is the dress she is wearing. An ordinary dress in every respect—except for the large Star of David stitched on the front.

Her name was Evie and she was Jewish. In the Czechoslovakia of 1939, there was no place for little girls with corn silk hair and hand-painted dolls' dishes, if they happened to be Jewish. Evie is dead. Branded by the insignia on her little dress, she was rounded up, along with her parents, and taken to Auschwitz, where she died. Evie was my first cousin, but I never knew her. She died before I was born. I don't know exactly when she died, or how. But I do know where she died. And why.

Rumors of Nazi war criminals and collaborators hiding out in Canada and living the good life here have abounded for years. Finally now the Canadian government has decided to move on some of these people and has stripped them of their Canadian citizenship. They will be shipped back to their countries of origin to confront their own pasts. Old sick men. Outraged family and neighbors. Leave them in peace. "What does it matter what happened seventy years ago?" is the indignant question posed by letters to the editor in newspapers across the country. “He’s not going anywhere,” Helmut Oberlander’s lawyer, Eric Hafemann huffed to the media.

There is a certain irony and double standard to these protests.

Here in Toronto, citizens are reeling after two weeks of violence. Torontonians were shocked by the cold-blooded murder of 15-year-old Jordan Manners in the hallway of C. W. Jeffreys High School and are calling for better security and other measures in our schools to prevent a repeat of this tragedy. When they turned on the news at night they saw footage of the trial of Daniel Sylvester, convicted of murdering his neighbour Alicia Ross because she called him a loser. Young people, both of them, Alicia Ross and Jordan Manners, with dreams and aspirations for a life they would never live.

Tragedies that outrage any human being with a sense of decency. The citizens of Toronto are right to take the Manners shooting and Sylvester trial to heart and to insist that justice be vigorously pursued. But trials and convictions will not bring back Jordan or Alicia, so vengeance can hardly be a factor in bringing their killers to trial. Then why bother?

Should we bother pursuing the murderer of Jordan Manners, and at the same time continue to cast a blind eye on those same old sick men, who for seventy years have succeeded in concealing their pasts and living the good life that Canada has to offer? The answer must be a resounding “yes”. We have an obligation to pursue the sick old men with the same vigor that we pursue the murderers of Jordan Manners and Alicia Ross.

Not because bringing them to justice will miraculously restore Evie and the other six million victims to life; or even from a sense of carefully nurtured vengeance. Not at all. We do this in the name of the kind of society that we as Canadians are trying to create, for ourselves, and more importantly, for our children.

Canadians want a society that is safe, decent, and just. But for whom? For some people and not for others? Is our society to be a twist on Orwell's Animal Farm, where some are held accountable but not others?

Is it right and proper to bring Daniel Sylvester to trial, but not to deport Nazi war criminals whose records bespeak deception and complicity in those heinous events? Is it right and proper to bring a suspect to trial for crimes committed three years ago, but if a suspect has succeeded in eluding justice for seventy years, should he be rewarded by being left in peace? Is a murder committed in Toronto more of a murder than a murder committed in a hell called Auschwitz many thousands of miles away? Is it acceptable to sit in the House of Commons and pass laws for the good government of this country, but apply them to some people and not others?

In other words, is justice some sort of a sliding scale or is it a constant? Our complacency; our distaste for making a fuss; our lace-curtain gentility and well-bred antisemitism are now being brought home to us in more ways than one.

The proliferation of racist incidents and the glorification of violence have forced schools to move these issues to the top of their agendas. This is a sad comment on our society. If racial tolerance and appropriate behaviors were taught in the home, it would not be necessary to address them in schools. But children learn from the example set by their parents.

Right wing groups, white supremacists, and Holocaust deniers have read the Canadian psyche very well. That is why they are flourishing here. They know full well that there is a significant number of Canadians who do not want these issues examined, because it might mean revelations that are unpleasant for themselves, their friends and families. And this poses a significant danger to us all.

And that is why we must pursue these sick old men. We need to wipe the slate clean for our children. We need to set an example for them. How hypocritical to teach tolerance in schools, but to turn around and let the sick old men off the hook, for no other reason than that they have succeeded in deceiving their neighbors for seventy glorious years!! We need to show our youth by our own actions that murder is not a sliding scale, that a truly just society continues to pursue and expose those who have blood on their hands, however well-hidden, regardless of where those crimes took place, and when. There are no rewards for deception or for longevity.

I have no pity for the sick old men. These same old men were once young men, strong, cruel, and unprincipled. They took advantage of their youth and strength to victimize the weak ones among them, the minorities, those who didn't "belong." They have lived long, full lives, here in Canada. But the piper must now be paid, and the past has to be confronted.

Had Evie lived, she would be in her seventies. Perhaps she would even now be watching her own grandchildren staging tea parties with the little hand-painted dishes. But Evie lies somewhere in Poland, in an unmarked grave with thousands of others like her. Her little dishes and a faded photograph are her only legacy.

Action 1  


When a child’s life is cut short
  • No one knows where Evie’s body or ashes are buried. Given what you know about her, write a poem or an obituary, celebrating her short life and commemorating her death.
  • Are there children elsewhere in the world whose lives are at risk not because of what they’ve done, but because of who or what they are? Suggest steps that can be taken to ensure that these children do not meet the same fate as Evie.


Prosecution of Nazi war criminals
  • O’Callaghan maintains that Nazi war criminals should be deported and prosecuted for their crimes, regardless of their age and health, or how many years they have lived in Canada. Do you agree with her?


Can we create a just and moral society?
  • Use words, phrases and graphics clipped from magazines to create a collage depicting the kind of society you think Canada should have. Write a paragraph to explain to what extent you think we have achieved this and what areas we still need to work on.
  • Whose responsibility is it to inculcate the values of a just and a moral society: school? Home? Place of worship? Some combination of these? Write a paragraph explaining your thoughts.

History of the Holocaust - Timeline

YearEvents in History
Year Events in History

The Nazi party takes power in Germany. Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor, or prime minister of Germany. Nazis 'temporarily' suspend civil liberties. The Nazis set up the first concentration camp at Dachau. The first inmates are 200 Communists. Books with ideas considered dangerous to Nazi beliefs are burned.


Hitler combines the positions of chancellor and president to become “Fuhrer” or leader of Germany. Jewish newspapers can no longer be sold in the streets.


Jews are deprived of their citizenship and other basic rights. The Nazis intensify the persecution of political people who do not agree with their philosophy.


Nazis boycott Jewish-owned business. The Olympic Games are held in Germany; signs barring Jews are removed until the event is over. Jews no longer have the right to vote.


German troops annex Austria. On Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” Nazis terrorize Jews throughout Germany and Austria - 30,000 Jews are arrested. Books with ideas considered dangerous to Nazi beliefs are burned. Jews must carry ID cards and Jewish passports are marked with a "J." Jews no longer head businesses, attend plays, concerts, etc.; All Jewish children are moved to Jewish schools. Jewish businesses are shut down; they must sell businesses and hand over securities and jewels. Jews must hand over drivers’ licenses and car registrations. Jews must be in certain places at certain times.


Germany takes over Czechoslovakia and invades Poland. World War II begins as Britain and France declare war on Germany. Hitler orders that Jews must follow curfews; Jews must turn in radios to the police; Jews must wear yellow stars of David.


Nazis begin deporting German Jews to Poland. Jews are forced into ghettos. Nazis begin the first mass murder of Jews in Poland. Jews are put into concentration camps.


Germany attacks the Soviet Union. Jews throughout Western Europe are forced into ghettos. Jews may not leave their houses without permission form the police. Jews may no longer use public telephones.


Nazi officials determine the “Final Solution”—their plan to kill all European Jews—with the government officials. Jews are forbidden to: subscribe to newspapers; keep dogs, cats, birds, etc.; keep electrical equipment including typewriters; own bicycles; buy meat, eggs, or milk; use public transportation; attend school.


February: About 80 to 85 percent of the Jews who would die in the Holocaust have already been murdered.


Hitler takes over Hungary and begins deporting 12,000 Hungarian Jews each day to Auschwitz where they are murdered.


Hitler is defeated and World War II ends in Europe. The Holocaust is over and the death camps are emptied. Many survivors are placed in displaced persons’ facilities.


Action 2


Living Graph template
Living Graph

Look at the events of each year in the timeline. Place a dot on the above graph to represent the level of intolerance displayed. Link the dots to form a line graph.

Action 3


Living Graph in your perspective

For each year displayed in the timeline, look at an event from around the world related to the theme of intolerance. Construct a living graph to compare levels of intolerance towards minority groups (Aboriginals, Blacks, Jews, etc.,) to the levels displayed towards Jews in Germany during the Nazi period. Can the rest of the world be proud or ashamed of this record during this period?


Action 4


Thinking consequences

The timeline above concludes with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Was this creation a direct result of the Holocaust or were there other reasons as well?

Action 5


Thinking in time and place

This is a list of the countries where Jews were living and therefore targeted during the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. The conference was for the organization and implementation of the “Final Solution”. This document is taken from the book Nazism, edited by Noakes and Pridham. The book indicates that this list was included in the official minutes of the meeting, page 537.

Also look at:

Altreich [Germany pre-1938] 131,800
Ostmark [Austria] 43,700
Eastern territories [incorporated from Poland] 420,000
General Government [also in Poland] 2,284,000
Bialystok [White Russia] 400,000
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia 74,200
ESTONIA—Free of Jews
Latvia 3,500
Lithuania 34,000
Belgium 43,000
Denmark 5,600
France: occupied territory 165,000
            unoccupied territory 700,000
Greece 69,600
The Netherlands 160,000
Norway 1,300
Bulgaria 48,000
England 330,000
Finland 2,300
Ireland 4,000
Italy including Sardinia 58,000
Albania 200
Croatia 40,000
Portugal 3,000
Romania including Bessarabia 342,000
Sweden 8,000
Switzerland 18,000
Serbia 10,000
Slovakia 88,000
Spain 6,000
Turkey (European part) 55,500
Hungary 742,800
USSR 5,000,000
Ukraine 2,994,684
White Russia excluding Bialystok 446,484
Total Over 11,000,000

Action 6


Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi Hunter

Read about Simon Wiesenthal.
About Simon Wiesenthal

Action 7


March of the Living
Be a witness. See for yourself. Go on a group program that tours Polish cities, towns and villages, and visit concentration camps. Then tour Israel to see exciting destinations and ancient spots around the country. Canadian high school students can join thousands of people from around the world for an experience that will last a lifetime.

12 Goals of the March of the Living
  1. To remember those who perished and to be a witness, thus denying Hitler a “posthumous victory.”
  2. To pay tribute to the courage of those who survived the Holocaust – who rebuilt their lives despite the haunting memories of the past – to be the bearers of their memories, the witnesses for the witnesses.
  3. To recognize and learn from the altruistic actions of the “righteous among the nations”, who teach us to never be a bystander in the face of oppression.
  4. To honor the heroic veterans of WWII who fought to liberate Europe from the hands of Nazi tyranny.
  5. To never again allow for the unchecked rise of the menace of antisemitism.
  6. To never again allow any kind of racial discrimination directed by any individual or group against another to gain strength. Though Jews have been primarily the victims of racism, this goal also relates to racism expressed by Jews towards others, emphasizing that all human beings are created btselem elohim (in the image of G-d), and deserve equal dignity and respect.
  7. To inspire participants to commit to building a world free of oppression and intolerance, a world of freedom, democracy and justice, for all members of the human family.
  8. To bolster the Jewish identity of the next generation by acquainting them with the rich Jewish heritage that existed in pre-war Eastern Europe. Included in this goal is a commitment to living our Jewish lives today in a way that reflects the diverse values and traditions of pre-war European Jewry.
  9. To understand the importance of the existence of Israel:
    • as the spiritual center and homeland of the Jewish people.
    • through the lesson that Jews will never again allow themselves to be defenseless.
    • by developing a love for the people of Israel and an appreciation of the hardships and sacrifice endured by her citizens on behalf of Israel.
    • through the understanding of the concept of Meshoah Le’tkumah (from destruction to rebirth). Despite the devastation of the Holocaust, the Jewish people never gave up their belief in building a better tomorrow. Rather they rose up, against all odds and established the State of Israel—the hope and future of the Jewish people.
  10. Jewish Unity – To instill in students a love for Am Yisrael, an appreciation for and connection to, the Jewish people in every land, throughout the ages and in contemporary times.
  11. Tikkun Olam – To remind the students of the Jewish peoples’ responsibility to be a Maor Lagoyim, a light unto the nations, by reaching to people of other faiths and cultures, and by mending our too often shattered world, through providing our help and assistance to those most in need.
  12. The final goal is not so much to learn from or about history – but to enter into history. By visiting Eastern Europe, young Jewish students are taking part in a commemorative act, which demonstrates to the world that the death of six million of our people has been marked and will never be forgotten by the Jewish people.

Copyright March of the Living Canada 2011-2012


A New Generation of Witnesses

Few Holocaust Survivors are still living and soon there will be none left to give first-hand accounts. What can you do to preserve their memories?

Read the book “Witness - Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations.”

Cover of the interactive book Witness – Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations enlarge image
Witness - Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations

Compiled by Eli Rubenstein
Contributor - March of the Living
Published by Second Story Press. Sept 8 2015

Interactive Book

Recommended reading

Arato, Rona The Last Train, 2013
The true story of the Auslander family who, along with thousands of other Jews were trapped on a freight train in the middle of Germany, awaiting their ends at the hands of the Nazis.

Bennett, Cherie and Jeff Gottesfield Anne Frank and Me, 2002
Nicole Burns believes the Holocaust is ancient history and doesn’t grasp why she needs to learn about the period. Through time-travel, the young girl finds herself a privileged daughter in a Jewish family living in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II.

Birnie, Lisa In Mania’s Memory, 2012
This novel is about the memories of a German woman caught up in the lunacy of the Third Reich in 1938. The author describes the relationship between the young teenager and a SS guard who looks out for her and gives her hope that she will survive.

Boyne, John The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2006
The novel is told from the point of view of a young boy, Bruno, who moves with his family to a place called “Out-With” (Auschwitz). When Bruno goes exploring, he meets Shmuel, a Polish Jewish boy who feels the first-hand suffering of life in a concentration camp.

Corell, Dana Fitzwater.My Mother’s Ring: A Holocaust historical novel, 2013
The Mathausen camp is brought to vivid detail as one survivor recalls the pain of subsistence in this story about a mother and seventeen year old son.

de Rosnay, Tatiana Sarah’s Key, 2008
A ten year-old girl is brutally arrested with her family by the French police, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in her family’s apartment, thinking she will be returning in a few hours.

Feldman, Ellen The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank: a novel, 2006
Peter van Pels and Anne Frank shared an awkward first love in the annex where they were hiding. In this novel, Peter attempts to bury his past, denying his persecution in the Holocaust and his identity as a Jew.

Gallaz, Christophe; Illus. Robert Innocenti. Rose Blanche, 1985
A young German girl watches the streets of her town fill with soldiers and tanks.

Hart-Green, Sharon Come Back for Me: A Novel, 2017
Artur Mandelkorn is a survivor from Hungary on a desperate quest to find his sister after they are separated during the war. Intersecting Artur’s tale is the story of Suzy Kohn, a Toronto teenager whose Hungarian Jewish family attempts to shield her from what happened during the war.

Spinelli, Jerry Milkweed, 2003
When Misha, a young Polish boy is taken in by a group of Jewish group of orphans, he must avoid the German troops while living in the streets

Voorhoeve, Anne. C. My Family for the War, 2012
Escaping Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport changes one’s girl’s life forever.

Watts, Irene N. Touched by Fire, 2013
A Jewish family escapes a pogram and moves to Berlin where they plan to eventually sail to America.

Zusak, Markus  The Book Thief, 2006
Death is the narrator of the story of a young foster girl named Liesel living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. When Liesel learns to read, she shares the books she has stolen from Nazi book burnings with her neighbours as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

Unit 1 Human Rights

Chapter 2 Aboriginal/Indigenous Experience

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Ask yourself:

  • To what extent has Canada, as a nation, fulfilled our Human Rights obligations to our Indigenous Peoples?
  • To what extent are our obligations being fulfilled at this time?
  • What actions are our Indigenous Peoples taking to improve their own access to Human Rights?
  • Why did the government of Canada decide to remove children of First Nations, Métis and Inuit families and force them to live in Residential Schools?
Residential School System - Warren Burton Green

The Gordon Residential School in Saskatchewan, the last federally run facility, closed in Nobember 1996.


The terminology used in Canada to refer to Aboriginal Peoples has been evolving in Canada. First, the collective noun Aboriginal People became popular when referring to First Nations, Inuit and Métis and was widely adopted by government and many national groups. In 1982, this distinction was made legal in the Constitution Act. Section 35 (2) of the Act states:

In this Act, "aboriginal peoples of Canada" includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Aboriginal Peoples was a fresh step although there was resistance to its usage from some groups, as discussed in “Indigenous vs. Aboriginal”.

At the present time, the federal government has moved to embrace the word Indigenous and all of its legal ramifications. By recognizing First Nations, Inuit and Metis as Indigenous Peoples, the government is acknowledging their internationally legal right to offer or withhold consent to development under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada endorsed this declaration with conditions under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Not all Canadian provinces are currently replacing the word Aboriginal with Indigenous and it is still in use in our Constitution.

In Canada we have three broader groups of Indigenous peoples:

The First Nations, made up of over 630 distinct bands with the majority living in Ontario and British Columbia

The Inuit who inhabit the northern regions of Canada

The Métis, who are descendants of the first children of Indians and Europeans. Alberta has the largest Métis population.

Consider the reasons Canadian settlers of European descent thought Residential Schools were a good idea. Take a look at the cultural, religious and economic motivation of European Canadians at that time.

Aboriginal Peoples refers to those Indigenous people who populated land before the arrival of colonists who dominated them over time. Today there are about 370 million Aboriginal Peoples distributed across 70 countries. In almost all these situations the Aboriginal populations suffer from lack of representation in government, poverty, poor access to social services, and discrimination.

If you are interested in learning more about this terminology, here's a free ebook: Indigenous Peoples: A Guide to Terminology

Action 1


Stop and think!

How are the lives of Indigenous Peoples across the world affected by each of the following?

Are these stereotypes about Indigenous Peoples true?

Lack of Representation in Government


Generational Poverty


Lack of Access to Social Services





In October 2013, the United Nations sent Investigator James Anaya to find out conditions of Aboriginal human rights in Canada. Anaya said one in five indigenous Canadians live in dilapidated and often overcrowded homes and “funding for Aboriginal housing is woefully inadequate.” He said the suicide rate among Inuit and First Nations youth living on reserve is more than five times greater than that of other Canadians. One community Anaya visited had suffered a suicide every six weeks since the start of the year. Anaya said such problems persist even though Canada was one of the first countries to extend constitutional protection to the rights of Indigenous People, has taken notable steps to repair the legacy of past injustices and has developed processes for land claims “that in many respects are models for the world to emulate.” Anaya, who is planning to present a full report to the UN Human Rights Council, had several recommendations for Canada's government. He encouraged the government “to take a less adversarial” approach to land claim settlements “in which it typically seeks the most restrictive interpretation of aboriginal and treaty rights possible.”
(Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this story)

Aboriginal Youth Group Discussion
Considering Stereotypes

We hear stereotypes about groups of people all the time. “This group is good at something. This group never does anything.” Stereotypes are used to categorize a group of people. A stereotype is a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group. It represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment of another group.

Action 2


Stereotypes and You

Considering stereotypes about Indigenous or Aboriginal Peoples. (In Canada, Indigenous Peoples are those who are First Nation, Inuit or Métis). This activity will help you to consider stereotypes that you may have heard about Aboriginal cultures.

To begin, work independently to list five stereotypes that you think people have about Aboriginal peoples. Then, turn to a partner and compare lists. Write each item on a post-it note. Discuss with your partner which items were the most damaging and which were the least damaging. Next, work in groups of four. Arrange the post-it notes that have been offered and place them on a continuum on chart paper, using the following three headings.






As a group, discuss:
  • Which stereotypes were easy to place on the continuum?
  • Which stereotypes could be placed in more than one section (or between sections)?
  • Is it possible for a stereotype to be neutral? Positive?
  • If you yourself do not identify as an Indigenous person, consider how an Indigenous person might feel about these stereotypes.
  • Where do our stereotypes come from?
  • How can stereotyping be harmful?

Action 3


Wab Kinew
Gently smiling at the camera in front of a dark backdrop, Aboriginal musician Wab Kinew poses for a contemporary portrait photo. enlarge image
Wab Kinew

First Nations Canadian politician, musician, broadcaster and educator

Source: Rant by Wab Kinew

Wab Kinew (pronounced: WOB ka-NOO and full name Wabanakwut Kinew) has been Leader of the Manitoba New Democratic Party and Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba since September 2017. He is also an award-winning Canadian musician, broadcaster and educator, best known as a host of programming on CBC Radio and Television. He hosted the acclaimed CBC Television series “8th Fire”. His hip-hop has won an Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Award. He earned a BA in Economics from the University of Manitoba and is a member of the Midewin.

Wab Kinew’s Soapbox on YouTube was first shown on George Strombolopolus Tonight. His words may help people realize that the many stereotypes they hear about First Nations simply aren’t true.

Combating Stereotypes: Wab Kinew’s Soapbox on YouTube

For this activity you will have a chance to watch this YouTube Soapbox by Wab Kinew and consider some counter-arguments to existing common stereotypes about Indigenous Peoples. Following the viewing, work with a classmate to complete the following chart:

Stereotype Counter argument
Indigenous Peoples should get over the past  
All Indigenous Peoples have long hair: Many people think all Indigenous Peoples should look or should not look like the stereotype.  
Indigenous Peoples are getting too much Federal money  
Indigenous Peoples are getting a free ride  

Action 4


A Personal Response to Stereotypes

Are these stereotypes about Aboriginals true?

Stereotype Counterargument
Alcohol Alcohol addiction is a problem for everyone not just Indigenous Peoples. Poverty is the real problem. Poor people who suffer from this addiction do not have as many socially acceptable places to hide.
Indigenous Peoples should get over the past There is an important difference between moving on and forgetting and moving on with healing and restitution.
All Indigenous Peoples have long hair: Many people think all Aboriginal people should look or should not look like the stereotype His argument is that Indigenous Peoples are diverse and their diversity needs to be acknowledged. Indigenous Peoples have the same right to look the way they want to look that the rest of society has.
Indigenous Peoples are getting too much Federal money Indigenous Peoples don’t get as much per-capita Federal funding as the rest of Canada.
Indigenous Peoples are getting a free ride The stereotype is that Indigenous Peoples don’t pay taxes. Indigenous Peoples do pay taxes. Not only that, but they are waiting to receive what was promised to them by the treaties from 140 years ago.

A. What suggestions might you make to your school for dealing with the stereotyping of Indigenous Peoples?

B. A written reflection. You will have a chance to record your feelings in response to Wab Kinew’s Soapbox. The following questions can be used to guide your reflection:

  • As you watched and listened to this rant, how did you feel? What did you wonder about?
  • Do you agree that these are ‘the five things Canadians have to stop saying about Indigenous Peoples’?
  • For a counterargument to be convincing it should be consistent with evidence. To what degree are Kinew’s counterarguments to each stereotype convincing?
  • What do you think are significant consequences of these stereotypes for the everyday lives of Indigenous Peoples?
  • What impact do these stereotypes have on the creation of policies involving Indigenous Peoples?

A Brief History of Residential Schools: 1880s - 1996

Aboriginal (Indigenous) peoples are the first people to arrive and settle a land. When European explorers and settlers arrived they found vast numbers of Aboriginal peoples who were living in a variety of ways similar to those found in Europe at that time. There were the vast empires of Peru, and Mayan city-states. In what we now call Canada there were confederacies such as the Five Nations, (the Iroquois or Haudenosaunne were part of that confederacy), chiefdoms like the Haida and Kwakiutl, and small band communities of mobile hunter/gatherers (the Huron or Wendat and the Cree).

This really happened!

Indigenous Peoples were destroyed by European diseases and the policies of the European immigrants. By the time that Canada had established itself as a Confederation in 1867, Aboriginal communities were greatly reduced in number and occupied only a tiny fraction of their ancestral lands. English and French immigrants took control of those lands and formed a government without the participation of the Indigenous Peoples. The Canadian government began to question what to do about Indigenous Peoples who were now considered a problem that needed attention.

Education and First Nations

One solution was to use schooling as a way to assimilate Aboriginal children into white Christian society. It was hoped that eventually all these peoples would be assimilated. This process would strip them of their culture, languages, heritage and spiritual beliefs.

The Indigenous Peoples of Canada were considered by many of European descent to be childlike and culturally inferior. The government believed that the best approach to this goal was to take children from their parents and immerse them in schools which taught the European/Canadian culture. In the 1800s, one Canadian politician summed up these beliefs when he said that the objective of the Residential School policy was to continue until there was not a single Indian left in Canada that has not been absorbed into the larger culture.

Residential schools were run by the Canadian Government in partnership with various religious groups. Anglican and Catholic churches as well as some Protestant churches became the administrators of the schools. Religious organizations believed that it was their duty to bring the First Nations children into their Christian faith in order to civilize them. Generally, children were taken from their parents around the age of four years and continued in the Residential Schools until the age of sixteen. They returned to their parents each summer for two months and were forbidden to speak their own language. Parents were fined or jailed if they did not send their children to these schools where often their education was substandard. Many schools focussed education on teaching tasks that would enable the children to do manual tasks to support other people’s businesses. Over 40% of the teachers in Residential Schools were not trained.

We know from those who attended Residential Schools that many lived in below standard conditions. The food was not nourishing and sometimes rotten. Children suffered physical abuse which some teachers believed was essential to civilize them. Many stories of sexual abuse in Residential Schools have been recorded.

Action 5


The Effect of Action

Further Considerations:

  • Why did the Government of Canada take First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their parents to live in Residential Schools?
  • What was the impact of Residential Schools on the culture of First Nations?
  • What is the Canadian Government doing to address the effects of Residential Schools?

The Effect of Residential Schools on First Nations Culture

"When an Indian comes out of these places it is like being put between two walls in a room and left hanging in the middle. On one side are all the things he learned from his people and their way of life that was being wiped out, and on the other side are the white man’s ways which he could never fully understand since he never had the right amount of education and could not be a part of it. There he is, hanging, in the middle of two cultures: he is not a white man and he is not an Indian."
John Tootoosis, Cree leader and former student at the Demas (Thunderchild) Indian Residential School, Demas, Saskatchewan

Life in the Residential Schools impacted those children who lived in them in ways similar to the way Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms affects some combat soldiers. In most First Nations families, the impact of this trauma was passed on to the next generations. Children taken from their homes at an early age had no concept of family to pass on to their children. As adults, some developed a culture of alcoholism in an attempt to forget their experiences. Others so disliked their lives in Residential Schools that they would not encourage their children to pursue education. The long list of effects of physical and sexual abuse suffered by those who were victims of Residential Schools has led to multi-generational trauma. Many First Nation, Inuit and Métis are now developing systems to work with several generations of families. The survivors of Residential schools are being encouraged to tell their stories.

Political Response and Responsibility—
How the Government of Canada is addressing the effects of Residential Schools

The following quote is taken from the formal apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of the Government of Canada for the harm caused to many generations of First Nations, Métis and Inuit families by the Residential Schools, delivered in the House of Commons,June 11, 2008. The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history.

"For more than a century, Indian Residential Schools separated over 150,000 Aboriginal children from their families and communities. In the 1870s, the federal government, partly in order to meet its obligation to educate Aboriginal children, began to play a role in the development and administration of these schools. Two primary objectives of the Residential Schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, "to kill the Indian in the child". Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country."

In early 1998, 79,000 Residential School survivors sued the Canadian Government for compensation for their suffering in the Residential Schools. As a result of this action the government agreed to financial compensation for the survivors, and they also agreed to the establishment of The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The mandate of this commission is to make sure that all Canadians are aware of the experiences of children in the Residential Schools and the impact of those experiences on the survivors, their families and future generations. The commission, supported by the Government, encourages survivors and their families to come forward and to tell their stories so they can be documented. The telling of the stories of survivors is seen as a part of the healing process for the victims but it also considered that Canada as a nation cannot move forward until these stories are documented.

"Prime Minister Steven Harper offered a full apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian Residential Schools Statement:
Formal statement of Apology by Prime Minister Steven Harper on June 11, 2008.
Youtube video Apology.

In September 2013, the Indigenous communities held a ‘Walk Across Canada.’ This Residential School Reconciliation Walk ended a week-long Truth and Reconciliation Commission event. All people who love peace were encouraged to attend the march which hoped to help heal by gathering and sharing stories and to express a commitment to moving forward.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada completed its reports in 2015. Links have been provided to poignant documents like The Survivor Speaks. Here is an excerpt:

A Survivor is not just someone who “made it through” the schools, or just “got by” or was “making do.”A survivor is a person who persevered against and overcame adversity. It came to mean someone who could legitimately say “I am still here!” For that achievement, survivors deserve our highest respect.

The reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015 offer the following for public use:

Walk for Reconciliation, Vancouver - September 2013 enlarge image
Photo: Walk for Reconciliation, Vancouver - September 2013

As you can see in the picture, the Walk across Canada was very successful and large numbers of people participated.

Permission: Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press

Action 6


Listening to History
  • Why do you think many survivors do not want to tell their stories to the commission?
  • What supports would you provide to survivors to help them come forward?
  • Should the Government and the churches which ran the schools be punished in some way for the actions of the ancestors in the Residential Schools?

According to the Legacy of Hope, “From the early 1830s to 1996, thousands of First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend Residential Schools in an attempt to assimilate them into the dominant culture. Those children suffered abuses of the mind, body, emotions, and spirit that are almost unimaginable.

Over 150,000 children, some as young as four years old, attended the government-funded and church-run Residential Schools. It is estimated that there are 80,000 Residential School survivors alive today.”

The 60s Scoop

The removal of Indigenous Canadian children from their homes and birth families to adoptive home during the 1960s, and up until the 1980s. On a large scale and often without parental and band consent, children were adopted across Canada, in the US and some in Europe, into mostly non-Indigenous middle-class families. This resulted in a loss of cultural identity and longterm effects.

Update: The federal government will pay $800M as compensation to victims of the '60s scoop. The settlement will go to approximately 20,000 victims across Canada who will be paid between $25,000 and $50,000 each.

Based on what you have learned from the timeline and your own experience of conflict, work in your group to create a pie graph that shows how much each of the following elements caused this mistreatment: Power, Greed, Fear, Ignorance and/or Racism.

Example of pie graph with sample percentages (your values will be different and should total 100%).
Example of pie graph with sample percentages (your values will be different and should total 100%).

1. Legacy of Hope

2. Canada’s First Nations, A History of the Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, par Olive Patricia Dickson avec David T. McNab, Oxford University Press, quatrième édition, publié en 2009.

Be ready to explain why you gave the values you did to each of the five components. As you learn more about Canadian history note if your opinions change.

An old black and white photo of a young Aboriginal boy having his blood taken as a sample for nutritional experiments by an older, white woman who is a nurse. enlarge image

A nurse takes a blood sample from an Aboriginal child for nutritional experiments
The Toronto Star August 22, 2013.

Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada/Canadian Press

Hungry Canadian Children were used in Government Experiments

Hungry Canadian aboriginal children were used in government experiments in the 1940s, researcher says”. The Toronto Star August 22, 2013.

The Toronto Star, reporting on the research of nutritional scientist, Ian Mosby, wrote that “For over a decade, aboriginal (sic.) children and adults were unknowingly subjected to nutritional experiments by Canadian government bureaucrats.”

“Aboriginal children were deliberately starved in the 1940s and ’50s by government researchers in the name of science. Milk rations were halved for years at Residential Schools across the country. Essential vitamins were kept from people who needed them. Dental services were withheld because gum health was a measuring tool for scientists and dental care would distort research.”

This racist treatment of a group of people who have been disenfranchised and are considered unworthy of basic human rights is not unique. During the Holocaust experiments were conducted by Nazi doctors on Jewish people, and others, like the Roma, whom they considered racially undesirable.

Action 7


Reading through Rationalizations and Justifications

As you read the article at this link Hungry Canadian aboriginal children were used in government experiments during 1940s, researcher says try to imagine how the scientists at the time justified what they were doing. When you have finished reading discuss in your group the answers to the following questions:

  • Why would upstanding scientists and organizations like the Red Cross participate in what sounds to us now like unethical behaviour?
  • What reasons does Mosby give for the compliance with this research?
  • What do you think would have happened if the Red Cross had suggested doing this research at an expensive private boarding school instead of a Residential school for Aboriginal children?
How was this injustice rationalized?

Mosby believes that the existence of this research has stayed hidden for the following reasons:

  1. That meant, in addition to the fact that there were problems with some of the studies’ methodologies, they were not cited in journals and were therefore forgotten.
  2. The researchers felt they weren’t doing anything wrong.

Which of these reasons do you think was most important?
What other reasons might there be for this research to remain hidden?
Why might it be important for this research to be known?
What ideas underpin Western science allowing hurtful research?
How important are the news media in protecting the human rights of individuals?
Who controls what is reported in the news?
Which of the Rights of the Child outlined in the UN Declaration have been abused by the researchers?

What agencies are available today to children in Canada who feel that their rights are being abused?

Read about the reaction of one First Nations community to the news of the experiments done on them when they were children:

Do you think they are justified in their requests?

Action 8


Visual Reading
This black and white photo is of Aboriginal students sitting at their desks at one of Canada’s many infamous Residential Schools. At the center of the picture, a young boy peers at the camera with a disgruntled look on his face. enlarge image
Image of Senior Classroom, Residential school. 

Credit: GENERAL SYNOD ARCHIVES, Anglican Church of Canada

This photograph shows a classroom in a First Nations Residential School. Look at the faces of the students in this class. Look at their posture. What can you learn from looking at the picture? If you go to and search the title, Indian Residential Schools many images depict the story of First Nations Residential schools, often set to First Nations music and poetry.

Look at this picture of the classroom. Use the following chart to guide you:

QuestionEvidence for your inferences
Question Evidence for your inferences
Who is in the picture?  
Where was this picture taken?  
When was the picture taken? Who might have taken it?  
Who was the intended audience for this picture?  
What was the photographer’s message about the content of the picture?  

Action 9


Different perspectives on the same story

Newspapers and other media often present only one side of a story that has many sides. When governments do this in order to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view, we call this propaganda. Discover other possible sides to a story about Indigenous Peoples.

Action 10


Make Connections!
  • Move around the classroom and share your picture with other students.
  • Talk to three people with the same picture and at least three people with different pictures.
  • Make predictions! How might your photo relate to someone else’s? Does your photo connect to an idea already studied in class? How is your snapshot different from the others?
  • Share your inferences and connections with your classmates.
  • Record your inferences. Complete the AFTER section of your organizer by explaining what you learned from the discussions and the connections you made.
  • Check the chart you have made to see if you want to change any of your first inferences.

Action 11


… In their shoes

You are a reporter working for a newspaper on a series called “The True Story of Residential Schooling”. The pictures you’ve discussed tell one story of Residential Schooling but the editor of your paper feels that the pictures do not tell the whole or even a true story of Residential Schools. She wants her reporters to explore the stories the pictures don’t tell.

Choose from the list below, and rank in order, three people who will tell you another side to the story of Residential Schooling.

  • An Inuit woman in her 70s who was at a Residential School for five years from the age of four.
  • A woman, aged 70, of European ancestry (not religious) who taught at a Residential School for two years.
  • A woman aged 80, of European ancestry (not religious) who taught at a Residential School for fifteen years.
  • A priest responsible for a Residential School for ten years.
  • A First Nations man whose father, now dead, attended a Residential School for ten years.
  • A First Nations woman who attended a school with her sister who died while there.
  • An Aboriginal Elder who has been counseling members of her nation who attended Residential Schools and consider themselves survivors.
  • A male teacher of European ancestry who taught shop and coached the hockey team at a Residential School.
  • The doctor who was occasionally called in to see to the health of children at the school.

Explain why you chose the people you did.

Of three people, choose one to interview for the paper. Prepare five compelling questions to ask in your interview.

Are these stereotypes about Indigenous Peoples true?


Go to the Legacy of Hope website to find out as much as possible about what Indigenous Peoples say happened at the Residential Schools. Legacy of Hope Foundation

Choose one section of the website, or some other information you have found in your research that you want to share with the class.

Action 12


Case studies in the media

Further resources:

Ian Mosby’s paper
Experiments on Aboriginals

Toronto Star editorial
Canada Admits Abuse

Opinion piece by Phil Fontaine, Bernie Farber and Dr. Michael Dan in Toronto Star
Genocide of First Nations

Link to CBC’s radio show,“ As is Happens”
Aboriginal Children Experiment

Ipperwash Provincial Park and the contestation of ancient burial grounds.
Ipperwash Crisis

The Idle No More movement
Idle No More Story
Idle No More Movement 

Residential School History
Truth and Reconciliation Commission Findings

Unit 1 Human Rights

Chapter 3 Gender Issues

Back to top

Ask yourself:

  • Why is it important that all girls regardless of race, religion, culture, class, sexual orientation, or ability receive an education? What impact does education have on their lives?
  • How is gender equality a development issue that can benefit a family, community and nation?
  • What is the gender gap and how are girls and women around the world affected by gender inequality? 
  • How does gender identity affect LGBQT people and what difficulties do they face?

 The harsh reality    

Gender inequality and discrimination are human rights issues that affect many girls and women around the world, just because of their gender. The facts are staggering! According to Plan Canada Because I Am A Girl:

  • One billion people worldwide live in extreme poverty, of which 70% are girls and women.
  • Malnutrition is a problem that affects girls three times more than boys.
  • Education is a human right, but 65 million girls have not been to primary or secondary school.
  • Domestic responsibilities, marriage, pregnancy, accessibility to school, and poverty are just some of the reasons girls do not attend school.

Critical to the development of gender equality is education. When girls go to school and stay in school, the world around them is affected in positive ways. Research shows that when girls are educated, they gain independence, have greater access to job opportunities, invest their acquired income back into their families and community, and in turn are able to stop the cycle of poverty in their lives. By supporting the advancement of girls and women through education, the health and well being of the human population improves and communities thrive. 

Kenyan Maasai woman who graduated from a Canadian University


Gender Equality: refers to the equal treatment of women and men socially, politically and economically so that they have equal access to education, work opportunities and equal pay, the right to vote, access to medical services, and many other human rights.

Gender Discrimination: negative attitudes, beliefs and behaviour towards a person because of their gender or perceived gender, based on social, cultural, and political norms and practices.

Gender-Based Violence: is a form of discrimination that is inflicted upon a person based on gender or perceived gender, which reinforces gender inequality in many forms, such as sexual assault, rape, domestic abuse, forced marriage, human trafficking, and forced abortion.

Women’s Rights: similar to gender equality, women’s rights promotes the social and legal equality of girls and women with men.

Jean Augustine, Canada's first black female Member of Parliament
Three women, ambassadors for “Because I Am A Girl”, stand in front of their poster demonstrating gender-based inequalities. enlarge image
Because I Am A Girl

Heather Davis and JoAnne Wallace with Jenn Heil “Because I Am A Girl” Ambassador


Action 1


Investigating the Gender Divide

Grow to understand the scope of gender issues on a global scale and how girls in particular are impacted. The many problems that affect girls on a daily basis may prevent them from going to school and receiving an education.

A. How aware are you of the problems that girls face?

Use the Girls' Rights Factsheet. Sit with a partner to talk about the quiz.

Consider the following questions during your discussion:

  • What were you most surprised about?
  • What would you like to know more about?
  • How does this compare to your experience as a student and citizen of Canada?

B. Become an expert in your area of research

  • The class divides into groups of six.
  • In the group each participant decides to be a specialist on one topic from the list below.
  • Join your specialist groups i.e. the ones that have chosen the same topic.
  • Utilize various resources to research your topic: Internet, books, newspaper articles, magazines, videos, etc.
  • Once research is completed and documented, rejoin your original group to share your findings.
  • The goal of this activity is to learn a significant amount of material through collaboration.

C. Become an expert in your area of research

  • Gender discrimination (social and cultural beliefs, economic reasons)
  • Child Marriage (childbirth, household duties, death)
  • Poverty (malnutrition, contaminated water, money for clothing/school supplies)
  • Gender-Based Violence (sexual harassment, rape, human trafficking)
  • Accessibility (lack of government schools, no toilet facilities at school, tuition fees)
  • Child and domestic labour (care for siblings, earn money for family)


D. Become an expert in your area of research

  • Is there anything else that impacts a girl getting a good education that was not covered in the groups? For example: war, conflict, racism, homophobia, etc.
  • This is not just a problem for girls in developing countries. How are girls/women in Canada impacted by the gender divide? Consider the six categories to help you.
  • Can you recognize ways that girls may have a greater disadvantage when compared to boys?
  • How are boys also impacted by some of these issues?

Resources* - See end of program for additional eye-opening resources.

Two young, Southeast Asian girls smile at the camera, while playing with paper fortune-tellers. enlarge image

Source: Because I Am A Girl


Action 2


Malala Yousafzai: Education and Women’s Rights Activist
Malala Yousafzai, a serious-looking, young Muslim girl in a headscarf, stands surrounded by adults. enlarge image
Malala Yousafzai: Education and Women’s Rights Activist

Source: Photo:

At age 17, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the 2014 Prize with Kailash Satyarti for "their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and the right of all children to education." The Nobel Committee recognized simultaneously a Pakistani and an Indian, a Muslim and a Hindu, a woman and a man, an adolescent and a 60-year-old - a symbolic message of equality for all!

Malala Yousafzai has become an international leader for education and women’s rights, after surviving an attempt on her life by the Taliban in Pakistan. Use Malala’s story and passion for education as a foundation for your own exploration into the importance of education.

A. Who is Malala Yousafzai and why is she such an important figure in the 21st Century?

  • Why did the Taliban attempt to kill Malala?
  • How did they know about her?
  • Why is Malala’s story so important?

B. Watch Malala's September 2015 address to the United Nations

  • What vision does Malala see for the future of education?
  • What are her greatest hopes?
  • What is her call to world leaders and governments?
  • What does she hope will happen in developing nations and communities?

C. Watch Malala on the The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, October 8, 2013

D. Do you value your education and would you risk your life for it? What are you gaining the most from your education right now? How would you be impacted if you were forbidden from learning?

  • With a partner, create a media representation of what education means to you and why it is important. Write a letter or poem, create a spoken word performance, or produce a video, poster or work of art, or any other means for expressing your thoughts on education.
  • Each partner group will present their media representation to the class.
  • After each presentation, reflect on what your peers have shared. Allow time for questions and constructive comments. 
  • As a class decide how best to share your thoughts with others, such as displaying them on the class or school website.
  • Create a blog on education as it pertains to your community. What are the essential needs of students (both girls and boys)?
  • Share opinions, ways to create change, etc. Invite other students to respond to the blog.

Action 3


Education Matters!
"The surest way to keep a people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family."
~ Dr. J. E. Kwegyir Aggrey, a visionary Ghanian educator (1875–1927)

Read the above quote by Dr. J. E. Kwegyir Aggrey, and take a few minutes to consider and answer the following questions:

  • Why does a community suffer if only boys/men are educated?
  • How does educating a woman impact a family and her community?
  • How is gender equality a developmental issue?
  • What do the authors mean by economic development?
  • How does an education result in the reduction of poverty?
  • What does girls’ education have to do with social and health benefits?
  • What are some of the ways that gender equality can be attained

With a partner discuss the above quote and questions and then discuss as a class.


  • What obstacles did Teriano Lesancha have to overcome to go to school?
  • How did she manage to conquer her adversity?
  • In what ways has her community been impacted by her education?
  • How has Teriano been able to bring economic growth and development to her community?

A. There are many important organizations, such as the SupaMaasai Foundation, that are making enormous strides to improve communities around the world. The purpose of this next activity is to work in partners or small groups to research an organization of your choice. You can choose from the list below or make a different selection.

  • Look through the organization’s website to discover the type of work they do, where they do the work, and how.
  • What are the mission and/or vision of the organization?
  • How is this organization making a difference in the lives of girls and women? For example: do they support education, economic development, health care, safety, etc.?
  • Who runs the organization? An individual or Board of Directors? Who are they?
  • Does the organization run campaigns? If so, what are they?
  • In what ways can people get involved in the organization? How?
  • How is the money generated and used by the organization to do the work they claim to be doing? Is it cost effective?
  • Extend your research beyond the website to discover more about the organization. What do you find? Is some of the information negative? Why?

    Possible organizations to investigate:
    KIVA: supporting job creation around the world with a $25 loan
    CARE: addresses root causes of poverty to support people and communities
    FREE THE CHILDREN: empowering youth in Canada and internationally to create change
    BECAUSE I AM A GIRL: initiative to advocate for girls’ rights and gender equality
    KASHF FOUNDATION: microfinance program to support the financial growth of women in Pakistan
    THE HUNGER PROJECT: committed to ending hunger worldwide
    THE MALALA FUND: to support girls going to school
    GLOBAL GRASSROOTS: creating change in the lives of girls and women in Africa
    SHARED HOPE INTERNATIONAL: eradicating the human trafficking industry
    RIGHT TO EDUCATION PROJECT: supporting children’s education through a human rights approach
    GLOBAL GIVING: a solution based organization that raises money for a variety of causes

B. Once you and your partner or small group completes your research, transcribe the information in the form of a mind map. Think of the mind map like a visual story. How can your map be read so that others can gain information about your organization? Use chart paper or mural paper. This activity will conclude with a gallery walk to view the mind maps hung on the classroom walls.


C. Reflect on what you have learned and how you plan on continuing to contribute to girls’ education and human rights issues in the future.

Gender Identity


Transgender: a broad term used to describe the experience of individuals who have an internal gender identity that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth and based on their genitals. Gender identity is an individuals’ internal sense of maleness, femaleness, both or neither. Transgender is not dependent on sexual orientation.

Dispelling the myths around Transgender

Adapted from: following the CBS interview with Bruce Jenner, former star U.S. Olympian athlete, where he discusses being transgender.

1. Is Being a Transgender Person Considered a Disorder?

Dr. Johanna Olson, the medical director of the transgender clinic at Children's Hospital Los Angeles says, “Being transgender is not a mental illness”. She uses the term gender dysphoria to properly explain being transgender. “Gender Dysphoria” is the term medical experts use to describe the distress a person may feel when their gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. There are various treatment options available to manage this discontent including mental health services, hormonal treatments, and— in some cases— surgery. The causes of transgender identification are still unknown and being explored. More recent studies indicate that the neural wiring of a transgender person’s brain looks more like their gender of identify than the gender of assignment at birth.

2. Are There Transgender Children?

Yes. Children can be transgender, but not all children who experiment with gender play or exhibit gender nonconforming behavior will be transgender adults. Experts say only a small fraction of young children who exhibit gender nonconforming behavior will go on to be transgender later in life. In other words, most of these children will go on to report that their sex assigned at birth aligns with their gender identity.

Psychiatrist Dr. Stephen B. Levine of Case Western Reserve School of Medicine (Cleveland, Ohio), who has treated hundreds of transgender people, says, "What we need to understand is that in development, all of us get dramatically transformed over time by forces we don't fully understand.”

3. What Treatment Is Given to Children?

“Most people know their gender in early childhood,” says Dr. Olson. “Many times they will assert their gender by saying, “I am a boy” or “I am a girl.” They will also often experience distress about the dissonance between their assigned sex at birth and their experienced gender. As they get older and start to get more cultural messages that their behavior is not normal or acceptable, this may increase the level of stress that they feel.”

For an adolescent experiencing intense gender dysphoria, the first medical option is to take puberty blockers, which prevent physical changes such as breast development and facial hair—buying a child time before a surge of unwanted hormones. It’s important to know that puberty blockers are completely reversible, but are not without some risks including effects on bone development and height. Children cannot be on these blockers indefinitely and need to go through puberty in order to match their internal gender. The second step for a medical transition is cross-sex hormones that cause irreversible effects, such as breast growth from estrogen and facial hair growth brought on by testosterone.

A small 2014 Dutch study of transgender adolescents who were started on puberty blockers as children, demonstrates that those who undergo this treatment (followed later by cross-sex hormones and/or surgery) turn out just as happy as their peers, avoiding the depression that all too often plagues transgender youth.

4. Do All Transgender People Have Surgery?

No. Not all transgender people have surgery—or any medical intervention. Being transgender is not about physical changes—it is about gender identity. For a transgender person, their gender identity does not align with their biological sex.

As Dr. Spack says, “For transgender people, their bodies below the brain do not define their gender status.” There are various reasons some transgender people do not have surgery. For many, the cost is prohibitive. For others, having surgery is not the most important way for them to express their gender. As Dr. Olson says, “There are some people that are completely fine—by the way—with the genitals they have.”

For those who do have surgery, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) recommends coming to the decision with the guidance of mental health professionals who specialize in transgender medicine. They also recommend living in the gender role a person identifies with, for at least 12 continuous months. As Dr. Levine says, “This is not a cavalier thing.”

5. How Many Transgender People Are Lost to Suicide and Murder?

Following the death of Leelah Alcorn in late December 2014, (the transgender 17-year-old woman whose suicide note ended in the plea, “Fix society. Please”) there have been an additional eight transgender youth who died by suicide in 2015. Nick Adams, who works for GLAAD and is a transgender man, says that all of us should be concerned about these tragic numbers. Adams says he believes the number of transgender people who commit suicide isn’t “because transgender people are more mentally unstable than non-transgender people—it's because we live in a society that gives us very little hope that we can be accepted and understood as our true selves. The culture needs to change so that transgender people can see a future for themselves and survive." As for homicides, “In 2015,” Adams adds, “seven transgender women have been murdered in the United States.”

Dr. Olson says that some of these tragic findings apply even to her youngest patients, “There's a lot of self-harm, there's a lot of cutting, there's a lot of burning, there's a lot of suicidal thoughts,” Olson tells ABC News, “There's a lot of suicide attempts even in very young kids. And so it's a scary time. And it's a really important time to be listening if something's happening like that for a kid.”


Action 4


Watch the following videos

  1. Living a Transgender Childhood:

  2. 20/20 – A Story of Transgender Children:

  3. Norman Spack: How I help transgender teens become who they want to be:

  4. Trans Day of Remembrance:

Unit 1 Human Rights

Chapter 4 'Screening' the Black Experience

Back to top

Ask yourself:

  • What are some facts about slavery, and what do we know about the Canadian experience?
  • What does freedom consist of? Does it simply mean the absence of physical captivity? Does real freedom involve other fundamental notions?
  • What actions led to the abolishment of apartheid and were they peaceful or violent?

This page explores the notions of prejudice and discrimination from the perspective of the Black experience. The themes covered in this unit include the origins and injustices of slavery, some facts about slavery in Canada; the Black Migration in Nova Scotia; the system of apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela as well as the notion of freedom and other fundamental principles. (Watch a video by Prof. Irwin Cotler about the struggle against apartheid) These topics are explored through articles, discussion questions, activities and several videos featuring the experiences of Black people in our culture.

Young Black Canadian talks about racism


Here are the facts:

Slavery's long destructive legacy

It is a fact of history that African people were enslaved, sold and brought to North America, Europe and the Caribbean through the exploitative and brutal economic enterprise of slavery, slave-trading and empire-building.

To rephrase the words of the great philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "Africans were born free, yet everywhere they were enslaved." This enslavement essentially ejected African slaves from the human community.

Slavery coincided with the rise of European empire building, with many European powers, notably Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal, participating in the slave trade in their empires up to the 1800s. Denmark and Sweden also had colonial possessions and slaves, while the Americans and Brazilians, who did not have colonial possessions, also had significant populations of enslaved Africans.

These empires participated in the exploitative practices of plantation slavery, chattel slavery, domestic slavery, and the use of the resources, raw materials and coerced unpaid labour of Africans to better the economic well being of Europe and the Americas.

The British transatlantic slave trade was responsible for about 25 per cent of the people removed from Africa through captivity and the treacherous "middle passage." It is estimated that more than 12 million enslaved Africans were brought to the Americas through the transatlantic slave trade.

During the years of the slave trade, my ancestors were treated as chattel goods. Their enslavement was physical, economic and mental. Consequently, the legacies of centuries of racialized enslavement continue to have a lingering impact on the continent of Africa, the African diaspora and Canadians of African descent, to this day.

Manifestations of racism against people of African origin; the breakdown of the African family; the racialization of poverty; criminalization and high rates of incarceration in the penal system; "shade-ism"; and limited access to opportunity and to full participation by those already lacking in resources, are some of the cascading effects of slavery that still undermine the full socioeconomic development and vitality of African peoples.

In most public discourse, shifting the blame onto African people, who face what I term "post-slavery affective syndrome," fails to take into account that as long as there remain the entrenched conditions created by a white-black binary of development-underdevelopment; profit-exploitation; insider-outsider; and freedom-servitude, the victimization of African people of every generation and every continent will continue.

The world has commemorated the anniversary of Britain's abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, and America followed in 1808, with other European nations almost a decade later.

Abolition of the slave trade, however, did not abolish slavery, which continued in British possessions until 1833, in the United States until the end of the Civil War in 1865, and in Brazil until 1888.

The text of a United Nations resolution in late 2006 recognized "the slave trade and slavery as among the worst violations of human rights in the history of humanity, bearing in mind, particularly, the scale, duration and lingering impact." It also acknowledged that the institution of slavery is at the heart of "profound social and economic inequality, hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice, which continue to affect people of African descent today."

During Canada's early periods of French colonial rule (1600-1760) and British colonial rule (1760-1867), slave trading and slavery existed here as well.

While Canada cannot change this aspect of its early history, it can, by acknowledging the act, show leadership in ensuring that Canada's complete history is known and credit given to all who contributed to the building of the nation.

In 1793, John Graves Simcoe, lieutenant governor of Upper Canada—present-day Ontario – tried to pass legislation abolishing slavery in his province, but slaveholding legislators vigorously opposed his effort.

So strong was the institution of slavery in Upper Canada that while the legislation did prohibit the importation of new slaves, existing slaves remained in captivity. For example, in 1806, York legislator Peter Russell advertised in the York Gazette the sale of his slave Peggy and her son Jupiter. This history is fully documented in Dr. Afua Cooper's book The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal.

In 1803, William Osgoode, Chief Justice of Lower Canada—today's Quebec—ruled that "slavery was not compatible with British law." While the "Osgoode Decision" did not immediately result in the abolition of slavery in Lower Canada, it did restrict the slave trade and introduction of imported slaves into Lower Canada.

Throughout the unfortunate era of slavery, the spirit of freedom amid captivity prevailed. Work songs, code languages and church services were all expressions of struggle, resistance and redemption as slaves shared their plans for liberation. Some succeeded, while others failed.

The slaves resisted their enslavement and fought for their freedom. We must celebrate this aspect of their heroic heritage.

Source: Gary Pieters. Published on Sat Mar 24 2007

Michael Williams, former Much Music VJ and radio personality, talks about the Underground Railroad
An old black and white photo of Harriet Tubman, staring seriously at the camera. enlarge image

Harriet Tubman – African-American abolitionist and humanitarian who led many slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad and was called “Moses.”

Photo credit: National Park Service


Fascinating Facts About Slavery

  1. The Word

    The word “slave” comes to us from Byzantine Greek “sklabos” which was the name for the Slavic people. The reason for this is that the Vikings used to capture the Slavs and sell them to the Romans as slaves. The term only dates back as far as 580 AD as the Latin word “servus” was more commonly used before that for all kinds of servants—enslaved or not.

  2. Trading Humanity

    In Africa, prior to the arrival of European slave traders, slavery was a normal part of life. The thing that makes it stand out from European style slavery was the fact that it was a sign of good reputation and honor if a slave owner treated his slaves with respect and kindness. The better treated your slaves, the more honorable and highly regarded you were. Manhandling a slave (as the Europeans were wont to do) was considered unethical and you risked your reputation if you did not feed, clothe, and provide quality surroundings for your slaves.

  3. Today’s Trading in Humanity

    According to studies done by anti-slavery groups, there are currently more slaves today than at any time in history! Three quarters are female and over half are children. It is believed that there are around 27 million people in slavery right now. Furthermore, this number does not include people who are not technically slaves but are in a form of servitude tantamount to slavery. This is sometimes called “unfree labor”. The average slave today costs around $90—whereas in the past they cost upwards of $40,000 (in today’s money). A study done at Berkeley University estimates that there are around 10,000 slaves in the United States at the moment.

Old photo of two young black slave boys dressed in tattered clothing. enlarge image

Credit: Prison Culture

Action 1


Rereading the Weight of History, in African Descent
DatesEvents in History
Dates Events in History

The first known black man to arrive in Canada was Mathieu DaCosta. He acted as a translator between the Micmac and the French with Champlain. Clearly, DaCosta had been in Canada some time previous to Champlain's voyage of discovery, since Micmac is not European nor an African language.


The first known slave, Olivier LeJeune, is recorded. As a child of 6, he had been captured in Africa and was later given the surname of one of his owners—a priest.


During the American Revolution the British forces were led by Lord Dunsmore. In an effort to weaken the "rebel" side, Dunsmore invited all rebel-owned African male slaves to join the British side.


With the hopes of winning the American Revolution, the British under Sir Henry Clinton, invited all black men, women and children to join the British side and promised them their freedom for doing so. Ten per cent of the Loyalists coming into the Maritimes are black.


The Upper Canada Abolition Act, supported by Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe, freed any slave who came into the (now) province of Ontario, and stipulated that any child born of a slave mother should be free at the age of 25.

1800 - 1865

Approximately 20,000 blacks found their way into Canada via the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman, one of the most famous "conductors" on the Underground Railroad, spirited several hundred fugitive slaves into Canada, despite a $40,000 reward for her capture, dead or alive.


The Cochrane Proclamation invited refugees of the War of 1812 to become British citizens through residence in British territory, including Canada. The settlement of Oro was established by the government for black veterans of the War of 1812. A Coloured Corps was formed after petitioning by black veteran Richard Pierpoint.


The British Imperial Act abolished slavery in the British Empire (which included Canada) effective August 1, 1834.


The second Fugitive Slave Act was passed in the United States, placing all people of African descent at risk. The "Underground Railroad" stepped up its operations—freeing enslaved blacks by transporting them into Canada. The Common Schools Act was passed in Ontario, permitting the development of segregated schools. The last segregated school in Ontario closed in the 1950s.


Mary Ann Shadd left teaching in the U.S. to join with Isaac Ward and her brother Isaac in publishing and editing the Provincial Freeman, one of the two black newspapers published in Ontario from 1853-1857. Mary Ann Shadd was acknowledged as the first black newspaperwoman and the first woman publisher of a newspaper in Canada.


William Hall of Nova Scotia became the first Canadian sailor and the first person of African descent to receive the Victoria Cross for bravery and distinguished service. 1861 Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott became Canada's first doctor of African descent.


Delos Roget Davis of Amherstburg, Ontario became one of Ontario's first black lawyers. He was appointed King's Council in 1910.


William Peyton Hubbard became the first black council member elected to Toronto City Council, and was re-elected council member for 13 successive elections. He served on the Board of Control, and as acting Mayor on a number of occasions.


The beginning of the "Black Trek," the migration of dissatisfied African-Americans from Oklahoma to the Canadian prairies. That year, a group led by W.E.B. DuBois and Monroe Trotter met secretly in Niagara, Ontario, to organize resistance to U.S. racism.


During the First World War, black Canadians joined combat units, despite opposition, and in 1916, a segregated unit, the Nova Scotia Number 2 Construction Battalion, was formed.


In the Second World War, authorities again tried to keep blacks out of the armed forces, but blacks insisted on serving their country. Eventually, they joined all services.


Ruth Bailey and Gwennyth Barton became the first blacks to graduate from a Canadian School of Nursing.


New laws made it illegal to refuse to let people work, to receive service in stores or restaurants or to move into a home because of their race.


The Reverend Addie Aylestock became the first black woman to be ordained a minister in Canada. The following year, Wilson Brooks, an RCAF veteran, became Toronto's first black public school teacher, and in 1959, Stanley Grizzle was the first black person to run for a seat in the Ontario Legislature. In 1963, Leonard Braithwaite, elected to the Ontario legislature, was the first black to serve in a provincial legislature in Canada.


Daniel G. Hill, an American-born black activist and writer who moved to Canada in 1950, was made the first director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the first government agency in Canada set up to protect citizens from discrimination. Hill later became chair of the Commission.


Canada saw the election of its first black Member of Parliament - The Honourable Lincoln Alexander, of Hamilton. In 1979, he became Canada's first black cabinet minister, as Minister of Labour in the federal government. In 1985, he became Ontario's first black Lieutenant Governor, and the first black to be appointed to a vice-regal position in Canada.


The first Black History Week was celebrated. Maurice Alexander Charles became the first black provincial judge of Ontario.


The Ontario Black History Society was founded by Dr. Daniel Hill, Wilson Brooks and Lorraine Hubbard. The Society is dedicated to the acknowledgement and preservation of the contributions to Canada's development by Canadian blacks.


Julius Alexander Isaac, a native of Grenada, was named Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Canada. He became the first black Chief Justice in Canada and the first to serve on the Federal Court.


Jean Augustine was sworn in as Canada's first black female Member of Parliament.

Source: Government of Ontario Press Releases, January 2002

Jean Augustine, Canada's first black female Member of Parliament


In pairs, choose one of the dates/events from the above list. Find out more about this event by doing some research at the library or on the Internet. Present your findings to the rest of the class.

Further Reading: Gregory Wigmore - the Canadian Slave Trade


Black Migration in Nova Scotia - The Formation of African Nova Scotian Communities

Black Loyalists: 1783-1785

The single largest group of people of African descent ever to come to Nova Scotia, arrived in a two-year period at the end of the American Revolution. These were the Black Loyalists. They were Blacks in the American colonies who opted to side with the British during the United States’ war for independence (the American Revolution 1776) because the British offered protection, freedom, land and rations in return for support. Other Blacks would come to Nova Scotia in the 1780s as the property of white Loyalists. Some were slaves; others were indentured servants, though there was not much difference between the two categories.

When the war ended in 1783 New York was the last British-held port. It became the embarkation point for thousands of Loyalists, Black and White. British officials drew up a detailed list of all the Blacks who were leaving. That list, the “Book of Negroes”, stated whether the person was free, a slave or an indentured servant, and what their military service had been.

Between 3,000 and 3,500 Black Loyalists arrived in Nova Scotia. Roughly half – 1,521 men, women and children— settled at Birchtown (near Shelburne) that became an instant town, and the largest settlement of free Blacks in the world outside of Africa. They received a percentage of the free land and rations as they had been promised, though their land was far from the best. That went to the white Loyalists. The other 1,500 or so free Blacks who came to Nova Scotia settled elsewhere, including Annapolis, Digby, Preston, Guysborough, Tracadie and Saint John (in what became New Brunswick). Black Loyalists were not given the full rations or other assistance they had been promised by the British.

Disappointed by the failure of the British to honour all their promises, especially regarding land and equal status, many Black Loyalists began to wonder if Nova Scotia was where they wanted to be. A new destination, across the ocean in Africa, appealed to many of them. In 1792 although many Black Loyalist departed Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone, many stayed and helped to develop this province.

Black Loyalists: 1783-1785
Black Loyalists: 1783-1785

Source: The Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia

The Jamaica Maroons: 1796-1800

Just as the end of the American Revolution brought the Black Loyalists to Nova Scotia, so the end of the next war brought a different group of Black settlers to the province. The second group came from Trelawney, Jamaica and were known as the Trelawney Maroons after their home town.

The Maroons were a determined group of freedom fighters in Jamaica. Beginning in the 1650s, they had waged war against the British administration on the island, intermittently for nearly a century and a half. They were denied the independence they wanted because in 1795 the administration in Jamaica decided to remove the Maroons from the island. Consequently, in late June, 1796, the Maroons (543 men, women and children) were sent to Halifax in three ships.

The Commander-in-Chief for the British in Halifax was Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent (later on, the father of Queen Victoria). Edward was impressed by the proud bearing and military skills of the Maroons. He was pleased to see them join Nova Scotia militia units and he had them work on building projects such as the third Halifax Citadel and Government House (residence of the lieutenant-governor). Lt. Gov. Sir John Wentworth was also impressed by the Maroons. He thought they would be good colonists and selected the Preston area for them to settle. Thanks to a large subsidy from the government of Jamaica, arrangements were made for limited schooling and religious services for the new settlers.

The Maroons, however, rejected the idea of low-paid physical labour. The few who became farmers were Christians who settled in Boydville, in the Sackville area, where there is still a Maroon Hill. Similar to about half the Black Loyalists a few years earlier, most other Maroons who didn’t farm began to wonder if Nova Scotia was a good choice for their new home.

Although the majority of the Maroons left Nova Scotia, there were a few who remained. A census done in 1817 of the Black community of Tracadie in Guysborough revealed that several persons living there were descendants of the Maroons. The Maroons also left descendants in the Preston Area of Halifax County.

The War of 1812 Refugees: 1812-1816

A third wave of Black migration into Nova Scotia came during and after the War of 1812, once again in connection with an international conflict. As the British had done during the American Revolution, they issued proclamations again to attract Blacks in the United States to relocate to the British Colonies in Nova Scotia. A large number of American Blacks chose the freedom that Nova Scotia offered over slavery in the United States, just like the Black Loyalists who preceded them.

In 1813-1814, approximately 1,200 Black Refugees from the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia and from Georgia arrived in Nova Scotia aboard British ships. Another 800 southern American Blacks came to Nova Scotia at the end of the war via Bermuda. Smaller numbers continued to trickle into the province until 1816.

Though there was a labour shortage in Nova Scotia at the time, the Black Refugees were not welcomed by the locals. A number of the Refugees were quarantined on Melville Island, near Halifax, and the local House of Assembly petitioned to end the Black immigration. Lt. Gov. Sir John Sherbrooke dismissed the petition.

Almost 1,000 Refugees ended up in Preston. Other areas settled by War of 1812 Refugees were Upper Hammonds Plains, Beech Hill (later Beechville) and Campbell Road (later Africville). Collectively, the newcomers faced discrimination in land grants, jobs and the distribution of supplies. Their situation was made worse by the “year with no summer” followed by the “year of the mice” – a crop-destroying infestation of rodents. There was also an economic recession at the end of the war.

Ninety-five of the original 1,000 refugees, opted to leave Nova Scotia by migrating to Trinidad. The remaining settlers stayed in Nova Scotia, overcoming obstacles of poor land and widespread racism and not only survived, but thrived. Some of their customs, language and religious practices are an integral part of the African Nova Scotian community to this day.

The War of 1812 Refugees: 1812-1816
The War of 1812 Refugees: 1812-1816

Bedford Basin near Halifax (Nova Scotia) by Robert Petley 1835

Source: National Archives of Canada

Caribbean Migrants: 1920

A fourth major migration of Blacks to Nova Scotia – more specifically to industrial Cape Breton – began early in the 20th century. It came in two separate streams, one from Alabama and another from the Caribbean, especially Barbados. These groups came, not in a quest for freedom, but to obtain well-paying jobs in the newly developing steel and coal industries.

The group that came from Alabama were specially recruited by the Sydney steel plant to come and work in the “boomtown” economy in connection with the new blast furnace. At the time, Black iron workers in the United States were regarded as among the very best. It is unknown exactly how many men relocated from Alabama in 1901 when the Sydney plant began operations, but there were several hundred. Some were accompanied by women and children. The newcomers settled mostly in the Whitney Pier area of Cape Breton and they saw to it that they had a church and that their children received an education.

Despite the promising beginning, the relocated Alabama community felt less than fully accepted accepted by the locals in Cape Breton. Labour strife, local prejudices and unfulfilled promises convinced nearly all to return to the United States by 1904. Many walked back though a few stayed on, finding new ways to make a living in the greater Sydney area.

Over the next decade, many small groups of Blacks from the Caribbean found their way to Cape Breton. They sailed north in the hopes of economic advancement and and a great number of them ended up working in the coal and steel industries. Whitney Pier was one area they settled, and in addition other communities were created. The transplanted Caribbean beliefs and customs added a vibrant, new dimension to Cape Breton life.

Caribbean Migrants: 1920
Caribbean Migrants: 1920

Source: The Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia

Historical Black Communities and Migration Routes

Photograph of African American men, women, and children who participated in the Great Migration to the north, with suitcases and luggage placed in front, Chicago, 1918

Photograph of African American men, women, and children who participated in the Great Migration to the north, with suitcases and luggage placed in front, Chicago, 1918

Source: The Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia

The historical Black communities of Nova Scotia are unique and vibrant. This map shows the migration routes and the original Black communities of Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia, the birthplace of Canada’s Black community, is home to approximately 20,000 residents of African descent. Our presence traces back to the 1600s, and we were recorded as being present in the provincial capital during its founding in 1749. Waves of migrants came to the Maritimes as enslaved labour for the New England Planters in the 1760s, Black Loyalists between 1782 and 1784, Jamaican Maroons who were exiled from their homelands in 1796, Black refugees of the War of 1812, and Caribbean immigrants to Cape Breton in the 1890s. People of African descent continue to put down roots in Nova Scotia, shaping a unique cultural identity that is ever evolving.

Text adapted from Cultural Assets of Nova Scotia: African Nova Scotian Tourism Guide.
Learn more about African Nova Scotian History at

Major Migrations of Blacks to Nova Scotia

  • 1782-85: Black Loyalists
  • 1796: Trelawney (Jamaican) Maroons
  • 1813-15: Blacks, refugees (War of 1812)
  • 1920: Caribbean immigrants

Historical Black Communities in Nova Scotia c. 1749

  1. Shelburne
  2. Birchtown
  3. Yarmouth
  4. Greenville
  5. Hassett
  6. Southville
  7. Danvers
  8. Weymouth Falls
  9. Acadiaville
  10. Jordantown
  11. Digby
  12. LeQuille
  13. Granville Ferry
  14. Inglewood (Bridetown)
  15. Cambridge
  16. Middleton
  17. Gibson Woods
  18. Aldorshot
  19. Kentville
  20. Three Miles Plains
  21. Truro
  22. Springhill
  23. Amherst
  24. Trenton
  25. New Glasgow
  26. Antigonish
  27. Linconville
  28. Sunnyville
  29. Upper Big Tracadie
  30. Mulgrave
  31. Monastery
  32. New Waterford
  33. North Sydney
  34. Sydney
  35. Glace Bay
  36. Sydney Mines
  37. Halifax
  38. Cobequid Road
  39. Lucasville
  40. Hammonds Plains
  41. Africville
  42. Beechville
  43. Dartmouth
  44. East Preston
  45. North Preston
  46. Cherry Brook
  47. Lake Loon
  48. Liverpool
  49. Conway
  50. Delaps Cove
  51. Guysborough Rd.
  52. Maroon Hill
Historical Black Communities and Migration Routes

Source: The Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia

Righting some Wrongs

The government of Nova Scotia plans to help Black Nova Scotians reclaim their land.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. enlarge image
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December, 1955 until April 4, 1968. Thanks to his relentless pursuit of equal rights for African Americans, they achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than in the previous 350 years. Dr. King is widely regarded as America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful resistance to racial prejudice in America.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a federal holiday in the United States and Canada marking his birthday. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday, January 15.


Apartheid and a hero, Nelson Mandela

Apartheid and a hero, Nelson Mandela enlarge image
Nelson Mandela


Apartheid: Government mandated policy of segregation of whites and non-whites in the Republic of South Africa 1948 to 1994. The National Party was dominated by Afrikaners who enforced legislation to curtail the rights, movements and associations of the majority black population. The word comes from Afrikaans and means "the state of being apart".

The system of apartheid originated in earlier laws but once legislated by the National Party became far more rigid, with segregation being enforced to a much greater degree. At the time it was introduced, the system was justified by racial superiority, as well as the fear of being a minority in the majority non-white population. The Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, established in 1652, commissioned several studies to show justification of apartheid in the Bible and was very supportive of the apartheid system.


Professor Irwin Cotler

Former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada - Interview on Apartheid and Nelson Mandela

Here are the facts

Apartheid Laws

Non-whites (Black Africans, Indians, mixed race called Cape Coloureds and all those not of Caucasian descent) had to follow these rules or risk arrest. The 1953 Reservation of Separate Amenities Act made it against the law for non-whites to:

  • Enter a restaurant, movie theatre, post office, stadium, some stores
  • Use beaches, park benches or other places designated "Whites Only"
  • Use trains, buses, public toilets, and other transportation designated "Whites Only"
  • Receive an education in schools for whites (a separate, vastly inferior school system was created for non-whites)
  • Enter a hospital or office place for whites unless employed there
  • Engage in sexual relations with a person of a different race
  • Own land
  • Be buried in a cemetery for whites
  • Vote or engage in politics
Some of the Acts that defined the laws of Apartheid:

National Party elected, 1948
This all-white government immediately began enforcing existing policies of racial segregation under a system of legislation that it called apartheid.

Population Registration Act, 1950
Non-whites had to carry identification or "passes" at all times to show police upon request. The Department of Home Affairs had all South Africans register their racial group and they would be treated accordingly.

Group Areas Act, 1950
Physical segregation of the races mandated that non-whites were only allowed to live in designated "townships" for non-whites that were outside the main towns. They had vastly inferior living conditions mostly with no running water, sewage or electricity. Non-whites could only rent property since land was white-owned.

The Suppression of Communism Act, 1950 (formerly Unlawful Organizations Act)
All those who opposed or resisted the government were labeled as Communist.

Bantu Education Act, 1953
A separate and inferior education system was created with the goal of a curriculum that produced manual laborers and obedience. A huge percentage of the population remained illiterate as adults.

Promotion of Bantu Self-Government, 1959
Black people were moved into homelands created in the worst parts of the country (infertile land). People lost their homes and had to move off land they had owned for years to these very undeveloped areas far from cities where they had jobs.

Publication Act, 1978
Took control of the media through state-sanctioned censorship.

Police Act, 1979
Granted the police further powers with regards to search and seizure.

In 1993 Apartheid was dismantled following negotiations from 1990 to1993.

For images and additional information: Apartheid History Timeline: On Nelson Mandela's Death, A Look Back At South Africa's Legacy Of Racism

Government Censorship

In order to promote apartheid and essentially, segregate South Africa from the rest of the world, there was rigid censorship of movies, books, magazines, radio and television programs. Television was only introduced nationwide in the country in 1976 and was heavily controlled to avoid exposure of the lives of Black people in other countries. (By comparison, television was officially introduced in Canada in 1952.) The new medium was then regarded as the "devil's own box, for disseminating communism and immorality".

Even for whites there was no freedom of speech or freedom of press and any opposition to the government was a huge risk. Breaking any of the apartheid rules was considered a form of protest and a Communist act (for example, a white person going to a "non-whites only" designated area). Meetings of groups were monitored. A Police State was in effect for all South Africans. There was no such thing as a fair trial or "innocent until proven guilty" if one was non-white or a white person who resisted.

Source: Apartheid and Reactions To It

Timeline of Apartheid Opposition:
DatesEvents in History
Dates Events in History

The African National Congress (ANC) began as a non-violent organization of unions of African workers with its Programme to encourage mass action through civil disobedience, strikes, boycotts and other non-violent forms of resistance.


Nelson Mandela led The Defiance Campaign, the first large-scale multi-racial political campaign against apartheid laws, involving all groups of non-whites (Coloureds: mixed race, Indians, as well as Blacks). 8,000 trained volunteers were jailed for "defying unjust laws" such as failing to carry passes, violating curfew hours and entering "whites only" public places. The government could incarcerate protesters for up to five years, and fine them heavily.


An Anti Pass Campaign extending the pass law to women, led to a mass demonstration of 20,000 women of all races at the government buildings of Pretoria, the capital.


With the goal of increasing opposition, the ANC adopted the Freedom Charter. It resulted in the arrest and charge with treason of 156 of its leaders (104 Africans, 23 Whites, 21 Indians and 8 Coloured). Nelson Mandela was one of those arrested (but in 1961 was found not guilty).

March 21, 1960

The Sharpeville Massacre: in the township of Sharpeville, the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress) organized a peaceful protest against the pass laws. It became a brutal massacre when heavily armed police opened fire, killing 69 and wounding over 200 protestors. On March 30th, the government declared a state of emergency.


The Special Committee Against Apartheid, established by The United Nations, inspired international pressure against apartheid in the form of sanctions and media campaigns.


Medical student Steve Biko cofounded the South African Students Organization (SASO) based on the philosophy of black consciousness, encouraging blacks to embrace their cultural identity and reject all notions of inferiority and foreign status in their own land.


South Africa was expelled from the United Nations.

June 16, 1976

The Soweto Uprising (also called 16 June): after the government mandated the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in schools, about 15,000 to 20,000 high school students began a series of protests. During a peaceful march, police opened fire and killed 600 high school students.


International pressure was building as the UN Security Council voted to place a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa.

August 18, 1977

Death of Steve Biko: Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, was beaten to death while in custody. Mandela said, "They had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid." (The five police who killed him were never prosecuted and in 2003 the justice ministry claimed too much time had passed and there was insufficient evidence for prosecution.)


The UN Security Council officially condemned police violence in South Africa, and called for the end of apartheid to grant equal rights to all citizens and the release of political prisoners.


Tricameral Parliament established - Prime Minister P. W. Botha attempted to appease citizens, in response to significant internal pressure. He formed a group that included colored (mixed-race) and Indian legislatures, but still excluded Black Africans. As the white legislature maintained all political power, this attempt was purely for show.


The United Democratic Front (UDF) was formed to oppose the Tricameral legislature and grew to over 3 million members. It adopted the ANC's Freedom Charter, (linking itself to the still-banned organization) with Archbishop Desmond Tutu as one of its most prominent members.


South Africa’s economy was drastically affected when the United States and the United Kingdom placed economic sanctions on the country. In response, the government began to ease its enforcement of smaller rules of apartheid, by rolling back the pass laws' restrictions on black access to public space.


F. W. de Klerk was elected president. He eliminated most of the legal basis for apartheid and lifted the ban on the ANC freeing many political prisoners.


Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years on Robben Island. Quebec MP Irwin Cotler went to South Africa to serve as his counsel.


The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) began negotiations to form a multiracial transitional government with a new constitution offering political rights to all groups in an "undivided South Africa".

June 17, 1992

Boipatong massacre: 200 IFP militants attacked the Gauteng township of Boipatong, killing 45.

September 7, 1992

The Bisho massacre: ANC protestors demanded that the Ciskei Homeland be reincorporated into South Africa. The Ciskei Defence Force opened fire on them killing 29 people and injuring 200. Afterward, Mandela and de Klerk agreed to meet to find ways to end the spiraling violence.


Parliament approved an interim constitution granting black majority rule for the very first time since South Africa was colonized.


After three centuries of white domination in South Africa, Nelson Mandela became the first president in the country’s first democratic election.


Desmond Tutu led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to gather data on human rights’ violations of apartheid.


After the first non-racial elections of 1994, the South African Parliament drew up the Constitution and Bill of Rights based largely on Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and promoted by President Mandela (officially coming into effect on February 4, 1997)


The TRC branded apartheid as a crime against humanity and requested financial, symbolic, and community reparations to its victims.

Nelson Mandela (Madiba) – Biography

Nelson Mandela was born in a small, impoverished South African village on July 11th, 1918 and was named Rolihlahla Mandela. At nine, Mandela was adopted by and sent to live with his father’s friend, a prosperous clan chief, who could offer him a better life with a proper education. When he learned about African history and how his ancestors struggled with discrimination, the young Mandela developed a goal to somehow help his countrymen. Eventually, Mandela studied law and opened the country’s first Black law practice in Johannesburg. Joining the African National Congress allowed him to fight for racial equality with others who shared his distress.

Mandela Against Apartheid

In response to the government’s introduction of Apartheid in 1948, Mandela traveled throughout South Africa imploring people to participate in nonviolent demonstrations. Mandela was eventually sentenced to life in prison for organizing these activities and during his trial, passionately stated, "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." He was imprisoned as a political prisoner for 27 years, 18 of which he spent on the isolated Robben Island.

First Black President

An epic day in human rights history was February 11th, 1990 when Mandela was released from prison by South African president F.W. de Klerk. The two then went on to work diligently toward successfully abolishing apartheid. For their tireless efforts, Mandela and de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize three years later.

In 1994, South Africa participated in their very first democratic election where nonwhites had the privilege of voting for their new president, Nelson Mandela. During his presidency, housing, education, and the economy were improved for his country’s large Black population (though there is still a long way to go). In 1999, Mandela resigned and went on to create The Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund charity. Their mission is to help poor South African children, as Mandela believed that, "Children are the wealth of our country."

Mandela’s Legacy

Mandela was appointed to the Order of Canada in September 1998 and was the first living person to be named an honorary Canadian citizen.

Mandela founded The Elders in 2007, an organization comprised of world leaders who are dedicated to promoting human rights and global peace. In 2009, July 18th (Mandela’s birthday) was declared "Mandela Day" to honour his legacy and promote global peace.

On December 5th, 2013 Nelson Mandela died peacefully at his home in Johannesburg.

A line written by Poet Saint Thiruvalluvar, who lived 2200 years ago, describes the personal mantra of Mandela: "For those who do ill to you, the best punishment is to return good to them."

Action 2

Soweto Uprising enlarge image
The Soweto Uprising on June 16, 1976

A confrontation between students and police in Soweto in which approximately 700 students were killed

Photo credit: AZAP Archive

Peaceful demonstrations versus oppressive violence:

The Soweto Uprising: On June 16, 1976, police met thousands of students with violence as the students were marching peacefully to protest the new government mandate requiring the Afrikaans language to be main language of instruction in schools. The uprising spread from Soweto to towns across South Africa over the following year.

While the government's official death toll counts 176 dead in the Soweto Youth Uprising, further estimates put the casualties from the resulting aftermath as high as 700. The images of police brutality against peacefully demonstrating students spark further international outrage.


Listen to "Soweto Blues" the protest song written and recorded in 1976 by Hugh Masakela that refers to the students’ protests. Read the lyrics (translated from Xhosa). Performed by Masakela’s ex-wife, Miriam Makeba:


In groups, create a timeline merging both of the timelines together. Link each action with its opposing action. Label actions (on both sides) as either violent or non-violent. Attach 10 images, or draw pictures (from images you research), to show what the event looked like.


Do you think that peaceful demonstrations alone could have changed the fate of apartheid?

What was most effective in putting an end to apartheid?

Considering how violent the South African government was towards the Blacks, do you believe that fighting violence with violence would have proved effective in ending apartheid sooner?

Nelson Mandela never hated his oppressors. How do you think he maintained such a peaceful outlook when wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years?

Action 3


A. Choose ten pivotal actions from the timeline you’ve created.

B. Choose one writing assignment from the two below:

  1. Develop a thesis, an arguable statement, which reflects whether violence or peaceful protests work when fighting injustice. Write a persuasive essay about the use of non-violence or violence in putting an end to apartheid. Do not forget to provide evidence from your timeline to prove the authenticity of your thesis.
  2. Write an essay comparing Nelson Mandela with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and specifically, their particular styles of nonviolent protest. Do you believe that one of these leaders was more successful than the other? Provide explanations with facts to defend your viewpoint.



Source: Apartheid History Timeline: On Nelson Mandela's Death, A Look Back At South Africa's Legacy Of Racism


Unit 1 Human Rights

Chapter 5 The Rights of Persons with Disabilities

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Ask yourself:

  • How does legislation, in the form of an act or charter, ensure and protect the rights of persons with disabilities? Why is it necessary to have these codes?
  • How might someone’s assumptions have an impact on his or her treatment of persons with disabilities?

The systematic removal of people’s rights and freedoms during World War II shocked the world and so Human Rights acts were legislated in order to protect all people from discrimination. The French Revolution produced legislated human rights…. WWII directly inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this chapter, you are given opportunities to build connections to and understandings of those with physical and mental disabilities. Activities are designed to invite you to face your assumptions about the rights of people who identify as being disabled, and to consider a human right, open, free, and unfettered access in one’s life. You have the opportunity to examine a human rights case involving a student with spinal muscular atrophy, and to investigate the life of Rick Hansen, a Canadian hero for human rights.

People with disabilities - Benoit Huot, Paralympic swimmer

The quest for rights and freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted in 1982 and in relation to people with disabilities states that:
"15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."
Canadian Human Rights Act

Canadian Human Rights Act was enacted in 1985 to extend the laws to ensure that “all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated….” The Act further states that Physical and Mental Disabilities are prohibited grounds of discrimination and includes “a duty to accommodate”. This means that employers are bound by law to prevent discrimination and to provide needed access and support of people with disabilities.

Prior to legislation, before the enactment of these Acts, people with disabilities had to depend on landlords, schools, and employers to accommodate them. It was not within their rights as it is now. This legislation requires that society address the needs of people with disabilities so that they might enjoy the same rights and freedoms as all Canadians…the right to work, the right to an education, the right to practice their chosen religion. The public view of people with disabilities brought about the inclusion of their rights into this legislation. The public view is important in creating equality.

During the Holocaust, the German government used propaganda to influence the people to turn against and strip the rights of people with disabilities. The government goals to create a perfect Aryan society instituted unjust and heinous programs of sterilization and euthanasia against people with disabilities, both German and Jewish. Similarly other groups were stripped of their rights and sent to work and death camps, including Roma people, homosexuals, and Jewish people.

One of the reasons that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations (1948) was drafted was to ensure that what happened to groups of people in the Holocaust would not happen again. The systematic removal of people’s rights and freedoms during World War II shocked the world and happened, in part, because of a lack of protection against discrimination of people based on religion, race, sexual orientation, physical and mental disability. These Acts are designed to protect all people.

Action 1  


Facing our Assumptions

In this task you will be considering a number of statements related to issues concerning the rights and freedoms of persons who identify as having a disability, or differently abled, by responding independently and with others. The following outline provides you with a way to use this assumption guide:

  • Read and complete the assumption guide independently.
  • Next, choose one statement that you strongly agree with and share with a partner. Explain why you so strongly agree.
  • Choose one statement that you strongly disagree with and share with a partner. Explain reasons for their choice.
  • Choose one statement that you are uncertain of, have questions about and share with a new partner.
  • Choose one statement that you know is true for someone they know in their lives. Share this person’s story with a partner.
  • Where do our assumptions about others come from?
  • How might someone’s assumptions about disabilities have an impact on their treatment of persons with disabilities?
  • What role did assumptions and myths play in the marginalization of people in Germany during the Holocaust?
  • There are several terms that help us understand the diversity amongst those who identify as having a disability. Investigate definitions of such terms as, disability, impairment, handicap, discrimination, accommodation, and undue hardship.
Facing Our Assumptions: Thinking about the rights of those who identify as disabled
Circle the following whether you:
Facing Our Assumptions: Thinking about the rights of the Disabled.
Circle the following whether you:
1. People who are deaf are less likely to succeed in life. SA A D SD
2. People with dyslexia have a disability. SA A D SD
3. People who work really hard can overcome any obstacle, including mental illness. SA A D SD
4. Students who use wheelchairs cannot take physical education or dance classes. SA A D SD
5. It is impossible to accommodate ALL students with disabilities in one school. SA A D SD
6. Not every student with a disability can be integrated into a regular classroom. SA A D SD
7. All students should be treated equally. SA A D SD
8. Students who identify as being disabled are not discriminated against in the school system. SA A D SD
9. Someone who requires a wheelchair should not teach in elementary schools. SA A D SD
10. More money for programming should go to Special Needs students vs. extracurricular activities. SA A D SD
11. All restaurants accommodate all people. SA A D SD

Action 2  


Class Picture: A Human Rights Case

A. Examine this photograph of a grade two class in British Columbia. When the parents of the seven-year-old Miles Ambridge saw their son set aside from the rest of the class they reported the incident to raise awareness of how such things could be hurtful to those who identify as disabled.

Class of grade 2 students in British Columbia with student Miles Ambridge in a wheelchair off to the side rather than being included with the group

An elementary school class photo for picture day, with a young boy in an electric wheel chair visibly separated from the rest of the class and off to the side.enlarge image

Credit: Lifetouch Canada

In small groups, discuss:

  • What are your initial reactions to this photograph?
  • What decisions do you think were made by the photographer? The teacher?
  • How do you think the boy in the wheelchair felt when this picture was taken?
  • How would you feel if you were the parents of the child?
  • What other choices do you think could have been made in setting up this photograph?

B. When the father of this boy saw this picture he was ‘disgusted and appalled’ that his son with spinal muscular atrophy was ostracized in this class photo. The following is an excerpt of an article that appeared in Canadian newspapers in June 2013:

"It’s wrong, but it doesn’t mean it was intentional. It just means that somebody dropped the ball for a moment and that can be incredibly hurtful."


Readers are encouraged to leave a comment to share their reaction. Imagine that you had a chance to respond in one hundred words or less to this story, what might you say? What suggestions would you make to the school for dealing with the situation? What advice might you offer to the parents to protect their son’s human rights? Do you think this picture should be retaken and if so, how should Miles Ambridge be placed in the photo to give him dignity? Share your comment by posting it on a class website.

C. Reflection

In small groups, discuss:

  • How does this story inform you about the human rights of an individual?
  • What other stories with which you are familiar concern those with disabilities whose rights have been challenged or jeopardized?
  • The teacher and the photographer claimed that they did not intentionally mean any harm in setting Miles Ambridge apart from his classmates. How can we raise awareness and educate others to examine their behaviours and attitudes to those who have a disability?
Pictured here is a smiling Rick Hansen on his wheel chair, in front a body of water and city skyline in the background. enlarge image
Rick Hansen recognizing the 25th Anniversary Relay, 2011


Action 3  


RICK HANSEN: A Canadian Hero for Human Rights

The Rick Hansen Story (Excerpt)

by Dennis Foon

Canadian playwright, Dennis Foon has written the play Rick: The Rick Hansen Story, that tells the story of Rick Hansen’s accident and subsequent adjustment to his paralysis. In the following excerpt, Rick has just returned to school and shares his frustration with a friend.

Don: You okay?

Rick: This is all wrong. It shouldn’t be like this.

Don: What do you mean?

Rick: I can’t get up the stairs to get into school. I can’t get into stores or restaurants. I can’t even get my chair across the street because of the curbs.

Don: Your dad built you a ramp.

Rick: It was that or he’d have to buy me a tent to live in…except they don’t make any a wheelchair can fit.

Don: Anyhow—the coach wants to see you in the gym.

Rick: Why?

Don: Don’t ask me. I’m just the messenger. You coming?

Rick: Sure let’s go.

(Don and Rick move together, both facing the audience. As if staring in through the doors of the gym. Rick stops at the sound of a practice, balls bouncing, shouting, the coach’s voice barking instructions. Rick freezes, overwhelmed.)

Don: The volleyball team is hopeless without you.

Rick: They’re doing fine.

Don: Well, the coach is waiting.

Rick: (distraught): I can’t go in there. I can’t. (Rick wheels away)

Don: What’s wrong?

Rick: I gotta go -

Permission granted, Playwrights Canada Press

3.	A concrete and marble statue of Rick Hansen on his wheelchair. enlarge image
Statue of Rick Hansen in honour of his Man In Motion World Tour
– Vancouver Canada


A. Reading and Responding to the Script Excerpt

Read the script independently, then work with a partner to discuss the following:

  • What are two things you learn about Rick Hansen from this excerpt?
  • What is frustrating Rick about his disability?
  • How has Rick’s life changed as a result of his disability?  How prepared are Rick’s friends and teachers to deal with Rick’s circumstances?
  • What do you think the coach might say to Rick? What might Rick say to his coach?
  • What advice might you give his friends? The coach? To Rick? To move forward as a person with a disability?
  • Mr. Hansen is a hero and role model, but do stories like this create unrealistic expectations for those with disabilities?

B. Interpreting the script

With a partner, choose a role to read out loud from this script. Repeat the activity, switching roles. To rehearse this script, actors might play their roles in different ways. Once you have decided upon a role to practice, choose one of these ‘attitudes / emotions’ to interpret the lines (e.g., Rick could be calm and Don could be angry; both characters could be angry etc.)

  • calmly
  • with anger
  • with hesitation
  • with sadness
  • apathetic, uncaring

C. Rehearsing the script

As an actor rehearses, he or she explores a variety of emotions to inform how to best convey the meaning of the texts. Experiment with a few different ways to read these lines and with your partner, discuss which way seemed the most authentic theatre presentation (i.e., How would each character feel as they continue the conversation?).

Once you have rehearsed the scene, present it to another pair and compare different interpretations.

D. Writing a new scene

  • This scene describes one example of how a person with a disability struggles in a world built for able bodied people. In small groups discuss other situations when Rick’s rights, (or someone like Rick) would be jeopardized. What struggles might he encounter in maintaining his rights as a student in school, home and the greater community? What solutions might be offered to meet these challenges?
  • In pairs, or small groups, prepare a new scripted scene in which Rick appears. For this scene consider:
    • Which characters might appear in the scene?
    • What is the setting?
    • How will the particular challenge be conveyed?
    • What information and feelings will your scene represent about the human rights of a person who identifies as disabled?
  • Once completed, rehearse the scene with your group to present to others who have worked on a different scene. (The complete Dennis Foon script of Rick: The Rick Hansen Story is available through Playwrights Canada Press.)
  • What are some interesting facts you might learn about Rick Hansen’s accomplishments as an athlete, as a person? More Information about Rick Hansen and the Rick Hansen Foundation is available at:
  • After his accident, Rick Hansen became a paralympic athlete winning several medals. The Paralympics follow the Olympic games every four years, bringing together athletes from around the world to compete in a variety of sports. Using the Internet, research other athletes to find out their story and find out how they became Olympic winners.

Action 4  


A new symbol for people who Identify as Disabled or Differently Abled

David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Canada, battled polio in his childhood that resulted in partial paralysis. Today he is able to walk using leg braces, crutches or canes but he prefers to move around in his electric scooter.

In 2013, Onley challenged Canadian secondary students to submit designs for a more inclusive accessible symbol of the world. Onley notes that even though 97 per cent of the population of persons with disabilities in North America don’t use wheelchairs or electric scooters, they have a definite disability. The traditional symbol that features a stick figure is not, according to the Lieutenant Governor, inclusive.

Though thousands of designs were submitted, a ‘winner’ was not declared. The Lieutenant Governor claimed that designs fell short of conveying the complex needs of people with disabilities. The challenge with a design is to ensure that people are not left out and that recognition is given beyond just those in a wheelchair. An honourable mention was given to the design below.

A. This activity requires you to rethink a symbol that has been valuable and transformed access for disability, but limits how disabilities are represented in many ways. Working alone or with a partner, create a new symbol design using an art medium of your choice. Consider:

  • What are your views of the traditional disabled stick figure in a wheelchair?
  • How might a symbol be more humanized? More inclusive of other disabilities?
  • What colors, shapes, objects and / or characters do you think need to be implemented?
  • Should there be any words included in the symbol?

(Search for an example of another symbol. (e.g. Beijing Paralympics symbol))

Further images:


B. Once you have completed a design, meet with your classmates to discuss submissions. For your discussion, you can imagine that you are members of a jury making choices for a symbol that effectively captures disabilities and that could be understood across cultures.

Where in the school and local community might these designs be displayed?

Current sign (blue)

Current sign (blue)

Submission for Competition (black)

Submission for Competition (black)

Source: Permission received by author: Credit: Copyright 2013 Tom Pokinko

Unit 2 Genocide

Overview What is Genocide?

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Key Questions:

  • What is the definition of genocide?
  • What criteria are used to determine if an action can be called genocide?
  • What factors motivate politicians, people and cultures to engage in genocide?
  • How can genocide be prevented from happening in the future?

Source: “The crime without a name” (Winston Churchill, August 24, 1941)

Action 1  


Genocide placemat

Let us start our investigation of these questions with what you ‘bring to the table’. Working in a group of four people, create a blank placemat that looks like the example below. Use large chart paper and markers. Each person is given one quadrant to write in. Your group needs to follow the instructions outlined in each step of the placemat.

A. Step One: Group Definition about Genocide

  • To be completed in 7 minutes.
  • As a group, write a definition of the term “genocide” using your common adjectives and images. Consider criteria that must exist in order to call an action “genocide”.

B. Step Two: Class Debrief

  • Post each group’s placemat around the room for viewing.
  • Compare similarities and differences in the findings of each group and whether or not the class agrees on a common definition of the term.


Defining the Term

The term “genocide” did not exist until 1944 when a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin used the word to describe the Nazi policies of systematically murdering the Jewish population of Europe. Lemkin combined the Greek word gene (race or tribe) with the Latin word for killing, cide. The term “genocide” was used by the International Military Tribunal in trials at Nuremberg after World War II to describe the actions of the Nazi leaders in committing ‘crimes against humanity’ but the term lacked legal status during the Nuremberg trials.

The term “genocide” did not receive legal status until December of 1948 when the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Genocide became an international crime and nations were to “prevent and punish” acts that met the terms of the legal definition. “Genocide” was defined in Article II of the Convention as any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The specific "intent to destroy" particular groups is unique to genocide. A closely related category of international law, crimes against humanity, is defined as widespread or systematic attacks against civilians. (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia)

Article III of the Convention states the following acts shall be punishable:

  • Genocide (see criteria above);
  • Conspiracy to commit genocide;
  • Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
  • Attempt to commit genocide;
  • Complicity in genocide.


What are the meanings of the bolded terms above?

Case 1: “Trail of Tears”

The United States government passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which allowed the forced removal of about 17,000 Cherokee men, women and children and some of their 2,000 black slaves from Georgia to a new designated territory in Arkansas and Oklahoma. This removal happened after the Cherokee had won a Supreme Court decision ruling that Georgia had no authority over Cherokee land. It has been estimated that 4,000 people died during this 116 day forced winter march due to cold, disease and not being allowed to rest.

Case 2: The Russian Gulags

Josef Stalin, the leader of the USSR (Russia) during the 1930s, was dedicated to creating a classless Communist state. All resisters to his image of what Russia should be, were shot or sent to gulags. Gulags were usually in isolated northern parts of the country. “I’ll send you to Siberia” had a frightening meaning for Russians. Stealing a loaf of bread resulted in up to ten years hard labor in a gulag. One large group of Russians who chose to resist Stalin were the so-called “rich peasants”. They owned their own land. Stalin forced these people into work camps if they did not give their land to the state. It is estimated that 7,000,000 died in these camps from hard labor or from starvation in Russia during this period.


  • Can we call the above two cases examples of genocide even if the term did not exist before 1944? Why or why not?
  • Could Josef Stalin be tried for committing genocide? Why or why not?

Gregory H. Stanton: The Eight Stages of Genocide

While working at the United States Department of State in 1996, Stanton wrote a paper outlining what he believed to be the stages of genocide. Stanton felt that after careful study he could see a pattern develop in countries that had a policy of genocide. Stanton felt by recognizing the stages, countries, cultures and individuals could prevent genocide from happening again. (Based on the work of Gregory H. Stanton. See website Genocide Watch for more detailed explanations and PowerPoint presentations.)

Stage One—Classification: All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality. For example: German and Jew (Holocaust), Hutu and Tutsi (Rwanda). Bi-polar (societies where there are two extremes) are the mostly likely to have genocide because these societies lack or even disallow the mixing of the categories.

Stage Two—Symbolization: People give names or attach other symbols to the classifications one makes. One might use names like “Jews” or “Gypsies” in a negative way, or apply a symbol like the yellow Star of David for Jews to distinguish the group. The second stage of genocide occurs when there is hatred toward an identified group who is also forced to to wear a distinguishing symbol.

Stage Three—Dehumanization: One group denies the humanity of the other group. By calling the victim group animals, vermin, insects or a ‘cancer’, killing is rationalized. Human nature is explained as acting properly to protect the dominant society. Hate propaganda is used in the media to help justify the actions of the dominant group. The victim group is not protected under the laws of the state.

Stage Four—Organization: Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility (i.e. the Janjaweed in Darfur). Sometimes organization is informal (Hindu mobs led by local RSS militants) or decentralized (terrorist groups). Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings (The Final Solution).

Stage Five—Polarization: The extreme elements of the dominant group use force and intimidation to drive moderates out and control the society with intimidation. Groups who might oppose the genocide become victims themselves. Laws are passed to forbid intermarriage and even interaction between the dominant and subordinate, or victim group.

Stage Six—Preparation: Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved.

Stage Seven—Extermination: The extremists quickly begin the mass killing legally called “genocide.” This killing might be called “ethnic cleansing” (Bosnia) by the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. The killers see themselves as making a better society.

Stage Eight—Denial: The perpetrators ‘hide’ the evidence of the mass killings by burning the bodies or create mass graves of the victims. Witnesses are intimidated or killed and investigations are blocked. Leaders of the genocide deny the event and even plead innocence upon capture. The victims are often blamed for the events.

••Each chapter in this unit examines a case study of genocide. See if there is evidence of Stanton’s Eight Stages model in each case. Are the unique features to each case presented?

Action 2  


The Essential Questions

Samuel Totem and William S. Parsons (2012, 4th ed.) in their Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, Fourth Edition (p.5) suggest a series of common questions to guide one’s ability to draw conclusions in comparing various episodes of genocide. The guiding questions are:

  • Who committed the genocide?
  • How was the genocide committed?
  • Why was the genocide committed?
  • Who were the victims?
  • Who was involved (e.g., state, social institutions, various peoples, ethnic groups, bystanders, etc.)?
  • What were the outstanding historical forces and trends at work that led to the genocide? What was the long-term impact of the genocide on the victim group?
  • What have been the responses of individuals, groups, and nations to the particular genocide?

These questions can guide your interpretations of the various chapters in this unit. As you work through each of the Case Studies in this unit, you can explore where the actions of governments might have prevented or diminished the genocide from taking place.

Before his days as British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill poses in this old black and white photograph. enlarge image
Sir Winston Churchill 1940

Credit Photo:

On August 24, 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered a live broadcast from London. Only a year before the German attack had concentrated on the bombardment of British cities. Now the Prime Minister described dramatically the barbarity of the German occupation in Russia:

"The aggressor ... retaliates by the most frightful cruelties. As his Armies advance, whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands—literally scores of thousands—of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German Police-troops upon the Russian patriots who defend their native soil. Since the Mongol invasions of Europe in the Sixteenth Century, there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such a scale, or approaching such a scale.

And this is but the beginning. Famine and pestilence have yet to follow in the bloody ruts of Hitler's tanks. We are in the presence of a crime without a name."

Churchill's information about the mass executions that followed the German invasion came directly from a German source. Six weeks before on July 9th, British cryptographers broke the "enigma" code used by Berlin to communicate with the Eastern Front. Regular reports from mobile killing squads (the Einsatzgruppen which Churchill called "Police-troops") gave detailed accounts and specific numbers of 'Jews' and 'Jewish Bolshevists' killed in mass at locations throughout the occupied territory of the Soviet Union.

Therefore when Churchill spoke of whole districts being exterminated and "methodical, merciless butchery," he had specific detailed knowledge of locations and magnitude of the ongoing crime being committed by Germany in Ukraine and Russia.

Churchill was aware of what Germany was doing to the Jews of Europe. Yet the speech above does not mention Jews or the Final Solution.

Source: Crimes without name

Action 3  


The Moral Dilemma of Churchill:

Should Churchill and other western leaders have spoken out about the Holocaust in 1941? Consider the following in judging Churchill:

  • What was the historical context that confronted Churchill? Was Churchill worried that saving Jews might not motivate combat soldiers?
  • Why might we be cautious about imposing contemporary standards of right and wrong based on our knowledge today about decisions in the past?
  • What can we learn from Churchill’s decision that will help us make informed judgments about contemporary genocide events? What are the limitations of using a previous historical experience in making informed decisions when genocide occurs?

Source: Based on the work of Peter Seixas and The Historical Thinking Project

Conclusions: Preventing Genocide from happening—Stanton’s Eight Stages Revisited

Gregory H. Stanton believes that for each of the stages he identifies, an action can be taken to prevent the genocide from progressing. As you work through each of the Case Studies in this unit suggest where the following actions might have prevented or diminished the genocide from taking place.

Action 4  


Place the letter symbol associated for each case study (A for Armenia, R for Rwanda, B for Bosnia) beside the Stanton’s suggestion. There may be more than one case that can be applied to the statement.

___A. A Genocide emergency must be declared by world leaders and U.N. Emergency Forces must be used immediately to stop the genocide.

___B. An International Court must be established to try and punish the leaders of the genocide. Consideration must be given to try leaders in abstentia at the International Court.

___C. Outlaw leaders and militias who promote genocide.

___D. Religious leaders must take a strong stand against genocide nationally and internationally when ethnic, racial or religious polarization is present in a society.

___E. Hate speeches must be made culturally and legally unacceptable.

___F. The international funds of leaders who promote genocide must be frozen by governments and the banking community.

___G. The wearing of specific symbols that separate groups in a society must be condemned by the international community.

Action 5  

You can take action against genocide now! Yazidi Women are being raped and sold into slavery by ISIS.

A genocide of the Yazidi people has been happening in northern Iraq since 2014. This indigenous Kurdish and Arabic-speaking group lives in Iraq and Syria and practices a monotheistic religion tracing back to Adam in the Bible. ISIS has denounced them as infidels, has killed thousands of Yazidi men, and for two years has been raping the women and girls and using them as sex slaves. More than 7,000 women and children have been captured and the genocide continues while the rest of the world does nothing.


  • Discuss as a class how history repeats itself and how you might help save the Yazidi people.


  • Find websites that support your actions and learn more about what people are doing worldwide to save the Yazidis.
  • Record an action plan with dates, to make a difference as a class.

Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 1 Did the World Willingly Let the Holocaust Happen?

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Ask yourself:

  • What motivated people living during the reign of Hitler to conform or dissent against the acts of the Holocaust?
  • Was there a clear divide between conformers and dissenters?
  • Where does the role of a bystander fit into the discussion of conformers and dissenters?

When studying genocide, we might ask ourselves how the world can let such horrendous events occur. This chapter will allow you to examine this question in more detail by using the Holocaust as a case study for discussing the role of conformers, dissenters, and bystanders. You will begin by brainstorming with classmates why people might decide to conform or dissent and will organize a list of historical identities under these two terms. You will then use primary sources from multiple perspectives to understand why historical characters thought and acted as they did, as well as learning the importance of avoiding generalizations. Afterwards, you will reflect on the role of a bystander and decide where this role fits within the previous discussion and within your own lives.


“Undesirables:” Groups of people deemed unworthy and unwanted by the Nazi regime because they saw them as a threat to Hitler's goal of creating a pure Aryan race. These groups included Jewish peoples, Gypsies, Afro-Europeans, people with disabilities, homosexuals, political enemies, and those of Slavic descent.

“Dissenter:” Someone who rejects, disagrees with, and/or acts in opposition to a cause.

“Conformer:” Someone who supports, agrees with, and/or acts in accordance to a cause.

“Bystander:”Someone who knows of, or observes a situation but chooses not to get involved, neither speaking or acting in confirmation or dissent.

Hitler Youth (German: Hitler Jugend): A youth organization in Germany that trained and educated boys and girls (aged 10-18) to actively support the Nazi regime.

The White Rose (German: die Weiße Rose): A group of German university students who began a non-violent and anonymous graffiti and leaflet campaign against Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Reserve Battalion 101: A death squad consisting of middle-aged and middle class German men who were assigned the task of carrying out the Final Solution in Jozefow, Poland, because they were considered too unfit to be in the German military.

An elderly man rolls up his coat jacket to reveal a numbered Holocaust tattoo on his left forearm. enlarge image
Holocaust survivor with tattooed number

Photo Credit: Yuri Dojc 2014

Here are the facts

The Second World War was not only characterized by territorial conquest, but also the strong ideological and racial element connected to it. The racial ideology was founded on antisemitism and driven by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party (German: Nationalsozialismus—NAZIs). Antisemitism is hatred and/or discrimination expressed towards the Jewish population and is historically associated with their ethnicity and religion, creating tension especially with Christianity and its Christian followers. However, Adolf Hitler gave antisemitism a new shape by adding an economic element to the hate, blaming the Jews for the downfall of the German economy after the First World War.

During the Second World War, countless physical acts of violence were taken against the Jews and other populations deemed "undesirable" by the Nazis, including Gypsies, homosexuals, political enemies, and those with disabilities. Jewish peoples in particular were shot to death, underwent starvation, were poisoned in gas chambers, and burned in crematories. This mass murder or genocide of the Jewish people would come to be known as the Holocaust. Prior to the war, there were approximately 12 million European Jews and by the war's end, approximately 6 million of them survived.

When learning about the Holocaust we might ask ourselves how the world let such a horrendous event occur? The truth is the extent of the genocide was not known until years after the war and new evidence continues to be found today. This seems to contradict the quote in the Overview of this chapter: “Churchill had detailed knowledge of location and magnitude”. Regardless, you may still be wondering how this could have ever happened. In this placemat we will be examining the historical perspectives of different actors associated with the Holocaust and the roles they played as well as their attitudes towards the event.

Historical Perspectives

Taking the time to consider multiple historical perspectives helps inform our understanding of the past and provides us with insight to why certain events occurred as they did. It goes beyond identifying and empathizing with historical actors, to investigating the historical context that influenced the thoughts and actions of people at that time. However, we have to be careful not to make assumptions about the past using our own sets of values and beliefs, because our standards differ from those in other times and places in history. This being said, we can use historical evidence as an entry point to understanding the various political, social, economic, geographic, and emotional contexts that shaped the past and people's perspectives. You will have the opportunity to use the following primary sources to understand different historical perspectives around the Holocaust and decide to what extent the world willingly let the event happen.


Artifact 1 › Photograph of Hitler’s Youth Organization, dated 1938
An old coloured picture depicts a Nazi youth rally, with Nazi soldiers in uniform standing in the foreground, and enthusiastic German youths saluting Adolf Hitler in the stands behind them. enlarge image
Indoctrinating Youth.” Nazi Youth 1938

Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Artifact 2 › Passages from a Popular Children’s Book used in German Schools, 1936
“The Lord God conceived the races:
Red Indians, Negroes, and Chinese,
And Jew, too, the rotten crew…
He gave them all a piece of earth
To work with the sweat of their brow.
But the Jew went on strike at once!
For the devil rode him from the first.
Cheating, not working, was his aim;
For lying, he got first prize”
“The Jew has always hated him!
Here is the Jew, as all can see,
Biggest ruffian in our country;
He thinks himself the greatest beau
And yet is the ugliest, you know!”

Source: Bauer, Elvira. Trust No Fox on his Green Heath and No Jew on His Oath. Nuremberg: Sturmer Verlag, 1936.
Permission granted by Randall Bytwerk

Artifact 3 › Memoirs from two German soldiers from the Reserve Police Battalion 101, a death squad hired to kill Jews in Jozefow, Poland during the summer of 1942.
"Those who did not want to or could not carry out the shooting of human beings with their own hands...remained by the arriving trucks and kept himself busy at arrival point. It could not be avoided that one or another of my comrades noticed that I was not going to the execution ...they showered me with remarks such as 'shithead' and 'weakling' to express their disgust. I was not the only one who kept himself out of participating.”
“I then cocked my carbine and shot him through the back of the head [an elderly Jew]. Because I was already very upset from the cruel treatment of the of the skull flew...I had become so sick that I simply couldn’t [shoot; kill] anymore.”

Source: Browning, Christopher R. “Ordinary Men” in The Holocaust: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretations, edited by Donald L. Niewyk. Connecticut, Wadsworth Publishing, pp.76-90.

Artifact 4 › Photograph of three members of The White Rose Movement in Munich, Germany
4.	An old black and white photo of three of the White Rose Movement teenage activists, holding a meeting outside. Sophie, the girl in the middle, is holding a white daisy. Hans is to the left of her wearing a uniform and beret. enlarge image
Hans Scholl (left), Sophie Scholl (centre) et Christophe Probst (right)

Credit: Yad Vashem

The White Rose Movement

The White Rose was a youth movement active in Munich, Germany from June 1942 to February 1943.

Source: Jewish Virtual Library.

Artifact 5 › Passages from two of the leaflets that the White Rose anonymously distributed throughout Munich and surrounding German cities.
"It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure—reach the light of day?"
First Leaflet, 1942
"Since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings—no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question—and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings.“
Second Leaflet, 1942

Source: Inge Scholl, The White Rose: Munich 1942-1943, Trans. Arthur R. Schultz. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1983, pp.73-80.

Artifact 6 › A Response from the United States Federal Government concerning the approaching S.S. St. Louis (Telegram sent June, 1939)

Those aboard the S.S. St. Louis must, “await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.”

Artifact 7 › A Photograph captured at the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup, July 1942.
5.	An old black and white photo displaying a bicycle race stadium, full of Jewish families and a few of their belongings, all crowded together. enlarge image
A Photograph captured at the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup,  July 1942

Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

4,045 Jewish adults and 4,115 Jewish children rounded up by French police in the bicycle stadium in Paris called Vel’ d’Hiv (V’élodrome d’Hiver), where they were held for four days before being transported to camps. Photo Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Over the two days of July 16th -17th, 1942, French police forces participated in rounding up and killing Jews in Nazi occupied France. Many Jews lost their lives after being forced into this arena by French officers.

Source: French Culture Guide.

Artifact 8 › Quotes from residents living in Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, a village in South Central France.
"As soon as the soldiers left, we would go into the forest and sing a song. When they heard that song, the Jews knew it was safe to come home.” (1941)
"We didn't protect the Jews because we were moral or heroic people. We helped them because it was the human thing to do.” (1989)

Source: Differences into Opportunities. Harvard Business Press, 2006, p. 27; The Holocaust: Crimes, Heroes, Villains.

Action 1  



Historically, why do you think people living during the reign of Hitler conformed with or dissented against the acts of the Holocaust? Create a mapping of connected thoughts/decisions made demonstrating these linkages.

Action 2  


My connections to history

Take a moment to independently and carefully observe each of the following artifacts (1 through 5). What intrigued you about these artifacts? Did they remind you of personal stories and events? How are they important to our knowledge of the Holocaust?

Action 3  


Seeing the stories

Complete the following exercises with a partner:

  • Compare Hitler’s Youth and the White Rose Movement (Artifacts 1 & 4). What are some similarities and differences between the two organizations? How do the images inform our perception of German youth and Germany in general during this time?
  • Re-examine Artifact 2, how effective is a children’s book as a tool for propaganda? Typically, propaganda is used to target older age groups. Why would targeting children be significant—if it is?
  • Does Artifact 5 provide us with a truthful representation of soldiers working for Nazi Germany? How useful are these quotes in helping us understand the perspectives of German soldiers?
  • Evaluate whether each Artifact provides us with an example of a person or group conforming with or dissenting against the Holocaust? Explain your reasoning.

Action 4  


Using Artifacts 6 through 8, discuss 4 of the 6 the following questions with a partner.
  1. What are some of the possible risks people face when conforming? And when dissenting?
  2. To what extent do you think that societal systems and structures influenced the actions of its members?
  3. Explain whether or not Artifact 6 is an example of conforming to the Nazi regime? How do the actions of the French police in Artifact 7 compare?
  4. To what degree was the United States justified in delaying the Jewish refugees entry? Is it fair to allow unlimited entry to any refugee? Where and when should we draw the line?
  5. Reflect on the T-Table you created in the Minds-On Activity. Would you make any changes to it now? Do you notice any new challenges when deciding where to place terms?
  6. After completing the activities, do you think the world willingly let the Holocaust happen? Why? Be sure to justify your reasoning.

Action 5  


The Bystander

Read the following poem written by German Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller, during the Nazi reign.

First they Came
First they came for the Socialists,
and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Permission: received by Sibylle Sarah Niemoeller von Sell

Source: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. First They Came.

  • Independently, reflect on how this poem speaks to us about the role of a bystander.
  • In your opinion, where does a bystander fit in our previous discussion of conformers and dissenters? Argue whether a bystander should be considered the former or the latter. Discuss your choice and reasoning with a partner.

Action 6  


Holocaust Survivors in Canada

The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program by the Azrieli Foundation was established to collect, preserve and share the memoirs and diaries written by survivors of the Holocaust who came to Canada. These memoirs — published in both English and French — are distributed free of charge to educational institutions across Canada.

Re:Collection is an innovative digital resource that combines video interviews with memoir excerpts, photos and artifacts, and features interactive timelines and maps to place survivors’ stories in historical and geographic context.

We cannot generalize about the experiences of Holocaust survivors. The experiences are as different as the individuals themselves. Watch 3 of the video interviews and write a piece comparing their individual perspectives.

Further reading

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow, 2005
The chilling story of Germany’s powerful Hitler Youth groups.

Boas, Jacob We Are Witnesses: Five diaries of teenagers who died in the Holocaust, 2009 Each diary in this collection reveals the voice of one teenager struggling with terror and clinging to hope.

Krygier, Joseph G. & Victor Breitburg A Rage to Live: Surviving the Holocaust so Hitler should not win, 2012 A historical account of Victor Breitbureg, a Holocaust survivor, who chose to move forward in search of his family.

Lewis, Jon E. Voices from the Holocaust: First-hand accounts from the frontline of history, 2012
The history of the Holocaust from Hilter’s rise to power to the Nuremburg trials. The anthology provides eyewitness testimonies that tell the story from people who were there, and were witnesses to both sides of the horror.

Wiesel, Elie Night, 2006
Originally published in 1982, this new translation provides an autobiographical account of Wiesel’s survival as a teenager in Nazi death camps. The author shares memories of loss, guilt, death and faith at having survived the horror of the genocide campaign that consumed his family. Titles in the trilogy include Night, Dawn, Day.

Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 2 The Role of Media in the Bosnian War: An Instrument of Truth or Device of Deception?

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Ask yourself:

  • How were the events of the Bosnian War portrayed on television and other media? What are the advantages and limits of such a media-influenced war?
  • Who was behind these media stories and what messages were they trying to convey?
  • How did such portrayals affect people's perceptions of war during that time and how does it affect our own understandings now?

This chapter uses the theme of media as an entry point for discussing and understanding the complexities of the Bosnian War. You will first refresh and practise your media literacy skills by examining and determining the accuracy and reliability of two modern advertisements. You will then analyze an array of primary sources from the war to observe what different journalists chose to publicize or omit from the media and how viewers responded to these choices. Ultimately you will be asked to decide whether or not you think the media functioned as an instrument of truth or device of deception during the Bosnian War.

Bosnian Muslim, Survivor of the Bosnian War
Poster of a gun riddled wall with graffiti below two windows. The words “Welcome to Sarajevo” are printed at the top of the poster. enlarge image
Welcome to Sarajevo poster of wall with bullet holes and graffiti in Bosnian.

Credit: Zlatko Vikovic.


Media: Means of mass communication that provides information to the public.

Bosniaks: People who identify themselves as descendants of their Bosnian ancestors who embraced the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic religion that it introduced. Because this identification is rooted more in history than religion these descendants commonly call themselves Bosniaks instead of Bosnian Muslims.

Urbanicide: The deliberate destruction of cityscapes during times of war. This method is used to destroy historical and cultural elements of a city and to displace the urban population living there.

Dayton Agreement: An international peace agreement led by the United States in Ohio and signed by Presidents of Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia (the latter representing Bosnian Serb interests) in November 1995 to end the war in Bosnia. The Agreement officially partitioned Bosnia into the Republic of Serbia and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (a shared Bosnian and Croatian territory).

Utashi: An ultra-nationalist Croatian organization that aligned itself with Nazi Germany during WWII and were responsible for the death of many Jews, Serbs, and Roma.

Chetniks: A Serbian nationalist guerrilla force that brutally fought against the Axis Powers, Utashi, and Communists in Yugoslavia.

Ethnic Cleansing: Intentionally and systemically removing members of an ethnic group with intimidation and/or armed forces, in order to produce an ethnically homogenous (uniform) territory.

Source: Black, Eric, Bosnia: A Fractured Region. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1999.

This picture shows two war-torn apartment building complexes in Sarajevo. The scene is desolate with piles of rubble in the foreground and an old abandoned car in between the two buildings. enlarge image
The war-torn Sarajevo neighborhood of Grbavica in 1996, a site of rape camps during the Bosnian War and subject of the award-winning film Grbavica



This really happened

Appearing in various streets in Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, in 1992, posters reminded its viewers of the city's once brighter past. Less than a decade before, Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics and showcased the peace and prosperity Yugoslavia was enjoying since its former Communist leader, Josip Broz Tito, came to power in 1945. Depicted in the poster, is Olympic mascot, Vu?ko the Wolf, sporting an Olympic scarf and crossing his fingers with high hopes for Yugoslavia in the games.

Much of Yugoslavia's Golden Age (1981-86) was attributed to the prior work of Tito, who for thirty-five years helped the country triumph despite a Balkan history plagued by ethnic rivalry. He did this by suppressing any forms of ethnic nationalism within the country's six republics (See Figure 1.2 below) and by promoting "brotherhood and unity” throughout Yugoslavia. Tito's vision of a united Yugoslavia was most visible in Bosnia, the country’s most ethnically diverse republic, where an increasing number of people married inter-ethnically, spoke the common Serbo-Croatian language, used a combination of Cyrillic and Latin script, and began to identify themselves as Bosnian.

With Tito’s death and the eventual collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, republican nationalism resurfaced. By 1989, the Serbian government asserted power over its originally autonomous (self-governed) provinces (Kosovo and Vojvodina) and the republic of Montenegro. In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, followed by Bosnia a year later, but these changes did not come without a cost. A series of wars between Yugoslavia’s different ethnicities ensued, culminating in Bosnia.

Unlike its more nationalistic neighbours, the Bosnian coalition government vowed to remain strongly committed to its diverse ethnic population while independent. At the time, Bosnia’s population was 44% Bosniaks (Muslims), 31% Serbs, 17% Croats, and 8% Jews, Albanians, and Roma. However, the government’s commitment proved to be unsuccessful as the war severed many of the republic’s ethnic bonds and Bosnia was eventually partitioned by ethnicity officially with the signing of the Dayton Agreement in 1995. During the war, the Serbian government largely backed the Bosnian Serb cause to unite all Serbs under an autonomous region in Bosnia, while the Croatian government wavered between doing the same for its people or supporting Bosniak efforts to protect a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

enlarge image
Map of Yugoslavia, 1945-88

Source: United Nations - Department of Public Information Cartographic Section. This image is a map derived from a United Nations map. Unless stated otherwise, UN maps are to be considered in the public domain. This applies worldwide.

With this in mind, the previous poster not only tells a story of Yugoslavia's past, but also one of the Bosnian War, where the bullet holes in the poster’s background not only marks the mass destruction caused by urbanicide and genocide, but the deep pain many Bosnian people experienced during this time. Media, like this, expressed stories of horror, hate, and honour in the words and images presented by journalists in newspapers, magazines, radio and television broadcasts worldwide. The invention of portable camcorders and satellites, enabled not only government officials and journalists, but civilians alike, to instantly report and record their 'real-time' stories of events. This made the Yugoslavian War the most recorded and first truly televised war in history. But who was behind these stories and what message were they trying to convey? How were the events of the war portrayed on television and other media? And how did this portrayal affect people's perceptions of the war and our own understanding now?

These are all questions we will contemplate.

Establishment of the ICTY and the question of Responsibility

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is a United Nations court of law dealing with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990’s. Since its establishment in 1993 it has irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law and provided victims an opportunity to voice the horrors they witnessed and experienced.

Source: About the ICTY.

In its precedent-setting decisions on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Tribunal has shown that an individual’s senior position can no longer protect them from prosecution. It has now shown that those suspected of bearing the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed can be called to account, as well as that guilt should be individualised, protecting entire communities from being labeled as “collectively responsible”.


Key Political Figures

Slobodan Milosevic: President of Serbia from 1989 to 1997. He vowed to protect and unite Serbs in Yugoslavia, but in 1994 redirected his focus to international peace negotiations to end the war in Bosnia.

Radovan Karadzic: Opposition leader in Bosnia and spokesperson for the nationalist Bosnian Serb cause of uniting all Serbs under an autonomous region in Bosnia. He declared portions of Bosnia the Republic of Serbia and served as President of these regions from 1992-1996.

Franjo Tudjman: President of Croatia from 1990 to 1999. He advocated and led the Republic to independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Croatia switched its support from Bosnia to Serbia and back during different parts of the war.

Alija Izetbegovic: Served as President of Bosnia from 1990-1996. When in power he formed a coalition government that included representatives for Bosnia’s Croatian and Serbian population. Izetbegovic represented the Bosniak population, but was committed to upholding a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

Historical Thinking Concepts

Before we begin to explore media in the Bosnian War, we should first recall three of Peter Seixas’ six Historical Thinking Concepts and understand their relevance to our learning.

Historical Perspectives: While completing this placemat, you will be given the opportunity to explore the various historical perspectives expressed through multiple media during the Bosnian War. These perspectives and primary sources can then be used as entry points to understand how various social, political, and cultural contexts influenced people’s use of and reaction to media during the Bosnian War.

Continuity & Change: By comparing media at different points during the war, you may be able to detect patterns of continuity and change in how the war was being portrayed in the media. How consistent were the different governments, journalists, and graphic designers in their portrayal of the war? Did anyone’s expression of the war change over time? And, if so, what were the reasons behind this change or lack of change?

Historical Significance: Keeping this concept in mind while completing the placemat, you will be observing what people chose to publicize or omit from the media as well as the motivations behind these decisions. You will also be making judgments on the extent of accuracy and truth within such media selections.



Artifact One: › Yugoslavian Federal Laws related to Media under Josip Tito

A. From the Federal Criminal Code of Yugoslavia:
Article 134: “Whoever by propaganda or in any manner incites or fosters national, racial, or religious hatred or antagonism shall be sentenced to one to ten years of imprisonment.”

B. Law on Prevention of the Abuse of Freedom of the Press:
Article 4: “required publishers to provide the local Prosecutor’s office with two copies of every publication before it was released to the public.”

Article 19: “extended the Prosecutor’s banning powers to radio, television, and other media.”
Source: Thompson, Mark. Forging War: The media in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina. Bedfordshire, UK: University of Luton Press, 1999.


Artifact Two: › Words Displayed in the Media prior to the Outbreak of the Bosnian War

“At home and abroad, Serbia’s enemies are massing against us. We say to them: ‘We are not afraid. We enter every battle to win.’ ”

~Slobodan Milosevic, soon President of Serbia, November 19, 1988.

“On this day Christ triumphant came to Jerusalem. He was greeted as a Messiah. Today, our capital is the New Jerusalem. Franjo Tudjman has come to his people!”

~Member of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) after Tudjman became President of Croatia, May 30, 1990.

“We will view any attempt to repress (independent) Croatia as an enemy occupation.”

~Stipe Mesic, Croatian Prime Minister, 1991.

“Bosnia won’t stay in a Yugoslavia run by Serbia. I won’t let Bosnia be part of Greater Serbia.”

~Alija Izetbegovic, President of Bosnia, 1990.

“I warn you, you’ll drag Bosnia to hell. You Muslims aren’t ready for war—you could face extinction.”

~Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in Bosnia, 1990.

Source: BBC. The Death of Yugoslavia (Documentary). 1995.

Artifact Three: › The Use of and Reaction to Media during the Bosnian War, 1992-1995

A. Status of Main Television Transmitters in Bosnia by 1993

Transmitters in Bosnia by 1993

Source : Forging War, 1999

B. Three Reports on the Situation in Kupres, South Western Bosnia (April 1992)*
An independent newspaper in Croatia, Slobodna Dalmacija, “reported when Kupres fell to Serb forces on 9 April,” while the Federal Croatian television station, HTV did not. The same evening, “viewers of Serbia’s TVB news learned from a reporter that, “After fifty years, Kupres is free!’ For a further three days...HTV reported that ‘Kupres is securely in Croat hands.’ Consequently Slobodna Dalmacija received angry phone calls, accusing it of defeatism. Refugees from the Kupres area later (said) they had believed the HTV reports and were almost caught in the Serb advance.”

*This type of reporting on events was typical during the Bosnian War.
Source: Forging War, 1999.

C. Reporting of Concentration Camps used for Ethnic Cleansing during the Bosnian War

“Foreign journalists arrived and began to film us. They caught me first, next to the barbed wire, and I began to talk when one of the guards standing behind said: ‘Record the names of all those talking so we can kill them.’ I hardly said anything, except I was hungry and exhausted...Everyone who said more to the journalists and had their names recorded was (sic) taken by the Serbs that night—to be killed”
Bosniak male, who also claimed the same news story saved his life and the lives of many others.

Serb-run concentration camps, including Omarska and Manjaca, were the first found and mediatised, but Bosniak and Croatian special military forces also constructed their own camps for similar purposes.

Source: Weine, Stevan M., History Nightmare. London: Rutgers UP, 1999.

D. Language in the Media*

“In autumn 1993, the Chief of Staff of the ABiH** , General Rasim Delic, issued an order to the Sarajevo media to call the HVO by the title not (‘ustashi’ forces) and to call the Serb forces ‘paramilitary units of Bosnian Serbs’ or ‘Yugoslav Army’ (not ‘chetniks’). The order did not work for long, even in RTVBiH***.”
“According to New York Times reporter John Burns, (a) young soldier, had ‘absorbed and accepted a view of Muslims which contradicted his own experience of growing up in a nationally mixed part of Sarajevo. From Serbian radio, television, and in gatherings with other Serbian fighters ...he learnt Muslims posed a threat to Serbs...were planning to declare ‘an Islamic republic’ in Bosnia (and) would require children to wear Muslim clothing.”

*Language was similar in Croatia. Some forms of media being more nationalist than others.
** Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina
***Federal Bosnian television station

Source: Forging War, 1999.

E. A Change in Serbian Media, starting in 1994

“The War in Bosnia continues, but for our television screen it no longer exists,” said a Serbian TV correspondent. A Politka editor declared: “We are trying to control passions in Serbia.”

Milosevic began to distance himself from Radovan’s mission of uniting all Serbs in Bosnia and instead directed his focus to peace negotiations, in which he later represented the interests of Bosnian Serbs.

Source : Forging War, 1999

Action 1 


The powerful influence of the media

Take a close look at the artifacts provided above and discuss the following questions with a partner:

  • To what extent do you think the media influenced the beliefs and actions of its viewers? Imagine reading these stories as they were happening in your own country.
  • What are some of the benefits, drawbacks, and dangers of such a mediatised war?
  • In the 1990s Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia had media laws that were similar to Tito’s, but why then did history unravel differently after Tito’s death? Do you think media should be censored? What are the advantages and limits of censorship?
  • What implications do you think Serbia’s change in media had? Was the change for better or for worse? And for whom? Please explain your reasoning.
  • After studying the artifacts provided, do you think media acted as an instrument of truth or device of deception during the Bosnian War? Why? Justify your reasoning using at least 3 artifacts.
  • How does media from the Bosnian War influence our current understanding of the period? Are there any overarching themes/common messages that arose? Are you left with any unanswered questions?

Action 2 


Read the following statement made in the International Commission's report on the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913.

"The real culprits in this long list of executions, assassinations, drownings, burnings, massacres, and atrocities by our report, are not, we repeat, the Balkan peoples...The true culprits are those who mislead public opinion and take advantage of people's ignorance to raise disquieting rumours and sound the alarm bell, inciting their country and consequently other countries into enmity...."

Source: Forging War, 1999.

  • How does this statement apply to what we have learned about the role of media in the Bosnian War?
  • To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? And why?

Action 3 


Further Reflection:

Radovan Karadzic convicted of war crimes March 24, 2016

Explore the following websites on the ICTY considering the actions of the global community and the question of responsibility for the other. 

Bosnia War Crimes
And this one:
War Crime Tribunal


  • What is the responsibility of the global community of nations in response to ethnic strife given the developing precedents of International Law going back to Nuremberg?
  • How are we as global citizens implicated in ongoing ethnic conflicts around the world when we fail to act to protect the vulnerable citizens caught in these horrific events?

Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 3 How Should We Remember the Armenian Genocide?

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Ask yourself:

  • To what extent can history provide us with an accurate view of the past?
  • What happens when two historical narratives contradict each other? How do you decide what is true? Or what to believe?
  • Why is gaining genocide recognition so important to the Armenians? Why are the Turkish government and many other countries so reluctant to call the events of 1915 genocide?

This page explores the controversy surrounding the historiography and recognition of the Armenian genocide. Use the timeline and the primary and secondary sources below to understand the arguments of genocide "believers" and "deniers," as well as the importance of genocide recognition for the Armenians, and the reluctance of many countries to call the events of 1915 “a genocide”.

Atom Egoyan – Armenian-Canadian Film and Stage Director


Genocide: The deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic, racial, caste, religious, or national group.

Historiography: The writing of historical events that produces a written history.

Ottoman Empire (1453-1922): An Islamic empire that stretched from Eastern Europe to North Africa and became completely dissolved when modern Turkey was formed.

Sublime Porte: The central government in the Ottoman Empire.

Millet System: The Ottoman Empire was organized into millets based on religion. While Muslim millets enjoyed the most freedoms, those in Christian millets, such as Armenians, were seen as secondary citizen Citizens and faced higher taxation.

Hamidiye: A semi-regular regiment of Kurdish and Circassian horsemen organized by Sultan Hamid II to suppress Armenian rebellions in the Ottoman Empire.

The Young Turks: A Turkish reform organization promising to replace the disorder and corruption under the Sultan’s reign with a constitutional government where all Ottoman citizens would be equal.

The Committee of Union and Progress: A branch of the Young Turk organization that assassinated Sultan Hamid II.

The Young Turk Triumvirate: An ultra-nationalist government led by Mehmed Talaat, Ismail Enver, and Ahmed Djemal. Together they took control of the original Young Turk government and promoted Pan-Turkism instead of equality.

Pan-Turkism: An ideology seeking the construction of a Turkish empire stretching from Anatolia into Central Asia and whose population would be exclusively Turkic instead of Ottoman.

Turkification: A process attempting to destroy non-Turkic cultures through assimilation or removal.

Shotas: A special organization gang trained and equipped by the Young Turk triumvirate to assist with the round-up of the Armenians and to disrupt the deportation process by looting, ravaging, and killing Armenians en route.

Source: The Genocide Education Project, Human Rights and Genocide, 2005.

Armenian Refugee Camp in Syria: Hundreds of Armenian refugees dressed in white are grouped together in the Syrian desert, next to what appears to be a train station. enlarge image
Armenian Near East Relief Refugee Camp in Syria - October 25,1916 (Near East Foundation – NEF, formerly the American Committee for Armenian and Assyrian Relief)

Credit: (Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ggbain-29847 (digital file from original negative) Rights Information: No known restrictions on publication.) This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.

This really happened

“The aim of war is not to reach definite lines, but to annihilate the enemy physically. After all, who today still speaks of the massacre of the Armenians?”

It was Hitler who told this to his military officers a week before Nazi Germany invaded Poland and brought the world into war for a second time. But what exactly did Hitler mean when stating this? Especially when referring to the massacre of the Armenians?

As historian Peter Balkian explains, Hitler is recalling what many refer to as “the forgotten genocide” or “hidden holocaust” of the Armenians that began in 1915. The genocide resulted in the death of approximately 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and has left many of its survivors scattered worldwide. But wait, you might ask, “wasn’t the Jewish Holocaust the first genocide of the 20th century?” This really depends on whom you ask. The Armenian genocide is one of the most contested genocides in history and is still being debated today—almost a century later. However, before we dive deeper into the controversy around the genocide, let’s take a step back and explore the Turkish and Armenian past by examining the timeline on the next page. For a more comprehensive timeline visit the following websites:

The Armenian National Institute
The Armenian Genocide Museum

So where does the controversy lie? It lies in two divergent and competing interpretations of the events you just read about in the timeline. Even though both accounts agree that the massacres of the Ottoman Armenians did take place, they disagree on the case of whether or not these massacres should be deemed genocide. A summary of the two main interpretations is presented in the table below.

Genocide BelieversGenocide Deniers
Genocide Believers Genocide Deniers
Declare that genocide did occur because the Young Turk Triumvirate conducted the massacres and deportations systematically and with the intention of exterminating the entire Armenian ethnic population. Proclaim genocide did not occur because the Young Turk Triumvirate was rationally responding to Armenian rebellions, which were supported by the Allied Powers and threatened the dissolution of the entire Ottoman Empire.

Both views have found a place in separate historical narratives that vow to disprove the other. The former supported by the Armenian population, while the latter, by the Turkish government. Whichever historiography other countries choose to acknowledge greatly depends on how they recognize the genocide. Although international recognition for the Armenian genocide is growing, there are still a large number of countries that do not officially recognize the events of 1915 as genocidal. Before we decide how to personally and individually recognize the genocide, let’s first take the time to give the issue a more thorough examination by consulting primary and secondary sources.

Timeline of the Armenian Genocide

YearEvents in History
Year Events in History
1502 Historical Armenia falls under Ottoman control and the millet system (the separate legal courts pertaining to "personal law" under which communities (Muslim Sharia, Christian Canon law and Jewish Halakha law abiding) were allowed to rule themselves under their own system.) is implemented there. Relatively peaceful relations between the Turks and minority groups, including the Armenians.
1860-1865 Sublime Porte raises taxes to exorbitant levels. Constitutionalism spreads throughout Europe. Armenians begin to protest for equal citizenship and are violently subdued by Ottoman troops. Some Armenians begin to seek refuge in Europe and North America.
1876 Abdul Hamid II becomes Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and severely oppresses any sign of civil disobedience.
1877-1878 The already deteriorating Ottoman Empire is defeated in the Russo-Turkish War and experiences substantial territorial losses from the Balkans after signing the Treaty of Berlin.
1880-1890 Thousands of Muslims from the Balkans seek refuge in the Ottoman Empire. Living conditions in the Empire decrease, while taxes rise.Rise of the Armenian middle class in the Empire. Ottoman Armenians organize politically and receive support from Eastern Armenians under Russian control.
1892-1896 Armenian political parties encourage Armenians to boycott taxes, post placards in Anatolia decrying the corrupt Sultan, and take over Bank Ottoman to gain international awareness of the Armenian massacres. Hamidian Massacres: Hamidiye troops suppress Armenian efforts encouraged by their parties, and kill approximately 200,000 Armenians. International community sends humanitarian aid to Armenians.
1908-1909 The Young Turk Committee of Union and Progress overthrow Sultan and form a constitutional government. Armenian Bishop Mushegh declares the end of Armenian servitude and need to protect their new rights. 30,000 Armenians are massacred in response to the Bishop’s words. An attempt to restore the Sultan’s power fails.
1913 Mehmed Talaat, Ismail Enver, and Ahmed Djemal organize a military coup, assassinating the leaders of the liberal and progressive branches of the Young Turk Revolution and consolidate power themselves, forming an ultranationalist Young Turk triumvirate.
1914 The Sublime Porte decides to join the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary) during the outbreak of the First World War.
Under the Young Turk Triumvirate (1913-1918) Armenian businesses, houses, and monasteries looted and some destroyed. Turkish males drafted for war and arms distributed to Muslim residents, while Armenian soldiers disarmed and sent to labour camps. Armenian political and intellectual figures arrested and murdered. Of the 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, hundreds of thousands of Armenians are deported and over a million are killed.
1915 After reports from various embassies in the Ottoman Empire, the Allies warn the Sublime Porte that they will be held responsible for any crimes against the Armenians.
1918-1919 Russian troops pull out of Eastern Armenia after a Russian revolution and Armenian leaders declare an Armenian Republic on May 28, 1918. Armistice signed at Mudros, ending the war between Turks and Allies. Triumvirate flees the Empire and Young Turk government dissolved. New Ottoman government supported by the Allies initiates court martial proceedings against triumvirate and other top officials.
1920-1923 Mustafa Kemal forms an opposition party and invades the Armenian Republic with the support of Turkish troops. The Armenian Republic sacrifices independence and turns to Communist Russia for support. Court martial proceedings suspended as Kemalist movement spreads. Treaty of Lausanne dissolves Ottoman Empire and recognizes a new Turkish Republic under Kemal. Treaty fails to mention the Armenians.

Permission granted - Armenian Genocide Museum

Source: The Genocide Education Project, Human Rights and Genocide, 2005.
The Armenian Genocide Museum Institute.

Asking these types of questions can help us understand how decisions about what to include or not include in these histories are made and in turn can help lead us to make our own critical and informed decisions on how we ourselves will choose to remember the Armenian Genocide.

Pictured here are Armenian refugees in front of Ottoman barracks. A few are sitting beneath a tent in front of the group, and to their right, some refugees sit amongst the few possessions they could bring with them. enlarge image
Armenian refugees' camps, Aleppo 1918, at the main Ottoman barracks.

Credit: AGBU archives, Vartan Derunian. This work was created in Syria and is now in the public domain there because its term of copyright has expired pursuant to the provisions of Law No. 12/2001, Syria's first ever copyright law. In order to be hosted on Commons, all works must be in the public domain in the United States as well as in their source country. Syrian works are currently in the public domain in the United States if their copyright had expired in Syria on the date of restoration (June 11, 2004).


Artifact One › A cable sent to Washington from the American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, July 1915
"Persecution of Armenians assuming unprecedented proportions. Reports from widely scattered districts indicate systematic attempt to uproot peaceful Armenian populations and through arbitrary arrests, terrible tortures, whole-sale expulsions and deportations from one end of the Empire to the other accompanied by frequent instances of rape, pillage, and murder, turning into massacre, to bring destruction and destitution (hardship; poverty) on them. These measures are not in response to popular or fanatical (obsessive) demand but are purely arbitrary and directed from (the Sublime Porte in) Constantinople in the name of military necessity, often in districts where no military operations are likely to take place... there seems to be a systematic plan to crush the Armenian race."
Henry Morgenthau

Source: Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. New York: Perennial, 2003.

Artifact Two › A Passage from Talaat’s Memoir (assembled after his death in 1921)
"I admit that we deported many Armenians ...but we never acted in this matter upon a previously prepared scheme. The responsibility for these acts falls first of all upon the deported people themselves. Russia, in order to lay hand on our eastern provinces, has armed and equipped Armenian(s) and organized strong Armenian bandit forces...(that began) blowing up the bridges, setting fire to the Turkish towns and villages...and endangered the Turkish Army’s line of retreat...Every Armenian Church, it was later discovered, was a depot of ammunition. In this disloyal way they killed more than 300,000 (Muslims)...
It was impossible to shut our eyes to the treacherous acts of the Armenians, at a time when we were engaged in a war which would determine the fate of our country. Even if these atrocities had occurred in a time of peace, our Government would have been obliged to quell such outbreaks. The (Sublime) Porte...wishing to secure the safety of its army and its citizens, took energetic measures to check these uprisings...
These preventative measures were taken in every country during the war, but, while the regrettable results were passed over in silence in the other countries, the echo of our acts was heard all over the world."
~Henry Morgenthau

Source: The Armenian Genocide in Perspective. Ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New Brunswick: Transaction, 1986.

Artifact Three › Resistance by Armenians in the Province of Van, April-May, 1915
"Gradually we got news that Turks wanted to finish off all Armenians... we had secret meetings to figure out when this was going to happen and how we could prepare to resist and defend ourselves”
"We children used to go from house to house to gather brass candle bars to make shells for the bullets... The Turks had all the ammunition and ours was very limited, so we had to be very careful not to waste any."

Russian forces came to support the Armenians in Van in late April and the Turks retreated until 1918, when they eventually gained control of the province.

Source: Miller, D.E., and L.T. Miller’s Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993.
Photo from Genocide Resources

Artifact Four › Excerpts from the Sublime Porte’s Public Notice of Deportation, 1915
  • ...all Armenians are obliged to leave [except the sick], within five days... under [police] escort...
  • ...they are free to carry with them...their movable property... [but] are forbidden to sell their land... Because their exile is only temporary, their landed property will be taken care of under the supervision of the Government.
  • To assure their comfort during the journey, [inns] and suitable buildings have been prepared...
  • ...if some of them [Armenians] attempt to use arms against the soldiers...[or] refrain from leaving, or hide themselves ...if they are sheltered or are given food...[they or] the persons who thus sheltered them or aid them shall be sent before the Court Martial for execution.
  • As the Armenians are not allowed to carry any firearms...they shall deliver to the authorities every sort of arms they have concealed in their places of residences and elsewhere...
  • ...soldiers and gendarmes [police] are required and are authorized to use their weapons against and to kill persons who shall try to attack or damage Armenians...

Source: Facing History And Ourselves.

Artifact Five › Two Eyewitness Accounts of the Deportation of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire
"All able-bodied men were sorted out with the excuse that they were going to be given work. The women and children were sent ahead under escort ...The men kept behind were taken out of town in batches of 15 and 20, lined up on the edge of ditches (and) shot. After plundering and committing ...outrages on the women and children, they (the “shotas”) massacred (many) them. The military escorts had strict orders not to interfere with the “Shotas.”
Lieutenant al-Ba’aj, military escort


“They had been on the road for three to five months; they have been plundered several times over, and have marched along naked and starving, the Government gave them on one single occasion a morsel of bread— a few had it twice. It is said that the number of these deported widows will reach 60, 000; they are so exhausted they cannot stand upright; the majority have great sores on their feet, through having to march barefoot”
Reverend Essayan of Aleppo

Source: Miller, D.E., and L.T. Miller’s Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide.

Artifact Six › List of Countries that Officially Recognize the Armenian Genocide, 2013
List of Countries that Officially Recognize the Armenian Genocide, 2013
List of Countries that Officially Recognize the Armenian Genocide, 2013
  1. Argentina
  2. Belgium
  3. Canada
  4. Chile
  5. Cyprus
  6. France
  7. Germany
  1. Greece
  2. Italy
  3. Lebanon
  4. Lithuania
  5. Netherlands
  6. Poland
  7. Russia
  1. Slovakia
  2. Sweden
  3. Switzerland
  4. United States
  5. Uruguay
  6. Vatican City
  7. Venezuela

Source: Armenian Genocide.

Artifact Seven › Percent of Countries that Recognize the Armenian Genocide, 2013
This graph shows that 90% of countries do not recognize that the Armenian genocide was a genocide.
Artifact Eight › Responses from the Armenian and Turkish Government concerning the Genocide
"There has not been a genocide and if people for political motivations want to use (recognize) it ... they take the risk of influencing their relationships with Turkey”
Solmaz Unaydin, Turkish Ambassador in Tokyo, 2003.
"History suggests to us that if we are to survive and keep up our national identity, we need strength and a fighting spirit...We need nationwide solidarity and unity to make our Cause (sic) heard in any part of the globe.”
Tigran Sargsyan, Prime Minister of the Armenian Republic, 2009.

Source: BBC Documentary, “The Betrayed,” (2003) and Armenian Genocide Victims

Artifact Nine › Excerpts from Article 301 of Turkey’s Penal (Criminal) Code, 2008
"A person who publicly denigrates (insults) the Turkish Nation... shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and two years"
“A person who publicly denigrates the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institution...the military or security organizations shall be ...(imprisoned for) six months to two years.”

As Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian explains, the law has been used against numerous intellectuals in Turkey, including himself, who chose to use the term, “genocide” to describe and discuss the events of 1915.

Source: PBS Documentary, “The Armenian Genocide.” 2006.

Moving forward to reconciliation

In December 2008, a number of Turkish intellectuals, politicians, and journalists came together to start the I Apologize campaign in Turkey. The campaign allows Turkish citizens to individually and personally apologize for the atrocities against the Armenians by adding their name to an online form under the following statement:

“My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them.” *

*The list of names of those who signed the online petition displayed below the statement.

The campaign website can be viewed here:

So far, of Turkey's population (approximately 76,000,000 in 2012), almost 32,500 have signed the campaign.

Action 1 


My connections to history

Independently identify at least three factors that distinguish between the concept of “the past” and “history.”

  • Brainstorm what it is that makes these concepts different from one another.
  • Pair up with a partner and complete the following exercises:

A. Compare and contrast your ideas from Task One. Be sure to discuss any similarities or differences of opinion you may have.

B. Discuss the following questions:

  • What are some of the advantages and challenges of studying history?
  • To what extent can history provide us with an accurate view of the past?
  • What happens when two historical narratives contradict each other? How do you decide what is true? Or what to believe?

Source: This Minds On Activity was adapted from: Denos, Mike and Roland Case, Teaching about Historical Thinking. Ed. Peter Seixas and Penney Clark. Vancouver: The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2006.

Action 2  


After independently observing Artifacts One to Nine, economically, and geographically. E. discuss the following questions with a partner:

A. Justification(s)

  • How does Talaat rationalize the measures the Young Turks took against the Armenians in Artifact One?
  • To what extent were these measures justified? Use evidence from Artifacts Two to Seven to support your answer.
  • Is it ever necessary to compromise human rights for concerns of national security?

B. In Henry Morgenthau’s cable to Washington, he speaks of a “systematic plan to crush the Armenian race”. Does Morgenthau have reason to make this claim? Please explain your answer using the timeline provided and Artifacts One to Seven.

C. Did these artifacts influence your understanding of the Armenian Genocide? Explain how or how not? Are you left with any questions or concerns? If so please write them down for future discussion.

D. Why do you think only ten percent of the world officially recognizes the Armenian genocide? What do you think influences a country’s choice of whether or not to recognize genocide? Think politically, socially, economically, and geographically.

E. Why is gaining genocide recognition so important to Armenians? Please explain your reasoning.

F. On the other hand, why do you think the Turkish government is so reluctant to call the events of 1915 “a genocide”?

Action 3  


Reflect on the following questions and record your answers:

A. To what extent does this campaign make a difference? Do you think it helps reconcile the relationship between Turkish and Armenian peoples? Explain.

B. Would you sign a similar campaign commemorating the genocide against the Armenians? Now that you’re more informed, how has your opinion changed about this horrific genocide?

Action 4  


Read the article “Armenians in Canada.”

Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 4 Seeds of Division: Rwanda

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Ask yourself:

  • Are there any current conflicts where the international community is failing to intervene appropriately?
  • When have the international communities intervened in conflicts in a positive way?
  • What role should peacekeepers play in conflict situations? What situations merit our participation and is it ever appropriate for peacekeepers to use force?
  • How can a period of collective mourning help Rwandan youth remember the past, especially considering that many of them were born after the genocide?


This really happened!

While, the ethnic divisions between the Hutus and Tutsi came to a head in April 1994, tensions had been mounting for years. The distinction between the two groups, the cattle-owning Tutsis and the pastoral Hutus was initially fluid as families, friends, and neighbours intermixed. However, with the arrival of the Belgian colonists and their new identity card system, the differences between the Tutsi minority and Hutu majority became more pronounced. When the Tutsis were put in control by the Belgian authorities, the Hutu majority began to resent their influence as well as the economic disparity between the two groups. In the years leading up to the 1994 genocide, the two ethnic groups struggled for control and extremist views rose to prominence.

On April 5, 1994, Rwandan President Juvénal Habyiarimana, Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, and other dignitaries were flying from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Kigali, Rwanda. As they approached the Kigali airport, the plane came under heavy fire and crashed, killing everyone on board. The ethnic Hutu majority immediately accused the Tutsi minority of planning the attack and began a systematic slaughter of the Rwandan Tutsis that lasted 100 days. Official estimates place the death toll at approximately 800,000 as neighbour killed neighbour in unprecedented acts of violence led by Hutu militants, known as the Interhamwe.

Survivor of Rwandan Genocide
A Rwandan woman stands in a room between rows of skulls on shelves. As she looks up in the room, the window above her casts a light on her sad face. enlarge image
Survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, Kigali Rwanda

Credit: Yuri Dojc 2014

This picture shows rows and rows of skulls, and bones beneath them, from the victims of the Rwandan genocide. enlarge image
Each of these skulls represents a human being: a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a friend …

Credit: Yuri Dojc 2014

Action 1


The Meaning of Words & the Power of Rhetoric

Before and during the genocide, radio was the main means of communication. Throughout the country, Rwandans tuned into daily radio connecting people in remote rural environments to each other, and promoting the rise of ethnic hatred. On November 22, 1992, at a political party conference Léon Mugesera gave an inflammatory speech emphasizing the potential dangers posed by the rising Tutsi minority. He labeled the Tutsi as “inyenzi” meaning cockroaches, a name that became an integral part of the anti-Tutsi propaganda machine and radio broadcasts. Years later, the word “inyenzi” still has powerful connotations and is avoided by most Rwandans.

  • Léon Mugesera fled the country shortly after his speech and lived in Quebec for several years until he was deported in 2012. Back in Rwanda, Mugesera was put on trial for inciting genocide and ethnic hatred. Imagine you were on the jury, what would you have to consider when deciding whether or not Mugesera’s speech makes him guilty? Compare your criteria with a partner; are they similar or different? The transcripts of these speeches are held at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University.
  • Can you think of another historical situation where words or speeches have been accused of inciting violence or hatred? Use a T-chart or Venn diagram to determine the similarities and differences between these two situations.

On April 15, 2016, Léon Mugesera was given a life sentence for hate speech during the Rwandan genocide. Now age 64, the high court in Rwanda convicted him of genocide and crimes against humanity. He denied the accusations, saying he immigrated from Rwanda to Canada before the massacre in 1994.

"The court finds that Mugesera is guilty of ... public incitement to commit genocide, persecution as crime against humanity and inciting ethnic-affiliated hatred," Judge Antoine Muhima said.

Action 2


The role of international observers: How can we work together as an international community?

According to investigative journalist Linda Melvern, “Rwanda’s violent divisions might have been easier to heal and its tragic history somewhat different had it not been for the involvement of outside interests.” As commander of the UN forces in Rwanda, Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire repeatedly requested reinforcements from the New York headquarters. His requests were consistently denied; in fact, his mission was reduced in size during the genocide, in spite of the protocols laid out in the 1948 Geneva Convention.

A. With a partner, create a list of other situations where the international community has failed to intervene appropriately. Are there any present day conflicts that should be on the list? When has the international community intervened in a positive way?

B. Social media brings global communities together and facilitates a constant flow of information. In our rapidly shrinking world where information is available at our fingerprints, what social media tools (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) can we put in place to ensure that human rights abuses don’t occur? Do you think that the events in Rwanda would have been different if they had been broadcast using social media? Compare this to the Arab Spring where social media was used extensively to highlight injustice and provide real-time updates.

A basket containing white and red roses, with white ribbons on either side sits on the ground. A sash of ribbon with the words “Genocide never again” is tied across the front. enlarge image
Commemorative flowers for Rwandan genocide


Action 3


Romeo Dallaire and Peacekeepers
Romeo Dallaire poses for a headshot, wearing his Order of Canada pin on his left lapel. enlarge image
Romeo Dallaire

Credit: Worldwide Streamer Speakers

Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire is one of Canada’s most respected military leaders and human rights advocates. Before his retirement, he held several important military posts including the commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). This mission placed him in the middle of a brutal genocide and civil war that affected him profoundly. Upon returning to Canada, he “plunged into a disastrous mental heath spiral” and was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. In the introduction to his award-winning memoir, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, he wrote the following:

"It’s been nine years since I left Rwanda, but as I write this, the sounds, smells and colours come flooding back in digital clarity. It’s as if someone has sliced into my brain and grafted this horror called Rwanda frame by blood-soaked frame directly on my cortex. I could not forget even if I wanted to. For many of these years, I have yearned to return to Rwanda and disappear into the blue-green hills with my ghosts. A simple pilgrim seeking forgiveness and pardon. But as I slowly begin to piece my life back together, I know the time has come for me to make a more difficult pilgrimage: to travel back through all those terrible memories and retrieve my soul.”
Shake Hands with the Devil


Lieutenant General Dallaire is not alone is his response to wartime atrocities. Soldiers returning from combat zones are often left with deep-seated psychological scars. Canadian soldiers have served overseas throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and for most of us at home their experiences are difficult to comprehend. It is important to recognize that the horrors of wartime have an impact on everyone involved, including the soldiers sent in as peacekeepers and international observers.

A. One of the reasons Lieutenant General Dallaire was so distraught by the events in Rwanda was that he was powerless to change the outcome. Debate the following:

  • What role should peacekeepers play in conflict situations?
  • What situations merit our participation and is it ever appropriate for peacekeepers to use force?

B. It is important to recognize the difficulty that many soldiers have when they return home from duty.

  • What support do we offer our veterans and how can we make the transition easier for them?
  • Do you think it is important to have systems in place to help them on their return?

C. One program that currently exists is Helmets to Hardhats Canada, which helps provide veterans with new skills and apprenticeship opportunities.

  • What other programs could we put in place to help ease soldiers’ transition and address the challenges they might face?

Action 4


How do we remember?

Even though Rwanda has changed dramatically in the years following the genocide, parts of the country still remain underdeveloped with high poverty rates. The Kigali Memorial Centre (KMC) contains the remains of over 250,000 genocide victims, as well as a detailed account of the 1994 events, personal artifacts, video testimony, and a children’s memorial. Unfortunately, not all Rwandans have access to the museum and its resources. KMC and its partner, Aegis Trust, are in the process of designing a mobile exhibit to travel around the country and educate the youth.

A. Considering artifacts
If you could contribute to the design of mobile exhibit, what types of personal artifacts or primary sources would you incorporate? Would you choose to use photographs, video testimony, and/or written accounts? Create a model of your display using pictures, drawings, and/or words. You can visit the Aegis Trust/KMC website to see what resources they have available and build off that.

B. Designing your own Rwandan exhibit
In most cases, Rwandans of both Hutu and Tutsi descent will be visiting the exhibit together. Even though the terms are no longer used, it is important to remember that everyone is bringing their personal histories and backgrounds with them. It is crucial to make sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable.

  • What kind of activity could you do with a school group when they arrive at the exhibit?
  • In a group, address these issues through drama, art, writing or oral story telling.

Most villages in Rwanda have memorial stones and mass graves dedicated to their genocide victims. In the years following the genocide, bodies were added to these mass graves as they were discovered. In some communities, they have chosen to keep the massacre sites intact to make a statement, as opposed to the customary interring of bodies. Every April, Rwandans gather as a community to remember the genocide victims. The commemoration period begins with a week of memorial services followed by a 100-day period of remembrance that includes changing the music they listen to and plastering the countryside grey, the colour symbolic of mourning in Rwandan culture.

Rwanda - Carly Bardikoff


C. Why remember?

  • Why is it imperative to commemorate past atrocities?
  • How can a period of collective mourning help Rwandan youth remember the past, especially considering that many of them were born after the genocide?
  • Are there other examples you can think of where groups come together to remember as a community?


D. Reflecting on images

Choose one of the images of Rwanda below and write a caption, poem, or reflection that combines the theme of remembrance with the image. Then find a classmate who chose the same image and compare your responses.

Photo of a brick Rwandan schoolhouse. enlarge image
School in Rwanda

Credit Carly Bardikoff

A group of Rwandan school children are dancing, while a larger group behind them looks on and claps. enlarge image
School in Rwanda

Credit: Carly Bardikoff

Action 5


Returning to Village Life: How do we work together to heal?

One of the aspects that made the Rwandan genocide unique was the fact that it truly was a case of neighbours, friends and family turning on each other and that a civil war took place alongside it. The Hutus and Tutsis were so interconnected and the level of involvement in the genocide was so pervasive that the aftermath presented a new set of challenges. In 100 days the estimated death toll was 800,000, which means that an average of 10,000 people were murdered each day. It also means that determining who committed individual crimes was incredibly challenging and that prosecuting everyone responsible would be a long, arduous process. While prominent political figures and leaders of the Interhamwe were sent to the UN Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, the traditional Gacaca court system was brought back to promote peace and reconciliation in village communities.

A. In many cases, Gacaca courts brought family members in direct contact with people accused of murdering their loved ones as they listened to their stories.

  • While confessions on this scale can be difficult to comprehend, has there been a time in your life where you have had to confess something or listen to someone else’s confession?
  • In your journal, describe how this made you feel. Is there anything you would do differently next time when confessing or when reacting to someone else’s confession?

B. The genocide also came hand-in-hand with a civil war that ravaged the country and created a refugee crisis throughout East Africa. After 1994, many Rwandans spent a long time away from their homes and/or in refugee camps.

  • Imagine you were returning home after a long trip away, what would you be looking forward to?
  • What types of things might have changed while you were away?
Beautiful landscape of rolling hills and lush forest greenery in Rwanda enlarge image
Countryside in Nyamasheke District, Rwanda.

Credit: Carly Bardikoff

This photo is of an old basketball net on a dirt court in a school playground. Thick Rwandan forest can be seen in the background. enlarge image

After the genocide — An Interview

My name is Carly and I recently returned from living in Rwanda for a year and a half. I spent a year in a rural village in the southwest training teachers and six months editing magazines in the capital, Kigali. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country and incredibly impressed by how much it changed and developed since the events of 1994. My family and friends were very interested in my experiences, especially since they associated the country with mass murder and political instability. I thought that I would take the opportunity to share my reflections here and answer some of the questions I have been asked about living in Rwanda.

How did you prepare yourself for a move to Rwanda? Were things different or the same as what you expected?
In 2006 I visited Ghana in West Africa and was absolutely blown away by the people I met and the places I visited. That trip opened a door for me and I have been volunteering and working in different parts of Africa ever since. Before moving to Rwanda I spent time in Uganda, which borders it to the north and has geographical and cultural similarities. This made Rwanda seem a bit familiar and made me want to visit it even more. I also read extensively on Rwanda’s history and the genocide, which gave me a basic understanding of the country before I moved there. When I got to Rwanda the organization I worked for held a two-week training program that addressed cultural and political issues. They explained how village life worked and gave general guidelines on how to address (or not address) the genocide in everyday situations. They advised us not to ask too many personal questions, but always to be ready to listen if someone wanted to share.

Even though I had spent time in Uganda, I was not prepared for how beautiful Rwanda is. The lush green rolling hills took my breath away and I immediately understood why the country is nicknamed “the land of a thousand hills” or “le pays des mille collines.” I was also surprised at how clean the country is, especially Kigali, where people sweep the streets every day! This was a huge change from the some other African cities I’d been to. I knew how much Rwanda had developed since 1994, but seeing in person was another thing. Sometimes I would forget what had taken place, but other times it was all too vivid as every village had their own bright purple memorials you would see by the roadside.

Do issues around the genocide come into daily life?
I think this depends on where you live in the country and what you’re doing. I lived in a village where most of the Tutsi population had been killed in 1994 and even though many Tutsi refugees returned after the genocide they usually moved to Kigali. We had a memorial and mass grave near the village church and memorial services were held there every April. Most people that I worked with didn’t speak about the genocide often or at all, but others would allude to the fact that their lives had changed and they had lost family members. They were always happy to hear that I was Canadian because the Canadian peacekeepers under Lieutenant General Dallaire were very highly thought of. Sometimes, I would look around and realize that I was in a place where people had been killed or taken refuge. I always wondered if the Rwandans around me were thinking about that as well, but I knew that it was insensitive to ask. Obviously, people who worked in fields directly related to the genocide, like trauma counseling or genocide prevention, would have different answers.

Did you hear any personal accounts?
While I knew not to ask what my neighbours and colleagues experienced, some did tell me on their own accord. One day I got a ride from someone working on the roads in my village and, unexpectedly, he told me what happened to his family. As a young boy he lost his father and most of his siblings to Interhamwe (Hutu militants). For him, every day was still a struggle and he was very aware of the challenges posed by living in a post-genocide society. I heard several other stories second hand or as part of an explanation for why an individual was an orphan or why the education system needed to develop.

Scene of sprawling hills emerge through some fog and low hanging clouds. A dirt road has been carved into the side of the nearest hill, curving around the bend. enlarge image

Were you ever worried or concerned for your own safety?
In general, Rwandans treat their visitors with respect and hospitality. The people I met in my jobs and in both places I lived were incredibly warm and genuinely excited to have me there. On a day-to-day basis, the issue of safety did not cross my mind. I would walk home alone at night without worry, something that I don’t often do in Toronto. Even though ethnic tensions still do exist I never felt threatened by them or fearful that another genocide would erupt. Sometimes when I took public transportation in rural areas, I would look around and wonder what the people sitting next to me had done in 1994. However, as the country placed such an emphasis on moving forward, I felt it was important for me to respect that and follow their lead. The only time I was ever worried about safety was when tensions escalated on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, that was an external, not internal situation.

Have you visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre? How did that make you feel?
I visited the genocide museum on several occasions and in fact, by the end of my time there I was a regular and knew many of the staff. I was impressed by the amount of information in the museum, all presented in Kinyarwanda, English, and French. The museum is also filled with personal artifacts and video testimonies that can be difficult to watch, but help understand what people went through. Everyone reacts to the exhibits in their own way and most are overwhelmed by the stories in front of them. For me, the experience was one of profound sadness and I appreciated the care and thought that went into preserving the memories of those who died. In addition to the museum’s genocide exhibit, there is also a very touching children’s memorial, as well as an exhibit upstairs on other genocides around the world. There are also memorial gardens and mass graves outside where it is customary to leave flowers. The fact that the remains of victims were onsite made it very different from the Holocaust museums that I visited in Washington, D.C. and in Israel.

Permissions: Carly Bardikoff


Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 5 Exposing the Ukrainian Holodomor: How starvation was used as a political weapon

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Ask yourself:

  • How could millions of people be starved to death in 1932-33 without international exposure of this Soviet-era cover-up?
  • How could the conditions for an artificial famine be created in a country known for its rich fertile soil and record-breaking harvests?
  • What kind of psychological, social, and cultural scars does the trauma of prolonged hunger and starvation leave on its victims and their children?

This page examines the historical events that led to the tragedy called the Holodomor - literally, “murder by starvation”, a Ukrainian term for the engineered famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932-1933 under the regime of Joseph Stalin. Study the timeline and the primary and secondary sources provided in order to understand the circumstances that caused this massive forced starvation of several million men, women and children in central Ukraine during Stalin’s leadership. Explore the arguments of genocide ‘believers’ and ‘deniers’, and the role of diaspora survivors in revealing the Soviet era cover-up.

Valentina Kuryliw, the Director of Education, Holodomor Research and Education Consortium.
Eye-witness account of survivor Alexandra Brazhnyk



Bolsheviks – the word “Bolshevik” is Russian, derived from “one of the majority”. They were members of the Russian Social Democratic Labour party who split from the minority Menshevik faction in 1903. They believed themselves to be leaders of the revolutionary working class of Russia. Led by Lenin, the Bolsheviks founded the Communist Party in 1912 and brought about the takeover of the Russian government after the October Revolution in 1917.

Collectivization – a government policy in which private ownership of farmland is discontinued; land is forcibly taken from land owners and amalgamated into government-owned structures known as collective farms. They were large agricultural units where people worked in a factory-like environment controlled by the totalitarian Soviet government.

Communism – a totalitarian system of government in which all the land, natural resources, industries and institutions, including education and media, are owned or controlled by the government.

Diaspora – a group of people who have been ‘dispersed’ from the area in which they had lived for a long time or who are living outside the area in which their ancestors lived.

Gulag – the Russian acronym for the government agency that ran Soviet forced labour camps during the Stalin era between 1930 and 1950. The camps were established to punish anyone who dared to oppose the government. Many Ukrainian farmers, kulaks (see definition below) and political dissidents were imprisoned in these concentration camps.

Halych-Volhynia State (also spelled Galicia-Volhynia) – a break-off principality formed in the western regions of the Kyivan Rus State in the latter Middle Ages.

Kozaks (also spelled Cossacks) – group of predominantly East Slavic-speaking people who became known as members of democratic, self-governing, semi-military communities, mainly located in Ukraine and in Russia. They fled to the south and east borderlands of Kyivan Rus to escape national and religious persecution in Poland-Lithuania. They tried to establish an independent Ukrainian Kozak State and served in the cavalry under the czars in return for special privileges.

Kulaks (Ukrainian term - ‘kurkuli’) – refers to the successful independent farmers who resisted collectivization. Stalin’s drive to liquidate the kulaks resulted in more than 600,000 Ukrainian farmers and their families being executed, deported or sent to Gulag camps.

Kyivan Rus – a powerful independent state (est. 882 AD) that preceded the formation of current-day Ukraine. The indigenous land of Ukrainians, Kyivan Rus is often mistaken as land that belonged to the principality of Muscovy (est. 1283 AD). Some history books incorrectly interpret the term ‘Rus’ as the short form for Russia.

Industrialization – transformation from a mainly agricultural society to one that is based on manufacturing of goods. Manual labour is replaced by mechanization.

Muscovite State – a break-off principality formed in the north-eastern regions of the Kyivan Rus State.

Propaganda – a systematic effort to persuade people to accept certain ideas or to mold people’s views into a particular mindset using such means as education, mass media, public meetings, and publications of various kinds.

Russification – laws, decrees, and aggressive actions taken by imperialist Russia and Soviet authorities between 1700 and 1991, aimed at imposing Russian language and culture, and social and political systems on all non-Russians.

Secret police – a select group of police or small agency within government known to suppress political dissent through terror, intimidation, torture and killing. In the Russian empire, they were first called by the acronym CHEKA, and later in the USSR, they were known as OGPU, NKVD and KGB.

Totalitarianism – a political system in which one political party or group maintains control over all spheres of life. Totalitarian governments are extreme dictatorships that combat all opposing groups and ideas and all rivals. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union and all communist countries were examples of totalitarian governments.

Ukraine – Google Mapsenlarge image
Ukraine – Google Maps

This Really Happened

The Famine of 1932-33 is called the Holodomor, a Ukrainian word that means prolonged, agonizing murder by starvation. The Holodomor is known as an artificial famine because it was not caused by crop failure or natural disaster. Joseph Stalin created the conditions for mass starvation in order to destroy the people who dared to oppose his government’s plan for collectivization and industrialization.

Soviet-era historians present various explanations for the Famine of 1932-1933, such as excesses in the Soviet drive for collectivization, the slaughter of livestock by farmers opposed to collective farms, drought, and a poor harvest. However, most scholars and Ukrainian survivors of the Holodomor have evidence to confirm that the Famine was deliberately planned and artificially engineered. It was not the result of natural causes, such as drought or a poor harvest. During the years of the Famine, the weather conditions were favourable and the harvest was plentiful enough to feed the entire population of Ukraine, as evidenced by official government reports from those years. Survivor accounts confirm that the Famine was artificially created by Stalin’s government. The government imposed crop quotas that were excessive, demanding that the entire harvest in the fields of Ukraine be confiscated, as well as all food supplies in people’s homes.

By the fall of 1932, the rural population of Ukraine was starving. Laws, such as the Decree of August 7, 1932, made it a punishable crime to gather and hide for oneself any produce from the fields, as these were declared to be “socialist property.” Entire regions of Ukraine were placed under food blockades, with orders to halt the delivery of food to stores in these regions. Distressingly, as millions lay dying in the streets and in village huts, Soviet granaries were filled to capacity with the year’s harvest. Large shipments of grain were sold to Germany and other countries, contributing to a depression-era drop in the price of wheat in Europe.

Soviet regions just outside the borders of Ukraine (other than the Don and the Kuban, inhabited by former Ukrainian Kozaks) experienced minimal food shortages. Police patrols had to be placed on Ukraine’s borders during the time of the Holodomor to keep starving Ukrainians from crossing into Russia where they could obtain food to survive.

Official documents and materials now available to the public confirm the extreme lengths taken by Stalin’s regime to suppress news of the artificial Famine in 1932-33. Soviet authorities ordered the press to deny the existence of the Famine, and severely punished anyone who spoke or wrote about it. The country was eventually closed to foreign correspondents. The suppression of the truth continued for several decades until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

A few western journalists who travelled to Soviet Ukraine in 1932-33 were too intimidated to write about what they were witnessing at the time. They chose to share their experiences after they were safely at home. Journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones were appalled by the starvation and loss of life, particularly in central Ukraine. Unfortunately, one very influential journalist, Walter Duranty, denied that he had witnessed the horrible results of the Famine in exchange for lavish Soviet favours. Duranty’s articles for the New York Times in 1932-33 convinced many people that reports of starvation in Ukraine were untrue. He pointed to large grain exports from the Soviet Union as proof that all was well in Ukraine.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, researchers have gained access to hidden government documents and Communist Party archives. They have found numerous documents that prove the conditions for forced famine were created by Stalin’s regime. Stalin himself admitted to Prime Minister Winston Churchill that 10 million peasants died in Ukraine and neighbouring regions in the 1932-1933 Famine. He viewed this as successful revenge against people who were considered to be hostile to the Soviet communist system.

Adapted from Used with permission.

Map of depopulation of Ukraine and southern Russia, 1929-33enlarge image
Map of depopulation of Ukraine and southern Russia, 1929-33. Territories in white were not part of the USSR during the famine.


Historical Context

Current-day Ukrainians trace their historical roots to the Kyivan Rus State, which was one of the strongest and most influential social, political and economic powers of Europe between the 9th and 14th centuries. The state was made up mostly of Slavic tribes, with the major tribe, the Polianians, eventually becoming ethnic Ukrainians. The Meryans, in the north, a Finno-Ugric tribe, became the Russian peoples. The history is clear - Ukrainians and Russians did not stem from the same Slavic tribe, nor did Ukrainians evolve from Russian tribes or historic states.

The Kyivan Rus State, with its capital, Kyiv, was a major hub of north-south and east-west trade beginning in the 9th century. The territory was very susceptible to Mongol and Tatar invasions from the East. By the 12th century, the Tatars had destroyed Kyiv and the state was splintered into several principalities, two of which were Vladimir-Sudal-Rostov in the East and Halych-Volhynia in the West.

The town of Moscow was founded in the east beginning in the 14th century. The surrounding area became known first as the Muscovite State. By the 19th century, the Muscovite State became the Russian Empire. In the west, Ukrainian lands were incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. For a brief time, the Ukrainian Kozak State existed on the fringes of the Commonwealth. Ultimately, the Kozak State fell to the Russian Empire led by Peter the First. Catherine the Second of Russia continued Russian imperialism by expanding the empire and enforcing russification on the Ukrainian population.

In the 19th century, Russian leaders introduced the secret police and continued imperial expansion, making russification a government policy. It was at this time that the descendants of the Kyivan Rus State began to refer to themselves as Ukrainians, in order to clearly differentiate their nationality from Muscovites/Russians.

Early in the 20th century, following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas the Second of Russia, the Russian socialist political parties were formed and the Bolshevik (later Communist) party under Vladimir Lenin seized power. Lenin believed that a transition to true communism required a period of dictatorship. The Bolsheviks laid claim to all lands of the former Russian empire. They established the secret police to imprison and execute anyone who opposed Soviet dictatorship, calling them "enemies of the state".

In 1918, Ukrainians declared independence and created the Ukrainian National Republic, but were soon overrun by German and Austrian forces. A civil war ensued on Russian-held territory as the Bolsheviks continued to consolidate power. Six different armies were operating on Ukrainian lands during this time of anarchy and collapse of authority. When Ukraine was allied with Poland for a short term it gained some ground, but by 1920 all of Eastern and central Ukraine except Crimea was taken over again by the Bolsheviks. In 1922, the Communists created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) as a federation of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Transcaucasia. When the U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1991, Ukraine regained its independence.

Wikimedia File: ‘Kyiv Rus’ -
Den’ Article: A Restorer of the Ukrainian Nation -
Video map 'Historical Maps of Ukraine-Rus'

“Bitter Memories of Childhood”. Holodomor monument, Wascana Centre, Regina SKenlarge image
“Bitter Memories of Childhood”. Holodomor monument, Wascana Centre, Regina SK (2015)

Photo provided by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Saskatchewan.
Credit: Petro Nakutnyy


The following timeline provides an overview of historical events leading up to the Holodomor. It traces Ukraine’s history from 1918 to the present day.


Ukrainian National Republic


Bolsheviks create the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.

Ukraine declares a short-lived United Ukrainian National Republic by incorporating Western Ukrainian lands



Ukrainian nationalist forces unable to repel foreign aggression [(Red Army, White Army, Poles, Entente); leaders forced into exile.

1918 - 1921

War; Communism
Bolshevik policy aims to establish a totalitarian socialist order; nationalizes all productive property; Cheka (secret police) and the Bolshevik Red Army suppress worker and peasant uprisings.

Ukrainian lands divided up between four countries: Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania.


Red Army takes most of Ukrainian territory. A period of inflation, food rationing, forced labour and economic collapse ensues.

First Famine in Ukraine
The expropriation of grain, a poor crop and severe food rationing result in 1.5-2.0 million deaths by starvation in Ukraine.

1921 - 1923

The expropriated food is sent to feed Russian cities and the Red Army.

Source: Subtelny, O. 2009. Ukraine: A History, Fourth ed. Toronto, pp. 380-381




Russia creates the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Transcaucasia. Ultimate control, however, is by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow.

In Ukraine, this policy is called 'Ukrainization' and results in a significant social, political, cultural renaissance, as well as the spread of a national consciousness.
Source: Magocsi, P. 1996. A History of Ukraine, Toronto, pp.533-547


The USSR introduces a policy to recruit non-Russians to the Communist Party.



Vladimir Lenin dies and a struggle for power sees Joseph Stalin take control of the Communist Party. Stalin aims to make all non-Russian republics into one single Russian socialist/communist state. He uses the OGPU, successor to Cheka secret police, to eliminate all internal opposition. Through terror, deportations and executions Stalin assumes complete control.

Of the approximate 29 million people in Ukraine, 80% are ethnic Ukrainians and 89% of the farming sector population is Ukrainian and demonstrates little desire for communist totalitarianism.


Stalin fears that the peasant class, which owns agricultural land, is the social base of Ukrainian nationalism, and are thus, ‘enemies of the state’.

Collectivization meets with opposition from successful, wealthier, independent farmers.


Stalin introduces the first Five Year Plan, a state imposed 'revolution from above', focused on rapid industrialization to modernize the USSR. He initiates forced total collectivization of agriculture (from private farms into state-owned) so the state can sell grain abroad and pay for industrialization.

Stalin directs his secret police, OGPU, to arrest Ukrainian political, intellectual and religious leaders for allegedly belonging to a fictitious Union for the Liberation of Ukraine and conspiring for the separation of Ukraine from the USSR. Next he liquidates the Ukrainian Autocephalous (autonomous) Orthodox Church, sends bishops and priests to labour camps.

Through executions, deportations or exile to the Gulag (Soviet prison camps) over 600,000 farmers and their families are liquidated, their property transferred to collective farms.

Moscow sends in urban workers to expropriate property, organize collectives and supervise grain shipments; peasant uprisings are quelled by the regular army and OGPU units; any protesters are imprisoned or killed. Peasants slaughter farm animals in protest.

1929 - 1931

Stalin regards Ukrainian nationalist tendencies as an impediment to building socialism.

The Soviet state labels successful farmers as 'kulaks' and 'enemies of the state' and Stalin calls for the 'liquidation of the kulaks as a class'.

Stalin launches an attack on the remaining mass of farmers, most of whom oppose collectivization.

Famine spreads in Ukraine. There is not enough grain to meet government demands and to feed people. Many peasants flee collective farms, seek food in towns and cities.

The Ukrainian Communist Party pleads with Stalin to lower grain quotas.

Famine (Holodomor) rages in Ukraine.








Swollen from hunger, desperate peasants eat rats, tree bark and leaves to survive. Numerous cases of cannibalism are recorded.

Demographers claim that at least four* million men, women, children have starved to death in Ukraine as well as at least 600,000 deaths in the predominantly Ukrainian Kuban region.


The state creates penalties and policies making private farming economically impossible, sets unrealistically high grain quotas for collective farms and demands they give up seed grain reserves.

> August:
Stalin responds by sending his associates to supervise grain procurements, to use harsher methods, and to confiscate every last bit of grain in order to meet collection quotas. A law written on August 7, 1932, known as the Law of Five Stalks of Grain, threatened severe punishment, even death, for picking any food, including grains, from the fields.

Red Army units, OGPU secret police and urban Russian communist activists act as enforcers.

> November:
Villages, farms believed to be sabotaging grain requisitions, are placed on a blacklist, no food or goods can enter or leave. Over one-third of Ukrainian villages are put on this list, people are condemned to starvation.

> December
An internal passport system is introduced denying farmers any ability to travel to cities or outside of Ukraine to seek food; essentially confines them to stay home and starve!

*In a meeting with Winston Churchill in 1942, Stalin admits to 10 million deaths during collectivization.

During the spring and summer of June – July 1933:

  • 28,000 people are dying per day,
  • 1,167 people are dying per hour,
  • 19 people are dying per minute
  • one-third of these deaths are children under 10 years old.

Western governments, such as Great Britain, France, USA and Canada, are aware of the Holodomor but choose not to interfere in the 'internal affairs of the USSR'.

The Holodomor Legacy
Stalin's artificial famine destroys one quarter of Ukraine's population, particularly the most productive farmers, and traumatizes the Ukrainian people for generations (intergenerational trauma).

The famine provides a path to Soviet repopulation of areas where massive starvation occurred. Through the addition of Russian and other Soviet peoples to Ukraine and the dispersion of Ukrainians throughout the Soviet Union over several years, ethnic unity is destroyed and nationalities are mixed.


> January
Stalin seals the border so that no Ukrainian farmers can enter Russia, where there is no famine.

Stalin appoints Postyshev to speed up grain collection and to reprimand Ukrainian Communists for failing to meet quotas. Some Communists begin calling Stalin's brutality in Ukraine 'genocidal'. Postyshev's gangs of activists conduct brutal house searches, tear up floors and walls looking for grain. Watchtowers are placed around farm fields; guards are directed to shoot anyone picking crops for food.

At the height of this artificially-induced Famine (Holodomor), Stalin's unrelenting drive to finance industrialization sees the Soviet government selling wheat to other countries and at below-market prices.

The Soviet government* denies the Famine, refuses help from any international charitable organizations like the Red Cross.

*(Soviet propaganda and disinformation campaigns continue this denial into the 1980s.)

Ukrainian communist officials are replaced by Russian officials. Ukrainian cultural and political leaders are imprisoned or killed. Any spoken or written mention of the Holodomor is strictly forbidden and harshly punished.

By Soviet policy, Russian is to become the language and culture of all of the peoples of the USSR.

1933 - 1938

The Great Terror:
Ever fearful of Ukrainian nationalism, of 'losing Ukraine', Stalin instructs Postyshev to complete Russian colonization, to destroy any remaining 'Ukrainization'.

Russification of Ukraine ensues, continuing 18th century policies of the Russian Empire.

The Ukrainian Communist Party declares the Famine was a 'national tragedy', but does not admit that is was genocide.



Ukraine declares its independence after the USSR dissolves.



President Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's first pro-Western leader, and the Ukrainian parliament recognize the Holodomor as genocide.


Russian parliament passes a resolution denying that the Holodomor was genocide.

Pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejects the Holodomor as genocide.



Euromaidan (Revolution of Dignity)
Massive public protests by Ukrainians, similar to those that took place on the Maidan in 2004, demand integration into Europe after President Yanukovych refuses to sign an association agreement with the European Union. Millions of people gather in Independence Square in Kyiv to protest corruption and human rights violations and eventually force President Yanukovych to flee the country.


Fearing a resurgence in Ukrainian nationalism, Russia annexes the Crimea and begins using hybrid warfare to destabilize Ukrainian sovereignty.

The Holodomor is presented as genocide in history texts and is studied by students in Ukrainian schools.


The Kremlin continues to deny the Holodomor.

Sources:, pp.6,7
Magocsi, P. 1996. A History of Ukraine, Toronto, pp.557-563
Klid, D. & Motyl, A. 2012. The Holodomor Reader, Edmonton, Toronto, pp. 80-81 (p.3)
Hrushevsky, M., 1970. A History of Ukraine, Yale.
Hrushevsky, M., 1999. History of Ukraine-Rus', Vol. 7, Edmonton, Toronto.
Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Kyivan Rus’.
Kuryliw, V., 2016. Holodomor in Ukraine (in press)
Lemkin: Genocide against Ukrainians.

The timeline traces Russian imperialist aggression toward Ukraine beginning in the 19th century. You will notice that the Holodomor was one in a series of attempts by Russian imperialists and later Soviet authorities, to dominate the land and people of Ukraine. However, the Holodomor was the most ruthless of all, in that Stalin’s decrees created the conditions for mass genocide. As reports of starvation continued to surface, there was no compassion and no reversal of the plan. Stalin was determined to destroy Ukrainian citizens who openly defied communist ideology and collectivization within the USSR. The result was massive starvation of millions of men, women, children and infants.

This engineered famine and tragic loss of millions of lives has gained international recognition. However, there are still many countries that do not officially recognize the events of 1932-33 as a genocide created by the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin. Before you draw your own conclusions about Holodomor as genocide, let’s take some time to examine primary and secondary sources of information.

Dying peasants in Kharkivenlarge image
Dying peasants on the streets of Kharkiv during the Famine-Genocide (1933 photo by A. Wienerberger)


Artifact 1: Politburo Resolution on Grain Procurement in Ukraine

No.44 Resolution of the CC AUCP(b) Politburo on grain procurement in Ukraine35
January 1, 1933

The CC CP(b)U and Ukrainian SSR RNK shall widely inform village councils, kolhosps, collective farmers and proletarian private farmers that:
a) Those who hand in any grain that was previously misappropriated or concealed will not be subject to repressions;
b) Those collective farms, collective farmers and private farmers who stubbornly insist on misappropriating and concealing grain will be subject to the strictest punitive measures provided by the USSR Central Executuve Committee Resolutioin of August 7, 1932 “On the safekeeping of property of state enterprises, collective farms and cooperatives and strengthening public (socialist) property.”

Secretary, CC AUCP(b), J. Stalin

RGASPI, fond 17, list 3, file 913, sheet 11.

CC AUCP (b) – Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) based in Moscow
CC CP (b) U – Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine based in Kharkiv
RGASPI – Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History
Ukrainian SSR RNK – Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic Rada Narodnykh Komisariv (RNK), or Council of Peoples’ Commissars of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic

Source: Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine: Documents and materials. Compiled by Ruslan Pyrih; Translated by Stephen Bandera, Kyiv Mohyla Academy Publishing. (2008). p.77.

Eyewitness account:

Artifact 2: Report from the Consul of Italy in Kharkiv

No. 67 Report from the Consul of Italy in Kharkiv to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy on “Famine and Sanitary Conditions” (excerpt)
July 10, 1933

The current situation in Ukraine is horrific. Apart from larger towns and raions within a fifty kilometer radius of cities, the country is engulfed in famine, typhus and dysentery. There are also cases of cholera and even plague which until recently were sporadic. […]

The famine has decimated half the rural population.

Police apprehend fleeing peasants with livid brutality (I have noticed that the urban population willingly takes part in this hunt for villagers, either because of some incomprehensible feeling of self-defence, or under the influence of crafty propaganda, or an overwhelming desire to commit torture). If somebody tries to escape from the police transports, there are always a dozen city residents prepared to chase him down, beat him up and turn him over to the police. There are orders prohibiting doctors from administering medical treatment to villagers in the cities.

Two thousand such poor souls are rounded up every day and shipped out during the night. Entire families, that came to the city in the last hope of avoiding death from starvation, are held in barracks for one or two days and then transported, hungry, 50 kilometers from Kharkiv and thrown into rain-formed gullies.

Many of them that can no longer move and simply die on the spot; some manage to escape and others are fortunate enough to make it back to the city where they end up begging for food. One of them told me about an area located between the ponds beyond Rai-Yelenivka, a four-hour walk away from nearest railway station. Every three to four days, a team of gravediggers is dispatched there to bury the dead.

Some doctors whom I know confirmed that death rates in the villages often reach 80 percent, but never less than 50 percent. Kyiv, Poltava and Sumy oblasts were most afflicted by the famine and can be described as depopulated.

I am adding another name to the list of dead villages: Lutova near Kharkiv. 44 Prior to the famine its population was 1,500. Today it is just under 90.

As for sanitary conditions, they can be no worse than their current state. Doctors are prohibited from speaking about typhus and death from starvation. They are also prohibited from compiling statistics that may be interesting from the scientific point of view. Nonetheless, I was able to obtain the following information about pathologies due to undernourishment. People who are unable to secure bread (very black bread with various additives) gradually grow weaker and die of heart failure without any signs of disease. Meanwhile, those who consume only fluids and milk experience swelling of their joints and legs. They also die from heart failure.

Source: Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine: Documents and materials. Compiled by Ruslan Pyrih; Translated by Stephen Bandera, Kyiv Mohyla Academy Publishing. (2008). p.114-115.

Artifact 3 – Population Figures

Population Figures for the East Slavic Nationalities and the USSR as a Whole
 1926 1939% Change
 Population% Population%  
Taken from: The Great Famine in Ukraine: The Unknown Holocaust. Published by the Ukrainian National Association, p. 33. The source of information is “Natsionalisti SSR” by Kozlov, p. 29.
Small Soviet Encyclopedia, 1940 edition, under “U” – “Ukrainian SSR”; Ukraine’s population in 1927 census listed at 32 million; in 1939 (twelve years later) – 28 million.
  1926   1939 % Change
  Population %   Population %  
USSR 137,397,000 100.0   170,557,100 100.0 +16.0
Russians 77,791,001 54.0   99,591,500 54.0 +28.0
Byelorussians 4,738,900 3.3   5,275,400 3.1 +11.3
Ukrainians 31,195,000 21.6   28,111,000 16.5 -9.9
Number of Children Attending Schools
DatesRussian SFSRUkraineByelorussia
Source: Cultural Construction of the USSR, Moscow: Government Planning Pub., 1940, pages 40-50.
Dates Russian SFSR Ukraine Byelorussia
1914-1915 4,965,318 1,492,878 235,065
1928-1929 5,997,980 1,585,814 369,684
1938-1939 7,663,669 985,598 358,507

Charts reprinted from Used with permission.

Artifact 4 - Resettlement Directives

No. 68 Resolution of the USSR SNK on resettlement to Kuban, Terek and Ukraine
August 31, 1933
The Council of People’s Commissars of the Union of SSR resolves:
The All-Union Resettlement Committee of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shall organize the resettlement of 10,000 families to Kuban and Terek, and 15,000-20,000 families to Ukraine (Steppe) by the beginning of 1934.
Chairman, USSR Council of Peoples’ Commissars,
V. Molotov (Skryabin)
Executive Director, USSR Council of Peoples’ Commissars,
I. Miroshnikov
No. 69 Resolution of the CC CP(b)U Politboro on additional resettlement of Steppe raions (excerpt)
September 11, 1933
Prepare the following numbers of additional resettlements to the Steppe raions during the fourth quarter of 1933: 22,000 families to Dnipropetrovsk, 9,000 families to Odesa and 4,000 families to Donetsk oblasts.
Recruit additional resettlers from among those collective farmers, laborers and private farmers who are willing to join the collective farms of the Steppe.
Establish the following recruitment targets: 8,000 families each from Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts and 6,000 families from Vinnytsia oblast.
Conduct additional resettlement to Dnipropetrovsk oblast from Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts, to Odesa oblast from Vinnytsia and Kyiv oblasts, and to Donetsk from Chernihiv oblast. […]

SNK – Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR (Soviet Narodnyhkh Komisariv)
CC CP (b) U – Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine based in Kharkiv

Source: Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine: Documents and materials. Compiled by Ruslan Pyrih;
Translated by Stephen Bandera, Kyiv Mohyla Academy Publishing. (2008). p.116-117.

Artifact 5: International Recognition of Holodomor

Canada recognizes the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. In addition to Canada, other countries/states recognizing the Holodomor are:

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Colombia
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Ecuador
  • Georgia
  • Hungary
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Mexico
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Poland
  • Slovak Republic
  • USA

In 2003, the United Nations (UN) and delegations from 25 countries issued a Joint Statement on the Great Famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine (Holodomor). The opening statement reads as follows:

In the former Soviet Union millions of men, women and children fell victims to the cruel actions and policies of the totalitarian regime. The Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine (Holodomor), which took from 7 million to 10 million innocent lives, became a national tragedy for the Ukrainian people.

While the UN considers the Holodomor a national tragedy, they fall short of the term genocide. In 1990, the UN International Commission of Inquiry into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine (Geneva) concluded that the Famine in Ukraine was, in fact a genocide. At the same time, the Commission could not confirm that the Moscow authorities had a preconceived plan to organize a famine in Ukraine.

Recently released evidence from primary sources in Ukraine may have an impact on the UN’s position in coming years.

Artifact 6 – An Author’s Chronicle of Events

Following an unofficial trip to Ukraine in 1933, journalist Gareth Jones shared his stories of government oppression and famine with George Orwell, a young British author. Years later, Orwell wrote the novel “Animal Farm” in which he satirized the corrosive effects of communism. He also alluded to an artificial famine and the need to conceal it from the outside world in Chapter Seven of his novel.

“For days at a time the animals had nothing to eat but chaff and mangels. Starvation seemed to stare them in the face. It was vitally necessary to conceal this fact from the outside world. Emboldened by the collapse of the windmill, the human beings were inventing fresh lies about Animal Farm. Once again it was being put about that all the animals were dying of famine and disease, and that they were continually fighting among themselves and had resorted to cannibalism and infanticide. Napoleon was well aware of the bad results that might follow if the real facts of the food situation were known, and he decided to make use of Mr. Whymper to spread a contrary impression.”

Orwell created a different preface to his novel in an underground Ukrainian edition of “Animal Farm” that was published in 1947. The translated edition was circulated throughout displaced persons’ camps in Europe following World War II.

Artifact 7 – Intergenerational Impact of the Holodomor

Researchers have found that collective trauma is passed down from generation to generation, a phenomenon known as intergenerational trauma. In Canada, the impact of intergenerational trauma has been highlighted by survivors of residential schools. It is what happens “when untreated trauma-related stress experienced by survivors is passed on to second and subsequent generations. The trauma inflicted by residential schools and the Sixties Scoop was significant, and the scope of the damage these events wrought wouldn’t be truly understood until years later.”

A research study by Brent Bezo and Stefania Maggi (2015) investigated how three consecutive generations perceived the impact of the Holodomor on their lives in modern-day Ukraine. The findings indicate that:

“…intergenerational trauma, stemming from the Holodomor genocide, continues to exert its effect through gender-specific impacts. These impacts seem to occur at the individual level, in terms of affecting well-being and behaviours. The participant reports also suggest that collective trauma has a long-term, intergenerational impact on how men and women view themselves and each other, in a broader sense and in relation to gender roles, expectations, and performance. In this respect, participants did not only refer to themselves or known individuals in their own personal environments, but also spoke about a wider impact affecting the greater Ukrainian context. As such, our results suggest that the Holodomor had an impact at the societal level. This result reflects an area that has not been extensively studied and has yet to be well understood, but is consistent with the view that collective traumas play a critical role in shaping socio-cultural norms and values beyond the individual level. The impact of genocides at the societal level has implications for how interventions may address the healing of collective trauma and its intergenerational transmission, which may require the application of multi-level frameworks. Specifically, our results suggest that the healing of collective trauma also requires an understanding of gender-related impacts, in that victimization of men via gendercide might also result in a hidden or less overt intergenerational victimization of women. Hence, the historical roots of collective trauma should be considered for healing its intergenerational impacts.” (p.3-4)

The Press – Facts versus Fake News

Previously sealed files from the Soviet era are now available to authorities, historians, and researchers. Many of the documents from the files provide compelling evidence of a government-imposed famine, with losses ranging between four and ten million victims.

Unfortunately, in 1932-33, evidence of the famine was kept well-hidden. Journalists were rarely allowed into Ukraine due to a travel ban. At least three noteworthy journalists did manage to travel to the region, one with the permission of Soviet authorities, and two who ignored the travel ban. The articles they wrote convey divergent views.

Read the article written by Ian Hunter titled “A Tale of Truth and Two Journalists”, available at: . Study the summary of interpretations offered in the chart and examine the articles published by both Malcolm Muggeridge and Walter Duranty (links given) to gain greater insight into each interpretation.

Note: Duranty’s article was written in response to the eyewitness accounts of journalist Gareth Jones. Walter Duranty travelled with the permission of Soviet authorities. Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones ignored the travel ban and went on their own.

Genocide Believer: Malcolm MuggeridgeGenocide Denier: Walter Duranty

Understood the reasons behind Ukraine’s rejection of imperialism and collectivization;

Knew that weather conditions for abundant harvests were favourable in 1932 and 1933;

Shared eye-witness reports*: “Hunger was the word I heard most. Peasants begged a lift on the train from one station to another sometimes their bodies swollen up—a disagreeable sight—from lack of food.”

Recognized that Stalin’s political weapon was famine; only death would ensure that Ukrainian resistance to collectivization would be removed.

*Reprinted article from The Manchester Guardian (1933):[...]

Refused to acknowledge that millions of people in central Ukraine were being starved to death;

Created media reports about abundant harvests and general economic prosperity in the Soviet Union;

Shared eye-witness reports*: “There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition”;

Promoted the view that economic prosperity in the Soviet Union was the result of Stalin’s political leadership and policy of collectivization.

*Reprinted article from The New York Times (1933):[...]

Note: The term ‘Russians’ was incorrectly used by Duranty to describe all citizens in the Soviet Union. Duranty’s misrepresentation aligned with Stalin’s plan to create a society in which Russian language and culture dominated all 15 ethnically diverse states of the Soviet Union.

The article “Holodomor – Denial and Silences” offers some reasons for the lack of awareness by the public of the artificial Famine of 1932-33. It is interesting to note that even though many detailed accounts of the Holodomor were written, Duranty’s articles, which were backed by Soviet authorities, overshadowed the work of other journalists.

Action 1


  1. Why was the Holodomor denied for so long and what ended the controversy?
  2. Can historical facts be denied when there is archival proof? Consider other examples such as Holocaust denial and the Armenian Genocide.

Write your answer and then discuss as a class.

Action 2


Why is it that the earliest historical accounts of the Holodomor originated from diaspora Ukrainians and not from survivors living within Ukraine?

Write your answer and then discuss and compare with a partner in your class.

Action 3


Although the Holodomor of 1932-33 is now widely recognized (see Artifact 5), Canada prides itself on being the first country in the world to declare that the engineered famine was a genocide against the Ukrainian people.

The Senate calls upon the Government of Canada “to recognize the Ukrainian Famine/Genocide of 1932-1933 and to condemn any attempt to deny or distort this historical truth as being anything less than genocide”. June 17, 2003.

In 2008, a private members’ bill was introduced to establish a day of remembrance for the Holodomor, Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day.

  1. Read about the introduction of Bill C-459. Link: Which speaker, in your view, had the most compelling presentation?
  2. Select and record six pieces of information about the Holodomor that were shared by the speakers and captured your attention.
  3. Discuss as a class: Why is it important to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?
  4. Are there other examples of historic injustices recognized by Canada’s parliament? Work in pairs to research and record your answers.

Action 4


After viewing Artifacts 1, 2 and 3, reflect on the following questions:

  1. Statistical data and documents from the years 1932-33 were released to the public following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Given these new sources of evidence, do you think that the integrity of journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones will be restored? Explain your reasoning.
  2. Create a five-minute presentation to the Pulitzer Prize committee about Walter Duranty’s award, and present it to your class.

Action 5


A. Holodomor survivors who escaped to diaspora countries such as Canada have shared eyewitness accounts of cruelty and starvation in Ukraine during 1932-33.

  1. There was no mention of the artificial famine, the Holodomor, in school textbooks in the Soviet Union, including Ukraine. Reflect on why this information was left out of the school curriculum.
  2. Germany has set an example by recognizing and apologizing for Hitler’s crimes. Reflect on the political, cultural, educational, economic and geographic implications for Russia if government authorities were to accept responsibility for the Holodomor.

B. The next question refers to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. If you have read it, please proceed.

Andrea Chalupa has researched Orwell’s introduction to the Ukrainian version of Animal Farm (see Artifact 6). She speaks of the ‘revived revolutionary spirit’ among displaced persons (DPs) upon reading this satire about communism, collective farms, and famine. Do you think that Orwell’s book motivated Ukrainian DPs to share their recollections of the Holodomor in the diaspora? Why or why not?

Action 6


Artifact 4 contains examples of resolutions for resettlement following a methodical plan by the Soviet authorities to starve millions of Ukrainians in central and eastern Ukraine.

Do you think that it will ever be possible for Ukraine to reconcile its relationship with Russia? In reflecting on this question, consider the factors that led to demonstrations at the Maidan in Kyiv in 2004, (the Orange Revolution) and 2014, the Revolution of Dignity.

Action 7


Artifact 7 explores intergenerational trauma. Define the following terms as related to the history of residential schools in Canada: colonization, mistrust, indigenous inhabitants, cultural genocide, intergenerational trauma, and resettlement.

  1. Using your definitions, work with a partner to draw parallels between the victims of residential schools and the Holodomor.
  2. Is it ever acceptable to compromise human rights to build a nation? Reflect on this topic and record your answers. Make a presentation to classmates, with a clear explanation of your views.

The Holodomor and the Great Leap Forward in China

Twenty-five years after Stalin's Holodomor, General Mao Tse Dong launched the "Great Leap Forward" in 1958. Both Communist leaders wielded apparently unlimited power in their efforts to eliminate private farms and promote rapid industrialization. According to an expert on the subject, historian Frank Dikötter, Mao's policies precipitated mass famine, rampant cannibalism, causing an estimated thirty to fifty million deaths.

Dikötter, Frank - Mao's Great Leap to Famine. International Herald Tribune. 15 December 15, 2010

Action 8


A. Select 10 adult participants for a History Survey. First thank them for participating and let them know they will be identified only by number with no names ever recorded.

B. Question for them:
What do you know about the Holodomor and the Great Leap Forward?

C. Give them scores out of a total of 5 based on correct answers to:
Where? When? What? Who? Why?

  1. (Where) know that Holodomor refers to the Ukrainian genocide and the Great Leap Forward was a Chinese genocide.
  2. (When) provide dates exactly (1932-1933 Holodomor; 1958-1963 GLF) or in the correct decade.
  3. (What) express a rough approximation of the number of man-made deaths attributed to the Holodomor (7 - 10 million) and the Great Leap Forward (at least 45 million).
  4. (Who) know that General Mao was behind the GLF and Stalin was behind Holodomor.
  5. (Why) know that both genocides were done by Communists who wanted to eliminate private farms and rapidly increase industrialization.

D. Participants may be asked to volunteer their level of education and how they learned about these genocides.

E. Analyze your results as individuals and then as a class looking at trends and the potential explanations of those trends.

Ukrainian Canadian Congress logo

“Exposing the Ukrainian Holodomor: How starvation was used as a political weapon”
was developed by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress of Saskatchewan
– Holodomor Awareness & Education Committee ;

Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 6 Cambodia: The Forgotten Genocide?

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Ask Yourself

  • Have you come across any references in your courses, textbooks, or the news about Cambodia?
  • Do you know where Cambodia is, without looking at a map?
  • Should the genocide be remembered? How?
  • Can the Cambodian Genocide be compared to other genocides in this unit?
  • The region now called Cambodia has had many names throughout its history: Funan, Angkor Empire, Khmer Empire, Kingdom of Cambodia, Khmer Republic, Democratic Kampuchea, People’s Republic of Kampuchea and State of Cambodia. What do these frequent name changes suggest about its history?

Cambodia: A Little History

Hinduism and Buddhism influenced Cambodia throughout its history, like other states in Southeast Asia, though most Cambodians today follow Buddhist practices. Its national language has influences from India rather than China, despite China’s influence in the region over time. The original state, Funan, morphed into the Angkor Empire under a series of powerful Khmer rulers from the 9th-12th centuries CE (Common Era). At its peak, this empire included parts of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Burma (Myanmar). The rulers built an impressive series of more than a thousand temples. Some of these are popular tourist attractions in particular Angkor Wat, a Unesco Heritage site north of Siem Riep, that was built in the 1100s.

Angkor Wat enlarge image
Angkor Wat

This temple was originally a Hindu complex that was converted to a Buddhist one. It has more than 100 temples extending over approximately 400 square kilometres.

Source: Creative Commons

Action 1  

Do >

Search Google Maps and find a map of Cambodia and southeast Asia. Zoom in and trace the route of the Mekong River, the longest river in the area. Since river travel was very important historically, how could the river influence history in the area, both positively and negatively?

Like so many empires, after a period of regional dominance, things changed and by the 1400s Cambodian power was surpassed, first by other influences in the region such as Siam (Thailand) and Vietnam, and later by European colonial powers. In the case of Cambodia, it came under the influence of France like its neighbour, Vietnam. Japan took over the area briefly during World War II. This was followed by struggles for independence from France, achieved in 1953. Throughout colonial history, borders were set without consulting the peoples who lived in the area. In this case, the mixture of Vietnamese and Cambodian Khmers led to tensions between the two groups.

Communism in Cambodia

In the 1960s and early 1970s the Cold War in Asia involved the United States and the Peoples’ Republic of China, and supporters of both sides. This eventually brought instability to the region. Cambodia was not spared. The Vietnam War (eventually won by the communist north in 1975) spilled into Cambodia with a military coup, an insurgent campaign by Cambodian communists led by Pol Pot, and thousands of bombs dropped by the United States to support the military government against both Vietnamese and Cambodian communists. The thousands of civilian casualties were a recruitment tool for the Khmer Rouge, the name for Cambodia’s communists. Pol Pot and many other founders of the Khmer Rouge were well-educated students who had lived in France yet, like their Vietnamese classmates, felt alienated by the post-independence Kingdom of Cambodia. Both groups were attracted by communist ideas.

This Really Happened

In April 1975 the Khmer Rouge forces defeated the Cambodian military and took over the capital city, Phnom Penh. Urban areas had supported the military when it first came into power. Though their support cooled due to government dictatorial policies they were even more afraid of the Khmer Rouge so they fled the cities or were forced out. Many of them, likely millions, were forced to do unpaid agricultural work.

The Khmer Rouge engaged in a wave of killings in the four years it controlled the country. After killing many supporters and soldiers connected to the previous military government, they brutalized Buddhist monks and ethnic minorities including Chinese, Vietnamese, Thais and others not connected to the Khmer majority population. The new government also cut Democratic Kampuchea (the new name for Cambodia) off from the rest of the world.

Purges continued with anyone suspected of disloyalty, even communists who disagreed with the Pol Pot government and former urban dwellers who were already starving after evacuating the cities to live in the countryside. Peasants were also persecuted. The death toll between 1975 to 1979 was estimated to be at least 1.7 million and perhaps even more than 2 million victims of murder, starvation, overwork or disease (out of a population of about 8 million) in this “reign of terror”. One in four or one in five Cambodians died within just four years! The Khmer Rouge even killed children and babies, since by killing them they would not grow up to take revenge for the deaths of their parents.

Money, free markets, schools, private property, foreign styles of clothing, religious practices, and other aspects of traditional Khmer culture were abolished, and buildings such as schools, pagodas, and government properties were turned into prisons, stables, camps, and granaries. Family relationships were heavily criticized, and the Khmer Rouge forced children to be “child soldiers” since they were easy to control and would follow orders without hesitation, to the point where many were forced to shoot their own parents.

Action 2  

Discuss >

A phrase that the Khmer Rouge used when describing some of the Khmer they killed was that these were “Khmer bodies with Vietnamese Minds”. What does this say about relations between the two countries even though both were considered Communists in the Cold War period?

The Killing Fields

Tourists now visit graves and memorials to the “Killing Fields” as well as ancient wonders like Angkor Wat. Khmer Rouge moved over to a system of more than 150 “Killing Fields,” all over Cambodia. In addition to political opponents, those unable to do the farm work in the fields were marked for execution. Approximately 60% of the deaths during the genocide were by direct execution and the remaining victims died from disease or starvation. There were more than 20,000 mass graves containing the bodies and bones of nearly a million and a half victims. The term “Killing Fields” was coined by a Cambodian journalist, Dith Pran, who managed to escape. His experiences and those of an American journalist, Sydney Schanberg, were the basis for a 1984 British film, The Killing Fields. The film was nominated for and won several Academy Awards.

The Killing Fields enlarge image
The Killing Fields

Source: Wikimedia

The Killing Fields enlarge image
The Killing Fields

Source: AP

Action 3  

Do >

A. Imagine if you were one of those victims in these photos. What would you say to the survivors? Write a dialogue that might take place in that scenario. What would they say to help you better understand what they went through? What questions would you have for them?

B. After watching the movie, “The Killing Fields”, how might your thoughts be affected by the previous activity? What does this say about the power and limits of the media, whether fiction or non-fiction, to inform us?

A High School Reunion

“Hill of the Poisonous Trees" (Tuol Sleng) was a former high school, established by the Khmer Rouge as just one of at least 150 execution centres.

Imagine taking a tour of your old high school like this:

Tuol Sleng school exterior enlarge image
Tuol Sleng school exterior

Source: Wikipedia

Tuol Sleng school interior and prison cells enlarge image
Tuol Sleng school interior and prison cells

Source: Wikimedia

Tuol Sleng school interior and prison cells enlarge image
Tuol Sleng school interior and prison cells

Source: Wikimedia

Tuol Sleng - plaque about the high school turned into secret security office enlarge image
Tuol Sleng - plaque about the high school turned into secret security office

Source: Wikimedia

Discuss >

Among those marked for imprisonment and execution were people wearing eyeglasses. Why do you think they were selected?


The Khmer Rouge had a belief in the superiority of their people; i.e. the majority Khmer people. This was evident in their attacks on non-Khmers in Cambodia as well as attacks on several of their neighbours, including Vietnam, ruled by fellow Communists whom one would expect to be on the same side. Refugees from Cambodia fled to Vietnam and lobbied to get that country’s support. When Cambodia declined to negotiate with Vietnam over the border fighting, the Vietnamese army invaded and overthrew the Khmer Rouge and set up the People's Republic of Kampuchea. After a decade the Vietnamese withdrew the last of their troops and the government renamed the country the State of Cambodia. Over the years, under United Nations support, it emerged as a democracy with free elections and the return of the monarchy as a symbol of national unity.

What Happened to the Khmer Rouge?

Many who were considered moderate members were killed during the rule. The leaders fled.

Pol Pot, gives an interview June 22, 1979 in the Cambodian jungle. enlarge image
Pol Pot, gives an interview June 22, 1979 in the Cambodian jungle.

Source: AP Photo

Pol Pot, with some supporters, hid out along the border of Cambodia and Thailand, making rare appearances to denounce the Vietnamese invaders and any who supported them. The Peoples’ Republic of China were supportive of the Khmer Rouge remnants. Gradually the government in Cambodia persuaded Khmer Rouge members to defect. In 1998, Pol Pot died while taking a nap. A few of his remaining supporters mourned his death.

In 1997, the Cambodian government with help from the UN established a tribunal to investigate the genocide. It took nine years to agree to the shape and structure of the court – a hybrid of Cambodian and international laws. The investigating judges were presented with the names of five suspects by the prosecution in July of 2007. On September 19, 2007 Nuon Chea, second in command of the Khmer Rouge and its most senior surviving member, was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He faced Cambodian and foreign judges at the special genocide tribunal, was convicted on August 7, 2014 and received a life sentence. On July 26, 2010 Kang Kek Ieu, the director of the S-21 prison camp was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment. In 2012, his sentence was extended to life imprisonment.

Action 4  

Do >

List the reasons why Khmer Rouge leaders avoided trials for decades and why Pol Pot escaped trial. Compare your list with a classmate.

International Response

The international community was largely silent during the course of the genocide. Neither the U.S. nor Europe called attention to the genocides as they were happening, although scholars and others in the West tried to bring attention to the atrocities being committed.

Action 5  

iSearch >

Yale University has an ongoing study of the Cambodian (and other) genocides. Explore the sections on U.S. involvement in this website:

What information helps explain the lack of response from the United States and other countries?

Action 6  

Do >

Two common expressions that are often used to explain how things happen are

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“Once bitten, twice shy.”

Discuss and record your answers to the following questions.

A. How do these apply to the reaction of the United States to events in Cambodia?

B. What conflicts in the world today persist because of the ideas in the expressions above?

C. What can Canadians do when faced with issues that offer less than perfect choices as indicated by the quotes above?

Literary Insights that inform history

Like people throughout the world, the Khmer (Cambodian people) created folktales over the centuries. Elders passed stories on to their children, sometimes to teach and other times to entertain. However, in this ancient land with powerful animals like elephants, tigers and cobras some tales have a surprising hero: a small rabbit! Mr. Hare uses his brain to make up for his size! Time and again he outsmarts huge elephants, hungry crocodiles, fierce tigers…and even men!

Action 7  

Do >

Read the Khmer folk tale: How the Hare Crossed the River on the Crocodile’s Back (

Given the history of Cambodia, might this tale be an allegory? If so, who is the rabbit and who is the crocodile? What purpose do allegories serve?

In many ways, How the Hare Crossed the River on the Crocodile’s Back resembles a fable. What are the characteristics of a fable? Why might this Cambodian tale be described as a fable?

Do some research into the Khmer era described in this unit. Select an event that you find interesting and create a fable to present it. Your fable should be between 400-500 words. Select one of the following methods of presentation: a Powerpoint (include illustrations with your slides); a dramatization (invite some of your classmates to participate); story-telling.

Action 8  

iSearch >

Do an internet search for other Khmer folk tales. See

A. What message or lesson is embedded in each?

B. Can you think of a Western folk tale or fable that presents the same lesson?

C. What does this suggest about the human condition?

Going Further

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Overview How Did We Get There?

Back to top

Ask yourself:

  • Why do we have “blind spots” when it comes to judging people?
  • How do these harden into stereotypes that often turn into prejudices?
  • Why do prejudices turn into discrimination?
Black Canadian Youth Group Discussion
Choose Your Voice
Please select one of the four videos below. They were created by FAST for the first educational program, Choose Your Voice, launched in 2005.

The password for all videos is "fast".

Bursting the Voices of Stereotyping
Voices from the Past
Voices from the Present
Choose Your Voice

Action 1 


What do you see?
Do you see a vase, or two faces looking at each other, both, or neither?

Do you see a vase, or two faces looking at each other, both, or neither?

What does the following mean?

“There are none so blind as those who will not see?”

What is the lesson of this parable?
“A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, "this is where the light is.”

Source: David H. Freedman(2010). Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us. London: Little, Brown and Company.

The three tasks above illustrate some of the challenges we have when we try to make meaning of our world. Learn the negative consequences of treating people inhumanely.

For many people throughout human history the process has looked something like this:

Segregation Expulsion Extermination

In the case of antisemitism the philosopher Emil Fackenheim has outlined three stages of antisemitism: “You cannot live among us as Jews,” leading to forced conversions; “You cannot live among us,” leading to mass deportations; and “You cannot live.” How do these stages match the chart above?

Get ready to explore some of the psychological, sociological, and anthropological underpinnings of these horrendous acts. These underpinnings are actually the negative consequences of a natural process that begins with perceptions and moves from thoughts to actions.

Perception Judgment Action

Developing Perceptions about Our World

We usually make sense of things by organizing ideas and information we get through our senses into concepts: mental constructs or categories humans represent through words or phrases that give the grouped information a “label”. Concepts are abstractions and represent reality, but individual examples of concepts do exist. Organizing our experiences into concept groupings makes it easier to deal with them. Imagine the confusion if we could not make sense of our world?

For example there may be as many as 7.5 million distinguishable colours, but we can manage them when we group them into a dozen or so categories (Bruner, J.S. (1973) Going Beyond the Information Given, New York: Norton,). Thus concepts provide the intellectual categories or lenses through which we organize and make sense of the world. The processes of organizing our realities into concepts involve thinking and communicating on many levels.

The ability to organize people, ideas, objects, and events into concepts is important in learning. Memory of the meaning of an idea or event lasts longer than the memory of the specific event itself. Organizing knowledge into categories or concepts makes it easier to store such knowledge in long-term memory. More importantly for teachers and students, conceptual understanding makes it easier to retrieve knowledge we need: a mental filing system.

While concepts are a natural part of how we search for meaning and can be helpful in the case of organizing colors (or smells or sounds) they can get us into trouble when they are not based on facts or clear evidence. If our perceptions are not based on reality and if they are harmful to others or to ourselves, then we need to find ways to change them as should the drunk if he is to find his keys. But too often perceptions harden into judgments.

Making Judgments

We normally collect information and make a quick judgment and then seek information that supports this belief. It is more comforting to find ideas that support your belief than to grapple with those that do not. Judgments are more easily made than changed once our minds have been “made up”. This has been a survival tool throughout history. For example, if a child touches a flame and gets a burn, he or she will be very careful before doing it again.

But what if the information or stimulus is not so clear, as in the image that began this overview?

In these cases we usually make judgments based on prior knowledge and experience. And in our global world different people may make different judgments based on a similar initial perception. The following example (as well as the two charts above) comes from Morton and McBride (1977).

A farmer sees in the distance a large furry animal with four feet and a long tail in the early dawn light. The animal is eating something on the ground.

  • If the farmer is in Saskatchewan, he or she might think it is a cow or a horse.
  • If the farmer is in Tanzania in Eastern Africa, he or she might think it is a lion or a zebra.

How do you account for the different judgments?

When our judgments harden despite evidence to the contrary, they create “cognitive dissonance”. It is easier to ignore ideas that challenge our prior thinking than to struggle to change our beliefs. Researchers call this the “confirmation bias”.

Imagine if in fact a lion was in the Saskatchewan field.
How might the confirmation bias result in something bad happening if the farmer went out to milk the “cow”?

From Judgment to Stereotype


  • A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.
  • A person or thing that conforms to a widely held but oversimplified image of the class or type to which they belong: don’t treat anyone as a stereotype.

    Source: Oxford Dictionary

When judgments are based on misinformation, stereotypes can develop. When we unfairly apply our stereotypes to ACTIONS against groups regardless of individual differences in every group, we are “discriminating”.

Brad Galloway, former White Supremacist

From Judgment to Action

Three of the cases in this unit show how this process happens to groups of people. The cyber bullying case shows how it plays out with individuals.

Action 2 


What Have You Learned?

As you study the cases, record “blind spots”.


  • Who committed them?
  • What stereotypes are revealed?
  • What actions are taken that represent discrimination?
  • Which actions move from discrimination to segregation and beyond?

Be honest with yourself and record your own blind spots and unfair biases that you hold towards various groups—we ALL have them.

Action 3 


In a group develop a thesis (arguable statement) on current issues relating to prejudice and/or discrimination as reported in the media, focusing on Canada, the United States, or globally.

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 1 The Righteous Among Nations: The Actions of Heroes

Back to top

Ask yourself:

  • What factors motivate some people to perform heroic acts to save lives while the majority of people choose to remain bystanders?
  • Why is it important that the actions of Rescuers are both studied and publicly honoured?

This really happened

More than any other event of modern times, the Holocaust has fundamentally changed our view of human nature. The Nazi plan of purposeful extermination of about 1,000,000 Roma, 6,000,000 Jews, thousands of disabled children and adults and thousands Gays and political dissenters in the years 1933 to 1945, demonstrates the evil of which so called 'civilized' persons are capable. At the same time, it is important to consider that during this same period in history, an estimated 50,000 ordinary people from across many countries risked their own lives to save those who were being persecuted under Nazi rule.

Source: The Righteous: Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust. (Gilbert, Sir Martin, Holt Paperbacks: 2004)

Stories of Rescuers

To date about 24,000 people have been honoured as Holocaust Rescuers. In most cases the Rescuers began as bystanders and then for some reason felt compelled to help. The following stories describe three heroes of the Holocaust – Miep Gies, Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler. Each acted in a different way to save the persecuted Jews.

Generally, Rescuers' actions fall into one of the following categories:

  • Hiding victims so they could not be found and sent to concentrations camps
  • Providing false identities so victims could flee to a safe country
  • Smuggling victims out of the country
Survivor rescued by Raoul Wallenberg


Artifact One › Miep Gies
An elderly woman, Miep looks down at the paper she is writing on. enlarge image
Miep Gies

1909 - 2010

Credit: Yad Vashem

Although born in Austria, Miep was raised as a foster child by a large and generous family in Amsterdam, Holland. When the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940, Miep was employed in a company owned by a Jew, Otto Frank. The Frank Family soon received deportation orders and knew they would be sent to concentration camps, so Otto Frank asked Miep if she would be willing to keep his family hidden from the Nazis in the attic of their company building. The family consisted of Otto Frank, his wife, and two daughters: Margot, 16 and Anne, 13. Miep agreed.

For two years she provided the Frank Family and another family who had joined them, with food clothing and books. She also provided news from the outside and emotional comfort.

After two years of hiding there, the building was raided by the Nazis and the members of the two families were sent to a concentration camp. With the exception of Otto Frank, the entire family perished in the concentration camp.

In the attic there remained the diary, which young Anne Frank kept for the two years of hiding.  When the Franks were taken, Miep rescued the diary and when Otto Frank returned at the end of the war, she presented it to him. After the war, this diary was published as a book called, The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne’s diary has been translated into many languages and has since been read by millions of people.

Artifact Two › Raoul Wallenberg
An old black and white photo a young Raoul Wallenberg, staring off into the distance. enlarge image
Raoul Wallenberg

1912 - 1947

Credit: Yad Vashem

Raoul Wallenberg was born into a wealthy Swedish banking family. Sweden remained a neutral country during the war but through his work in banking, Wallenberg became aware of the Nazi plan to exterminate millions of people. When the Nazis invaded in 1944, the Swedish legation in Hungary was given permission to issue a limited number of special security passes to Jews who had a special connection with Sweden. Of course the Swedish legation was overwhelmed with requests for special passes and Raoul Wallenberg was added to the Swedish legation.

Wallenberg was committed in his efforts to save those persecuted in the Holocaust. He created special protective passes, which would allow those about to be sent to the camps to leave Hungary for a safer place. He made sure that the passes looked really professional and appeared to be issued by government agencies. His goal was to ensure that those carrying the passes would not be stopped and questioned.

Wallenberg also acquired several houses in Hungary, which he declared to be Swedish government property. He used these houses to hide Holocaust victims while they waited for their passes. It is estimated that Wallenberg, himself, saved about 100,000 people.

Artifact Three › Oskar Schindler
A black and white photo of Oskar Schindler peering off into the distance, dressed in a suit and tie. enlarge image
Oskar Schindler

1908 - 1974

Credit: Yad Vashem

When the war began in 1939, Oskar Schindler, the son of a wealthy German Family followed the Nazis into Poland hoping to make some easy money. There, as a member of the Nazi Party he managed to acquire a factory for little money. To make the largest possible profit Oskar hired Jews who were not allowed to work elsewhere as cheap labour.

As Jews began to be herded into ghettoes in Poland, Oskar managed to protect a number of them by having them designated as "essential labour" in working toward a Nazi victory in the War. The workers in his factory were fed, clothed and most important, safe from being sent to the concentration camp.

When the Nazis began to ship trainloads of Jews from the ghettos to the concentration camps, Shindler said, "Beyond this day, no thinking person could fail to see what would happen. I was now resolved to do everything in my power to defeat the system."

Early on, Schindler had protected victims for his own interest but he was now determined to save their lives. He converted his factory to a bullet manufacturer and took over 1000 Jews to work there. In this way he saved their lives.

After the war, those whom Schindler had saved, supported him financially for the rest of his life and he is buried in Israel where his survivors or their children tend his grave.

Action 1 


The Righteous Among the Nations

The Holocaust Memorial in Israel considers it a moral obligation to locate and honour those who rescued Jews from death during the Nazi persecution. By 2010, about 24,000 heroes from forty-four different countries had been honoured there. Those honoured are called, The Righteous Among the Nations. Although almost 70 years have passed since the end of the Holocaust, the museum continues to honour about 800 additional Rescuers each year.

Research tells us that the vast majority of the populations of the Nazi occupied countries chose to remain bystanders to the persecutions and deaths of the Holocaust. In fact, historians have estimated that the number of Rescuers represent only 0.5% of 1% of the populations of Nazi occupied countries.

Why is it that some people made the transition from Bystander to Rescuer?  Historians have begun to study this question hoping that understanding this question will prepare future generations to act morally even when it is dangerous and challenging for them to do so. Historians began by studying the profiles of many who had already been honoured as The Righteous Among the Nations. These profiles are archived at the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Studies reveal that in most cases the Rescuers began as Bystanders and only later became Rescuers. Often Rescuers themselves could not explain why they had made the decision to help when they clearly understood the risk to their own lives.

We know from the testimony of those who survived the Holocaust that the majority of Rescuers were not motivated by a desire for financial rewards. Why, then, did they choose to risk their own lives to save others? Accounts provided by Holocaust survivors form a vast ORAL HISTORY, which allows us to study this question in more depth.

Action 2 


Testing your assumptions

Beliefs about the motivation of Rescuers

A. In pairs, discuss which statements you assume to be true. Why have you made these assumptions?

Statement Reason
Young people are more likely to become Rescuers than older people.  
Women are more compassionate and are more likely to become Rescuers.  
Religious people are more likely to become Rescuers.  
People with more education are more likely to become Rescuers than people with less education.  
People who are rich or powerful are less likely to become Rescuers than people with less wealth and power.  
People who are politically involved are more likely to become Rescuers than those who are not involved in politics.  
Testing your assumptions

B. Working in groups you will now have the opportunity to test your suppositions using the information in the profiles of the following Rescuers:
Raoul Wallenberg
Pierre Marie-Benoit
Selahattin Ulkume

Each member of the group selects one of the names above.


Go to the WEBSITE:

Under the heading Rescuers, find the profile of the person you have chosen to research. As you read the profile, refer to the assumptions you completed earlier and determine the veracity of your assumptions.

Share your findings with the group and explain why some people changed from bystanders to Rescuers. Post your sentences on chart paper and share your thoughts with the class.

C. Using the same website, read four or five more profiles of Rescuers. Refer to the statements that your group posted earlier. After reading the additional profiles, discuss and change or amend your group statement if necessary. Use a different colour to make the changes to your original statement.

Unexpected findings

From the archives of profiles and from the words of Rescuers, we know that Rescuers came from all classes, all levels of education, all social classes and all nationalities. Some historians argue that the Rescuers acted from a political desire to act against the Nazis. Others felt the Rescuers were by nature independent thinkers. Still others believe that Rescuers had strong family ties and the ability to empathize with other people. Rescuers, of all profiles, were people who recognized that the persecuted were fellow human beings and because of this perception felt obliged to act.

The Two Faces of Poland

Action 3 


Report Bullying!

Read the following facts about an incident in a Canadian School. How do these facts support your research about Rescuers?

Eight Girls Charged in Bullying Case

Eight teenage girls at a high school in London, Ontario, have been arrested in connection with a bullying incident involving another student, police say.

Const. Dennis Rivest of the London Police Service said the eight girls were arrested Thursday. Police said an investigation revealed that the victim had been the target of physical and emotional bullying, and cyber bullying.

The arrested girls face charges of criminal harassment.

Police said information about the bullying came from individuals who came forward in person and through an anonymous reporting web portal, called "South Cares," which is on the London South Collegiate website.

Photograph of a very large Jewish family gathered in the Yad Vashem gardens in Israel. The men are dressed in black suits and the women are dressed in skirts and dresses. enlarge image
Honouring the Rescuers

Yad Vashem held an event posthumously honoring Ludwika & Zygmunt Szostak as Righteous Among the Nations from Poland. The memorial ceremony took place in the Hall of Remembrance Monday, May 13, 2013

Credit: Yad Vashem

Here are the facts

On Monday, May 13, 2013 Yad Vashem held an event posthumously honoring Ludwika & Zygmunt Szostak as Righteous Among the Nations from Poland. The memorial ceremony took place in the Hall of Remembrance, followed by the unveiling of the name of the Righteous in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, in the presence of His Excellency Polish Ambassador to Israel Jacek Hodorowicz. Elzbieta Stradowska, great-niece of the late Righteous Ludwika, and Zygmunt Szostak received the medal and certificate of honor on their behalf. Also in attendance were Holocaust survivor Karolina Eisen, Members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, Holocaust survivors, family members and friends.

About 24,000 people from 44 different countries have been honoured in this way and each year the Memorial continues to recognize about 800 additional Rescuers. It has been almost seven decades since the end of the Holocaust and many Rescuers and Survivors have passed on. Still the Memorial continues to accept documentation from survivors or from their children.

In addition to a ceremonial celebration, Rescuers receive a specially designed medal and a Certificate of Honour. Their names are inscribed on the Wall of Honour in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem.

This medal, made of silver, is the Yad Vashem “Medal of the Righteous”, inscribed with French and Hebrew writing. enlarge image
The Medal of the Righteous of the Nations – Front and Back

Credit: Yad Vashem

There are also some exceptional ways in which Rescuers are honoured. The Israeli Government can decide to declare a Rescuer a citizen of Israel. Rescuers who have fallen on hard times are provided with monthly support from the Government of Israel and they receive funds to pay for their medications if they become ill. For many years Oskar Schindler was supported by those whose lives he had saved. He became a citizen of Israel and chose to be buried there.

Wall of Honour with the names of “righteous” individuals who helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust. enlarge image
The Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous

Credit: Yad Vashem

Historica Canada at hired Angus Reid Pollsters to survey whether Canadians think we do enough to honour Canadian heroes. The results were published on June 30, 2013. Of those polled, 86% felt that too little is being done to recognize Canadian heroes.

A King with Empathy

Non-Jewish Danish citizens rescued 7,000 Jews in Denmark. The king of Denmark, Christian X and the heads of the Danish churches all denounced the persecution of Danish Jews. When the German forces in Denmark began deportation of Jews, Danish resistance groups intercepted the information, and warned the Jews of Denmark. En masse, Danish civilians rescued the country's Jewish population when fishermen smuggled them to Sweden on their boats. The Swedish government announced it would accept all refugees from Denmark.

Action 4 


In groups of four or five, your task is to design a meaningful way in which Canadians can honour those who take significant personal risks to save the lives of others.

The website below will provide you with an example of one way Canadians currently use 'ORDERS' to honour those among us who have made exceptional contributions to our country.

Requirements of the Action:

  • Create a name for the Rescuers' Award.
  • Decide how the Rescuers who receive this Rescuer Award will be honoured.
  • Establish 4 or 5 Criteria for receiving the Rescuers' Award.
  • Create a Nomination Form that will allow Canadians to recommend Rescuers for the Award. Provide some examples of Canadians who you believe would be eligible for the Rescuers Award.
  • Design a concrete object that Rescuers will receive to take home. This could be a certificate, a statue, a picture, a poem, or any other object you feel would be suitable recognition.
  • Display your Rescuers' Award in your school or in your school newsletter.

The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, pays tribute to Rescuers, raises financial resources for Yad Vashem Jerusalem’s global initiatives and implements Yad Vashem’s vision of disseminating the facts and universal lessons of the Holocaust across Canada through significant educational and commemorative initiatives.

A documentary about Rescuers is coming in May (see the trailer):

Further reading

Blum, Jenna Those Who Save Us, 2005
Trudy, a history professor collects oral histories of WW II survivors, including that of her aged German mother. Throughout the book are interviews with German immigrants, many of whom reveal unabashed antisemitism.

Klempner, Mark The Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust rescuers and their stories of courage, 2006
The ten Dutch people profiled in this book provide an in-depth look into the hearts and minds of Holocaust Rescuers who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of Holland.

Korczak, Janusz Ghetto Diary, 2003
Korczak, a paediatrician and well-known author, gave up a brilliant medical career to devote himself to the orphans of Warsaw.

Lyson, Leon.The Boy on the Wooden Box. How the impossible became impossible,2013
As one of the youngest members of Schindler’s list, Leyson offers a perspective of the righteous hero in this memoir.
Rappaport, Doreen Beyond Courage: The untold story of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, 2012
The author presents 21 true stories of defiance and heroism in Nazi-occupied Europe. The book is divided into five chapters: The Realization, Saving the Future, In the Ghettos, In the Camps, Partisan Warfare.

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 2 Entry Denied: The Komagata Maru Incident, 1914

Back to top

Ask yourself:

  • How do prejudice and discrimination prevent immigration for those who are seeking asylum?
  • What laws are in place to protect the rights of immigrants?

This really happened

The Komagata Maru was a Japanese steamship that sailed from Punjab, India to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1914, via China and Japan. Upon arrival to Canada, entry was denied for all the ship’s Indian passengers who were hoping to immigrate. A law stated that those hoping to immigrate, could only do so by a ‘continuous journey’ and through tickets purchased before leaving their country of nationality. Because of these exclusion laws designed to keep out immigrants of only Asian origin, the ship was forced to return to India. Upon arrival in India, a riot broke out, killing about 20 passengers who were thought to be lawbreakers and political agitators.

By investigating photographs, reading about voices connected to the incident, exploring a script and discussing whether apologizing is enough, you will consider how the media has an impact on historical events as well as investigate laws connected to immigration that might be discriminatory.

Sikh man talks about the Komagata Maru and discrimination against Sikhs


Images of the Komagata Maru

There are many existing archival photos of the Komagata Maru incident. Many photos featured in newspaper articles, give insight into the experiences of the people involved. The two pictures depict a moment on board the ship and on the pier in Burrard Inlet, Vancouver. Together these images convey two different perspectives providing insights into the thoughts and feelings of both groups of people on either side of this historical event.

This old photo is of a group of Sikh men wearing suits and turbans, and accompanied by one unhappy little boy. They are standing on a dock in front of the Komagata Maru steam liner. enlarge image

Indian immigrants on the Komagata Maru

Credit: City of Vancouver Archives

An old photo of a large group of male Vancouverites standing and sitting on the dock in 1914. enlarge image

Vancouver, British Columbia - dock

Credit: Vancouver Public Library

Action 1 


Response to images

A. Work in four large groups to examine these photos. To begin, two groups can examine Photo A, and two groups can work with Photo B. As a group, share your responses to this image by considering the following areas of inquiry. Use a T-chart format to organize your thoughts.

What do you see?What do you wonder about?
What do you see? What do you wonder about?

B. As a group, recreate the photo of some of the people in the scene. Each person will need to choose one character’s role to play. What physical position will you take? What gestures and facial expressions will you include?

C. Once each group has prepared the still image, Group A1 can stand opposite a partner Group A1 (i.e. both still images face each other on a count of three.)

The activity is then repeated, with one group being an audience for the other. Those who are watching the image are encouraged to walk around the image to examine it from a variety of angles and to look carefully at the gestures and facial expressions. On a piece of chart paper, with markers, record what comes to mind when you look at the picture: What did these people feel like? What might these people say? What words convey their emotions?

Each group should have the opportunity to present images to their partner group and complete the chart.


As a class, discuss the following:

  • What did you learn about the Komagata Maru incident from looking at the photos?
  • What stories do pictures tell?
  • Can one picture capture a ‘truth’?
  • Why were the people on the pier so fearful of approaching immigrants?
  • What other pictures might you expect to see?

Action 2 


The Komagata Maru Incident: The script

Sharon Pollock, Canadian playwright, wrote the play entitled The Komagata Maru Incident. It depicts historical events that invite readers and audiences to ask questions about the real story and the one depicted on stage. The following scene takes place early in the script. T.S., The Master of Ceremonies, who plays many roles, meets with Immigration inspector, William Hopkinson.

A. Reading and Responding to the script excerpt

Read the script independently, then work with a partner to discuss the following:

  • What are some facts you learn from this excerpt about the plight of the Sikhs aboard the ship?
  • Summarize the two points of view of these characters.
  • In the play, the character of T.S. plays the Master of Ceremonies (and other roles). What role do you think TS is playing here? How might you describe this character?
  • How do you imagine that this scene might be staged for a theatre presentation?

B. Interpreting the script

With a partner, choose a role to read out loud from this script. Repeat the activity, switching roles.

To rehearse this script, actors might play their roles in different ways. Once you have decided upon a role to practice, choose one of these ‘attitudes/emotions’ to interpret the lines (e.g., T.S. could be calm and Hopkinson could be angry; both characters could be angry, etc.).

  • calmly
  • with anger
  • with hesitation
  • with sadness
  • apathetic, uncaring

C. Rehearsing the script

As an actor rehearses, he or she explores a variety of emotions to inform how to best convey the meaning of the texts. Experiment with a few different ways to read these lines with your partner. Discuss which way seemed the most authentic theatre presentation (i.e., How would each character feel as they continue the conversation?). Once you have rehearsed the scene, present it to another pair and compare different interpretations.

Action 3 


Writing a new scene

A. As with any historical conflicts, there are many sides to the story. Choose one or more of the following roles to write a new scene that features two or three characters. Choose roles from any combination of the following:

  • An immigration official
  • A Sikh who has travelled aboard the ship
  • An Indo-Canadian who has been living in British Columbia for several years
  • The Prime Minister of Canada
  • A politician who demands that entry be denied
  • Other?

B. In pairs, or small groups, prepare a new scripted scene to convey other viewpoints connected to this event. For this scene consider:

  • Which characters might appear in the scene?
  • What is the setting?
  • How will the particular conflict be conveyed?
  • What information and feelings will your scene represent about the injustice done to immigrants?

C. Once completed, rehearse the scene with your group to present to others who have worked on a different scene.

Note: The complete Sharon Pollock script of The Komagata Maru Incident is available through Playwrights Canada Press.

The Komagata Maru Incident: A script by Sharon Pollock
(Permission granted, Playwrights Canada Press)

T. S.:   Master of Ceremonies
William Hopkinson:  Department of Immigration Inspector

The Komagata Maru Incident: A script by Sharon Pollock
(Permission granted, Playwrights Canada Press)

T. S.:   Master of Ceremonies
William Hopkinson:  Department of Immigration Inspector
T.S. The Komagata Maru’s in port with three hundred and seventy-six potential immigrants.
Hopkinson: Yes, sir.
T.S. So? What do you know about them?
Hopkinson: I’ve spoken to my man, Bella Singh, sir. He tells me they’re Sikhs from India, British subjects, and as such they do have a right of entry to Canada, sir.
T.S. The word is no entry.
Hopkinson: I realize that, but we may have a problem.
T.S. A what?
Hopkinson: Many are veterans of The British Army, sir: they’re sure to plead consideration for military service.
T.S. You can put it this way—we don’t mind them dying for us, we just don’t want them living with us.  (laughing.) Get the point.
Hopkinson: (laughing) Yes sir… but if they should go to the courts–
T.S. They won’t go to the courts. He hasn’t done his homework. Have you forgotten our two orders-in-council? If an immigrant wishes to enter the country through a western port, he must make a continuous voyage from his own country. Have they done so?
Hopkinson: No sir, they haven’t.
T.S. And that’s no surprise. There’s not a steamship line in existence with a direct India-to-China route and for our second ace-in-the-hole – a tax, two hundred dollars per head, to be paid before entry. Do they have it?
Hopkinson: Bella Singh says they do not, however–
T.S. Again, not surprising. In the land of his birth, the average Indian’s wage is nine dollars per year. There—you see how we operate, Hopkinson? Never a mention of race, colour, or creed – and yet, we allow British subjects; we don’t allow them to enter.
Hopkinson: Thank you, sir; However, I must inform you that Herman Singh says–
T.S. Sh, sh.
Hopkinson: (lowering his voice) Hermann Singh says that the local Sikhs have raised the money for the head tax.
T.S. That’s not good.
Hopkinson: It’s possible that a launch–
T.S. It is possible? Do you pay for information like that?
Hopkinson: Bella Singh says a launch will deliver the head tax to those on ship late tonight.
T.S. The word is no entry, Hopkinson.
Hopkinson: Yes, sir!

*Note: B. Singh was an active member of the Shore Committee members, an Indian community in British Columbia

A photo of a postage stamp commemorating the Komagata Maru incident. A group of Sikh men wearing different coloured turbans stand above a picture of the ship in the water. enlarge image
May 6, 2014 - Komagata Maru Commemorative Postage Stamp for Canada Post

Credit: The Toronto Star

Action 4 


Voices of the Komagata Maru Incident: Entry Denied

Imagine the ship docked in the Vancouver Harbour in the warm summer months of June and July. 376 passengers were ready to disembark; ready to begin a new life in Canada only to be told their entry was denied. They would not be able to leave the ship: no food, no water, and no communication with the outside world. Their hopes and dreams of working in Canada, beginning a new life, sending for their loved ones were lost.

On the other side of the dock were government officials, lawmakers, citizens who faced their own struggles. Would these workers take their jobs? Would many more follow? Were they different because they were brown? Would they change their way of life?

For two months, the South Asian Community and some members of the white community rallied to give entry to the passengers in the media, in the public eye and in the courts. They fought racist thinking and values and they fought racist laws designed to keep Asians, the “other” out of the country.

And the community on land fought to preserve what they thought their borders guaranteed them. They thought they were fighting for their jobs and a way of life.


  • Do you think the government or the immigrants had a stronger argument?
  • How do you think the media might have captured the event?
  • How does the Komagata Maru incident serve as a profound understanding of prejudice and discrimination?
  • Research how the Canadian immigration policy has changed since 1914 and make a list of the changes that might serve to prevent an incident like this from happening again.
  • Even though the law has changed, do you know of any situations today that might echo the sentiments of the above quotations and perspectives?

Action 5 


Is Apologizing Enough?

A. With a partner, discuss what apologizing means to you. Remember and share a significant experience where you (or someone you know) apologized to someone or when you received an apology. Consider:

  • How did you feel after giving/receiving an apology?
  • Do you think the apology was sincere?
  • Did the apology change your relationship with that person?
  • What might have happened had you not apologized?
  • Did your apology include more than words?

B. In a class discussion, consider the criteria for a strong and meaningful apology. You may volunteer to share personal stories about apologies.

A Country Apologizes

Considering the criteria you generated for a personal apology, does this criteria apply to a country apologizing for an injustice to a group of people?

  • In 2008, the British Columbia government brought forth a motion of apology in the Legislative Assembly. Read the motion and discuss if this apology is meaningful and meets your criteria for an apology. Why do you think it took so long for this apology to be granted?

    Debates of the Legislative Assembly
    2008 Legislative Session:
    4th Session, 38th Parliament, Friday, May 23, 2008
    B.C. Government, Motion No. 62 – Motion of Apology
    Komagata Maru: Motion Unanimously Approved
    “Be it resolved that this Legislature apologizes for the events of May 23, 1914, when 376 passengers of the Komagata Maru, stationed off Vancouver harbour, were denied entry by Canada. The House deeply regrets that the passengers who sought refuge in our country and our province, were turned away without benefit of the fair and impartial treatment befitting a society where people of all cultures are welcomed and accepted.”
  • In August, 2008, at the Bear Creek Park in Surrey, British Columbia, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke in front of 8,000 people at an East Indian Canadian community event to offer a federal apology for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident. Read the apology and consider the strength of Harper’s words:
    • Would this be enough to a community that had felt this injustice from the past?
    • What message might Harper have added to his speech to convince others of the government’s sincerity?
  • Members of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society immediately following the speech rushed to the podium denouncing the apology.
    • Why might they have responded this way?
    • What else could the Canadian government have offered by way of apology?

In May 2016 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a formal apology for the Komagata Maru at the House of Commons: "No words can fully erase the suffering of the Komagata Maru victims. Today we apologize and commit to doing better." Canadian Sikhs have become a significant political force with Jagmeet Singh being elected the first Sikh and first South Asian leader of a national party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), in October 2017.

Action 6 


Apologies have been made to other groups who have faced injustices in both immigrating and settling in this country, (e.g., the Chinese Head Tax, the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II and others.)

  • Are there groups of people today emigrating or settling in Canada who continue to face injustices?
  • How could we or the government support these groups?
A photo of the metal memorial plaque commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident. The plaque is plain and has a written message on it. enlarge image
The Memorial to the Komagata Maru in Portal Park, Vancouver (Sally Gray)

Credit: Sally E. Gray, Grayhound Information Services

Further reading:

Understandables: White Canada and The Komagata Maru, an illustrated history. Edited by Ali Kazimi, published by Douglas and McIntyre, 2012 is a recent publication that documents the incident using archival photos, personal stories and historical references of the immigration of the Indo-Canadian community.

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 3 Islamophobia

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Ask yourself:

  • Was there a time in your life that you encountered something or someone new or unusual, and you took on a closed view? Be as honest as you can when describing the event. Explain what you have learned, and then share it with a partner.
  • If you identify as a Muslim, have you experienced any prejudice or discrimination? If so, share with non-Muslims.

In recent years there has been increasing immigration by persons identifying as Muslims to the West, including to countries in Western Europe and North America. Given the unfamiliarity of some people in the West with the religion of Islam and with Muslims, and because of recent events such as 9/11, the Iraq War and other isolated incidents of terrorism, some people openly or privately confess to not understanding, fearing, or even hating Islam and Muslims. The broad term for this fear or hatred is Islamophobia.


Islamophobia (IP)

Islamophobia is defined as a “dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, fear and dislike of all Muslims”

Source: Runnymede Report, 1996

Islamophobia Group Discussion


Islam is a monotheistic (worshipping one God) religion that is practiced by more than 1.5 billion people worldwide, or roughly one in four people. Practitioners of Islam are called Muslims. The two major sects, or denominations of Islam are Sunni (80%) and Shia (20%). Some things that Islam shares in common with Judaism and Christianity include the belief in one God. The three religions also share recognition of some prophets such as Moses and Abraham. Together, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are called the Abrahamic religions, after the prophet Abraham.

Open or Closed views on Islam

Islam and Muslims can be approached with either open or closed views, and closed views are the ones that are more associated with Islamophobia. Here are eight closed views of Islam as identified by the Runnymede Report (1996):

Islam is seen as:

  • A monolithic bloc, static, and unresponsive to change.
  • Separate and “other”. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
  • Inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive, and sexist.
  • Violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a clash of civilizations.
  • A political ideology, used for political or military advantage.
  • Criticisms made of "the West" by Muslims are rejected out of hand.
  • Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
  • Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural and normal. (Wikipedia, 2013)

Action 1  

Do >

Seeing the Other

Was there a time in your life that you encountered something or someone new or unusual, and you took on a closed view? Be as honest as you can, describe the event, what you learned, and share it with a partner.

With a partner, create a list of eight open views of Islam and Muslims that contrast with the closed views above.

A young Kenyan girl wearing a hijab sits at her wooden desk in class reading the Quran, surrounded by other girls doing the same. enlarge image
A Kenyan child reads verses from the Quran on the fifth day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in a Madrassa in Nairobi, Kenya.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Sayyid Azim

Criticizing the Term

Some people have criticized the use of the term Islamophobia, claiming that terming critics of Islam as Islamophobic prevents honest discussion and criticisms of the religion. Others have criticized the term Islamophobia in that Muslims are more often the "target of hostility" than the religion itself, and hence a better term is Anti-Muslimism.

Some basic facts about Islam
  • There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
  • The Holy Book of Islam is called the Qu'ran. Although it is most often found in the original Arabic, it has been translated into many languages over the years.
  • Islam was established about 1400 years ago by the Prophet Muhammad, who is considered the last Prophet in the line of Abraham by Muslims.
  • Muslims are forbidden from eating pork or drinking alcohol.
A picture of thousands of Muslims in the midst of the hajj, encircled around Kaaba, a black box at the center of the Al-Masjid al-Haram Mosque of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. enlarge image
Muslims performing Haij, or pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudia Arabia

Credit: iStock

Five pillars, or tenets of Islam:

  • Testimony: Where a Muslim accepts that there is no God but God alone and that Muhammad is his prophet.
  • Prayer: Ritual prayer that all Muslims are required to perform five times a day.
  • Alms giving: All Muslims are required to give 1/40th (2.5%) of their annual income to the needy or poor annually.
  • Fasting: Muslims are required to fast (no eating or drinking) from sunup to sundown during the holy month of Ramadan.
  • Pilgrimage: All Muslims who can physically and financially afford to are required to perform pilgrimage (a journey to holy land) at least once in their lifetime.

According to Canada's 2011 National Household Survey, there were 1,053,945 Muslims in Canada or about 3.2% of the population, making them the second largest religion after Christianity. In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 7.7% of the population is Muslim, and in Greater Montreal, Muslims are 6% of the total population.

Young Muslim Woman


Action 2  

Think >

Understanding Islam and Muslim Life

What is your knowledge of Islam and/or Muslims? Unless you are one yourself, do you know any Muslims in real-life? How many of the above facts did you already know? Share with a partner.

Consider how Muslim women in Canada might feel unsafe and targeted simply because they are wearing a hijab. Canada has taken in Syrian refugees - approximately 25,000 in 2015 and 33,000 in 2016. Can you imagine being a teenage girl who experienced atrocities in her home country and has come to Canada, a supposedly safe and welcoming country, only to find herself being targeted? Read this article and think about how you might speak out and take action against this kind of injustice.

Action 3  

iSearch >

When The Media Reacts

Read the following article by University of California-Davis Professor Karima Bennoune, written in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013. In the article, find and highlight as many unfamiliar words, phrases or concepts as you can. Research online for their definitions or for more information.

Once you finish reading, role-play with a partner as Karima Bennoune being interviewed by a journalist for the article. Ask and answer at least three questions this way. Feel free to research online to help you determine both the questions and the potential answers.

People scatter and police rush to the scene as a second bomb explodes during the 2013 Boston Marathon. Smoke rises down the street just as the bomb is going off. enlarge image
The Boston Marathon bombing poses searching questions for counter-terrorism agencies across the world.

Photo credit: David L Ryan/AP (The Guardian, UK)

40 days after Boston bombing: We must stop radical jihad

"We must stop trying to make excuses for the Tsarnaev brothers or jihad. It is wrong. Let's support peaceful Muslims around world."

By Karima Bennoune

In many Muslim societies, the 40th day after a death is a time to gather and grieve again with loved ones. So, in honor of this the 40th day after the atrocities in Boston, I find myself thinking again about the 264 injured people, some of whom are learning to live without their legs, and about the dead victims: 23-year-old Chinese graduate student Lingzi Lu, who had just passed her exams, friendly 29-year-old waitress Krystle Campbell, and eight year-old Martin Richard who famously carried a sign that said "No more hurting people. Peace."

Bearing such losses in mind, I would ask anyone who wants to support the rights of people of Muslim heritage in the United States in the wake of the Boston bombings, please do not do so by explaining that jihadist terrorism is simply a response to US foreign policy, or a consequence of the alleged difficulties faced by Muslim youth in integrating into American culture, or the result of Russian bombing of Chechnya.

Many of us have criticisms of US foreign policy and that of other countries; integrating may indeed be challenging for those from immigrant backgrounds in many contexts; and Chechens did suffer through the intolerable flattening of their country by the Russian military between 1992 and 2009. (As far as I know the United States never bombed the province.) However, most Muslims, immigrants and Chechens have not become terrorists as a result. These things are no excuse for – or even explanation of – the choice to deliberately murder children and young people at a sporting event. Such a grave international crime has nothing to do with legitimate grievances and everything to do with extremist ideology and movements that indoctrinate and instrumentalize young people. We must defeat those movements which have killed so many civilians, especially in Muslim majority countries like Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq and Pakistan.

I have just wrapped up three years of interviewing hundreds of people of Muslim heritage working against fundamentalism and terrorism around the world, and I learned many lessons from them that are helpful today. For example, Cherifa Kheddar, president of Algeria's Association of Victims of Islamist Terrorism, or Djazairouna, who wrote right after 15 April to say how terrible the Boston bombings were. She told me that:

"We cannot defeat terrorism by an anti-terrorist battle without doing the anti-fundamentalist battle."

In other words, it is not just the violence of radical jihadis, but the underlying ideology of Islamism that we must confront. That ideology discriminates between Muslims and non-Muslims (as evidenced by Tamerlan Tsarnaev's reported indignation that his Imam mentioned Martin Luther King, a non-Muslim, during a sermon), and between "good" and "bad" Muslims. It justifies egregious violence against women and civilians, or at least creates an environment conducive to them.

Of course, being an Islamist or a jihadist is not the same thing as being a devout Muslim, and it is unhelpful when the US media simply describes radicalization as becoming "more religious". This process is rather the adoption of a dangerous political stance that deploys religion in the service of an extreme agenda. The best way then to take a pro-human rights stance in the face of recent events is to support those people of Muslim heritage who are risking their lives to denounce and defy these movements. Many have raised their voices around the world in places like Afghanistan, but have rarely been heard in the west.

Discrimination against Muslims in the wake of an atrocity like the Boston bombings is wrong and unhelpful, but so too is a politically correct response, which fosters justification and denial. A young Iranian-American scholar reported that at a recent conference at UC Berkeley on Islamophobia, she was bullied by older US academics for daring to raise the issue of Muslim fundamentalism, along with anti-racism, and, in the same week as the Boston bombings, was told that there was no such thing as what she called "the Muslim right". We must face the reality of extremism.

Many people in Muslim contexts have spoken out against terror even while facing it themselves. I think of Diep Saeeda, a peace activist I met who organized rallies against Taliban violence in Pakistan, or against the blasphemy laws despite the threat that suicide bombers would take down the protestors. Or the Women's Action Forum in Pakistan that regularly denounces terrorism in print. After a March 2013 attack on Shia residents of Karachi, they wrote:

"[o]nce again we share unspeakable horror at the carnage…Once again we express our condemnation and outrage. Once again we wonder how many more times we will do this before there is resolve to deal with religious militancy."

I think of the Libyans who took to the streets of Benghazi in 2012 after the murder of US ambassador Chris Stevens. Or of Somali American activist Abdirizak Bihi who campaigned against Al Shabaab recruitment in the Somali-American community in Minneapolis, after his own teenage nephew's recruitment and death at the hands of the militants. We have to support these people and listen to their voices.

In light of the national origin of the alleged Boston bombers, I have been thinking a lot about a wonderful Chechen journalist I interviewed in Moscow in December 2010. A devout Muslim, Said Bitsoev, then-deputy editor of Novye Izvestia – an independent newspaper – was terribly concerned about what such movements were doing to his home province. "There [a]re a lot of radical people who are really bad for Chechnya. They want to put the country back in the Dark Ages."

Before the Chechen wars, most followed a spiritual Sufi Islam, in contrast to the harsh dogma of the extremists. Said himself loathed the radicals, their new restrictions on women, and new forms of violence. He especially hated the thousands of foreign jihadis who came to Chechnya during the second war. "They brought a lot of fear. I was not able to sleep without a gun under my pillow." These foreign fighters left behind a new breed of Chechen "radical-thinking Islamists" in Bitsoev's view. "The worst thing," Said tells me, is that they were "hunting for those Muslims who were representatives of tolerant Islam, and killed these people". He gives the example of Umar Idrissov, 80, a mufti from Urus-Martan, southwest of Grozny, who was assassinated in 2000 by the Wahhabi group "Wolves of Islam". In fact, across the Caucasus liberal Muslim clergy have been regularly targeted in recent years by extremists.

Said Bitsoev was all too aware that Chechens like those murdered clerics, or like him, are relatively inconspicuous internationally. "Radicals are interesting for the public because they are loud. We normal people are boring," he said. We must support the daily struggles of people like Said, who are too often invisible, against those who twist the religion of their birth into a totalitarian terror manifesto.

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 4 The Nazis' View of Homosexuality, plus Homophobia Today

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Ask yourself:

  • The Nazis rejected any form of homosexuality. Was taking action against this position a danger for homosexuals?
  • Why might some people become hateful to those who are homosexual? What action might be taken to combat homophobia?

This page provides you with opportunities to consider Nazi views of homosexual men who were sent to concentration camps because they were considered inferior. The pink triangle, sewn onto the left breast of prison uniforms, became the symbol of persecution for gay men in Nazi Germany and today is recognized as a symbol of both remembrance and celebration. The actions in this chapter invite you to discuss issues connected to homophobia and prejudice and also explore facts connected to those who were “branded” by the pink triangle.

This really happened

Up until the middle of the 1930’s, Germany was considered to be one of the most sexually liberal and accepting countries in the world. When the Nazis took power in Europe, gay men were harassed and labeled as “inferior”.

The Nazi Party did not need to create new laws to prohibit homosexual behaviour. Paragraph 175 was a law against homosexuality that prohibited sex between men. Since the law was already in existence, all the Nazis had to do was enforce it. Paragraph 175 dated back to 1871 when the King of Prussia united various kingdoms into one German state. A new constitution was established. Paragraph 175 stated: “a man who commits indecency with another man, or allows himself to be misused indecently, will be punished with prison.”

Pink became the color of persecution for gay men in Nazi Germany. Those who identified as homosexuals had a pink triangle sewn onto the left breast of their prison uniforms, just as the yellow Star of David was sewn onto those of the Jews. Though drawn from the terrifying period of gay history, the pink triangle today can be recognized as a symbol of remembrance and celebration.

Daniel speaks out against homophobia

Action 1  

Discuss >

Let’s talk about…Homosexuality, Prejudice and Discrimination

Form groups to discuss issues connected to homophobia and prejudice.

A. You will need a single die. Each player in turn will roll the die and whatever number appears, that is his or her assigned topic listed below to discuss. You will offer your opinion on one of the topics, by sharing your reactions, making connections, asking questions. Once completed, another person rolls the die and discusses the corresponding topic. Note: it is ok if two players discuss the same topic. If someone rolls a six they can choose a topic of choice.

B. The activity is repeated. This time, the group members contribute by having a conversation about the topic. There is no time limit. Alternatively, the group can choose one topic to focus attention on:

  1. There is nothing wrong with men who choose to wear pink clothing.
  2. Having a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) in the school is helpful.
  3. Every country should legalize gay marriage.
  4. I know a story about a homophobic incident.
  5. I have a strong reaction when I hear someone using the word ‘faggot’.
  6. Choose a topic.

Action 2  

Do >

The Nazis views of Homosexuality

The persecution of homosexuals was just a small part of Hitler’s plan to strengthen the Aryan race. The Aryan or ‘Nordic’ race was proclaimed biologically superior to all others according to Hitler’s regime. The Nazis believed that discipline must be exercised at all costs in order to maintain power. Homosexual relationships were considered vulgar, perverted crimes. The following outlines the Nazi position on homosexuality in response to Paragraph 175.

A black and white photo of homosexual prisoners, dressed in striped prisoner uniforms and berets, are gathered in a concentr
ation camp. enlarge image
Homosexual Prisoners at Buchenwald 

Permission: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

"It is not necessary that you and I live, but it is necessary that German people live. And it can only live if it can fight, life means fighting. And it can only fight if it maintains its masculinity. It can only maintain its masculinity if it exercises discipline, especially in matters of love. Free love and deviance are undisciplined. Therefore, we reject you, as we reject anything that hurts our nation. Anyone who thinks of homosexual love is our enemy. We reject anything which emasculates our people and makes it a plaything for our enemies, for we know that life is a fight, and it is madness to think that men will ever embrace fraternally. Natural history teaches us the opposite. Might makes right. The strong will always win over the weak. Let us see to it that we can once again become strong! But this we can achieve only in one way—the German people must once again learn how to exercise discipline. We therefore reject any form of lewdness, especially homosexuality, because it robs us of our last chance to free our people from the bondage which now enslaves it.”
~Richard Plant, The Pink Triangle, p. 50

A. What do you think homosexual men might have done in response to the Nazi position?

B. Was taking action a choice for them?

Answer these questions in writing by having a conversation on paper.

Having a conversation on paper

This activity works best with two or three people, each with a piece of paper. This activity invites you to respond to a topic or issue in writing. Done in silence, the goal of the activity is to write your thoughts in responses to a topic and then share it with another person. That person responds in writing to what you have written. The paper is passed back and forth as if you are having a conversation.

You are encouraged to remain silent as you reflect on the issue, raise questions, make connections, agree or argue the topic.

Upon completion, you and your partner can meet with another pair to share what you have written and discuss the issues in small groups.

Action 3  

Do >

Exploring facts about those who were “Branded” By The Pink Triangle

In his book Branded by the Pink Triangle, author Ken Setterington brings to life the under-told stories of bravery and perseverance of homosexual men who were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps.

Cover of a book, depicting an animated silhouette of a bald man with a triangle on his chest, behind lines of barbed wire. enlarge image
Branded by the Pink Triangle

Source: Permission granted by Second Story Press

Just the Facts

Ken Setterington, a storyteller, book reviewer, author and librarian did extensive research on the topic of the persecution of homosexuals during the Nazi regime. The following statements that appear in Setterington’s book provide some factual information about those who were branded by the pink triangle. With a partner, decide if each of these statements is TRUE or FALSE.

  1. Many homosexual men joined the German army, hoping that they would be safe from arrest.
  2. The Nazis believed that if homosexuality was legalized, there would be fewer German babies and hence a lower birth rate, which would lead to a weaker Germany.
  3. Lesbians who were arrested and sent to concentration camps wore the pink triangle.
  4. In many concentration camps, homosexuals were housed apart because the Nazis believed that homosexuality was a disease that could spread to other prisoners.
  5. Some gay bars remained open during the Olympics held in Berlin in 1936.
  6. The gay community was not allowed to participate in the memorial services held at concentration camps or at war memorials.
  7. Even SS Officers who were caught in homosexual acts were put in concentration camps.
  8. Rosa Winkel was the first lesbian to die in a Buchenwald concentration camp.
  9. German and other European governments provided the same compensation to homosexuals as was provided to other victims of the Nazi regime who suffered losses.
  10. There are less than ten known gay Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who suffered losses.

Scroll down to see answers at the end of the chapter.

Getting Better: The Pink Triangle Today


In the 1970s, the pink triangle was chosen as a pro-gay symbol by activists in the United States. In Nazi Germany, the pink triangle badges identified homosexuals who were considered at the bottom of the camp social system and subjected to degradation and harsh maltreatment. To transform a symbol of humiliation into one of solidarity and resistance, the pink triangle was turned upright (i.e., point at the top) rather than inverted. In the onset of the AIDS epidemic it was considered a symbol of gay pride and liberation.

The Silence=Death Project drew parallels between the Nazi period and the AIDS crisis. The project concerned those who chose not to discuss safer sex and the unwillingness of those to resist government indifference to the cause. The men who created the project declared that “silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.” The six men who created the Silence=Death Project offered the logo to the protest group ACT UP.


1985 - a pink triangle plaque was displayed in Dachau. A memorial sculpture made up of triangles of many different colours had been previously created in the camp. The pink triangle had been excluded.

1987 - the Homomonument was opened in Amsterdam, close to the Anne Frank house. Comprised of pink granite triangle ‘steps’, the monument is one of the largest in the world honouring gay men and women. The Homomonument is meant to "inspire and support gays in their struggle against denial, oppression and discrimination.”

Picture of a memorial slab dedicated to the homosexual victims of the Holocaust, at the side of a river in Amsterdam. The words Homomonument are chiseled in it. enlarge image
Memorial in Amsterdam commemorating all gay men and lesbians who were killed by the Nazis due to their homosexuality. It consists of three large triangles of pink granite.

Credit: P.H. Davies Homomonument Amsterdam

1989 - in Berlin, a pink granite plaque in the shape of triangle was placed outside a subway station in the area of the city where gay culture was celebrated in the years before the rise of the Nazi regime. The plaque states: “Killed and forgotten, the homosexual victims of National Socialism”.

2008 - the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism was unveiled in Berlin across the street from Murdered Jews of Europe. Visitors to the monument look inside a small window to watch two alternating videos: either two young men kissing or two women kissing.

According to Ken Setterington, the video and the monument “act as strong reminder that these two young men would certainly have been arrested and probably would have died if they had lived during the Nazi period” (p. 101). The wording on a nearby plaque concludes:

Because of its history, Germany has a special responsibility to actively oppose the violation of gay men’s and lesbians’ human rights. In many parts of the world, people continue to be persecuted for their sexuality: homosexual love remains illegal and a kiss can be dangerous.

With this memorial, the Federal Republic of Germany intends to honor the victims of persecution and murder, to keep alive the memory of injustice, and to create a lasting symbol of opposition to enmity, intolerance, and the exclusion of gay men and lesbians.

LGBT Youth Group Discussion

Thank you to the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (Jer’s Vision) for their help and participation in the group discussion.

LGBT Awareness and Understanding

Everyone has the right to live freely with all human rights, regardless of their sex and sexual preference. People are born as heterosexuals or homosexuals, and many are bisexual. While a person might be born as one sex they may identify as the other sex. Young people who don’t fit into the standard heterosexual mold often experience painful exclusion and bullying. Some of them even take their own lives because their lives are too difficult and painful. In order to be compassionate and understanding, we must educate ourselves about the different types of people in our world and everyone’s personal challenges.

LGBTQ Terminology

The true north LGBT: New poll reveals landscape of gay Canada

The Forum Research poll in 2012, commissioned by the National Post and taken twice … to confirm its accuracy, found that 5% of Canadians identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And contrary to the popular wisdom that the same-sex marriage rate is surprisingly low, the poll found that a third of LGBT people say they are in a same-sex marriage.

Milestones in the evolution of gay rights

  • Homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada in 1969. Before that, individuals who engaged in sexual activity with others of the same sex risked long prison sentences.

  • Rights and freedoms in the provinces: In 1977, Quebec became the first province to amend its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the years that followed, all provinces and territories eventually followed suit, Alberta being the last, in 2009.

  • Canadian Armed Forces: Sexual orientation was removed as a barrier to enrolment and promotion for military personnel in 1992.

  • Hate crimes: Since 1996, the Criminal Code has provided stricter penalties for crimes motivated by hate based on certain personal characteristics, including sexual orientation.

  • Spousal recognition: In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decision in M. v. H. recognized same-sex couples as common-law partners. This was followed by provincial and federal legislation granting same-sex couples benefits and obligations similar to those that apply to other common-law couples.

  • Same-sex Marriage: In 2005, Canada legalized same-sex marriage by enacting the Civil Marriage Act. This led to amendments to other statutes granting same-sex couples equal access not only to the civil effects of marriage, but also to those of divorce.


The Sad Truth:


  • 33% of LGB youth have attempted suicide in comparison to 7% of youth in general (Saewyc 2007).
  • Over half of GLB students (47% of GB males and 73% of LB females) have thought about suicide (Eisenberg & Resnick, 2006).
  • In 2010, 47% of trans youth in Ontario had thought about suicide and 19% had attempted suicide in the preceding year (Scanlon, Travers, Coleman, Bauer, & Boyce, 2010).
  • LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2009).

Action 4  

Do >

Designing a poster

Following a number of tragic suicides by LGBT students who were bullied in school, columnist and author Dan Savage, along with his partner uploaded a video to YouTube to inspire hope for LGBT youth who were facing harassment. The couple spoke openly about the suffering they suffered as teenagers and shared the story how they both came to lead rewarding adult lives. Their video launched the “It Gets Better Project” and initiated a worldwide phenomenon with thousands of videos posted. The campaign provides an opportunity for personal heartfelt support for LGBT youth everywhere.

Design a poster that features the Pink Triangle for an It Gets Better campaign. It Gets Better

Your posters can be displayed in the classroom, school or in the community to help others understand the significance of the pink triangle as a symbol of remembrance and celebration, liberation and gay pride.

  • How will you feature one or more pink triangles in your design?
  • Who is your audience?
  • How will your poster draw an attention to your audience? What message do you hope your poster will convey to others?
  • What words (if any, will your poster have)?

Action 5  

Discuss >

Engaged Response: Taking action against Homophobia

A. Why do people hate?

It is hard to understand why someone might hate someone else because of his or her differences. Those who identify as LGBQT often get grief from others because of their sexual preferences.

Examine the list of reasons below and rank them in order from #1 (strongest) to #6 (lowest).Once completed, share your list in groups of three or four. Are there any other reasons why you feel someone might be homophobic?

People might be cruel to others who identify themselves as queer because:

___ They are afraid of what they don’t know. Someone might feel intimidated.

___ They might never have had any close interactions with someone who identifies as queer.

___ Religious or cultural beliefs do not condone homosexual lifestyles.

___ Some people are taught to hate or distrust what they don’t know or understand.

___ People go along with awful things because they need to feel accepted. Peer pressure can influence how we treat others.

___ Bigots are often insecure. Insecure people often take out their own anxieties about themselves on others – especially those who are a minority. Being hateful to others gives them power.

B. Triumphing over Haters

Examine the list of strategies below that outline actions someone might take if they are being harassed. Rank the list in order from #1 (strongest) to #6 (lowest).

Then, in small groups, discuss the pros and cons of each strategy.

If someone is being tormented by others because of their sexual identity, they should:

___ Ignore the situation

___ Talk to a trusted adult

___ Confront the issue by fighting back

___ Seek professional counseling

___ Stick with your friends to approach the tormentor

___ Other

Action 6  

Discuss >


Organizing a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) / Respecting Difference Clubs

Dedicated to making schools more inclusive for all students, thousands of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) have been established in schools throughout North America. A GSA is a student-initiated and student–run club that provides a safe supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer, questioning (LGBTQ) and straight ally youth to meet and discuss sexual orientation and gender issues. Many GSAs function as support groups that provide safety and confidentiality for students struggling with their identity. Some GSAs have a mandate to educate themselves and their broader school community about gender and sexual identity issues.

This activity applies to both schools that have or don’t yet have a GSA*. In groups, discuss the following:

  • How familiar are you with GSAs?
  • Why are GSAs important?
  • What are the benefits of having a GSA in your school?
  • What might be some challenges of having a GSA in the school?
  • How can straight youth become involved in GSAs.
  • What are some significant activities for a GSA to become involved in?
  • How might teachers, administrators, families, experts get involved in GSA initiatives?
  • What are the ground rules that need to be established to ensure that discussions are safe, confidential and respectful?
  • What action plan (projects?) might be developed to make the GSA successful?
  • Would you consider being involved in a GSA in your school /community?

Jer's Vision: Canada's Youth Diversity Initiative is Canada's LGBTQ youth organization. They offer free workshops, youth forums and educator training across Canada. They also present the Day of Pink ( the day we wear pink to stop bullying, discrimination, homophobia & transphobia. They are always happy to help you start a GSA, organize programming and make spaces safer. Find out more:

*For more information see GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian 7 Straight Education Network.

Action 7  

Think >

Responding to a Hungarian Demonstration

Read the article below and respond to the following questions:

  • How successful was Craig Cowan at capturing the events of this clash?
  • What messages was he attempting to convey?


Artifact › A Hungarian Demonstration

By Craig Cowan

June 18, 2011 – Budapest, Hungary

We chose the left side of the intersection simply because a larger crowd was gathered on the left. It seemed intelligent to assume that the local Hungarians would know the best vantage point, so we followed their lead. Prior in the day I had continuously questioned our Hungarian history professor guide regarding the discrepancy between the Gay Pride committee in Budapest and the Hungarian government. The committee avowed that the Pride Parade would take place whereas I had read that the Hungarian government had refused to grant parade permission. After noticeably avoiding my questioning, I was told by the accompanying University of Toronto history professor, “Don’t go looking for trouble, Craig.” How could asking about the Gay Pride parade and wanting to attend it mean trouble? This confused me even further.

Upon arriving on the thoroughfare on which the parade was supposed to take place that day, two things became palpably obvious. First, something frightfully different than what I had expected was about to take place and second, the parade was seemingly going to occur. The mood on the street was very tense; few people wandered about. One person from our group hurriedly left, advising us that this was not a good place to find ourselves. Hundreds upon hundreds if not thousands of Hungarian riot police, wearing full gas mask protective gear, were filing onto the street and readying themselves. They began positioning themselves on each of the adjoining side streets, blocked and shut down intersections, rushed forcefully up and down sidewalks while continuously paying attention to those of us who still remained on the street. They then commenced clearing all people off of the entire parade route. The street was emptied from side to side.

My remaining friend and I were not sure what to do. As I wanted to stay (the photographer in me wanted pictures), we began to walk the emptying street. The police were systematically ordering people off as they moved along. Those businesses that were not already closed began to close up quickly. Every civilian was forced to make a choice. Either leave the street and the area entirely, or choose to stand on either side of one single designated intersection and watch the pride parade from there. As few spoke English, my understanding came from observation and from interpreting hand gestures. My decision to stay was made definite when a black leather gloved hand with extended finger pointed directly at my friend and I and indicated our two choices. One hand gesture indicated the far off distance, the other pointed to the intersection. We chose the left side.

Had I been more astute and not so overwhelmed by the huge numbers of riot police, I would have noticed more closely that hundreds of riot police stood in front of where I now waited (along what I believed would be the parade route) but also directly behind. The scene directly behind us seemed odd but I did not foresee what it might mean. That quite a few males in the crowd were wearing black bandanas over their faces and still others had actual gas masks around their necks (some actually wearing them already) still did not alert me.

Riot police and metal fences separated the crowd from the parade route. Officers were video taping the crowd. The overall mood seemed calm and peaceful, yet there was a tense anticipation of something. Then, loud music was heard. This triggered an assumption that the parade had begun, off in the distance, up the street, beyond sight. The music set off mayhem. Fists went up into the air and angry rioter chanting began. It was scary: the protestors became angry and violent in appearance. There were lots of them. The music grew louder, the parade got closer. The shouts and fists grew more heated and incensed. My friend and I moved back from the metal barricades, away from where the danger seemed most evident.

There was going to be trouble. It had started. I fully understood it now. The riot police shoved forcefully against the barricade fences and held the line as united protestors tried to push into the parade route. The hollering escalated. Fists thrust higher and more passionately into the air and then, more fences. Suddenly we were caged in on all sides by huge numbers of riot police, their facemasks down now, standing behind interlocking barricade fences. We were kettled! The police were rows deep behind each fence. The protestors went ballistic, threw bottles at the police and jammed up against the fences in every direction. Tear gas was fired in at us. The crowd went frantic, dispersed, and ran wildly as one large group, swarming towards my friend and I. We dodged behind a tree, the crowd parting and racing around it. The police pulled open barricade entry points and stormed in after the rioting protestors.

Things escalated further. The protestors, now kettled (all of us would remain kettled for the next four hours) suddenly realized that the pride parade had been re-routed. It had turned off on a side street two blocks north of us. Rioters now knew that they had been duped into standing at this intersection. Minutes later, the parade passed parallel to our prison, two full city blocks to our west and far out of range of any potential harm. As the world’s media looked in at those kettled, recording the event with cameras, four young men with faces fully visible, proudly displayed large placards that had the Nazi pink triangle symbol and rope nooses displayed on them. Death to homosexuals was the clear message.

Neo-Nazis as well as others had threatened to attack and do bodily harm to the parade’s marchers. Hungarian riot police had prepared for such an attack. The use of the pink triangle made apparent the protestors’ agenda towards homosexuals, their violent actions proved their intent. That neo-Nazis presented themselves at this specific parade doesn’t limit the need for our awareness to the potential full scope of their hatred towards all of those groups historically targeted by Hitler and the Nazis, not only homosexuals.

Riot police standing guard at a demonstration in Budapest, Hungary. enlarge image
Riot Police at a demonstration against the Gay Pride Parade in Budapest, Hungary - June 2011

Source: Photo permission by author

Homosexuality Map

Answers to quiz in ACTION 3: Only #3, #8, #9 and #10 are FALSE

Lesbians were not considered harmful to the regime and wore the black triangle as anti-social prisoners. There was no systematic persecution of lesbians that compared to the persecution of gay men.

Rosa Winkel is the German translation of ‘pink triangle’.

Homosexuals were considered to be criminals and were denied compensation. It wasn’t until 2001, that the German government recognized gays as victims of the Nazi regime. By that time, most of the men were very elderly or dead.

Gad Beck, the last known gay Jewish survivor, died on June 14, 2012.

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 5 Judaism and Antisemitism Through the Ages

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Ask yourself:

  • Why do you think the Canadian government designated May as National Jewish Heritage Month?
  • What do you already know about Jews? Which of your views are positive or negative? Why?
  • What would you guess is the population of Jews in Canada? In the world?
  • Why is antisemitism the oldest hatred in history?



A form of racism related to the discrimination, persecution or irrational hatred of Jews, resulting from their cultural, linguistic and religious differences; blaming the Jews for everything from economic conditions to epidemics and natural disasters.

The term “antisemitism” was first used by Wilhelm Marr (a German theorist, 1819–1904) to express the hatred towards Jews that was at the heart of his political philosophy. Some people confuse the issue by claiming that antisemitism is really hatred of “Semites;” the term “Semite” comes from Semitic languages, which include both Hebrew and Arabic. Removing the hyphen from the term focuses the reader on the original meaning.


One cannot begin to examine antisemitism unless one has an understanding of Judaism.

Does Judaism refer to a religion or a race? It can be both simultaneously. Jews consider themselves a People. Judaism is a monotheistic religion which originated over 5000 years ago. According to the Jewish calendar, we are now in the year 5779. That means that Judaism is well over 5000 years old. It started with Abraham, known as the founder of Judaism, and developed further through the next thousand years with Moses and King David. This is all documented in both the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament) and the Christian and Islamic scriptures.

Main beliefs:
  • Worship only one god who has made a special “covenant” (agreement) with them
  • The Messiah has not come yet; Jews are still praying he will come
  • Worship takes place in a synagogue with a rabbi as the leader
  • A person is considered to be Jewish if his or her mother is Jewish
Sects in Judaism

Over the years, Jews have formed groups within Judaism. This is the same as Christianity and Islam having many groups, e.g.: Catholics, Orthodox Greeks, Anglicans, Protestants, Lutherans, and Pentecostals, Sunnis, Shiites etc.

Orthodox Judaism – observe all the rules; what is written in the sacred books is the word of the divine; must have a Jewish mother or convert to Judaism (a long and difficult process). What has been done for hundreds of years, is remarkably unchanged. Very male dominated; only males can have a bar mitzvah (coming of age ceremony), read from the Torah (entire body of Jewish teachings), or be a rabbi. An Orthodox man is not allowed to touch a woman other than his own wife, not even to shake hands. Marriage with a matchmaker, somewhat arranged (only a few dates to meet), dates are chaperoned and no touching or holding hands allowed. Married women must cover their hair, usually with a wig or headscarf. Men and women pray separately in the synagogue. Men always wear a kippa (head cap) and other religious garb, even outside of synagogue.

Hassidic Jews – ultra-Orthodox and follow all the rules; a closed community who isolate themselves; essentially speak only Yiddish and Hebrew; recognizable by black hats, black suits, beards and sideburns grown out. Lebovich/Lubavitch are a sect of Hassidic Jews who are out there proselytizing; trying to recruit or convert Jews to become more Orthodox.

Reform Judaism – started in the 1800s, this movement aims to combine scientific theories with what is known through faith. They reject many of the rules as “man-made” and are more concerned with how Jews relate to others and the planet, than following all the rules and traditions. It doesn’t matter to Reform Jews if your mother or father are Jewish; either one makes you Jewish if you are raised as a Jew.

Conservative Judaism – started in 1913. Conservative Jews are the middle road between Orthodox and Reform movements; observe many of the rules but makes some compromises for modern times. The rule is you must have a Jewish mother or convert (the process is not as long or as difficult as Orthodox rules.) In the 1960s when feminism grew, women were considered the equal of men. Many Conservative congregations have female rabbis and women are leaders in every way.

Jewish Population

In the world: Before the Second World War, the peak was approximately 18 million.
Currently, there are approximately 14.7 million Jews, about one fifth of 1% of the world’s population. (Total world population in June 2018 was 7,630,036,500). Four-fifths of Jews live in two countries: United States (41%) and Israel (43%).

Contrast this with 2,173,180,000 Christians (31% of world population); 1,598,510,000 Muslims (23%); 1,126,500,000 No Religious affiliation (16%); 1,033,080,000 Hindus (15%)
(According to 2010 study by Pew Forum)

In Canada: Currently there are approximately 400,000 Jews, about 1.2% of the population, with the largest numbers living in Toronto and Montreal. (Total population of Canada 37 million - June 2018)

Note: Exact numbers of Jews are difficult to deduce in many countries due to intermarriage, conversions, those who are non-practicing and those who may not identify as Jewish on a census. The exception is Israel with about 6.5 million Jews of a total population of 8,842,000 (April 2018).

BELOW: As registered in 2013 by the Jewish Data Bank - Table shows the breakdown per country as a percentage of a total population of 14 million Jews in the world.

CountryCore Jewish Population% of total Jewish population of approx. 14 million
Country Core Jewish Population % of total
Israel 6,014,300 43.4%
United States 5,425,000 39.2%
France 478,000 3.5%
Canada 380,000 2.7%
United Kingdom 290,000 2.1%
Russian Federation 190,000 1.4%
Argentina 181,500 1.3%
Germany 118,000 0.9%
Australia 112,500 0.8%
Brazil 95,200 0.7%

Jewish Data Bank 2013

Different categories of Jews:

Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews represent the two main subcultures or categories of European Jews. All Jews share the same basic beliefs but there are some differences in culture, prayers, Hebrew pronunciation, tunes and other practices. Traditions and foods differ based on differences in climate and produce where they lived.

Ashkenazi Jews - the Jews of France, Germany and Eastern Europe, and their descendants. The word is derived from the Hebrew “Ashkenaz” which is used to refer to Germany. During the 8th and 9th centuries they originally followed trade routes and ended up in the interior of Europe. Today they comprise approximately 70% to 80% of all Jews in the world (formerly 90% before the Holocaust and the Second World War) with the majority in North America.

Sephardic Jews - the Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants. The Hebrew word “Sepharad” refers to Spain. There was less segregation and oppression in the Islamic lands where Sephardic Judaism developed thousands of years ago. Historically, they were wealthier and better educated possibly due to being less persecuted than Ashkenazi Jews, particularly in the 10th to 12th centuries, known as the “Golden Age”.

Other categories of Jews are the Falasha Mura – Ethiopian Jews (a black African tribe, most of whom were rescued and brought to Israel around 1989, and now a population of over 120,000), Yemenite and other Middle Eastern groups called the Mizrahi as well as some Asian Jews (Eastern European Jews fled to Shanghai in the Second World War). Jews have spread throughout the Diaspora (in the world outside Israel) and settled almost anywhere you can think of … even in the Arctic.

Hassidic Ashkenazi Jews praying from the Torah enlarge image
Hassidic Ashkenazi Jews praying from the Torah


Synagogue - the place of worship for Jews. The rabbi leads the service from a central podium called the Bima (like a pulpit) and the Cantor or Hazzan sings the prayer songs. The Torah scrolls are kept in the Ark, a box or wall niche covered with curtains, and are removed when used in prayer. The congregation faces the Ark. In Orthodox synagogues men and women sit separately so that the women and children don't distract the men from prayer. Women sit either on an upper balcony or on the same level with a curtain or divider separating them. Conservative and Reform synagogues allow mixed seating and also welcome non-Jews to attend services, especially for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. (Everyone, including members entering their own synagogues, requires a security check at the door, a sad necessity these days.)

Articles of prayer:

The Kippah – round cloth head covering (also called yarmulke) worn at all times by Orthodox Jewish men and by all Jewish men, Conservative and Reform, inside the synagogue

The Tallit – fringed prayer shawl to remind one of the 10 Commandments, to aid in reverence for God and create a prayerful spirit during worship

The Tefillin – parchment scrolls in a small box, worn on the arm and head by men during weekday morning prayers. The Torah commands Jewish men to bind tefillin onto their head and upper arm every weekday, in fulfillment of the verse (Deuteronomy. 6:8), “You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes.”

Jewish funerals and mourning - Jewish law states that Jews must be buried within 48 hours after death. The body is never left alone until internment and respect for the dead body is extremely important. To prepare the body for burial, it is thoroughly cleaned and wrapped in a simple shroud, so that poor and rich people receive the same honour in death. Cremation is not allowed, organs removed only to save a life, and autopsies permitted only if the local law dictates it. The body must come into contact with the earth, so if a coffin is used, holes are drilled in them. Open caskets are forbidden. Flowers are not given to mourners. Immediate family members express their grief by tearing their clothing.

The first seven days of mourning are called Shiva (shiva in Hebrew means seven) and are spent in prayer with visitors coming to the home of the family. Mirrors in the home are covered. Traditionally, mourners sit on the floor or low stools, do no work and do nothing for comfort or pleasure for the week. Depending on level of observance of the immediate family, the next period of mourning is for 30 days and if mourning a parent, the final period would be for a full year. Mourners might attend morning services at the synagogue every day for the eleven months to recite the mourners’ prayer. When the year is up, that is when the tombstone is revealed, called an unveiling ceremony. When visiting the gravesite, for some it is a custom to place small stones on the grave.

The Jewish Bible and Texts

The Hebrew Bible is called the Tanakh and includes the same books as the Christian Bible’s Old Testament, though in a different order. At a deeper level, the Hebrew Bible consists of 24 sacred texts including the 5 books of the Torah, plus the Prophets and the Writings (19).

The Torah provides all the laws for Jews to follow in the 5 books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Every Torah in every synagogue is handwritten, and there’s a specific section every day of the calendar that is read or chanted out loud during worship at a synagogue or a temple. For the observant Jew, there is a rule for just about everything.

Torah cover salvaged from the Berlin New Synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis November 9, 1938 known as Kristallnacht enlarge image
Torah cover salvaged from the Berlin New Synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis November 9, 1938 known as Kristallnacht

Credit: Nicole Miller

The Talmud (written 3rd – 5th Centuries CE) is a collection of teachings and commentaries on Jewish Law that was created later. Divided in two sections, it includes the Mishna, that explains the Jewish code of law originally passed down orally, and the Gemara that includes the interpretations of thousands of rabbis and the 613 commandments. Central to Judaism is the constant interpretation, discussion, debate, examination, and critical inquiry. An important commentary on the Mishnah is the 13 Principles of Faith by Maimonides, a Sephardic Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar, 1135-1204 from Córdoba, Spain (formerly the Almoravid Empire).

The Hebrew Calendar

Based on moon or lunar cycles instead of sun cycles and seven days of the week, starting on Sunday and ending on Saturday, the Sabbath. Each Hebrew month corresponds approximately to the lunar month, whether 29 or 30 days, and one year has 12 or 13 months. The length of the Hebrew year varies in numbers of day: 353, 354, 355, 383, 384 or 385 days. Standard years have 12 months with 354 days and leap years have 13 months with 384 days. This is the official calendar of Israel. The world was supposedly created on a Saturday night, on October 6th, the year 3761 BCE (Before Christian Common Era.) This calendar is also used to determine religious observances such as the reading of the Torah portions, daily Psalm readings and Jewish holidays and festivals.

Jewish Holidays

Jewish holidays include many annual big holidays determined by the Torah, as well as small holidays instituted by rabbis and generally tied to historical events.

1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb – Jews praying in Synagogue on Yom Kippur enlarge image
1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb – Jews praying in Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Source: Tel Aviv Museum of Art

The High Holy Days:

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year starts the calendar and literally “Rosh” means Head of the Year

Yom Kippur – this the day of Atonement. Jews fast from sundown to sundown while praying for forgiveness from God. Goals are:

  • to make up with the people you have offended or hurt
  • to acknowledge and confess to sins committed willingly or unwillingly
  • to make amends with the Divine; to atone for your sins
  • to plan to do better within the next year; wipe the slate clean
Three Pilgrimage Festivals
Passover: Cartoon of Moses leading the Jews through the desert. enlarge image
Passover: Cartoon of Moses leading the Jews through the desert.

Image source:

A c. 1900 CE oil painting by Gebhard Fugel depicting Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai. enlarge image
A c. 1900 CE oil painting by Gebhard Fugel depicting Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai.

Image source:

Passover – An important holiday to commemorate and tell the story of how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt after centuries of enslavement. At the Passover family dinner called a Seder, families get together to retell the story reading from a Haggadah. When the Jews fled Egypt there was no time for the bread to rise so they had to resort to eating unleavened flat bread (matzah). Therefore, for 8 days during Passover, Jews eat only matzah and other unleavened food, like their ancestors.


Israelites – The religious narrative and the archaeological findings are not the same when defining the tribe of Israelites or Twelve Tribes of Israel. According to modern archaeology, the Israelites branched out from the indigenous Canaanite people living in the Southern Levant, Syria, ancient Israel and the Transjordan region. They took over the region as the monotheistic religion dominated and not by force. Abraham is commonly considered to be “the First Jew” although in the bible the descendants of one specific tribe of Israel, Judah was “Yehudah” in Hebrew or Jew, in English. That term “Yehudi” became used to refer to all Israelites. Modern Jews and Samaritans trace their ancestry back to the ethnic stock of the Israelites, with two exceptions, the priestly orders of the Kohanim (Cohen) and Levites (Levy).

Palestine – derived from the Egyptian and Hebrew word “peleshet”.
After the First World War the territory of present-day Israel and present-day Jordan was placed under British Mandate. The name “Palestine” was applied to the entire area and the inhabitants, including Jews who were all called Palestinians by the international press until Israel’s independence in 1948. Years later, Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were called Palestinians. The word Palestine does not appear in the Koran. It appears at least 250 times in the Jewish Tanakh as “peleshet.” You are encouraged to do further research about the history of the name.

Sukkot – Commemorates the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years and the miraculous protection of God before arriving in the Holy Land. It also celebrates the harvest time. To celebrate Sukkot, for a week observant Jews eat all meals in an outdoor booth or “sukkah” with leaves and branches as a roof.

Shavuot – Moses gets the Ten Commandments/Torah

Menorah, jelly doughnuts and other things for children – chocolate coins and spinning tops for games. enlarge image
Menorah, jelly doughnuts and other things for children – chocolate coins and spinning tops for games.

Photo source: Shutterstock and

Chanukah – The Festival of Lights lasting for 8 days and commemorating the miracle of the oil in the temple. The Hebrew word means “dedication” and celebrates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In the second century BCE, the Syrian Greeks who occupied the Holy Land, tried to destroy their culture and traditions and desecrated the Temple. A small group of Jews led by Judah the Maccabee (the “Hammer”) were able to defeat the huge army that vastly outnumbered them and reclaimed the Holy Temple. For the Temple’s candelabra or menorah, there was only enough holy oil to keep it lit for a day but it miraculously stayed burning for 8 days. Chanukah was a very minor holiday until the 20th century when it became commercialized since it falls in December around Christmas. A candelabra with 9 flames, called a menorah, is lit for 8 nights with the “attendant” candle or shamash used to light the 8 candles. During this holiday, foods cooked in oil such as latkes and doughnuts are eaten to celebrate the miracle of the oil.

Action 1  

Do >

Food and culture

Think about the food you eat and what it means to you. On various holidays, we all eat certain traditional foods. Each time we celebrate a holiday, or a special occasion like a wedding, we eat these foods. Which holidays (cultural or otherwise) do you love because of the food you get to eat? Do you have a favourite holiday food? How does food play a role in bringing cultures together? Are there spiritual beliefs around the food you eat for special occasions?

Create a collage depicting your favourite holiday foods and what they mean to you. Find images in magazines or online and print them in colour. Exhibit them in the classroom and take turns explaining your collages. Do your choices have religious or spiritual significance? Are they cultural or relating to a specific country?

What do all Jews have in common?

Generalizations and assumptions cannot be made about any group of people, including Jews. Due to persecution throughout their history, Jews have often had to flee their homelands to settle in foreign countries, usually called the Diaspora. As a result, there are Jews throughout the world and they do not look the same or have the same traditions or culture.

  • Education has always been very important to Jews, including the education of women so they can teach their children.
  • Family is central to Jewish life. Observant Jews do not believe in birth control.
  • All Jews worry about antisemitism. Playwright David Mamet wrote: “There are two kinds of places in the world: places where Jews cannot go, and places where Jews cannot stay.”
Do all Jews look alike? Can you name the celebrity? enlarge image
Do all Jews look alike? Can you name the celebrity?

Sources: hiphop.dx, A&E biography, Facebook, Getty Images,,, Toronto Star,,

Bar mitzvah boy and bat mitzvah girl enlarge image
Bar mitzvah boy and bat mitzvah girl

Photo source: Temple Emanu-El, Atlanta and

Most Jews, even the least observant, follow these 3 traditions:

1. Circumcision of male newborns (called a “bris” or “brit millah”) – to symbolize the covenant with God.

2. Bar mitzvah – any time after the 13th birthday, boys are considered an adult for religious purposes and must take responsibility for their own actions. During the ceremony, they lead a service in a synagogue. For girls it is called a Bat mitzvah and can happen any time after they turn 12, but is not mandatory in all communities.

3. Jewish weddings – sign a marriage contract called a “ketubah” and the groom smashes a glass under his heel to symbolize and remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Items needed for prayer on the Sabbath: candles, wine, challah and prayer book enlarge image
Items needed for prayer on the Sabbath: candles, wine, challah and prayer book

Photo source:

The Sabbath (Saturday, not Sunday) according to the Old Testament in the Bible

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. Exodus 20:8-11

One day of rest when you are not allowed to work, travel, or handle money and must spend time at the synagogue praying and learning. It starts with the first star on Friday evening and ends about 24 hours later. On Friday nights traditional Jews might just say the prayer for the candles, the wine and the bread and may or may not attend synagogue services that evening or on Saturday. Generally, only Orthodox Jews follow the strict rules: They attend services on Friday night, Saturday morning and late afternoon before the Sabbath ends. Once the Sabbath starts, you are not allowed to do anything even considered to be work such as lighting a candle (turning on a light switch), making a meal, driving and another thousand things that are forbidden, including no cell phone use. For example, turning the oven on is considered work so stoves have a Sabbath setting to turn it on and off, or keep pre-prepared meals on a hot plate. Elevators in Israel even have a setting over the Sabbath. They stop on every floor so you don’t have to do labour by pushing buttons. The exceptions are child care or health issues.

What does Kosher mean?
Kosher and non-kosher meat and seafood enlarge image
Kosher and non-kosher meat and seafood

Image source:

  • Strict rules about what you eat. Separating meat, dairy and pareve (neither meat nor dairy)
  • Rules on how to slaughter animals
  • Forbidden foods: pork and all products from pigs, shellfish (bottom-feeding)

Being Kosher

Three categories: meat, dairy and pareve (neither meat nor dairy).
Items designated “Meat” must meet the following requirements to be considered kosher (See in the Bible - Deuteronomy 14:3-10):

  • Kosher meat must come from an animal that chews its cud and has split hooves. Cows, sheep and goats are kosher; pigs, camels, rabbits, kangaroos, horses and fox are not.
  • Kosher fowl are identified by a universally accepted tradition and include the domesticated species of chickens, Cornish hens, ducks, geese and turkeys. The Torah names the species of fowl that are forbidden, including all predatory and scavenger birds.
  • Animal and fowl must be slaughtered with precision and examined by a skilled shochet who is extensively trained in the rituals of kosher slaughtering.
  • Permissible portions of the animal and fowl must be properly prepared (and soaked to remove any trace of blood) before cooking.
  • All utensils used in slaughtering, cleaning, preparing and packaging must be kosher.
  • Fish are allowed but not shellfish of any kind – lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels etc. since bottom-feeders eat garbage.

In recent polls, less than one-quarter of Diaspora Jews (outside of Israel) keep kosher. In Israel, where kosher food is readily available, approximately 63% of Jews keep kosher at home. All Orthodox Jews keep kosher at home and divide their kitchen into dairy and meat sections including separating dishes and cooking utensils. They will not eat in restaurants unless they are designated as kosher. They strive to follow every law of observance.


  • A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.
  • A person or thing that conforms to a widely held but oversimplified image of the class or type to which they belong: don’t treat anyone as a stereotype.

Source: Oxford Dictionary

Action 2  

Do >

What are some of the stereotypes of Jews and money?


  • Jews are greedy and cheap
  • All Jews are rich

(The same accusations have been made toward Chinese people and Mennonites)

The danger is that these stereotypes have been used to justify persecutions, unlike the other groups. Can sweeping generalizations be applied to groups of people? We grow up seeing, hearing, and eventually believing things about certain groups of people. Sometimes, we don’t even question where this information comes from and simply believe the opinions to be facts. Most stereotypes are false and come from a place of fear and judgment. Many stereotypes exist about Jewish people. List the ones you’ve heard and may even believe to be true:

Positive StereotypesNegative Stereotypes
Positive Stereotypes Negative Stereotypes
Jewish people are funny Jewish people are cheap

Print and keep this list and revisit it to add or remove stereotypes as you learn about Judaism and the history of the Jewish people.

Are all Jews rich?


Jewish law states that 10% of your income must go to charity. Maimonides listed his famous Eight Levels of Giving (in order of most to least preferred):

1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.

2. Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.

3. Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.

4. Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.

5. Giving tzedakah before being asked.

6. Giving adequately after being asked.

7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.

8. Giving "in sadness" (giving out of pity): It is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need (as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation). Other translations say "Giving unwillingly."

Jews and money

Biblical laws about moneylending:

Forbids taking or giving interest to a fellow Jew (“your brother”) including money, food or “any thing”. Strict interpretation in the Talmud means it is forbidden to even greet someone from whom you have borrowed. Historically, it was also forbidden to lend money to a fellow Jew but allowed lending money on interest to a “stranger”.

During the Middle Ages moneylending to Gentiles (non-Jews) proved to be very profitable and became widespread though at first, it was restricted to scholars and only allowed by rabbis when absolutely necessary. In order to pay their very high taxes, moneylending became more acceptable over time. In times of persecution, however, this proved to be a big risk. For example, during the Third Crusade starting in England, in York, a number of local nobles, who were in heavy debt to the Jews, seized the opportunity to rid themselves of their burden by slaughtering the Jewish community. They could do bad things with a good conscience while justifying it as doing God’s work.

Although moneylending was forbidden by the Church, in the late 12th C and early 13th C, the penalties for Christian lending on interest were often overlooked by churches, monasteries, bishops and the popes. For example, Italian merchants lent money on interest in France and Germany, usually at higher rates than the Jews.

Action 3  

Discuss >

Charitable giving

In a small group discuss what you’ve just learned about Tzedakah. Is there a reason that one form of giving is more honourable than another? Do you have a giving practice in your religion or culture? Is it similar or different than Tzedakah? Explain the rules and reasons supporting your religion’s giving practice. If you don’t have a giving practice, is there anything you do to give back to your community? Why do you believe this practice is important to cultural/religious groups or society in general?

A few major Canadian Jewish philanthropists who have made donations to huge causes:

Peter Munk and wife Melanie – charitable foundation has donated approximately $300 million to organizations for health, education and global reputation of Canadians. Education: The Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto; the Peter Munk Centre for Free Enterprise Education at the Fraser Insitute; Health: Toronto General Hospital – the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre; the Melanie Munk Chair in Cardiovascular Surgery at UHN.

Seymour Schulich major philanthropist – Universities: York - Schulich School of Business; Western Ontario – Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry; Calgary – Schulich School of Engineering; Dalhousie – Schulich School of Law and Faculty of Computer Science; McGill – Schulich School of Music; and Nipissing – Schulich School of Education. Health: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre – Schulich Heart Centre as well as others outside of Canada.

Larry and Judy Tanenbaum (Maple Leaf sports and Entertainment)– charitable foundation has donated millions to Montreal Neurological institute, Tanenbaum Open Science Institute in conjunction with McGill U., Mount Sinai Hospital Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Centre, University of Toronto and other charitable initiatives.

Joseph Rotman (d. 2015) – donated more than $90 million to education, health and the arts: Rotman School of Management, U of Toronto; Rotman Institute of Philosophy - engaging Science, U. of Western Ontario; Canadian Institutes of Health Research; MaRS (Medical and Related Sciences) Discovery District; Canada Council for the Arts; Art Gallery of Ontario. Joseph said, “My father taught me that the most powerful way to inspire others to give is for them to see people giving in their community.”

Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman – Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, Indigo Love of Reading Foundation, Toronto International Foundation – a few of 74 organizations to which they donate.

Mitchell Goldhar - $1 million to Canadian Sports Concussion Project; children’s charities.

Harvey and Elise Kalles – donations to Make a Wish Canada, Wellspring (programs for Canadians with cancer) and other causes.

Isadore and Rosalie Sharp – Founder and Chairman Four Seasons Hotels – started and is director of the Terry Fox Run; major donors to the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts, the Ontario College of Art and Design, Mount Sinai Hospital.

Ed Mirvish (d. 2007) – University of Waterloo, Camp Oochigeas, United Way and others. Christmas turkey giveaway until 2015.

Dani Reiss – Canada Goose CEO and President; Polar Bears International PBI – a nonprofit dedicated to worldwide conservation of the polar bear habitat; Canada Goose Resource Centres – popup centres for providing free materials for traditional Inuit workers to create clothing for their community.

Tikkun Olam – This means literally “heal or fix the world”, also key to Jewish values. It is the place where mysticism meets activism. It is a very powerful and optimistic world view, because it means each one of us can do something to improve things. Instead of being passive and giving up hope, you can be active and make change happen. Every person, even a child, can be master of their own world.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman who lived in Eastern Europe in the 18thC taught that our mission on earth is not to get to heaven but to bring heaven down to earth. Follow this teaching of Hillel, the most important sage or teacher in the first century BCE “That which is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour”, in other words, “Do unto others what you would want done to you.”

Jews and the Afterlife

  • Jewish teaching is quite vague on this and the subject of heaven and hell is rarely discussed in the synagogue. There are some references to heaven and hell in the Talmud and a 1st century sage Ben Zakkai made the first reference to the Garden of Eden and Gehinnom (hell) as a pair.
  • Other sources in the bible refer to the resurrection of the dead followed by a day of judgement when the righteous live forever and the wicked will be punished.
  • In the second century BCE the idea of immortality of the soul after the death of the body appeared.
  • Most commonly seen is that the ultimate reward would be “The World to Come” (olam haba) mentioned in various descriptions in the Talmud. Some imply it exists as a parallel world. Others believed that it will be ushered in by the resurrection of the dead while Maimonides felt the resurrected will die a second death and the righteous will enjoy a spiritual existence in the presence of God.
  • Like many concepts when it comes to Jews, there are many interpretations and it is an ongoing debate. Most important however is life on earth.

Jewish Life Before the Second World War

Two streams of European Jews;

  • East: Russian, Poland and the Ukraine
  • West: Germany, France and England
Early 1900s, a poor Jewish village in Poland, known as a shtetl enlarge image
Early 1900s, a poor Jewish village in Poland, known as a shtetl

Photo credit:



Russian word meaning “to destroy, demolish”. This term is used in English to refer to collective violence, usually against Jews but has also been used for violence against other ethnic minorities.

The East - Russia:

Fiddler on the Roof is a popular musical and film based on short stories by Sholem Aleichem. It is fiction however, a very fond looking back, and should never be taken as history any more than watching Guardians of the Galaxy and thinking that is what life will be like for your grandchildren. This very large group of about 5 million Jews in Russia was extremely religious and superstitious. Their life rotated around their faith and their rebbe (teacher). Jews were not allowed to own lands or have jobs outside of their little village. Tradition was important and life was precarious.

  • Eastern European market towns, almost completely Jewish communities (Ashkenazi), located in Poland and Russia
  • Started around 1200, ending in the Second World War
  • About 85% of the 5 million Jews spoke their own language called “Yiddish” with roots in High German mixed with some Hebrew, Aramaic, Turkic, Slavic and Romance languages
  • From 1790s to 1915 under Russian Empire control
  • Russian “Pogroms” in 1880s led to emigration of up to 2 million Jews from Eastern Europe
  • Strong sense of community
  • Followed the rules in the Torah
  • Jewish education, mostly for the boys
  • During the Holocaust, Nazis exterminated all the Jews in the communities or villages called shtetls

The Jews were extremely poor and life was difficult. The Jewish calendar of holidays was central to life and every Jew kept a strictly kosher diet. There was tremendous social pressure to be observant. No one worked on the Sabbath, all the men went to the synagogue, marriages were arranged, and life was short and basically unpleasant. On the other hand, music and religious instruction (not much art, drama) were important. From time to time, there were very violent attacks called “pogroms” (definition below) on Jewish settlements by the army or armed groups who had the government’s support.

From 1791 to 1835, The Russian Empire gained new territory known as the Pale of the Settlement and prohibited Jews from settling in Russian territory outside the Pale. The region included parts of present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Poland. Russian pogroms by non-Jews began in 1881 in Elizavetgrad (present-day Ukraine) and spread through seven provinces in southern Russia and Ukraine. Jewish stores and homes were looted, their property destroyed, women were raped and many Jews were beaten or murdered. Regardless of whether or not the government ordered these attacks, the response to stop them was slow, with the military or police often joining the violent mobs.

Anti-Jewish laws by the Russian government in the 1880s:

  • Limited the number of Jews who could attend high schools and universities
  • Prevented Jewish law school graduates from joining the bar
  • Restricted where Jews could live
  • Non-Jews prohibited from issuing mortgages to Jews
  • Jews prohibited from doing business on Sundays

Why were there pogroms and antisemitic laws?

  • Jews blamed for the bad economy and political instability
  • The blood libel myth that Jews murder Christian babies and bake their blood into their matzah
  • Claim that Jews murdered Jesus
  • There was a rumour that Jews were involved with the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881 by members of the Narodnaya Volya socialist movement.

Jewish Response: Jews fled to Western Europe, the United States and Israel, which at that time was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Some Jews became politically active, joining the General Jewish Labor Bund, Bolshevik groups and self-defense leagues or becoming Zionists.

1904 Illustration. US President Roosevelt tells the Russian Tsar, “Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews” enlarge image
1904 Illustration. US President Roosevelt tells the Russian Tsar, “Stop Your Cruel Oppression of the Jews”

Print by Emil Flohri. Source: Library of Congress

1903-1906 Pogroms – in Kishinev (present day Moldova), hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed and dozens of Jews killed, causing tens of thousands of Jews to flee
1905 Odessa - about 2,500 Jews killed
1919 – in Kiev, Cossacks, fearless and brutal fighters within the Russian military, led pogrom injuring and raping many and killing 14 Jews.

The West - Germany

Walther Rathenau (1867 –1922) enlarge image
Walther Rathenau (1867 –1922)

A German Jewish industrialist, politician, writer, and statesman who served as Foreign Minister of Germany during the Weimar Republic. He was assassinated on June 24, 1922, two months after the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo between Germany and Russia.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Laws that were favourable to Jews were passed in the early 1800s but by 1850, the 24 kingdoms that spoke German were starting to unify under the concept of a nation, and Jews were not welcome. Germany had very hierarchical societies; everybody had their place, like at Downton Abbey: at the top - aristocracy, then below that, wealthy families, then a rising middle class, then the poor, at the bottom. In Germany, there was a large Orthodox Jewish community who were the face of Jews. Men always wore hats or a kippah, women wore long dresses, and there was little intermarriage. If you married a non-Jew, your family would go through all the same rituals as if you had died and would never speak to you again.

There was a large Reform community in Germany and they were very assimilated by the late 1800s. Assimilation was a big problem for the Jewish community. Jews were giving up everything that made them different and trying to have social lives with non-Jews. Wealthy bankers held music “salons” that included Jews and non-Jews. Antisemitism was an issue but not in polite company. Some Jews did very well, for examples: Albert Einstein and the Rothschilds. Germany’s Foreign Minister in the 1920s, Walter Rathenau, was Jewish (see image above).

The First World War

Printed Leaflet in Germany 1920 – (translated) enlarge image
Printed Leaflet in Germany 1920 – (translated)

"12,000 Jewish soldiers died on the field of honor for the fatherland."
"Christian and Jewish heroes fought together and lie together on foreign soil."
"12,000 Jews fell in battle."
"Blind, enraged Party hatred does not stop at the graves of the dead."
"German Women: Do not allow the suffering of Jewish mothers to be mocked!"

Source: The Reich Association of Jewish Veterans [Front-line Soldiers]

Many Jews fought for Germany in the First World War, were decorated war heroes who loved their country and felt that Germany was the leader in the world for all the good things. They were convinced that their military service would make Jews more accepted but clearly this wasn’t true in the years leading up to the Second World War. 12,000 German Jews died for their Fatherland (Germany) in the First World War.

Action 4  

Discuss >

Understanding history

With a partner, discuss the history of the Jews leading up to the Second World War. What did you learn that surprised you? Why did it come as a surprise? Discuss the specifics of Judaism and its history – what is of interest? Why? Can you sense a divide between Jewish people and people of other cultures and religions? Can you understand how persecution of Jews was justified throughout history? Explore these questions with your partner then discuss as a class.

Historical Antisemitism

There are 3 types of antisemitism: religious, racial, and the new antisemitism. The first two are examined in this chapter. For the New Antisemitism, please see Unit 6 Chapter 2 Contemporary Antisemitism:

1. Religious Antisemitism

In the past, Christians have had an issue with Jews because they believed Jews murdered Jesus, and also because Jews refused to accept Christianity. Similarly, many Muslims, in the past and many currently, are antisemitic because Jews do not accept Islam.

Christian antisemitism began in the centuries after Christ died. John Chrysostom (344-407 CE) was one of the "greatest" of church fathers, known as "The Golden Mouthed." This missionary preacher, famous for his sermons and addresses, stated:

The synagogue is worse than a brothel…it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts…the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults…the refuge of brigands and debauchees, and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews…a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ… a house worse than a drinking shop…a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and an abyss of perdition. As for me, I hate the synagogue…I hate the Jews for the same reason.

Source: "The Roots of Christian Anti-Semitism" by Malcolm Hay

The Last Supper – Famous painting by Leonard da Vinci of Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples celebrating Passover, his last supper enlarge image
The Last Supper – Famous painting by Leonard da Vinci of Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples celebrating Passover, his last supper

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Crusades

Routes of the Crusades from 1095 to 1289 enlarge image
Routes of the Crusades from 1095 to 1289

Image Source:

The Crusades began in 1095 and ended in 1289. The Christians in Europe had two motives:

  • to remove Muslims from Jerusalem; some Crusaders were honestly driven by religion.
  • to win riches, bring non-Christians to the Church (or, in many cases, sentence them to death if they refused to convert)

1095-1096: First Crusade - Germany witnessed the first incidents of major violent European antisemitism when these Crusaders massacred Jewish communities in what’s become known as the Rhineland massacres. In Speyer, Worms, Mainz, and Cologne the range of anti-Jewish activity was broad, extending from limited, spontaneous violence to full-scale military attacks.

Try to imagine this: you are living in a small village, scratching a living from the hard ground. You hear a noise, you see dust. You see thousands and thousands of very heavily armed men, and their servants, marching toward your village. They are hungry and thirsty. The food they packed is long gone. And you’ve heard rumours about what these Crusaders do to non-Christians. So you know that every chicken, every cow and every last grain of wheat is going to be taken. And, as the saying goes, resistance is futile. Jews are slaughtered by the thousands during the Crusades for the glory of Christianity.

While the events of 1096 debilitated Rhineland Jewry, the First Crusade should not be seen as a watershed event that inevitably led to the decline of Ashkenazic Jewry. Several Rhineland Jewish communities were destroyed, but they rapidly rebuilt in the early 12th century. Jewish economic activity flourished; moneylending, in particular, increased as subsequent crusading ventures needed cash. There was certainly no decline in intellectual creativity among Ashkenazi Jews; the study of law continued, although the focus shifted from Germany to northern France.

Interestingly, the Jews of Europe were motivated by the journeys of Christians to the Holy Land, and aided by the increased maritime transportation between Palestine and Europe, to make a greater number of pilgrimages themselves. For example, “The Aliyah of Three Hundred Rabbis” occurred in 1211. This emigration of several hundred rabbis from Western Europe (mostly France and England) marks the beginning of an active period of aliyah (immigration to the Land of Israel) that continued through the 13th century.

The Spanish Inquisition 1478-1834

The Catholic Church in Spain sought to root out and punish heretics, that is, non-Catholics, especially Jews and Muslims who were subjected to persecution and torture.

Illustration depicting the key elements of an auto-da-fé, or public sentencing, during the Spanish Inquisition. Plaza Mayor in Madrid, 1680 enlarge image
Illustration depicting the key elements of an auto-da-fé, or public sentencing, during the Spanish Inquisition. Plaza Mayor in Madrid, 1680

Source: The Jewish Encyclopedia (after printing by RICI)

1478: Spanish Jews had been heavily persecuted from the 14th century onward, particularly during the reign of Henry III of Castile and Leon (1390-1406). To avoid persecution, many had converted to Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition was set up by the Church in order to detect insincere conversions. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain believed that converted Jews, called “Conversos” caused corruption in the Catholic Church. They were accused of poisoning drinking water, abducting Christian boys and blamed for the Plague (later known to have been caused by fleas carried by rats). Laws were passed that prohibited the descendants of Jews or Muslims from attending university, joining religious orders, holding public office, or entering any of a long list of professions.

On November 1, 1478, Pope Sixtus IV issued the papal bull Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus. He declared, “We are aware that in different cities in your kingdoms of Spain many of those who were regenerated by the sacred baptismal waters of their own free will have returned secretly to the observance of the laws and customs of the Jewish [faith]…because of the crimes of these men and the tolerance of the Holy See towards them civil war, murder, and innumerable ills afflict your kingdoms.”

To eliminate this menace, the Pope gave Ferdinand and Isabella the permission to establish the authority of the Spanish Inquisition, first in Castile. Aragon soon followed. The Inquisition would unite the nation with one common religion, Christianity, and with a common purpose, eradicating hidden Jews and Judaism within its borders. An added benefit: Conversos accused by the Inquisition had their property and wealth automatically confiscated.

1483: Grand Inquisitor Torquemada was given jurisdiction by the pope to act as the head of the Inquisition in Spain. Dominican Tomàs de Torquemada was one of the cruelest and most evil men in history. Public sentencing happened at an “Auto-da-fé” where the accused heretics had to wear a sackcloth over their heads with only a single hole for the eyes. At least 2,000 of the accused refused to confess and were burned at the stake.

1492: Jews were given the choice of being baptized as Christians or be banished from Spain. 300,000 left Spain penniless. (In the 1550s the same persecution happened to the Muslims in Spain.) Many Jews migrated to Turkey, where they found tolerance among the Muslims. Up to 600,000 Jews converted to Christianity, but often continued to practice Judaism in secret. They are known as Marranos.

1536: John III of Portugal was given permission by the Pope to carry out an inquisition of Portuguese Jews, even more severe than the Spanish one. It was only suppressed forever in 1821.

1834: Depending on who was ruling the country, the Spanish Inquisition was suppressed and restored on and off until finally ending in 1834.

Martin Luther – 1483-1546. Portrait by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, 1528. enlarge image
Martin Luther – 1483-1546. Portrait by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, 1528.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther
10 November, 1483 – 18 February, 1546

Luther was a German friar, priest and professor of theology who was a key figure in the Protestant Religion. Lutherans are those who follow his teachings. He was really angry that Jews still would not convert to Christianity despite the changes that he and others brought to Christianity.

On the Jews and their Lies
What then shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews?...
First, their synagogues should be set on fire,
Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.
Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer-books and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught.
Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more...
Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews. If this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden - the Jews...
Such a desperate, thoroughly evil, poisonous, and devilish lot are these Jews, who for these fourteen hundred years have been and still are our plague, our pestilence, and our misfortune.

Translated by Martin H. Bertram, "On The Jews and Their Lies, Luther's Works, Volume 47"; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.

Present-day members of the Lutheran Church gradually disavowed the anti-Jewish writings by Luther, first in 1994 by the American branch of five million at the Evangelical Lutheran Church and then more recently, renounced in European Lutheran churches in 2016 in Germany, Norway and the Netherlands.

Pogrom in Frankfurt August 22, 1614 enlarge image
Pogrom in Frankfurt August 22, 1614

– The plundering of the Judengasse (the Jews’ Alley or Jewish ghetto)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pogroms: Russian word “pogrom” means the deliberate persecution of an ethnic group usually applied to anti-Jewish violence in the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but also used for attacks against other groups. During the Middle Ages Jewish communities were targeted in the Black Death Jewish persecutions of 1348-1350 in France, Spain, Belgium and Prague where Jews were blamed for the Plague. In the Khmelnytsky Pogroms of 1648-1657, for the first time on the scale of a genocide, 20 percent of the Jews of present-day Ukraine were massacred. Cossacks killed over 100,000 men, women and children.

Action 5  

Do >

Pogroms, then and now

Google “Pogrom” and you’ll see on Wikipedia a timeline from the year 38 CE to this century.

Write a compare/contrast essay (500 words) about the similarities and differences between the Pogroms experienced by Jews and the refugee crisis experienced by the Rohingyas in Myanmar/Burma. Can the term be applied to what the Rohingyas are now experiencing? Is history repeating itself with the Rohingyas? Why (or not) do you think so? Remember to present credible evidence to support your position.

Antisemitism in Islam

Hadith Commentary in Sunni Islam, 9thC enlarge image
Hadith Commentary in Sunni Islam, 9thC

Source: Wikipedia

Qur’an 98:7:
This hadith (commentary created after the death of Muhammad) has been quoted countless times, and it has become a part of the charter of Hamas. This is an armed group dedicated to the destruction of Israel, currently governing the Palestinians living in Gaza.

“The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn forever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures.”

2. Racial Antisemitism

The belief that:
Jews are NOT like “us”; they are genetically different and naturally cheat, steal, are greedy etc. They are a threat to “us”. Leading to: There is no solution except extermination.

Caricature of Jewish stock-exchange speculators which appeared in the German satirical magazine Fliegende Blätter in 1851. enlarge image
Caricature of Jewish stock-exchange speculators which appeared in the German satirical magazine Fliegende Blätter in 1851.

----"Herr Baron, that lad's stealing your handkerchief."
----"Let him go. We were just as small when we started out."

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nationalism: In the 1800s Europe went from loosely aligned counties and relatively small districts to “nations”. This was the rise of nationalism as communication and transportation made these larger organizations possible and even necessary as other nations were rising.

Nationalism is the love of one’s country, often taken to extreme and used by those in power to stay in power. Here is the thinking: Let’s blame THEM for our lack of success; let’s blame them for the rain falling (a true story); let’s blame them for the Russian Revolution (The Russian Revolution ushered in communism which makes it hypocritical as Jews are usually called greedy capitalists).

All over Europe, and even in Canada, we have nationalist parties that want all foreigners removed. Nationalism frequently leads to violence against those who are considered “other”.

Action 6  

Discuss >

Can nationalism and diversity work well together?

In a small group discuss Canada’s diverse population. Do you think it helps or hurts a country to contain such a large number of people from various countries and backgrounds? How does it help build nationalism? How can it hurt it? What have you witnessed to prove your point? Raise any questions you have about whether or not diverse societies function well? Ask the group the questions and discuss with an open mind.

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, invented by Russian government agents and printed in 1903; English publishing 1919 enlarge image
The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, invented by Russian government agents and printed in 1903; English publishing 1919

Source: Wikipedia.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a work of fiction and the most notorious and widely distributed document inciting antisemitism. It pretended to be the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting of Jewish leaders discussing their goal of global Jewish domination by subverting the morals of non-Jews, and by controlling the press and the world's economies. Even after it was exposed as a government hoax in the 1920’s, it was still a powerful influence because it told people what they wanted to hear: “Our problems are not created by us; our problems are because of them, the Jews.”

Cartoon of an octopus representing a Jew taking over the world enlarge image
Cartoon of an octopus representing a Jew taking over the world

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

As the 1917 Russian Revolution unfolded, causing supporters of Czars to flee to the West, this document was transported with them and assumed a new purpose. Until then The Protocols had remained obscure; it became an instrument for blaming Jews for the Russian Revolution. It was now a tool, a political weapon used against the Communists who were depicted as overwhelmingly Jews, allegedly executing the "plan" embodied in The Protocols. The purpose was to discredit the Russian Revolution, prevent the West from recognizing the Soviet Union, and bring the downfall of Vladimir Lenin's regime. Translated editions were sold across Europe, the US, South America and Japan. Then Arabic translations appeared in the 1920s.

The Dearborn Independent newspaper owned by Henry Ford, a big antisemite; Time Magazine cover with Henry Ford, January 13, 1935 enlarge image
The Dearborn Independent newspaper owned by Henry Ford, a big antisemite; Time Magazine cover with Henry Ford, January 13, 1935

Source: Time Magazine; Wikipedia

Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company and mass production of cars, claimed that Jews created capitalism. He opposed the First World War and believed that German-Jewish bankers started it for their own profit. He sponsored the printing of 500,000 copies, and, from 1920 to 1922, published a series of antisemitic articles titled "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem", in The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper he owned. In 1921, Ford cited evidence of a Jewish threat: "The only statement I care to make about the Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on. They are 16 years old, and they have fitted the world situation up to this time.”

The international Jew published by Henry Ford in 1920. In his auto showrooms he distributed 500,000 copies, some included with cars. enlarge image
The international Jew published by Henry Ford in 1920. In his auto showrooms he distributed 500,000 copies, some included with cars.

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Two years before becoming the German chancellor in 1933, Hitler kept a life-size portrait of Henry Ford next to his desk. He told a Detroit News reporter, "I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration."

Hitler refers to the Protocols in Mein Kampf:

...To what extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews. They are based on a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and screams once every week: the best proof that they are authentic. [...] the important thing is that with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final aims.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, The Protocols of Zion was studied as a text in German schools, despite having been exposed as fraudulent by The Times of London in 1921. Despite conclusive proof that the Protocols were a gross forgery, they had sensational popularity and large sales in the 1920s and 1930s. They were translated into every language of Europe and sold widely in Arab lands, the US, and England. But it was in Germany after the First World War that they had their greatest success. There they were used to explain all of the disasters that had befallen the country: the defeat in the war, the hunger, the destructive inflation.

Protocols continue to be widely available around the world, particularly on the Internet, as well as in print in Japan, the Middle East, Asia, and South America. The US Senate issued a report in 1964 declaring that the Protocols were "fabricated." The Senate called the contents of the Protocols "gibberish" and criticized those who "peddled" the Protocols for using the same propaganda technique as Hitler.

In most parts of the world, governments and leaders have not referred to the Protocols since the Second World War. The exception to this is the Middle East, where a large number of Arab and Muslim regimes and leaders have endorsed them as authentic, including endorsements from Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and the 1988 charter of Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist group. Recent endorsements in the 21st century have been made by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Sheikh Ekrima Sa'id Sabri (appointed by Arafat 1994 to 2006) and the education ministry of Saudi Arabia. This document continues to circulate on the Internet. Many Arabic and Islamic school textbooks throughout the world use the Protocols as fact. To this day, neo-Nazis, white Supremacists and Holocaust deniers circulate the Protocols.

Action 7  

Discuss >

Historical and present views of Jews

How do some of the historical views of Jews contribute to antisemitism today? Did you know that antisemitism was so widespread and enduring? What do you now know about Jews that you did not know before?

Other Antisemitism in the United States Before the Second World War

Antisemitism in Hollywood

In the 1920s there were antisemitic views toward Jews in the film industry. Charles Lindbergh* (See note below this section) once said “Their [Jews’] greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures…” When interviewed Marlon Brandon said, “Hollywood is run by Jews.” Jews who appeared on screen in the early days, hid their Jewishness – for example, Lauren Bacall (formerly Betty Joan Perske) and Tony Curtis (formerly Bernard Schwarz). In the first silent films, identifiable Jewish characters, themes and issues were mostly avoided by Hollywood, and the few that showed Jewish families, depicted them dealing with assimilation. Assimilation means when a minority group of people become fully integrated into the wider society and culture in which they live.

The Holocaust was not shown in films by Hollywood during the Second World War since American involvement in Europe’s war wasn’t popular. The only exception was Charlie Chaplin (also Jewish) in the famous “The Great Dictator” in 1940. After the war ended however testimony by Holocaust survivors, the creation of Israel and strong nationalism, made American filmmakers eventually change their attitudes. By the 1970s there was complete acceptance and in fact, 80 percent of professional comedians were Jewish according to Time Magazine, 1979. Examples are Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Gene Wilder and Neil Simon. Others who were famous on stage and screen were Irving Berlin, Molly Goldberg and Sid Caesar.

(*Charles Lindbergh – an American pilot who was the first to fly a plane non-stop from New York to Paris.)

Antisemitism in education: From the 1920s to 1950s universities such as Harvard, and other private liberal arts, as well as medical and dental schools wanted to prevent the rising percentage of Jewish applicants and instituted a quota system to keep Jewish admissions down to 10%. Yale University only eliminated this policy in 1970.

“The crimes with which the Jews have been charged in the course of history—crimes which were used to justify the atrocities perpetrated against them—have changed in rapid succession. They were supposed to have poisoned wells. They were said to have murdered children for ritual purposes. They were falsely charged with a systematic attempt at the economic domination and exploitation of all mankind. Pseudo-scientific books were written to brand them an inferior, dangerous race. They were reputed to foment wars and revolutions for their own selfish purposes. They were presented at once as dangerous innovators and as enemies of true progress. They were charged with falsifying the culture of nations by penetrating the national life under the guise of becoming assimilated. In the same breath they were accused of being so inflexible that it was impossible for them to fit into any society.”

- Albert Einstein in Collier’s Magazine, November 1938, immediately following Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass”. Throughout Nazi Germany, Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jews carried out by the military and civilians on November 9 to 10, 1938.

Action 8  

Do >

Putting yourself in their shoes

Look over your list from ACTION 1 and add or delete any information that has changed your mind since learning about the history of the Jews and antisemitism. Imagine what it would be like to grow up Jewish before the Second World War, assimilated in the society your family lived in, then this happens: you are suddenly expelled from school, forced to wear a Jewish star on your clothing to identify you, then on a path to exclusion, segregation in ghettos and doomed to extinction.

Using the first-person perspective, write a journal entry as a Jewish person of your age, during that time period. Include specifics about your practices, feelings about friends who no longer spend time with you, and being shuffled around to ‘gated’ communities without knowing what the future has in store for you and your family. Imagine the fear you would experience. Include any details about Jewish religious practices that will infuse the journal entry with reality and emotion.

Antisemitism in Canada Before and After the Second World War

Once European explorers made first contact with First Nations Peoples, immigrants were encouraged to settle the West, clear the forests, farm the land, and build Canada’s cities. The preference was for people from Great Britain and other White Europeans. Other immigrants, including Black people, East Asians and Chinese, were turned away.

In the early part of the 20th century, Canada selected immigrants according to ethnic and racial stereotypes. Advertising encouraged immigration to Canada before the Second World War with headlines like this: “Britishers! Bring Your Families to Canada.” White people from the United States and Great Britain, and from northern and western Europe, were welcomed with no problem. Russians and other eastern Europeans had more trouble entering Canada however because their racial traits were considered to be inferior to that of other white and Western immigrants. One immigrant group was classified as “undesirable” by Canada: Jewish people, arriving from any country in the world. They could only enter Canada with special permission from the government.

Around the 1870s, some scientists came up with the idea of ranking stronger and weaker countries based on the racial and ethnic characteristics of their citizens. In South Africa and the United States, black people were discriminated against because their racial characteristics were believed to be inferior to that of white people. In Europe, the United States and Canada, Christians were considered to be superior to other ethnic and religious groups. In reality, people’s physical characteristics and personality traits are neither superior nor inferior, but this did not stop Canada from discriminating against certain immigrant groups based on ethnic and racial stereotypes.

History of Canadian Jews

Fun Facts about some of the first Jews who came to Canada

Esther Brandeau (born about 1718 near Bayonne, France; date of death unknown)

The first Jewish person to set foot in Canada was actually a girl disguised as a boy! In 1738 a 20-year-old girl arrived on a ship in Quebec dressed as a boy and calling herself Jacques La Fargue. She was the daughter of a Jewish merchant, David Brandeau, from Bayonne, France. Esther was sent in 1733 by her parents on a Dutch ship to join her brother and an aunt in Amsterdam. When the ship was wrecked she was saved by one of the crew and provided shelter by a woman living in Biarritz. At that point, she decided to disguise herself as a boy and after being forced to eat forbidden foods such as pork, decided she wanted a life of liberty as a Christian. After various odd jobs, she ended up being hired as a ship’s boy on the Saint-Michel that set sail for Quebec in 1738. When her true identity was discovered in Quebec, she was arrested, taken to Hôpital Général and interrogated. It was a big source of embarrassment for this Catholic community in New France, trying to be monotheistic, and they agreed to allow her to convert. Even the admiral and King Louis XV of France became involved in her situation. After living there for a year, Esther never adapted however and was finally deported back to France in 1739, with her return voyage being paid by the state.

Aaron Hart Jewish businessman in Quebec 1700s enlarge image
Aaron Hart Jewish businessman in Quebec 1700s

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Aaron Hart (born about 1724; died 28 Dec., 1800)

Aaron Hart was a Jewish businessman from either Bavaria (Germany) or England, who lived and died in Trois Rivières, New France (Quebec). He followed British troops north, though some say he was an office serving with the British forces under Amherst. Jews were not welcome by European armies so it is less likely he was on the staff. A document in 1760 refers to him and the following year he became a merchant in Trois-Rivières providing supplies to the troops. His home was turned into a post office by the authorities in 1763 and a year later, he purchased his first land and kept acquiring properties. In 1767 he went to London to find a wife and married Dorothy Judah in 1768. They returned back to New France to begin their lives in a new country with much promise. With a Jewish wife, they raised their children with Jewish traditions. The extended family in the area grew when Aaron’s brother Moses joined him, while another brother settled in Albany, New York. His wife’s bothers had already settled in Canada prior to her arrival. The British relied on Jewish merchants who were among the few who spoke English in the province. Aaron Hart had two sons who established themselves in Trois-Rivières because their father gave them lands there. He involved them in his fur-trading, assigned a shop, Aaron Hart and Son, to Ezekiel and opened a brewery and a bakery. After Aaron’s death in in 1800, the Hart family owned four fiefs and seven seigneuries, according to lists in about 1857. It amounted to $86,293, a vast fortune at that time. His sons inherited his properties and he left generous sums in his will to his four daughters. Aaron’s son Ezekiel was elected to the assembly in 1807. Over generations many members of the Hart family remained in the Trois-Rivières region, mixed with long-term Canadians and became assimilated.

Rachel Myers – Jewish woman Loyalist who emigrated to New Brunswick

Rachel Myers was born in Austria and was married to a Hungarian Jew, Benjamin Myers in 1757 when she was only 12! Due to the antisemitic policies of the Empress Maria Theresa, they emigrated to America, arriving in New York. Their first son Benjamin Jr. was born in 1758 followed by eight more children. They moved to Newport, Rhode Island where there was already a thriving Jewish community. After their last child was born in 1776, Rachel’s husband died at age 43. Their eldest son Benjamin Jr. was a British Loyalist who refused to swear allegiance to the American cause. Rachel and her eight other children followed Benjamin Jr. to New York when Newport, formerly occupied by the British, became American. In 1778, he and his brother Abraham joined the British troops fighting the Americans. Along with many other Loyalists, they then fled to Canada where the British offered them free land in Nova Scotia.

They landed in Saint John, NB on April 27, 1783 and found themselves in terrible conditions of cold, wet weather, swarms of insects, lack of food and water, poor sanitation, violence, theft and alcoholism. Benjamin and Abraham were finally granted land over a year later but the family lived in makeshift tents waiting for them to clear the 200 acres. Rachel petitioned the governor for cleared land, and had assistance with her letter as she was illiterate. Her petition described the “Distressed situation of your petitioners”, her “fatherless children” and her “Real Need Family” who had been living in “very deplorable circumstances” since their arrival. At first, she was provided with unsuitable land that was too low to build on, then received only slightly better land in 1786. There were severe food shortages and starvation that winter. The family was provided only one third of the promised provisions. She was fed up with the empty promises by the British and the suffering they were enduring and decided to head back to New York. Furthermore, as the only Jewish family in New Brunswick, they lacked a Jewish community. In 1787 they arrived back in New York and were provided housing and a community. She died in 1801 and despite living at the bottom of American, Jewish and Loyalist societies, Rachel Myer’s legacy lies in the successes of her children. In the 1850s her son Mordecai became mayor of Schenectady, NY. Her daughter, Judith Myers married a Loyalist and moved to Toronto in 1831 where she died at age 62.


Sign prohibiting Jews in St. Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. July 1939 enlarge image
Sign prohibiting Jews in St. Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec. July 1939

Source: Azrieli Foundation

Between the 1890s and the 1920s some Jewish immigrants did manage to enter Canada. They were fleeing terrible pogroms in Russia and Poland that were organized by the Russian government. In Canada, Jewish people experienced discrimination only because they were Jewish. (After the Second World War, the intolerance toward Jews continued.) They could only get low-paying jobs on farms or in factories because big companies, banks, and stores didn’t trust Jewish employees. Like the United States, universities had quotas on how many Jews could become doctors, lawyers or engineers. Even if Jews did become doctors, they couldn’t find hospitals where they were allowed to work or where non-Jewish doctors would work with them. People wouldn’t rent apartments or sell houses to Jewish families, and there were tennis and golf clubs that refused to permit Jews to become members. Signs at beaches, swimming pools and parks declared “No Jews or Dogs Allowed.”

Sign in Quebec, c. 1930’s enlarge image
Sign in Quebec, c. 1930’s

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia

Christie Pits Riots, August 16, 1933 in Toronto

An antisemitic group who called themselves the “Pit Gang” taunted Jewish baseball players, yelling “Heil Hitler” and displaying swastikas. It began with words and became the biggest riot to date in Canada involving violent fighting and a crowd of about 10,000. The three youths who started it were arrested.

McLean’s magazine article “No Jews Need Apply” November 1, 1948 by Pierre Berton enlarge image
McLean’s magazine article “No Jews Need Apply” November 1, 1948 by Pierre Berton

Source: The Maclean’s Archive.

Action 9  

Do >

Immigration to Canada

Why do you think that Jewish people believed there would not be pogroms in Canada and that they would be safe? Organize your information into a 3 to 4-page essay or be prepared to speak to the class for 5-10 minutes on this question.

Action 10  

Discuss >

Parallels between the experiences of Jewish and Indigenous People

Compare and contrast stereotypes of Jews and those of Indigenous People. Looking around the world at Indigenous people in Canada, the United States, and Australia, have governments mistreated them in the past in similar ways to how Jews have been mistreated? What is the same and what is different? Compare how both groups have at times been forced to assimilate to Christian society or face persecution. Discuss in small groups then as a class.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when there was a worldwide economic depression and mass unemployment after the stock market crashed in 1929, Canadians experienced severe unemployment and poverty. Because life was difficult, many turned to traditional Christian stereotypes for answers and ended up blaming the Jews for the economic problems they were facing. The Jews became the scapegoat. Canadians who might never have met a Jew began to believe ugly caricatures depicting Jews as “controlling all the money in the world” or as the “killers of Jesus Christ”. These were lies that people told about Jews to make themselves feel better. Groups calling for the expulsion of all Jews (and other “foreigners”) from Canada grew increasingly popular in English-speaking provinces, especially among French-speaking Quebecers. These groups spread more lies about Jewish people to make Canadians afraid. Some engaged in violence against Jewish Canadians.

St. Agathe, Quebec 1935. German Bund group Nazi supporters. enlarge image
St. Agathe, Quebec 1935. German Bund group Nazi supporters.

Source: Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre (Musée Holocauste)

Canada’s Jewish leaders worked with the country’s handful of Jewish members of Parliament (MPs) and non-Jewish supporters to counter the lies being told about Jews. They also met with the Prime Minister, gave speeches, and held rallies urging Canada’s government to allow in more Jewish immigrants, even as they helped settle the few who managed to enter the country. But by the mid-1930s, Canada was slamming its doors to all immigrants and especially to Jewish refugees from Europe.

See Unit 4 Immigration Chapter 1 - The Voyage of the MS St. Louis for Canada’s immigration policies towards Jews in the 1930s:

Resource: Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, authors of The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492 (Princeton University Press, 2012)

Unit 3 Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination

Chapter 6 Japanese Internment Camps in World War II

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Ask yourself:

  • Was the Canadian government justified in removing thousands of Canadians of Japanese descent, from Canada’s west coast to the interior during World War II?
  • How would you feel if you were suddenly removed from your place of birth for no apparent reason?
  • Should we take responsibility for the “sins” of our ancestors?
Minoru Fukushima - Internment of Japanese Canadians


Internment – the imprisonment or confinement of people (considered ‘enemy aliens’), without trial, often connected to times of war or terrorism. This definition can be used to describe a "concentration camp".

Restitution – reparation made by giving an equivalent or compensation for loss or damage to property, or injury caused without justification.

War Measures Act – an undemocratic statute passed by the Canadian parliament on August 4th, 1914, giving the government broad power to take emergency measures during war or rebellion in order to maintain security and order. It also gave the government full authority to censor the media, arrest without charge, deport without trial and expropriate control and disposal of property. Implementation was not approved by the democratically elected Parliament but through an Order in Council. It was used three times: in WWI, WWII and in the October crisis of 1970 by Prime Minister Trudeau.

Issei – a Japanese term to describe a first generation person who settled in Canada or the United States.

Nisei a Japanese term to describe a person born to Japanese parents in Canada or the United States, also known as second generation.

This Really Happened

After a decade of military campaigns and victories in Asia (mostly Korea and China), the Japanese government wanted to cripple American efforts to contain its military expansion and on December 7th, 1941 made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the American naval base in Hawaii. This surprise attack which killed 2,500 Americans, was quickly followed by attacks on other parts of Asia including the British garrison (military post) in Hong Kong which had recently welcomed two battalions of Canadians. On December 25th, the Japanese forced the garrison’s surrender and took survivors as prisoners of war (POWs).

At the time, British Columbia had 22,000 Japanese Canadians living there—14,000 of whom were born in Canada. Many of these immigrants worked in the fishing industry. On February 24, 1942, an Order in Council passed under the Defence of Canada Regulations of the War Measures Act gave the federal government the oppressive power to intern (confine) all "persons of Japanese racial origin.” A "protected" 100-mile (160 km) wide strip up the Pacific coast was created, and men of Japanese origin between the ages of 14 and 45 were removed from their homes and taken to road camps in BC’s interior or to camps beyond. Those who refused to leave their families were rounded up by the RCMP and deported to prisoner of war camps in Angler, Ontario. About 4,000 people were sent to the Prairies in Alberta where they endured difficult conditions.

Soon the remaining Japanese population of more than 20,000 men, women, and children were removed from the west coast and placed in internment camps in the interior. Families were torn apart, some who had been living in Canada for two generations. In addition, they had to pay for their own living and relocation costs, since the Geneva Convention did not protect them as they did prisoners of war of enemy nations. Their mail and written material was censored.

Map of Japanese-Canadian relocation sites.


Many able-bodied Japanese Canadian labourers were sent to camps near fields and orchards, such as the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. This quickly solved the area’s shortage of farm workers.

During the war the federal government passed legislation to confiscate the property of “enemy aliens”. For Japanese Canadians this meant losing farm property, fishing boats and equipment. These were sold for far below their value and the proceeds used to help operate the camps.

enlarge image
1,200 Japanese fishing boats seized and impounded – 1941 in New Westminster, BC


At war’s end in 1945 there were calls to deport Japanese Canadians to Japan. Some of those who had earlier signed this "repatriation agreement", tried to have it annulled. Beginning in May 1946 the journeys to Japan began for what would amount to nearly 4,000 people, many of whom had been born in Canada and knew no other home. A great number of the remaining Japanese returned to the west coast but others stayed near their internment locations or moved to cities like Toronto. In any case, they did not regain their property and only won the right to vote, along with Chinese Canadians, in 1949. At that time all other restrictions were lifted.


YearEvents in History
Year Events in History
1877 Manzo Nagano, a nineteen-year-old sailor, was the first Japanese person to officially immigrate to Canada, entering the salmon-exporting business.
1885 The Federal government passed a Head Tax to limit Chinese immigration. Such a tax was not extended to Japanese immigrants.
1899-1902 During the Boer War the British set up camps for South African Boer farmers, women, and children as well as Black South Africans, as part of a strategy to defeat Boer guerrilla fighters. These were referred to as “concentration camps”.
1907 The United States prohibited Japanese immigration using Hawaii as a stop over. Over 7,000 immigrants came to British Columbia as a result (compared to just over 2,000 in 1906). As a result of tensions over increased immigration of Asians to American and Canadian west coasts, an Asiatic Exclusion League was formed. The League held a rally in front of Vancouver’s City Hall but it soon turned into a riot in which shops in Chinatown were vandalized. The shops in the Japanese area of the city suffered less damage due to resistance by the local population.
1914 The War Measures Act was a federal statute adopted by Parliament in 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War, giving broad powers to the Canadian government to maintain security and order during war or insurrection. During the First World War, enemy aliens (nationals of Germany and of the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires) were subject to internment, but only if there were "reasonable grounds" to believe they were engaged in espionage or illegal activities. Many of these ‘aliens’ were Ukrainians, who at that time were not part of an independent country.
1916-1922 Japanese Canadians went to Alberta to volunteer to serve in the war. They fought in most of the major battles, winning 11 Canadian Military Medals for bravery and suffering 54 deaths.
1931 Japanese military invaded Manchuria.
1937 Japanese military launched a full-scale invasion of China. By 1941 it held the coastal areas of both China and Vietnam. A particularly infamous event occurred in December when the city of Nanking was captured (The Nanking Massacre aka the “Rape of Nanking”.)
27 September, 1940 Germany, Italy, and Japan formed a defensive alliance through the Tripartite Pact, sometimes called the Berlin Pact.
1941 Japanese attacked American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This was followed by more invasions of south Asian territories including Hong Kong and the surrender of thousands of British and Canadian troops.
1942 Over 20,000 Japanese Canadians were removed from the west coast to camps in the interior of BC, Alberta and beyond. Most of the camps were internment camps but some were road camps.
19 January, 1943 A federal government Order in Council liquidated all the Japanese property that had been under "protective custody."
2 May, 1947 The SS Marine Angel left Vancouver carrying 3,964 internees to a war-devastated Japan.
31 March, 1949 Japanese and Chinese Canadians were given the right to vote.

Action 1

Two terms— “internment camps” and “concentration camps” are used to describe camps in which civilians are held (which violates their basic human rights). Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Should they be?


Research the use of these two terms as they have been used throughout history and conduct the following “test” using the “Venn Test”.

Venn diagrams prompt us to compare: a key ingredient for improving your understanding of concepts. Here is a “test” to enhance comparison and contrast. We can compare two ideas; e.g.
“prejudice” and “discrimination”

Or the experiences of two groups of immigrants; e.g.,
Chinese and Japanese Canadians from early settlement to 1949

Or experiences in Canada and the United States; e.g.,
the treatment of people of Japanese ancestry

A. Do the people, events, or ideas being compared have nothing in common?

B. Are any similarities overshadowed by their differences?

C. Are their similarities so strong that their differences don’t matter that much?

D. Are they synonymous: do they constitute the same thing, although they go by different names?

E. Is one idea a part of the other idea?

This “test” can be used in all subject areas when comparing, for example:

  • Two (or more) historians’ accounts of an event, idea, or person (artifacts).
  • Editorials from two newspapers on a current issue related to prejudice, discrimination, human rights or any other topic found in Voices into Action.

The Venn Test is more open-ended than a simple Venn diagram and promotes deeper analysis of patterns and relationships.


Using the Venn Test, discuss and debate these issues in pairs or larger groups. Some comparative relationships may be a matter of judgment in which there may more than one “right” answer.

Action 2


From the timeline and classroom work, including studying other Voices into Action chapters and units, you know that there was intense and unfair prejudice against many Canadians throughout our history involving many acts of discrimination by individuals, organizations, and even the government. Examine another group that suffered prejudice and discrimination throughout our history (and perhaps found within Voices into Action) and compare with the Japanese Canadian experience using the Venn Test.

Artifacts 1

The following documents, both primary and secondary sources, relate to the decision to remove Japanese Canadians from the west coast.

Document 1: › Parts of a resolution passed by the British Columbia Legislature in 1924
Whereas statistics show that there is a large increase in the number of Orientals {Chinese and Japanese} in British Columbia, multiplying each year to an alarming extent:

And whereas the Orientals have invaded many fields of industrial and commercial activities to the serious detriment of our white citizens:

And whereas many of our white merchants are being forced out of business by such commercial and industrial invasion:

Therefore be it resolved that the House go on record as being utterly opposed to the further immigration of Orientals….

Adapted from Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991, p. 141.

Document 2: › Statement about Japanese Canadians by British Columbia M.P. Thomas Reid, in a speech in January 1942
Take them back to Japan. They do not belong here … They cannot be assimilated as Canadians for no matter how long the Japanese remain in Canada they will always be Japanese.

Adapted from Roy Miki and Cassandra Kobayashi, Justice in Our Time. The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement. Vancouver: Talon books, 1991, p.24.

Document 3: ›
On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the American naval base in Hawaii. This attack brought the war close to North America and created near panic in British Columbia and on the California coast.

The first victims of this growing fear were the Japanese Canadians. About 23,000 of them, not all Canadian born, but almost all citizens, lived in British Columbia. Racism in Canada had existed for a long time, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had raised it to a fever pitch. The federal government in Ottawa was repeatedly told by its officials, the RCMP and by military officers that the Japanese Canadians posed no threat. But the political pressure grew, especially from British Columbia’s representatives in federal cabinet. The government felt obliged to act. The Japanese Canadians were rounded up, deprived of their jobs and property and sent to the interior of BC or to other parts of the country. It was the most shocking violation of basic human rights in Canada during the war.

Adapted from J. L. Granatstein et al, Twentieth Century Canada, 2nd ed., Toronto McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1986

Document 4: ›
There were many reports – both real and imagined - of enemy submarine activity off the coast of California in late December 1941. A few American freighters were shelled and one sunk. Although there were no further attacks after December, many coastal residents felt they were under threat from a whole fleet of enemy submarines.

The same panic was evident on the west coast of British Columbia in December 1941. One rumour was that Japan’s main fleet was exactly 154 miles west of San Francisco and heading northeast towards B.C.

The closest thing to an attack on British Columbia’s coast however was the shelling by a Japanese submarine of a radio station and lighthouse on Estaven Point on Vancouver Island in June 1942. The shelling caused virtually no damage. There was no invasion of Canadian soil, no landings from the sea or aircraft bombings. There was no evidence that the Japanese ever seriously considered such steps.

Adapted from Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991, p. 206-208.

Document 5: ›
It would be possible to make the whole of British Columbia a battleground, and even to bomb the prairie cities such as Edmonton and Calgary. We should be protected from treachery, from a stab in the back. … There have been treachery elsewhere from Japanese in this war, and we have no reason to believe that there will be none in British Columbia... the only complete protection we can have from this danger is to remove the Japanese population from the province.

British Columbia M.P. Howard Green in a House of Commons speech, January 29, 1942.

Document 6: ›
For six weeks, from the middle of January 1942 to the announcement of mass evacuation, many community groups in B.C. feared that the Japanese Canadians would betray Canada. Municipal councils, most notably those of Vancouver and Victoria, urged Ottawa to remove all Japanese. The Citizens’ Defense Committee made up of 20 prominent B.C. citizens supported the mass evacuation of the Japanese Canadians. This committee caused a “deep impression” in Ottawa.

“It is a fact that no person of Japanese race born in Canada has been charged with any form of sabotage or disloyalty during the war years,” said Prime Minister Mackenzie King in 1944. He also could have added that no Japanese Canadian, wherever born, had ever been found guilty of such crimes.

Adapted from Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991, p. 206 and 276.

Document 7: ›
An important factor guiding federal policy at this time was the fall of Hong Kong in late December 1941, and the capture of Canadian soldiers there. As well, reports of Japanese treatment of prisoners in Hong Kong greatly increased the hostility towards the Japanese residents on the west coast.

On February 19, 1942, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King recorded in his diary that he was fearful of riots on the west coast. He thought those riots might be caused by reports of mistreatment of Canadian prisoners. King wrote, “Once that {rioting} occurs there will be repercussions in the far east against our own prisoners.” It was partly in fear of such reprisals that King decided that all Japanese must be evacuated.

The mass removal of the Japanese Canadians also would remove a widespread fear among the white population which might lead to riots.

Adapted from Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991, p. 211.

Document 8: ›
During the sixty-five years since the first settler from Japan came to Canada in 1877, legal restrictions in British Columbia denied them the right to vote or be elected to public office. In addition, they were prevented from entering professions such as law, pharmacy, teaching and accounting.

The uprooting of Japanese Canadians in 1942 was not an isolated act of racism, but the end result of discrimination which had build up from the first days of their settlement. Indeed, for many decades, Japanese and Chinese immigrants had been harassed by racists. Older Japanese Canadians remembered well the Vancouver Riot of 1907. A crowd at an anti-Asian rally suddenly turned into a mob, stormed through Chinatown, breaking store windows and were finally beaten back by a group of Japanese Canadians.

Adapted from Roy Miki and Cassandra Kobayashi, Justice in Our Time. The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement. Vancouver: Talon books, 1991, pp. 17-18.

Document 9: ›
In 1942 a special committee in B.C. reported that unless anti-Japanese sentiments were reduced, there would be riots. Such an incident had already occurred in the Japanese Canadian district on Halloween night in 1939 when a mob of 300 white youths smashed plate glass windows and looted stores.

Adapted from Ken Adachi, The Enemy That Never Was, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991, p. 191.

Action 3


The Spectrum Line

This organizational structure helps those who are visual or kinesthetic learners demonstrate what they know by “placing” views along a spectrum. Apply it to your learning by discussing a question that can have many possible answers.

  1. In pairs use a spectrum worksheet in which you examine a number of significant events related to a question in a social studies area. Number each event.

  2. The line or scale at the top of the page represents a wide spectrum of views about the question or issue. Opposing criteria are placed at each end of the spectrum line. Work in pairs to reach consensus as to where each event belongs, according to the criteria. If you are looking at reasons Japanese Canadians were removed from the west coast during World War II, you might locate the historical interpretations offered in the previous 9 documents along the spectrum, based on the identified or implied cause for removal as follows:
    A spectrum line with 'racial fears' at one end and 'security fears' at the other
  3. With your partner, position the number of the document on the spectrum line according to its relevance to the issue or question being discussed. For this particular example, you might expect document 2 to be near the “racial fears” spectrum line.

  4. Write a sentence beside or after each document justifying its position on the line based on your summarized and paraphrased interpretation of the source.

  5. Team up with another pair to exchange views and attempt to reach a consensus by merging both teams’ spectrum lines.

Another kind of spectrum line is a scaled spectrum that can be used throughout your research of the topics within Voices into Action. When comparisons are required you may wish to include a Scaled Spectrum (rather than one with just two opposing criteria) with criteria being identified as:

A spectrum line with 'Unimportant' at one end, 'Somewhat Important' in the middle and 'Very Important' at the other end.

Spectrum Construction - Find statements, events, ideas, quotes, etc. to fall on each end and in the middle of the spectrum.

The range of perspectives along the spectrum line can include criteria such as:

  • unimportant - very important
  • good example - poor example
  • good leadership - poor leadership
  • strongest influence - weakest influence.


Artifacts 2

The following diary entries and memoirs capture some of the experiences of the internment detainees:

First independently, then in pairs, then in groups of pairs, share your reactions (feelings) as you read the entries. Some questions you can ask yourself are:

  • What emotions come to you when you read each entry?
  • Which adjectives come to mind as you read?
  • Can you identify or relate with an experience or a character from a reading? What in particular do you feel/see? How does this connection influence your understanding of the character or event?

A. From the foreword, by Joy Kogawa (author of Obasan):

I devoured these stories in one hungry afternoon of reading. Some of it was painfully familiar. Some of the flavouring tasted strange and felt unsettling. Here were some Issei, professing in their diaries, an identity with a country that was the enemy country of my youth. As a passionately Canadian Nisei, I never did want to believe that Japanese Canadians were anything but totally Canadian in their identity. This was unreasonable. How could I expect people to feel no connection to the land of their birth? As I read, I ranged through discomfort, old sadness, nostalgia, admiration, tenderness, pride, and anger as I was taken back to look again with the help of these additional perspectives, into the secrets and intimacies of my childhood.

B. From the diaries of Koichiro Miyazaki

April 15, 1942
Rain. I haven't seen rain for a long time. As I look into the birch forest it is shrouded with a gentle spring rain. It is all very dream-like. My diaries, which were confiscated, were returned cut up and censored. It is just an internee's diary. Do they have the right to do such things? At least they should give some reasons. They can confiscate my diaries but the facts of my life will not disappear... (Oiwa, 52)

July 19, 1942
This is the last day of our life at Petawawa internment camp. I remember the day we arrived here when the camp was still surrounded by the harsh, bleak winter. The lake was frozen white. The biting wind was blowing. The ground was hard and icy. The birch forest gave a bleak impression of white skeletons and made us shiver. The whiteness of the landscape is still clearly imprinted in the back of my mind. It so happens that we are leaving here in the middle of summer. Tomorrow morning we are leaving this place for good. The camp is now surrounded by lush green ... Many people have cleared the barren land and sowed various vegetables and flowers which our eyes and stomachs have begun to enjoy. Well, I'd better stop being sentimental. Tomorrow a new struggle begins in a new camp ... (Oiwa, 61)

C. From the letters of Kensuke Kitagawa (written while interned at Angler Prison Camp):

May 28, 1943 (from a letter to his wife)
I still look at the wisteria branch that you sent me which is on the wall. As I slept in the lower bunk, a haiku came to me:
Wisteria flowers:
But double-decker bed
Is in my way

I wonder how you interpret this poem. Guess where my mind is? (Oiwa, 112)

D. From the diary of Kaoru Ikeda:

... We have seen Canada's true nature through our recent experiences. What is democracy? Who can talk about it? Who has the right to accuse Japan of invading other countries? Isn't Britain the champion invader? The last several centuries of British history is full of invasion after invasion. Since they can be neither Japanese nor Canadian, I wonder what the future of the Nisei youth will be? Deprived of civil rights these young people are in a sad situation. I just hope that their efforts will lead to a positive solution. (Oiwa, 146)

E. A tanka poem, written while at Slocan:

I thought
It would only be temporary
In this Mountain country
Accumulate another year
As snow deepens
(Oiwa, 119)

F. In the words of Genshichi Takahashi:

The government promised us that until the end of the war the Custodians would take care of our properties. We trusted the words of the government and left all our belongings behind. These were all very important things to us. They then confiscated and sold for next-to-nothing, our farmland, fishing boats, and cars, by means of the unjust law called the War Measures Act. From the beginning the government intended to deceive us. (Oiwa, 192)

Camp Conditions

Action 4


Writing is one way to express the emotion of a situation. Haiku is a Japanese poetic style that uses sensory language to capture a feeling or image. They are often inspired by an element of nature. The traditional format is three-lines with 17 syllables arranged in a 5–7–5 pattern.

Here is an example that may depict what the Japanese went through:

Prejudice is a dark cloud
Bad for all of us.

Write a Haiku to represent the feelings of a child in an internment camp.

Artifacts 3

The following are photos from the internment period:

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A family of Japanese Canadians being relocated in British Columbia, 1942.

Credit: Library and Archives Canada/C-046355.

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An internment camp for Japanese Canadians in British Columbia, 1945.

Photo Credit: Jack Long / National Film Board of Canada/Library and Archives Canada/PA-142853. LAC

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The Lemon Creek Internment Camp, 1944-1945, constructed specifically to intern Japanese Canadian families.

Photos courtesy of Diana Domai.

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The Lemon Creek Internment Camp, 1944-1945, constructed specifically to intern Japanese Canadian families. The school in the centre held classes for kindergarten to grade 12.

Photos courtesy of Diana Domai.

Action 5

This website has many photos from the internment period. As part of the Japanese Canadian Legacy Project, SEDAI is dedicated to collecting and preserving the stories of earlier generations of Canadians of Japanese ancestry for all future generations to witness.

First on your own, then in pairs, examine the photos above and those on the website. Pick out the photos that have the most emotional impact to you and explain why you feel this way.

Action 6


“Minoru”, a film by Michael Fukishima portrays the story of his father’s family’s internment during the war.

After viewing, compare your feelings about the film with other sources about the time, such as photos, memoirs, daily entries, textbook accounts and more.


  • How historical context enriches the study of literature and media portrayals
  • How literature and media can enhance our understanding of an event in history

Action 7


On September 22, 1988, the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement was signed. In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney acknowledged the government's wrongful actions, pledged to ensure that the events would never recur and recognized the loyalty of the Japanese Canadians to Canada. As a symbolic redress for those injustices the government offered individual and community compensation to the Japanese Canadians. To the Canadian people, and on behalf of Japanese Canadians, the federal government also promised, under the terms of the agreement, to create a Canadian Race Relations Foundation, which would "foster racial harmony and cross-cultural understanding and help to eliminate racism." The federal government proclaimed the Canadian Race Relations Foundation Act into law on October 28, 1996. The Foundation officially opened its doors in November 1997.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s remarks to the House of Commons, Sept. 22, 1988

I know that I speak for Members on all sides of the House today in offering to Japanese Canadians the formal and sincere apology of this Parliament for those past injustices against them, against their families, and against their heritage, and our solemn commitment and undertaking to Canadians of every origin that such violations will never again in this country be countenanced or repeated.

CBC News story about the event (4 ½ minutes)

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The Redress Agreement of 1988

Front, L-R: Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Art Miki, President of the National Association of Japanese Canadians signing the Redress Agreement on September 22, 1988. Back, L-R: Don Rosenbloom, Roger Obata, Lucien Bouchard, Audrey Kobayashi, Gerry Weiner, Maryka Omatsu, Roy Miki, Cassandra Kobayashi.

As a class, respond to questions such as:

  1. What criteria should we use to offer redress or compensation for past wrongs?

  2. What other issues in the news today should be the subject of redress or compensation?

Further Resources:

1. Ten short films about the Nikkei by students at Lucerne Secondary School, New Denver BC

2. Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, New Denver BC

Unit 4 Immigration

Overview Who Gets In? Who Does Not?

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Ask yourself:

  • What do stories of how we welcome newcomers tell us about ourselves?
  • Are we “saints” or “sinners” when it comes to helping those who flee their homelands?
  • How is Canada leading the way around the world in welcoming refugees into our country? Are we role models?

Immigration has been important throughout our history. The issues change and the ground shifts constantly when we look at Canadian society today. Immigration and its implications for Canada will be important for the foreseeable future. Canadian immigration policy has been and will be affected by world events: from the coming of the Loyalists, to Syrian refugees, to the aftermath of future crises yet to unfold.

Immigrant youth group discussion

Thank you to the Jewish Immigration Aid Services (JIAS) Toronto for their help in arranging the group discussion.

Did You Know?

Canada is the only country to have won the Nansen Refugee Award awarded annually by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to an individual, group, or organization in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of refugees, displaced or stateless peoples. Canadians are the first and only people to have been honoured collectively with this award. The 1986 award committee cited "the major and sustained contribution of the People of Canada to the cause of refugees".

In this unit, we shall examine Canada’s record and their treatment of new immigrants and refugees in need of safe haven such as the Voyage of the MS St. Louis, the Vietnamese Boat People, Catholics in the 19th Century and Chinese Immigration. An example of the unfair treatment of newcomers is outlined in the chapter on Chinese Head Tax. It looks at the injustices experienced by the Chinese who came to Canada to build our railways, only to be charged a heavy tax to remain here. The discrimination lies in the fact that no other group of new immigrants was charged such a tax, and that the Chinese had already moved, worked and been living in Canada when the tax was introduced. The unit culminates with a global perspective on current refugees and genocides occurring around the world and Canada’s response.

Key concepts › Classification

There are a number of ways to classify immigrants. Which of the following do you think we are examining in this unit? Why do you think so?

Most immigrants are in this category: planning to stay, gain citizenship, raise families and live permanently in Canada. Governments over our history have had criteria for “qualified” immigrants. These criteria have changed over time.

Temporary Workers
These immigrants are here on a contract basis and include a wide variety of people. Seasonal farm workers, students, professional athletes and others who get work permits to fill specific jobs are in this category.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers
These can include people fleeing war, natural disasters, or human oppression based on religion, ethnicity, or identity markers. Some in this category may be considered “economic” refugees: those just looking for better job opportunities. Governments today have a task to sort these out.

Unauthorized Workers /Illegals
We do not know how many immigrants fit this category but they can include: people smuggled in, students or tourists overstaying visa dates, those with false documents, and others. In the United States this has been a hot political issue for decades.

Genocide and Emil Fackenheim’s three stages of Antisemitism

One reason why people who are suffering unthinkable conditions, flee their countries is that their lives are being threatened. Throughout history, the threat of genocide has forced and continues to force marginalized groups of people to leave (emigrate) from their home countries to avoid the violence and murder if they stayed. Genocide seems to follow a pattern of stages. It’s important for us to recognize these patterns so that we can protect people from the fate of genocide such as those who fell victim to the Holocaust.

The hatred which led to the genocide of the Holocaust in Europe followed a three-stage pattern – or in this case, three stages of antisemitism as outlined by philosopher Emil Fackenheim. You can place a number of groups within Fackenheim’s stages – people who have been excluded and unfairly treated in Canada over time. While we cannot compare the extent of the systematic extermination carried out in the Holocaust with that of other genocides and oppression, we can use the stages when thinking about groups who were marginalized, and made to feel unwelcome and unsafe in their own countries.

“You cannot live among us as Jews,” leading to forced conversions;
“You cannot live among us,” leading to mass deportations, and
“You cannot live,” leading to genocide.

Emil Ludwig Fackenheim represents the odyssey of contemporary liberal Jewish theologians both in his thoughts and in his life. He was born in Halle, Germany, on June 22, 1916. Liberal Jews at this time looked to Germany's cultured, middle-class Jewish population as the beacon of enlightenment and progress. Fackenheim shared these views and studied for the Reform Jewish rabbinate in the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, where he was ordained in 1939. He maintained a keen interest in non-Jewish philosophy as well by studying at the University of Halle. Shortly after his ordination he was interned for three months in a concentration camp—a profoundly traumatic experience, but he was one of the few lucky ones to be released. After leaving Germany he studied briefly at the University of Aberdeen and was then called as rabbi to Congregation Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where he served from 1943 to 1948.

Action 1  


At times Canada has welcomed or refused entry to immigrants. In small groups discuss the following questions:

  • What are the “push” factors? Why did Canada push people away? Do you think they were right?
  • What are the “pull” factors? What was Canada doing to bring newcomers to the country? Why were they choosing to welcome new citizens? Were they right to do so?
  • How “welcoming” was Canada to the newcomers once they arrived? Why did we react the way we did to those wishing to immigrate to Canada?

Your teacher can print the Reaction Wheel for you to use individually: found in Teaching Tools on pages 6 and 7 to jot down your own opinions prior to discussing them.

Action 2  


What is your position on immigration?

Write a position paper or editorial on Canada’s immigration record, using the graph below as an organizer of the data you collect from a multitude of sources and political positions. There is much to consider when researching about people becoming citizens of a new country. Read and watch as much as possible to determine how you feel about immigration in general, and in Canada. With thorough research, you will be equipped to write this paper from a well-informed standpoint.

Some essay questions to help you form a strong opinion are:

  • Did we deserve the Nansen Award? Looking at the past, or the present, how well are we really welcoming or treating newcomers?
  • Research current groups fleeing persecution (choose one specific group: i.e., Rohingya, Yazidis), and apply Fackenheim’s three stages of antisemitism to your research. Can we save people from a genocide like the Holocaust?

Use the graphic organizer below to better understand your thoughts and reasoning in preparation for writing and/or participating in a class debate (Action 3) or go to Teaching Tools, on pages 10 and 11 of Critical Thinking pages, to find instructions for the Clipping Thesis to gather and organize material data.

Graphic Organizer

Action 3  


Class debate

As a class conduct a debate with reliable research through a variety of media outlets. You should be divided into two opposing sides:

Pro: Canada should open its doors to immigrants. Con: Canada should close its doors to immigrants.

Or, you can decide on ‘pro’ and ‘con’ statements of your own to use for your debate.

After you and your group have conducted the research, written and rehearsed your debate, you can invite a neighbouring class, staff or administration to be the judges. Ask guests to take notes to prepare for the last part of the debate with their own relevant questions.

Each debate will involve the following procedure:

  • Each team will have 15-20 minutes to present its perspective. All team members should present a portion of this "affirmative argument." The team should plan ahead and coordinate their presentations to present a logical case with facts from a variety of sources.
  • If desired, teams may then take a 5-minute break to organize questions and counter arguments to challenge opponents. The audience should also be preparing questions, challenges, untapped arguments, etc. to raise during open discussion.
  • Each team will have 5 minutes to present counter arguments.
  • The remaining time will entail questions and discussion involving the invited guests.

Each student presenting in a debate can earn up to 30 points. Evaluation of your team will be based on:

  • the clarity, collaboration, organization and cohesiveness of the presentation
  • the quantity and quality of supporting evidence clearly presented
  • the quality of the arguments presented and challenges (to opponents) raised.

Action 4  


Studies on Canadians’ views about immigrants and refugees.

Read this article about a study on Canadians views about immigration and refugees with five surveys in red: Study on immigration and refugee views - National Post

“There are some good things going on in Canada and there are some potential problems,” Donnelly said. “There’s room there for growth of serious intolerance if people aren’t careful.”
Michael J. Donnelly is an assistant professor of political science and public policy at the University of Toronto. Peter Loewen is the Director of the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto.

Everyone in your class should answer the five surveys in the article anonymously. Then hand in your answers to be presented. Do your class findings correspond to the numbers in the studies? Discuss.

Did you know?

A. Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen is Canada’s first Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship who was himself a refugee.

B. Former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney created a new reform Bill C-31 called the “protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act” which allows Canada to detain and incarcerate refugees who don’t arrive legally, including children.
(This blog explains it: Trudeau's new immigration minister must tackle Harper's nasty refugee reforms)

Action 5  


Looking at numbers then and now

Numbers of immigrants and refugees allowed in Canada and actual number per year:

In November 2017, Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen provided these numbers of immigrants and refugees to be admitted in future years:

  • 2018 – 310,000
  • 2019 – 330,000
  • 2020 - 340,000

Compare with numbers of immigrants and refugees per year admitted by PM Harper’s government:

  • 2004-2014 –total in 10 years of about 250,000
  • 2013 – 23,968 refugees

Compare and contrast reasons given for immigration policies by PM Harper and his Conservative government with those of the current government.

Source: Planned Immigration 2018-2020

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 1 Voyage of the MS St. Louis

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Ask yourself:

  • For several months in the summer of 1939, the voyage of the MS St. Louis, carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, caught the attention of the world. Did Canada have a reputation as a welcoming place for those fleeing oppression?
  • What hardships did they face and how were they treated when they arrived on our shores?
  • Why did our government react the way it did?
St. Louis - Sol Messinger

Here are the facts

The St. Louis Voyage

During the 1930s leaving Germany was still an option for the Jewish population but who would take them in? The St. Louis was a German ship carrying 930 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to Cuba. When the ship set sail from Hamburg on May 13, 1939, all of its refugee passengers had legitimate landing certificates for Cuba.

An old black and white photo of a large ship, the MS <em>St. Louis</em>, surrounded by other, small boats in a harbour. enlarge image
"The MS St. Louis ship carrying 930 Jewish refugees waits in the harbour of Havana, Cuba."

Credit: Canadian Jewish Congress

Here is a photo of the MS St. Louis in the harbour of Havana, Cuba. Are the boats surrounding the St. Louis there to welcome the refugees? Read on to find out.

During the two-week voyage to Havana, the landing certificates were invalidated by the pro-fascist Cuban government. When the St. Louis arrived in Havana on May 27 only 22 Jewish refugees were allowed entry. The refugees were also refused entry into the United States. The St. Louis was within two days of Halifax Harbour when Ottawa, under pressure from high-ranking politicians within, refused to grant the Jewish families a home. On June 6 the ship was forced to return to Europe before its supply of food and water ran out. While en route to Antwerp, several European countries agreed to take in the refugees (287 to Great Britain; 214 to Belgium; 224 to France; 181 to the Netherlands). Those that went to Belgium, France and the Netherlands were soon trapped as Hitler's armies invaded Western Europe and they perished as victims of the Nazi Final Solution.


Where was Canada during this event?


Artifact 1 › Here is a description from a noted book about the history of the 1930s.

None of the city's [Winnipeg, 1920s and 1930s] chartered banks, trust companies, or insurance companies would knowingly hire a Jew, and anyone with a Ukrainian or Polish name had almost no chance of employment except rough manual labour. The oil companies, banks, mortgage companies, financial and stockbrokers, and most retail and mercantile companies except the Hudson's Bay Company, discriminated against all non-Anglo-Saxons...

Ours was a society with a well-defined pecking order of prejudice. On the top were the race-proud Anglo-Saxons, who were prejudiced against everybody else. On the bottom were the Jews, against whom everybody discriminated. In between were the Slavs and Germans. By the mid-thirties the Germans had become deeply infected with Hitler's position and discriminated against Ukrainians, Poles and Jews.

~James H. Gray, The Winter Years. [memoirs] Toronto, Macmillan, 1966, pp. 127, 133.

Action 1  

Think >

Prejudice in Canada

Was this prejudice limited to Winnipeg? Examine the above and draw your conclusions.


Here are two quotes from F.C. Blair, Director, Immigration Branch of the Department of Mines and Resources, 1938, who advised the government on policy.

Artifact 1 ›

Ever since the war, efforts have been made by groups and individuals to get refugees into Canada but we have fought all along to protect ourselves against the admission of such stateless persons without passports, for the reason that coming out of the maelstrom of war, some of them are liable to go on the rocks and when they become public charges, we have to keep them for the balance of their lives.

~Canadian Council for Refugees website
Artifact 2 ›

Pressure on the part of the Jewish people to get into Canada has never been greater than it is now and I am glad to be able to add, after thirty-five years experience here, that it was never so well controlled.

~Frederick Blair, Canada’s top immigration bureaucrat, A People’s History of Canada, Volume Two, p. 175

Blair raised the amount of money immigrants had to possess to come to Canada from $5,000 to $15,000. As well, immigrants had to prove they were farmers, which Blair hoped would further sift out the Jewish applicants, as most were coming from cities. Blair followed the immigration regulations—he wrote many of these—to the letter and then boasted about his success in keeping Jews out of the country.

Action 2  


Jewish refugees

What does the following table say about Blair’s boast?

Countries admitting Jewish Refugees 1933-1945Approximate number of Jewish Refugees
Countries admitting Jewish Refugees 1933-1945 Approximate number of Jewish Refugees
United States 240,000
Great Britain 85,000
China 25,000
Argentina 25,000
Brazil 25,000
Columbia and Mexico (combined) 40,000
Canada Fewer than 5,000

A. There were groups and organizations in Canada who protested, but their voices were not heard. Why were they unsuccessful in changing government policy?

B. Did you know that the captain of the St. Louis Gustav Schroeder insisted that the passengers be treated with respect though he was loyal to the German state?

  He also negotiated with other countries in Western Europe to take some of the passengers. He never commanded another vessel. Why do you think that is so?

In an old black and white photo, Gustav Shroeder, Captain of the MS <em>St. Louis</em>, poses for a picture in his Captain’s uniform. enlarge image
Captain Gustav Schroeder of the MS St. Louis 1939

Credit: Canadian Jewish Congress

C. During and after the war he struggled to make a living. Grateful families of the survivors of the St. Louis helped him and his family after the war. In 1957, the West German government honoured Schroeder for having saved Jewish lives. After his death in 1959, the State of Israel honoured him as a “Righteous Among the Nations in March 1993.”

Should we honour those who in the past did things for the betterment of humanity? What can you do for our betterment?

Apology for past historical wrongs

In 2006, the new Conservative government changed a long-standing policy related to apologizing for past historical wrongs.

Like any country, our country is not perfect. We haven’t always lived up to our high ideals.
Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister, August 2006.

The Community Historical Recognition Program

Among their initiatives the Government of Canada established the Community Historical Recognition Program. Established for Canadian communities that were affected by immigration restrictions and wartime measures, this program acknowledges the unpleasant chapters of Canada’s history in ways that are meaningful to the communities concerned. These included the Chinese-Canadian community for the Head Tax policy. (See Voices into Action IV.4 Chinese Immigration) Another immigration event involved the Komagata Maru, a ship bringing 376 Indians to Canada in 1914 but was turned away by a discriminatory immigration policy that was in place at that time. Upon arrival back in India, at least twenty of the individuals on board were killed by British troops. The incident has long been a source of grievance for the Indo-Canadian community. (See Voices into Action III.2 The Komagata Maru Incident)

Funding was also made available to commemorate the St. Louis incident as well as other past events considered to have wronged groups of Canadian immigrants.

  • Should we apologize for the mistakes and “bad” things we as a country have done? Under what circumstances?
  • Is there a place for “moral judgments” in history? If so, what is its place? If not, why not?”
  • What lessons can history teach us, if any?

A Cruel Irony

Canada did in fact admit Jewish refugees during WWII —2,500 male "potentially dangerous enemy aliens" interned by Britain were brought to Canada. They were housed in high security camps in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. In 1945 they were reclassified as "interned refugees (Friendly Aliens)". 972 accepted an offer to become Canadian citizens. Many went on to prominent careers in the professions, the universities, or the arts.

Going Further

Explore the holdings of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on The St. Louis. Information is provided on every passenger as well as other details.

When Canada Said No is a DVD that was part of the federal government’s Community Historical Recognition Program about the tragedy (noted above). Contact B’nai Brith, Canada for a free copy.

The Internment of Jewish Refugees in Canada 1940-43  is an online exhibit from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for examining the lives of those refugees who in a cruel irony actually were admitted to Canada—as enemies.

Further reading

Kacer, Kathy Shanghai Escape, 2013

While most countries were not willing to give refuge to Jews, Shanghai was one place that did. More than 200,000 European Jews made a life there. Lily Toufar who escaped from Vienna is one story. Also: To Hope and Back: The journey of the St. Louis.

Irving Abella and Harold Troper – None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948, Pub. 1983. About the Canadian government's policies toward Jewish refugees fleeing Germany before and during the Holocaust and the rejection of the MS St. Louis ship's 930 Jewish passengers in 1939.

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 2 Boat People, 1970s

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Key Questions:

  • How were the Boat People treated in Canada?
  • Did we learn from history or did we repeat it?

Four decades after the St. Louis event thousands of refugees, mostly Vietnamese, fleeing the horrors of war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, asked Canada for asylum.

Vietnamese Boat Person - James Nguyen

Here are the facts

Push Factor
Map of Vietnam.

Map of Vietnam.

enlarge image

Vietnam was one of many places in Asia and Africa fighting for independence after World War Two. Like Korea it was divided into a communist north and a non-communist south. After decades of first the French and then the Americans in a decades-long Vietnam War, the victorious north moved to take over the entire country.

Many in South Vietnam, as well as people from neighbouring Laos and Cambodia looked to flee fearing retribution from the North Vietnamese and their allies. Between 1975 and 1976, Canada admitted 5,608 Vietnamese immigrants. In the late 1970s the Communist government stepped up its campaign to punish the southerners through labour camps and other forms of imprisonment. At that point, the fleeing increased dramatically as thousands of refugees used boats to get away. These vessels were often old and crudely made. Many were ethnic Chinese who were also being forced out of the country.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, between 200,000 and 400,000 boat people died at sea. [6] Other estimates compiled are that ten to seventy percent of the 1-2 million Vietnamese boat people died in transit.

Half-naked Vietnamese refugees, mainly young boys and men, sit together on the ground after being rescued. enlarge image
Refugees on the ocean faced deadly storms, diseases, starvation, and ruthless pirates.

Credit: Public domain; unknown

Canada was one of many countries asked to help. Many Canadians, some of whom were immigrants and refugees from earlier decades wanted to sponsor refugee families: to help with food, clothing, and shelter until the newcomers could make a go of it on their own.

But many other Canadians opposed helping the refugees. Some feared that Canada could not handle the numbers and made claims that if we took them in we would get hundreds of thousands who would be dependent on public money for generations. Some opponents were concerned about a shifting “racial balance” should the refugees be admitted. At this time Canada was going through a bad time economically, and the Trudeau government had just lost the election to a Progressive Conservative government under Joe Clark.

So what was the government to do when any decision would be criticized?

At the time historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper were working on a history of Canada’s treatment of the Jews during the Nazi period from 1933-45. Feeling empathy with the Vietnamese refugees based on their research about Jewish refugees who had been denied access to Canada and the United States, they put together a manuscript of their work and mailed it to the office of Ron Atkey, Minister of Employment and Immigration in Ottawa. When the minister read what would eventually be turned into the best selling book None Is Too Many, he realized the parallels with the refugee crisis in the 1930s and convinced the government to make a decision.

The government decided that the number of boat people should be based on public support. In July 1979, it introduced a matching formula whereby the government sponsored one refugee for each one sponsored privately. The experiment succeeded so that, in addition to the government’s original quota of 8,000, another 42,000 refugees (21,000 privately-sponsored and 21,000 government-sponsored) came over two years. In a mere four months, the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto were just two religious groups that sponsored hundreds of families to reach the sponsorship goal.

More refugees from southeast Asia came during the 1980s in smaller numbers. They had to learn English or French and settled in Canada’s larger cities as well as communities where there had never been Vietnamese immigrants.

Considering that they came during a downturn in Canada’s economy, you may wonder how would they do?



Here is one story:

Kim Phuc and her family were residents of the village of Trang Bang, South Vietnam. In June 1972 their village was attacked and captured by the North Vietnamese. Kim Phuc, then 9 years old, joined a group of civilians and South Vietnamese soldiers who were fleeing. But from the air the soldiers were mistaken for North Vietnamese. A South Vietnamese Air Force pilot bombed the group. It killed two of Kim Phuc's cousins and two other villagers. She was badly burned and tore off her burning clothes.


A black and white photo of a young and naked Vietnamese girl, Kim Phuc, who’s skin is peeling off her back is confronted by American and South Vietnamese soldiers, as well as journalists, who are trying to help her. enlarge image
Kim Phuc, 9-year-old Vietnamese burn victim in 1972

Credit: Nick Ut. Associated Press

One of the photos (not this one) became world famous as a powerful image of the horrors of war.

Why was that photo not included here?

In an interview many years later, she recalled she was yelling, Nóng quá, nóng quá ("too hot, too hot") in the picture. New York Times editors were at first hesitant to consider the photo for publication because of the nudity, but eventually approved it.

Kim Phuc and the other injured children were taken to a hospital in Saigon. She was expected to die but more than a year later after more than a dozen operations she was able to return home. As she returned to her schooling and later came to study medicine Kim was used as a propaganda tool by the Vietnamese government. She was allowed to go to Cuba, also Communist, to continue her studies. She met and married another Vietnamese student and they married.

On their way to Moscow for their honeymoon, the plane refueled in Gander, Newfoundland. They saw their chance, left the plane and asked for political asylum in Canada, which was granted. The couple now live in Ajax, Ontario near Toronto, and have two children. In 1996, Phúc met the surgeons who had saved her life. The following year, she passed the Canadian Citizenship Test with a perfect score and became a Canadian citizen.

Also in 1997 she established the first Kim Phuc Foundation in the US, with the aim of providing medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war. Later, other foundations were set up, with the same name, under an umbrella organization, Kim Phuc Foundation International.

Action 1



1. Can you find other examples of Vietnamese refugees who both benefitted from coming to Canada as well as contributing to our country?

2. There is more about Kim Phuc, including a documentary film, a book, and music. Google “the girl in the picture” and explore.

3. There are three stories of other Vietnamese refugees in the Passages series of stories about immigrants to Canada from Passages Canada, created by Historica Canada and co-sponsored by government and industry. Go to Passages Canada to the story archive and use “boat people” as the keywords for your search.

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 3 The Irish Catholics, 19th Century

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Ask yourself:

  • What hardships did they face and how were they treated when they arrived on our shores?
  • How did the 19th century exodus of Irish compare to the current scene in which thousands of young Irish, following the global economic troubles of 2008 to 2013, came to Canada for a better future?

Fleeing poverty and disease, thousands of Irish refugees, mostly Catholic, fled their homeland for Canada. You will explore the conditions they encountered in Canada, and examine the new Irish immigrants of today.

Although the term “boat people” first became a popular label for the thousands of refugees fleeing Vietnam in the late 1970s there have been many similar group of immigrants. Perhaps the earliest were the Irish who came in the 19th century. In recent years Canada has another influx of immigrants from Ireland. While Canada has been a destination for Irish emigrants (note the use of “emigrant” not “immigrant”) for centuries we shall look at two peak periods. The first section looks at a period of Irish immigration in the 19th century.


This really happened

The Great Hunger (often called The Irish Famine)

Ireland was a largely Catholic country and controlled by Britain since 1801 as part of the United Kingdom. Except for six counties (now making up Northern Ireland) most Irish were Catholic living on small farms renting land from (largely English) landlords. It seemed that the Industrial Revolution in Britain had passed them by. While Catholics had been systematically discriminated against there was slow progress. In 1829 the Act of Emancipation allowed Catholics to run for Parliament. The population had grown significantly in this period due to the abundance of potatoes: a vegetable originally brought from the Americas. It became a staple of the poor, especially in winter. But it was unreliable and many times in the 18th and early 19th centuries there were crop failures of varying degrees of severity.

A blight that had originated in North America and spread to Europe resulted in a series of failed potato crops in Ireland from 1845-1852. The mass starvation weakened thousands of survivors who then died of cholera. The deaths, plus the emigration that occurred, resulted in Ireland’s population going from about 8 million in 1841 to about 2 million by 1860.

Ironically during the years of the famine Ireland still exported large quantities of food to Britain while Irish tenant farmers were going bankrupt and being tossed off their small farms by the landlords. The situation was summarized by a poem written by Miss Jane Francesca Elgee, a well-known and popular author and mother of the famous playwright, Oscar Wilde. The poem was published in 1846 in The Nation Newspaper.

Weary men, what reap ye? Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye? Human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, hunger-stricken, what see you in the offing
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger's scoffing.
There's a proud array of soldiers—what do they round your door?
They guard our master's granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping? 'Would to God that we were dead—
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.

Source: Duffy, Sir Charles Gavan (1888), Four Years of Irish History 1845–1849, Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co

An old painting depicting a scene of Irish people waiving goodbye, some crying, as Irish emigrants set sail from the country. enlarge image
Emigrants Leave Ireland, engraving by Henry Doyle (1827–1893), from Mary Frances Cusack's Illustrated History of Ireland, 1868.

Many of the “starving Irish” emigrated to North America but their troubles did not end with the decision to leave Ireland. Of the hundreds of thousands that immigrated to North America many died en route. Weakened by hunger they fell prey to disease. Cholera was one of the most serious of these. It struck repeatedly around the world many times in the 19th century. People suspected of having this and other diseases were quarantined at Grosse Ile, Quebec, an island in the St. Lawrence River. The following table gives you a sense of the suffering based on the arrivals to Grosse Ile from 1825 to 1847:


ImmigrantsAdmitted to HospitalNumber of DeathsCholeraFever and DysenterySmallpoxOther
Immigrants Admitted to Hospital Number of Deaths Cholera Fever and Dysentery Smallpox Other
425,490 14,533 3,934 290 4,648 722 726

More would die in future years and many died en route. Perhaps 20,000 died of typhus in the “coffin ships” crossing the Atlantic.

Action 1  

Think >

Rank the Evidence

Which of the following pieces of evidence hits you hardest emotionally? Use the following scale to help you rank the evidence.

Scale for rank


Artifact 1 ›

The Irish peasants came to North America in overcrowded and unsanitary ships known as "coffin ships." Cabin passenger Robert Whyte recorded the horrifying conditions in the steerage section of a ship. "Passing the main hatch, I got a glimpse of one of the most awful sights I ever beheld. A poor female patient was lying in one of the upper berths—dying...She had been nearly three weeks ill and suffered exceedingly until the swelling set in, commencing in her feet and creeping up her body to her head. Her afflicted husband stood by her holding a "blessed candle" in his hand awaiting the departure of her spirit."

Artifact 2 ›

Ships flying the flag of disease were forced to dock at the quarantine station on Grosse Isle, an island located in the St. Lawrence, downriver from Quebec City. For many Irish immigrants it would be their only glimpse of the new land. In 1847, 50 people a day died of typhus at Grosse Isle. Dr. George Douglas, the medical officer in charge erected a plaque to mark a mass burial site “In this secluded spot lie the mortal remains of 5,425 persons who, fleeing from pestilence and famine in 1847, found in North America but a grave.”

Artifact 3 ›

“The year 1847 shall be remembered in our history as the year of emigration. Close to 100,000 unhappy souls left Ireland to seek their break on the banks of the St. Lawrence. To compound their misery, fever decimated them at sea, in quarantine stations, in the villages, towns and country of the colonies of British North America.” La Minerve, January 3, 1848 (quoted in Canada: A Peoples’ History, vol. 1 D. Gillmore and P. Turgeon (CBC 2000 p. 249)

““We lay at some distance from the island the distant view of which was exceedingly beautiful. However, this scene of natural beauty was deformed by the dismal display of human suffering that it presented – helpless creatures being carried by sailors over the rocks on their way to the hospital, boats arriving with patients - some of whom died in their transmission from their ships. Another, and still more awful sight, was a continuous line of boats, each carrying its freight of dead to the burial ground and forming an endless funeral procession.” Ibid p. 248

Artifact 4 ›

About 30% of the starving Irish fleeing the famine were Protestant. Among these were John and Mary Willis and their five children. From Limerick in the west of Ireland they sailed on the Jesse, but one son was sick and had to be left behind. In the 56-day journey across the Atlantic, 26 passengers died in horrible conditions, including their 18-year-old son and their 10-year-old daughter, Martha. They were quarantined in Grosse Ile for thirteen days where Mary Ann Willis, the 17-year-old daughter died. The three remaining members were released to sail to Québec before travelling inland to Toronto. But the tragedy is not over. Both Mary’s husband and her remaining son would die of fever in Brantford, Ontario. Mary was alone and we know she stayed with a local family. There the historical record ends.

A photo of a metal plaque in a rock commemorating the Irish famine. The words “Famine” by Rowan Gillespie, dated 29th May 1997 are inscribed along with a quotation not completely shown in the photo. enlarge image
Memorial plaque to victims of the potato famine in Ireland

Credit: Bryan Wright

Metal statues of emaciated sufferers from the Irish famine are affixed to the boardwalk beside a river. enlarge image
Memorial sculpture to victims of the Irish Potato Famine - Dublin, Ireland

Credit: Bryan Wright

Between May and October of 1847, over 38,000 Irish Famine emigrants arrived from Ireland at a time when the city's population was just 20,000 people. The Toronto Waterfront witnessed one of the greatest human tragedies in the history of the city. Yet unlike later decades there was little anti-Catholic resistance as this largely Protestant city, led by its Catholic community, did what it could for the refugees.

Action 2  

iSearch >

Was it a genocide?

Some have called the Irish Potato Famine a form of genocide. Conduct a research project to determine the extent that is true. Be sure to look at Unit 2 on genocide in Voices into Action.

Action 3  

iSearch >

Take a look

White Pine Pictures produced in its Scattering of Seeds series, The Force of Hope: The Legacy of Father McGauran. This looks at Grosse Isle.

In the Historica Canada Heritage Minutes, series one features the plight of Catholic orphans from the Irish Famine, adopted by families in Québec.

Recent Immigration in the 21st Century

In the early years of this century much of the world experienced an economic boom. Some countries such as Greece, Italy, Iceland, Ireland, and the United States overestimated their economic health. From 2008 to 2013 they suffered from perhaps the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Unemployment, especially among young people, soared. Ireland was one of the more damaged economies. As a result many young Irish men and women have looked elsewhere for work opportunities.

Source: The first article is excerpted from the Toronto Star, Saturday, April 7, 2012.

Ian Matthews has spent recent weeks waving goodbye to his friends. Over the past month or so, he’s been to seventeen going-away gatherings.

“It’s such sad news for our country,” he said. “In Ireland, you can just meet someone and tell them your life story and they’ll actually remember it. It’s a special thing. We Irish are like no one else in the world that way and it’s sad we have to move abroad for work.”

A 29-year-old trained chef, Matthews is poised to join the exodus and say goodbye to his family in Swords, a small bedroom community on the outskirts of Dublin. He’s moving to New Zealand to work for a restaurant that has promised to pay him $40,000 a year. “I can’t even make enough in Ireland to help out my mother who raised me, and that’s a shame,” he said on a recent evening, pacing a local soccer field where he spent much of his youth.

Matthews and his friends are part of the biggest wave of emigration Ireland has seen in decades.

During the twelve months ending April 2011, 76,400 Irish left the country, according to Ireland’s Central Statistics office. For comparison’s sake, that would almost be as if 1 million Canadians picked up and left Canada. The mass departure, which some now estimate has reached 2,000 per week, may eventually rival Ireland’s historic and scarring 19th-century migration, when a potato famine forced more than 1 million to forge across the Atlantic. “We are losing our young, our best and brightest,” said David Monahan, 48, a Dublin artist whose latest project features dozens of portraits of Irish, days before they leave the country. “It’s affecting our future economy, but also our sense of community.”

The current shortage of skilled tradespeople in Western Canada is so dire that the B.C. Construction Association is returning to Ireland this month to hire 600 people, said the group’s vice-president.

Current photo of a young Irish man stands peering beyond the camera, with Vancouver in the background. enlarge image
Carpenter Daniel O’Sullivan who immigrated to Vancouver, Canada from Galway Ireland in 2009

Credit: The Canadian Press
Photo: Darryl Dyck


Carpenter Daniel O’Sullivan, of Galway, Ireland, came to Canada in 2009 and now works in Vancouver.

In fact, even if one-in-five students graduating from high school in B.C. during 2013-2016 were to pursue a trade, there still wouldn’t be enough workers to fill shortages in the province’s construction industry, said Abigail Fulton.

Not everybody agrees with the recruitment drive, especially the province’s labour leaders who argue employers can find skilled, unionized Canadian workers to fill immediate, vacant positions.

Yet, a consensus is developing that there will be a shortage of skilled workers in the coming decade, as proponents of the liquefied natural gas industry, hydroelectric projects and oil and gas pipelines push their proposals forward.

“There’s lots of evidence to suggest we’re not doing enough to train construction workers in skilled trades in British Columbia, and if even half these projects come through we’re going to have a crisis unless we start now to deal with the problem,” said Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labour.

The provincial government’s own statistics indicate there will be more than one million job openings over the next decade, and more than 153,000 of those will be among trades, transport, equipment operators and related occupations. Retirements will be responsible for two thirds of the vacancies, and new economic growth will be behind the remaining third, states the British Columbia Labour Market Outlook 2010-2020.

In the B.C. construction industry, about 30,500 jobs were expected to go unfilled by 2012, according to the association’s own statistics.

To address some of the problem, the association is organizing and hosting the Western Canada Construction Job Expo October 31, 2012, in Belfast and November 2 in Dublin, where it will represent about 30 employers, half of them from B.C., said Fulton.

Wanted will be workers in more than 50 construction trades, from bricklayers to framing carpenters, power-line technicians to welders. Even architects and structural engineers are in demand.

The trip won’t be the first for the association, which made its first visit in March 2012. Fulton said the association learned the Irish apprenticeship system was one of the best, and skilled tradespeople would be able to transition to Canada and earn their Red Seal, an interprovincial standard of excellence in the trades. She said the association also learned there was an abundance of tradespeople.

The Irish economy crashed in 2008 and still hasn’t recovered, and last year’s job expo drew 20,000 people, she said, adding unemployed tradespeople lined up outside the job fair, down the street and around the corner for as long as two days. “Listen, these folks are over there, we know their apprenticeship system is excellent, they’re looking for work and we need workers,” she said. But the province’s labour leaders aren’t as excited as Fulton about the expo. “There are British Columbians and Canadians that probably could do those jobs,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council. He said skilled, unionized workers are available, but some companies don’t want to hire union workers, so they turn to other sources. Sinclair also questioned why businesses are turning to the Irish who he alleged are ending up as indentured workers, especially if they are coming to Canada on temporary visas. “A guy . . . who owns a business, a construction business, said to me, ‘I like Irish workers because they have to work for me for two years and can’t quit.’ Daniel O’Sullivan, twenty-seven, who came to Canada from Galway about four years ago and now lives and works in Vancouver as a carpenter, agrees, saying he began his apprenticeship at the age of sixteen or seventeen and was fully qualified and was earning good money by the age of 20, but then the economy collapsed. When he left, out of his group of 20 friends who worked in the trades, only two had jobs, so some came to Canada and others left for Australia. “Back home a trade, when I was younger, was a first option, and here it seems it’s the last option, for young guys, in my trade. I can only speak for my trade,” he said. He said he likes the Canadians he works with and said they’re good at what they do but construction in B.C. is seen as being at the “bottom of the barrel in line of careers,” noting there’s more emphasis on going to university or college.

Source: The Toronto Star, Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Action 4  

iSearch >

Stop and think

How would you feel if unemployment was so high in your home country that you had to leave your family and friends to seek work in a foreign place?

How will you treat new immigrants to Canada who you meet at school, on a team or in the workplace? Will you welcome new foreign students and invite them to join you and your friends for lunch or coffee?

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 4 Chinese Immigration: A Story of Exclusion

Back to top

Ask yourself:

  • Why did the Federal government discriminate against a single ethnic group?
  • What debt, if any, do Canadians owe to those who were victims of injustice in the past?
  • What can the path to inclusion be for all minority groups in Canada?
  • Is exclusion ever fair? Why would one group exclude another?
Dr. Joseph Wong talks about the Chinese Head Tax

On this page you will have opportunity to consider the concept of exclusion and by examining a timeline, learn about and grow to understand the prejudice and discrimination against Chinese immigrants since the end of the 19th Century. You will share your views of how a government could respond to demands to redress to injustices such as the Head Tax.

This really happened

An image of a black and white immigration certificate for Chinese people in Canada, with an old photo of a Chinese man in the bottom right corner.

Chinese Immigration Certificate.
Source: Library and Archives Canada Mikan 161424

enlarge image

Between the years 1881 and 1885 almost 15,000 men were brought from China to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). As soon as the railroad was completed, the Chinese were considered an employment threat to the White workers, so the Federal Government moved to restrict the immigration of the Chinese to Canada. Chinese immigration to Canada started in 1885 in response to the gold rush in British Columbia. The first federal anti-Chinese bill was passed in 1885, imposing a $50 Head Tax upon every person of Chinese origin entering the country. No other ethnic group was targeted this way.

By 1903, the Head Tax was increased to $500 and the government was able to collect $23 million from the Chinese through the Head Tax. Meanwhile, Chinese immigrants continued to come to Canada. In 1923, Canadian Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act (aka Chinese Exclusion Act) excluding all but a few Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. When the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed in 1947, a number of activists campaigned against the federal government to seek redress for the Head Tax. Since 1993, the House of Commons have attempted to make offers to repay the Chinese. Finally, in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an apology and offered repayment to those Chinese citizens who were penalized with the Head Tax. An estimate of only 20 Chinese Canadian survivors who paid the Head Tax were still alive in 2006.

It is interesting to note that the Chinese population in the past few decades has increased favourably. In recent years, the Chinese head the top of the list of the number of immigrants moving to Canada.

Chinese Immigration: Timeline
Chinese Immigration: Timeline
Dates Events

The year that the first Chinese Immigrants were drawn to Canada by the gold rush in British Columbia.


15,000 Chinese immigrants recruited to work on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In spite of their contributions to the building of the CPR in British Columbia, the Chinese were paid only half the wages of white workers.


The Federal government passed a Chinese Head Tax bill in order to restrict the number of immigrants moving to Canada. The Chinese Immigration Act took the form of a Head tax of $50 imposed, with few exceptions, upon every person of Chinese origin entering Canada. Captains of ships bringing Chinese immigrants to Canada had to collect the tax before departure.


Head tax was increased to $100.


Head tax was increased to $500, an amount equivalent to two years wages of Chinese labour at that time.


In San Francisco, Labour leaders and workers formed the Anti-Asian Exclusion League calling or job protection for natural-born citizens. Branches of the league spread into British Columbia. An anti-Asian riot of 8,000 men looting and burning their way through Vancouver’s Chinatown damaged Chinese and Japanese businesses.


The school board in Victoria BC segregated Chinese students below grade 8, in one separate school. In response, parents refused to send their children to segregated schools.


The Chinese Immigration Act, better known as The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, excluding those of Chinese origin from entering Canada. The act was passed on July 1st, known as Dominion Day by Canadians but “Humiliation Day” by the Chinese.


The Chinese Immigration Act was repealed. Chinese Canadians were still not allowed to bring their children over 18 years of age to Canada.


Douglas Jung becomes the first Chinese Canadian member of Parliament.


The federal government finally issued one set of immigration rules for applicants from all countries.


The Chinese National Canadian Council (CCNC) began seeking redress on behalf of survivors and families for the suffering they had to endure from government discrimination.


Canadian Adrienne Clarkson is appointed Governor General of Canada.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses Parliament with a formal apology. The federal government offered symbolic payments of $20 000 to each survivor. There were only an estimated 20 Chinese Canadians who paid the tax still alive in 2006.


China was the number one source country for immigration to Canada. 32,900 permanent residents were admitted.

Action 1

Do >

Creating a Visual Timeline

Each of the events, highlighted in the timeline would have been reported by journalists throughout the country. Choose one of the events and create an illustration that might have appeared on the front page of the newspaper. What headline would accompany the illustration? You may choose to present your drawing in the form of a political cartoon.

Once completed, the class can arrange visual images in sequential order by creating a display or PowerPoint presentation.

Action 2

Do >

Reporting events

Imagine that you are a journalist reporting on the event. What information would you offer your readers about the Chinese immigration experience? How might your report include the 5 W’s of reporting? Who? What? Where? When and Why? How does this event tell part of the story of immigration? What point of view might you take to present your article?

Action 3

Do >

Responding to the story of Chinese immigration

Working best in groups of three, record your reactions about a topic or issue and consider the views of others. Share your responses with two others, to discover whether their opinions were similar or different from yours.

Questions to Consider

  • How did you react to the story of Chinese immigration? What surprised you?
  • What are your opinions about any form of ‘exclusion’?
  • Why do you think a federal government would discriminate in such a way? Was there any sound reasoning to imposing a Head Tax on the Chinese?
  • Do you think apologies and repayment are enough to compensate for the treatment of the Chinese?

Take a blank piece of paper and fold it twice, to make four rectangles. Number the spaces #1, #2, #3, #4.

#1 #2
#3 #4
  • In #1, write your response to one of the Questions to Consider connected to the issue of Chinese immigration. You might share your gut reaction, give an opinion, raise questions, or make a connection.
  • Exchange papers with another person in the group. Read the response that is written in #1. Then, write your response to it in space #2. What did the response in space #1 invite you to think about?
  • Repeat the activity one more time. Read both responses on the sheet you receive, and write a response to both in #3.
  • The sheet is returned to the person who wrote the first response. Read all three responses on your sheet, and then write a new response in #4.
  • As a follow up, the group can discuss the topic of Chinese immigration. Groups can share response in a whole class discussion.

Action 4

Do >

A personal response to “Exclusion”

A. Complete the following statements:

  • For me, the word exclusion means…
  • A story I know about exclusion is…
  • One way to make up for an exclusion is…

B. Work in groups to share your responses. The following questions can guide your discussion:

  • Is being excluded ever ‘fair’?
  • Why might someone (or a group) exclude others?
  • What does the story of exclusion of Chinese Immigrants remind you of – both personally and globally?

How Should Government Respond to a Past Injustice?

Key concepts › Redress

1a. A relief from a distress

1b. A means or possibility of seeking a remedy

2. Compensation for wrong or loss: reparation

Source: Merriam-Webster

Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act: Addressing the issue of Redressing

After the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed in 1947, a number of activists, including Wong Foon Sien, began campaigning the federal government to seek redress for the Head Tax. But it took almost sixty years until an apology was offered. Why did it take so long?

During the 1980’s over 4000 Head Taxpayers and their family members approached the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) to register their Head Tax certificates. A redress campaign unfolded that included meetings, increased media profiles, research, publications and presentations in many communities Although Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made an offer of individual medallions, a museum wing and other measures, these offers were rejected outright by the Chinese Canadian Nations groups. In 1993, Jean Chretien’s Cabinet openly refused to provide an apology or redress. The CCNC persevered raising the issues wherever they could, including a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. In 2001, the Ontario court declared that the Canadian government had no obligation to redress the Head Tax levied on Chinese immigrants.

It wasn’t until 2003, when Paul Martin was appointed prime minister, that there was a sense of urgency, since there were only a few dozen surviving Chinese Head Tax payers. The issue continued to be a hot topic that was brought forth by politicians during federal elections. As part of his Conservative party platform, Stephen Harper promised to work with the Chinese community on redress, a promise that he kept when elected in 2006. He stated, “Chinese Canadians are making an extraordinary impact on the building of our country. They’ve also made a significant historical contribution despite many obstacles… The Chinese community deserves an apology for the Head Tax and appropriate acknowledgement and redress.”

June 22, 2006—House of Commons

Finally, in a speech to the House of Commons on June 22, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an apology for the Head Tax. In his speech Harper said, “We feel compelled to right this historic wrong for the simple reason it is the decent thing to do… a characteristic to be found at the core of the Canadian soul.” 

Harper’s government offered symbolic payments to living Head Tax payers as well as living spouses of deceased payers. Survivors (or their spouses) were paid approximately $20,000 in compensation. Only an estimated 20 Chinese Canadians who paid the tax were still alive in 2006.

Funds were also established for community projects to educate Canadians about the impact of past wartime measures and restrictions.

For the complete speech see: Apology Chinese Head Tax

Statements from the Calgary Chinese Culture Centre tell us how Chinese reacted to the Harper apology.

Alex Louie, a Chinese veteran said, “All I ever wanted was an apology for the government to set the record straight.” Another early pioneer, Mary Mah stated, “The sorrow and the hardship cannot be erased. But we can now begin to feel, in truth, I did not expect to see this, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling very Canadian.”

Knowing that the Harper government extended an apology and compensation to the Chinese, we still need to consider whether an apology is enough. (See Unit Three: Chapter Two Entry Denied: The Komagata Maru). In order to fight against all forms of racism today are we not obliged to keep alive the memory of race based on discrimination? History is something that cannot be changed and a past injustice is not a wound that can be healed—or is it?

Action 5

Do >

Writing a position paper
  • What do you think can be learned from the Chinese Canadian experience?
  • Do you think a group or the government owe a debt to someone for a past injustice?

For this activity you will have an opportunity to share your views on the concept of redressing an injustice. Write a position paper in which you support or oppose the responsibility of the Canadian government to apologize and respond in some manner to the wrongs committed by the governments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Consider one or more of the following points that could be included in your paper.

  • What would be considered a fair government response to victims and their offspring?
  • What suggestions can you offer about how Canadians should best respond to the Head Tax?
  • Does a government response to the Chinese set an unrealistic precedent for complaints for other injustices?
  • How does a redress serve a useful social purpose? What is the path to inclusion for all minority groups in Canada?
  • What differences exist between our ideas of right and wrong in today’s society compared to those that existed in the past 100 years on the topics of immigration, race and workers?

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 5 A Global Perspective

Back to top

Ask yourself:

  • What are the responsibilities of the world’s nations for helping those in need?
  • What are Canada’s responsibilities?

Today there are more refugees worldwide than at any time since World War II. After a look at the statistics, information, video links and lessons in this chapter, you will be better equipped to analyze the challenges facing global citizens today – many in desperate situations of conflict, genocide, and poverty. Your own research will give you additional information about global migration today.

Action 1  


Considering Migration
Do you know what Canada does to welcome and support refugees, newcomers and migrant workers?

The Canadian Council for Refugees and Newcomers works to help people resettle in Canada. They offer free services and resources to support the rights of refugees, which includes valuable information on human rights for families and migrant workers.
The site:

Our Vision: Rights and dignity for all!

This means:

  • Giving all migrant workers access to permanent resident status, not only those coming for high-wage jobs
  • Effective protection of migrant workers' rights via legislation and enforcement
  • Empowering migrant workers to seek recourse for unjust treatment through access to information, access to services, and access to justice

These guides provide information for migrant workers to ensure their rights are being protected in Canada, as well as resources available to them:

Match the items in List A with the items in List B (numbers from Dec. 2016)

525,000 approximate number of displaced people worldwide
65,600,000 approximate population of Canada
80,000,000 number of migrant workers in Canada
500,000 population of world’s largest refugee camp in Jordan
36,743,000 Approximate number of Rohingya refugees who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh

*Correct answers may be found at the end of the chapter.

We have always migrated, even in the era of settlements, towns, cities, and states. Some of us travel in search of land, gold, adventure, and the dream of a better life; others to save our own and our family’s lives.

In this unit we have explored issues around migration, especially with groups forced out of their home countries for various reasons.

Canada has been a destination for many groups in the past few hundred years. Sometimes we welcomed immigrants; sometimes we kept them out. In many case people came to Canada as a station on the way to the United States. For some groups, such as escaped slaves in the 1800s, the route was from the U.S. to Canada. (see U1 Ch4 Screening the Black Experience: )

Asylum seekers and migrants descend from a large fishing vessel used to transport them from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. October 11, 2015. enlarge image
Asylum seekers and migrants descend from a large fishing vessel used to transport them from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. October 11, 2015.

Source: © 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

Action 2  


Renowned artist and activist Ai Weiwei visiting refugee camp at Greece/Macedonia border in 2016 enlarge image
Renowned artist and activist Ai Weiwei visiting refugee camp at Greece/Macedonia border in 2016

To get a better idea of what groups are currently experiencing globally, watch this interview with world-renowned artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, as he talks about his current documentary Human Flow. Weiwei visited refugee camps in 23 countries and interviewed over 600 refugees in this illuminating film. The film follows a chain of urgent human stories that stretches across the globe in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Greece, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico and Turkey. The documentary is a witness to its subjects and their desperate search for safety, shelter and justice: from teeming refugee camps to perilous ocean crossings to barbed-wire borders; from dislocation and disillusionment to courage, endurance and adaptation; from the haunting lure of lives left behind to the unknown potential of the future.

Video interview with Ai Weiwei about Human Flow

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing. His father was Ai Qing, a famous poet, and his mother, Gao Ying, was a writer. When Ai Weiwei was a year old, his father was named an enemy of the people and he and his family were sent to a hard labour camp in the Gobi Desert in northwest China. Ai Weiwei spent the following 16 years growing up in hard labour camps with harsh conditions and almost no formal education. When he was 19, his family returned to Beijing where he enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy to study animation. At this school, he became part of an avant-garde group of artists who came together to protest government control of the arts. Their slogan was "We demand political democracy and artistic freedom". For further information, research his biography online.

Action 3  


There are many facts and circumstances to consider when learning about immigration, refugees, and the responsibility of each country to protect and support global citizens. Read, watch and discuss the information below and then decide what particular topic interests you most. Research that topic by accessing a wide range of media sources.

The largest refugee camp in Jordan, Za’Atari refugee camp, home to more than 80,000 displaced Syrians enlarge image
The largest refugee camp in Jordan, Za’Atari refugee camp, home to more than 80,000 displaced Syrians

Image: REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool

Source: World Economic Forum

Some good news: On November 17, 2017 Jordan inaugurated the first solar park to operate in a refugee camp at the Zaatari desert camp, home to over 80,000 displaced Syrians. Providing 14 hours of electricity per day means that women and girls can now move safely about the camp after dark! (Rape and assault have been a huge issue for many of them.) Germany financed the project for $17.5 million. Prior to this, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was providing electricity for 8 hours a day at the cost of $500,000 a month. Solar energy has no monthly cost and these extra hours of electricity means children can study at night and people can store food in refrigerators, as well as communicate with the outside world.

A boy looks on behind a net at the refugee camp of Schisto in Athens, Greece, on June 8, 2016. enlarge image
A boy looks on behind a net at the refugee camp of Schisto in Athens, Greece, on June 8, 2016.

Source: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

The Rohingyas from Myanmar

Over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in Myanmar, mostly to Bangladesh living in makeshift camps. More than half of the displaced people are children. Myanmar, a country with a Buddhist majority, has never recognized as citizens the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority living in Rakhine state. Human rights groups consider them to be the among the most persecuted people in the world. Since the late 1970s Rohingya have been fleeing Myanmar but the violence and persecution has escalated.

Action 4  


Research articles online and in national papers about the plight of the Rohingyas. Choose one of the following questions and write a paper about it.

A. Why are they being persecuted and why aren’t they being recognized?

B. Is this a genocide? Support your answer.

C. The leader of Myanmar, State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize. Why did she receive it and does she deserve to keep it?

Get inspired to support refugees to Canada. Get Involved with the Canadian Council for Refugees Youth Network!

A. If you’d like to welcome and support refugees and newcomers to Canada, check out the CCR Youth Network (established 2006) to learn more about their empowering initiatives. You can participate in online discussions, teleconferences, youth-led workshops and strategy session. The Youth Network works within a gender justice and anti-oppression framework. Help give newcomer youth a voice by putting your own voice into action!

B. Watch this video of the last Youth Action Gathering:

C. Take a look at some of the cartoons that teenagers from all over the world created about the topic of immigration and being a newcomer to Canada:

Action 5  


Media Clipping Thesis

Much of what we know or learn about immigration and the role governments and citizens can play in Canada and the world, comes from the media. So it’s important to learn how to analyze media treatment of any issue. A thesis is a statement about an issue supported by evidence and based on clear criteria. This can be a component of the culminating end-of-unit task to be displayed or handed in if there is a current event that has attracted the class’s interest.

A. Working either individually, in small groups, or as a whole class select a problem or current issue in Canada today you wish to explore.

B. Collect stories, pictures, or information, about the topic over a three or four-week period from the local newspaper or other media, including appropriate and online sources. Some of the websites linked to the federal government such as Parks Canada, Statistic Canada, and the National Archives may also serve as sources to investigate.

C. Prepare an analysis which might include such aspects as the following:

  • historical background to the issue (as reported in the newspaper and in the text);
  • the perspective(s) taken by the newspaper or other media examined;
  • a weighting of the different perspectives in order to arrive at a defensible conclusion on the issue in question.

The following are just some of the topics and questions that you may use for developing theses based on readings from your local paper and other media sources.

TopicCritical Question
Topic Critical Question
Refugees from Haiti Should we bring them to Canada? Under what conditions?
Emigration Why would people choose to leave their country or region of their birth to move to a new place?
Immigration Why would people choose to live in Canada?
Illegal Immigration How serious a problem is this for Canada?
Immigration Consultants Help or hindrance to newcomers?
Public opinion What does the public in your community / province / territory think of issues in immigration?
What does the Canadian public think as a whole on immigration issues?
Role of Government What is current government immigration policy?
What influence should the provinces and territories have on immigration policy?
Refugees What groups coming to Canada are claiming refugee status?
How strong are the arguments for and against admission of refugees?
Climate Refugees Do they exist or is this a made up idea with no merit?
Refugee camps Are these temporary or permanent solutions?
What makes a camp “adequate” for the refugees?
Global migration Where are the places where there is massive migration?
Why are these migrations occurring?
What can / should Canada do about the issues causing such migration?
Canada’s economy Should the health of Canada’s economy affect immigration and refugee policy?
Border security How secure are our borders? How secure should they be?
Challenges to newcomers What challenges do newcomers to Canada face?
Temporary Workers How important are they to the Canadian economy?
What are our obligations to this group?
Hopes and realities What has happened to immigrants who came to Canada in the past?
Multiculturalism Contributor or hindrance to Canadian identity?
Studying immigration Is it better to study immigrants as groups of people or concentrate on individual stories to learn more about the issues?
The brain “gain” By encouraging highly skilled and educated immigrants are we damaging the home countries by taking their “best and brightest”?

The clippings can be included as a portfolio or cited in an essay on the topic in question. Some school libraries have signed on to databases of various news media, including newspapers, magazines, television, and cable news sources. Some are free of charge such as:

You can compare daily front-page coverage from a dozen Canadian newspapers and hundreds from more than 50 countries by checking Washington’s Newseum.

The clipping thesis helps you go beyond the headline to trace the story. If the news story is the first draft of history it will not be the last.

Online selection can be part of a “media file” to develop the clipping thesis. Here you might begin by working with your classmates to develop:

  • search techniques, in addition to just “Googling”
  • questions for any online investigation or web quest
  • criteria for evaluating the usefulness of the website itself.

As you share your work, you can discuss or write position papers (see unit Overview Action 2) based on your examination of the issues shared in all of the theses.

PM Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees arriving at Pearson Airport, Toronto, Dec. 11, 2015 enlarge image
PM Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees arriving at Pearson Airport, Toronto, Dec. 11, 2015


PM Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees arriving at Pearson Airport, Toronto, Dec. 11, 2015 enlarge image
PM Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees arriving at Pearson Airport, Toronto, Dec. 11, 2015

Credit: CP24

“Immigration is critical to job creation and long-term economic growth for the middle class. In so many ways, Canada is what it is today thanks to the entreprenurial spirit of those who chose to build their lives here.” – PM Trudeau

Further Resources:

Salam Neighbor - a documentary released in 2016 by the film production companies Living on One Dollar and 1001 MEDIA.[1][2] The title means "hello" neighbor.[3] The film takes place in the largest refugee camp in Jordan. Watch the trailer:

A New York Times short film about Myanmar and the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims (Rohingya).

Answers to Action 1 Chart – Considering Migration:

Approximate number of displaced people worldwide - 65.6 million
Approximate population of Canada - 36,742,853
Number of migrant workers in Canada - over 500,000
Population of world’s largest refugee camp in Jordan A. - 80,000
Approximate number of Rohingya refugees who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh - 525,000

Unit 5 Personal Action

Overview Past and Present: the Holocaust expressed through the arts

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Ask yourself:

  • Holocaust art is unique in its portrayal of time and place. How are the paintings and drawings created in this historical moment different when compared to other eras and significant periods of history?
  • How would you engage the subject of the Holocaust artistically? What key questions would you like to answer prior to creating an artistic response to the Holocaust?
  • How does world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind memorialize the Holocaust through his monuments and museums?
Daniel Libeskind, world-renowned architect, discusses the importance of human rights monuments and memorials

In this section the Holocaust can be explored through a study of art and art history, examining how victims used artistic expression to communicate their protest, despair, and/or hope. By looking at what they reveal about life in the ghettos and camps, you can approach the works as historical evidence.

You can examine the value of arts by discovering and viewing the works of victims living in the camps, through artists commemorating the Holocaust through artistic creations, and through interpretations of the Holocaust as expressed in contemporary art by today’s students and teachers.

The Power of Holocaust Art

Art as escape from reality

Art as reaction or resistance to the structural elements of society has performed multiple functions beyond documentation. The production of works of art reaffirmed and enabled artists to bridge the existential divide enforced through dominance connecting and reconnecting the individual artist to their past creativity. Art as creative act became an escape to another world repurposing long hours of idle tedium through occupation.

Art as a means of barter

Works of art also served a functional role in relationships as exchange or barter. Often, artists were commissioned to produce portraits from photographs by camp administrators or inmates requesting paintings of their relatives. The exchange would occasionally provide the artist with more favorable food or even the opportunity to send messages through post.

"Esther Lurie: I managed to get hold of a pencil and some scraps of paper. I started to draw some of the various "types" among the women prisoners. Young girls, who had "friends" among the male inmates and who used to get gifts of food, asked me to draw their portrait. The payment—a piece of bread." [4]
Art as a means of connection with the outside world

Art in its production and exchange played an important role for its creators offering distraction and connection while passing time and offering the possibility of small material gains. Many artists’ resistive acts were intended to reach the outside world and communicate camp conditions to the people "on the other side of the fence." This dangerous act of resistance would often lead to dire consequences, as exemplified in the lives of Karl Fleischman and Leo Haas, inmates in the Nazi’s “model ghetto” Theresienstadt.

The artists’ quarters were searched in advance of a visit by the Red Cross during the summer of 1944, to interdict the smuggling of paintings depicting the reality in the camp. The Germans sought to stem the flow of smuggled art and its shocking reality to the world outside of Theresienstadt. Haas and Fleischman were interrogated and tortured, yet resolvedly refused to communicate with their captors leading to their transfer to Auschwitz, a Gestapo prison. Fleischman would die there. Both artists exhibited resolute determination and created art that starkly challenged the public narratives of the Nazis while minimally sustaining the imprisoned artists through the abyss of isolation, exile, and isolation.

Consider, with deep care, the words of Dr. Karl Fleischman, a tireless artist and doctor in Theresienstadt:

"I too have done all kinds of things. I helped others, thereby helping myself. I took up pencil and paintbrush and used them as a springboard to enter the world of the imagination. I wanted to see the world differently, experience it differently. In all the hundreds of paintings I have produced I always painted the same world, yet also a world that changes every second. A world beyond time."

"I ignored reality. I read chronicles. I studied physics, chemistry, economics, languages and the history of art. I read books about geography and voyages to all places and at all times. I would close my eyes and still feel compelled to see everything. The doorbell rings—a threat. Crossing the road—torture. A note left on the table at lunchtime—trepidation. The door of my mother's apartment—fear and worry. This is what life is like in the twilight."

Subjects and style of the works of art

The majority of the works of art were stark, small, and spare. Most of these paintings and drawings were realistic and primarily in the common media of watercolor, charcoal, ink, and pencil given practicality and access to materials. Viewers and visual translators of these captivating drawings and paintings are cautioned to critically consider the artist’s depictions, use of media, and specific subject matter, while carefully holding personal interpretations in mind. Art as documentation both portrays and records for future eyes the perils of these aspects of constructed human condition beyond the frailty of words and language. In the moment of our gaze into captured time, we as viewers, and co-constructors of meaning bear witness to the appalling conditions of tens of thousands of people imprisoned and denied basic needs.

“Checking for lice” by Helga Weissová.<br/>Ink and watercolour. enlarge image
“Checking for lice”
by Helga Weissová.
Ink and watercolour.

Source: "I Never Saw Another Butterfly"

enlarge image
"Barracks" by Eva Wollsteinerová. Pencil.

Source: "I Never Saw Another Butterfly"


The comfort and solace of the beautiful landscape portrayed by many artists re-envisioned the surrounding scenery in relief beyond the imprisoning isolation of the camps. Starkly contrasting the openness, freedom, and sense of peacefulness beyond the perimeter of the camps, Karl Schwesig's painting Mount Canigou in the Snow depicted the varying degrees of imprisonment of body, mind, and soul reflected in the mountains resolutely overlooking the St Cyprien camp and its barbed wire enclosures.

One particularly stunning piece, the "Ninth Fort" (view this work) from the hand of Esther Lurie, portrays the road to death. Her idyllic image of the beautiful road marks in stark contrast, the path of murder and torture experienced by many hundreds of Jews, which included large numbers of young children in the Kovno ghetto. Her jarring description:

"A subject that I painted many times, in all seasons, was the road from the valley where the ghetto was up to the "Ninth Fort" on the top of a hill. The tall trees lining the road gave it a special character. This road going up the hill is etched in my memory as the "road of torture" along which thousands of Jews passed, Jews from Lithuania and from other parts of Western Europe, on their way to the death camps. There were days when the overcast sky created an atmosphere of darkness and tragedy, which well reflected our feelings." [2]

Portraiture comprises a significant number of the works of art as drawings and paintings surviving from the Holocaust period. One unique feature of Holocaust art is the historical documentation written on the respective portrait either selected by the artist or commissioned. This historical documentation includes the expected name of artist and the name of the subject and uniquely, also incorporates the specific day, month and year; the location; and occasionally a dedication (view example).

These artists created a path to witness for the viewer, reader, and interpreter—you. You (and I) are invited in/to the sacred space of lives silenced and given the challenge to remember and bear witness. Each of us as readers and viewers face the opportunity to re-connect in the gallery beyond mere text and image as we enter the intimate space of family captured in such historical albums. Bearing witness is simultaneously an inward and outward journey through iterations to the connections we have with knowledge and history in the tapestry of our humanity.

  • [1] Karl Fleischman. A Day in Theresienstadt. Theresienstadt Archives, L303 401, p.5. Translated from Czech by Rachel Har Zvi.
  • [2] Esther Lurie. Living Testimony—Ghetto Kovno. Dvir, Tel Aviv, 1958. P.10
  • [3] Karl Fleischman. Erich Monck—A Shadow of a Man Theresienstadt Archives, L303 401, p.5. Translated from Czech by Rachel Har Zvi.
  • [4] Esther Lurie. "Notes of an Artist", from Notes for Holocaust Research, Second collection, February 1952, p.113
  • [5] Karl Fleischman. Erich Monck—A Shadow of a Man, p.1

Action 1


What Have You Learned?
  • Holocaust art is unique in its portrayal of time and place. How are the paintings and drawings created in this historical moment different when compared to other eras and significant periods of history?
  • Briefly write about the important functions Holocaust art performed during the period and contrast it with the role of art as documentation drawing on examples within this collection.
  • How might you consider the values imbedded in notions of “beauty versus ugliness?” What type(s) of tension are present in aesthetic values evoked through the artwork and the nature of the tragic depictions rendered?
  • What are three of the different tensions arising in our consideration of “subjectivity” and “objectivity?” How are the tensions manifested in oppositional artistic (personal) expression and documentary (historical, factual) testimony?
  • How would you engage the subject of the Holocaust artistically? What key questions would you like to answer prior to creating an artistic response to the Holocaust?

Further Reading

Krinitz, Esther Nisenthal and Bernice Steinhardt Memories of Survival, 2005
Separated from her family and forced to find refuge in the depths of a forest, the Holocaust survivor, recalls her remarkable journey through a series of hand-stitched embroidered panels.

Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 1 Creating a Holocaust Exhibit

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NEVER SHALL I FORGET that night, the first night in the camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
Elie Wiesel from Night

Ask yourself:

  • What will you learn from artists interpreting the printed text as visual art?
  • How will viewers react to your visual interpretations?

Published in English in 1960, Night is Elie Wiesel’s account of the Nazi death camps, and is one of the most significant documents of, and artistic responses to, the Holocaust.

The artwork in the exhibit was created by members of the Teaching to Learn Project. It was composed of thirty teachers and adolescents who brought multiple perspectives and horizons of experience to bear on their artistic interpretations, as they grappled with the difficult themes and unspeakable horrors documented in Wiesel’s Night.

Did you know about this?


Nazis demarcated “undesirables” with badges made of triangles. Inverted triangles were an analogy for road hazard signs. Different colors of triangles were used to represent why individuals were deemed a threat to the Nazi regime: Red triangles designated political prisoners; pink, sexual offenders and homosexual men; green, criminals. Yellow triangles forming a Star of David, or two yellow triangles, combined, were used to mark Jews.

In the 1970s, gay rights advocates reclaimed the pink triangle as a form of protest and a symbol of pride. In the spirit of this activist reclamation, the artists painted triangles in colors chosen to represent diversity, solidarity, and individuality. This process included designing, cutting and painting on pages from Night. Colors for the large canvases were chosen and painted collectively. These paintings responded through color and symbol to themes in the Holocaust memoir Night by Elie Wiesel. Each painting contained nearly the entire text—96 of 113 pages— of Night. Their artistic interpretations of Night took place over the span of a year, and culminated in an art exhibit at the university.

These young people and their teachers had explored how Night could be a platform for literary and historical inquiry as well as a catalyst for social change. Wiesel (2005) himself noted that the purpose of Holocaust education is not to passively encounter the messages of survivors but rather to encourage readers themselves to become the messengers; or to paraphrase Paul Celan (2001), to act as “witnesses for the witnesses”.

This exhibition was a collective response to Wiesel’s testament of his experiences in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps from 1944 until his liberation in 1945 at 16.

One of the young artists shared her insights into the process and the symbolic and representational power of color in the After Night exhibit:

“After reading Night and completing the project, the colours used to paint the triangles are not just colours any more. The triangle that we painted blue was very interesting for me. It showed different levels in intensity in the colour (streaks) that could represent many things. It could mean the good and evil during the Holocaust. I saw it as [symbolizing] many different sides to the Holocaust. The different blotches of colour represent the different people involved, and how each person has their own story, whether they are a victim or an abuser.

Choosing the colours was more something I felt than thought of. I think for people viewing the exhibit it is the same. As there is no description of why we chose that colour or what we think it represents, it is really up to the viewers to determine what the colours mean and one way to do that would be to just feel.” As Robert Fulford said, “Trust the art, not the artist.” Like the artists themselves, middle school students who viewed After Night at the exhibit expressed a range of responses to the artwork, from the emotional and personal, to the aesthetic and historical.

Comments from Middle school observers:

"While I was walking through the exhibit, I was reminded of my great and great-great grandparents and how they died (in the concentration camps…).”
“It was probably humiliating to wear a yellow or pink triangle but at the show it was turned into a symbol of pride. The multicolored triangles represented solidarity with the victims, and became more beautiful because [they] show colors together.”
“I liked this triangle both for its aesthetics (I loved its swirliness) and because to me, this symbolizes acceptance. In my perspective, the varied colors symbolized different types of people and the big purple swirl in the centre was a new type of people, easily blended with the others. “
“The many varieties of colored triangles created by the artists brings life and brightens and teaches a lesson to those who take the time to view [it]. He described feeling moved by “What the power of many can accomplish.”

Action 1  

Think >

A. What is the role of art after the Holocaust? Are films more or less effective than visual art?

B. How does this form of interpreting history affect viewers? Artists? Students?

C. Do these types of artwork memorialize or trivialize the pain and suffering of the Holocaust?


Paintings of isosceles triangles enlarge image
Images of triangles from the exhibition After Night (2013).

Credit: Rob Simon

Paintings of isosceles triangles enlarge image
Images of triangles painted on pages from Night by Elie Wiesel (2006).

Credit: Rob Simon

Action 2  

Do >

Designing a Two-Dimensional Memorial
  • Use geometric shapes or forms to create a Holocaust memorial. Often we have emotional responses to certain shapes. For instance, if you compare several circles with a row of acute triangles, which seems more inviting? Which seems dangerous? You can also consider the position or orientation of shapes. For example, a triangle resting on its base is a very stable shape, but inverted it is unstable. A large shape leaning toward us can seem very threatening, but two shapes leaning against each other can be stable, suggesting support and even shelter.
  • Use geometric shapes to create a Holocaust memorial to be constructed through geometry. What will be the purpose or theme of your memorial? Will it be dedicated to the memory of the victims or to one of the victim groups; will it commemorate the struggle, the agony, or the resistance of the victims; or will it acknowledge the heroism of rescuers and liberators?
  • Use rulers, compasses, and a knowledge of geometry to draw and cut your shapes from a single colour of construction paper.
  • After you have cut all the forms out, glue them together and arrange them on a second sheet of contrasting colour.

Action 3  

Do >

Designing a Three-Dimensional Model of a Memorial by Drawing, Painting or Creating a Model

Three options:

A. Create a modeled (shaded) drawing:

  • Ensure there is a consistent light source and shade each of the forms to create the illusion of dimension.
  • Or use a computer graphics program to create shaded forms.

B. Design a three-dimensional structure painted with a single colour to emphasize the forms:

  • May be approached as an architectural memorial.
  • View photographs of the architecture of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Google Images).
  • Also consider the architectural memorials at Yad Vashem and visit the website of the South Florida Holocaust Memorial.

C. May be completed as an architectural rendering or as a model.

Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 2 David Olère: Drawings and Paintings

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Ask yourself:

  • What can Olère's pencil sketches and colour paintings teach us about every day events in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. David Olère offers an indomitable testimony of the atrocity of the Holocaust.
  • How will his painful sketches and drawings call us in witness to the inhumanity etched in our minds through the scaring images of the crematoriums?

Olère bore testimony as the only witness present in the haunting documentary sketches and paintings. A recent book, Witness: Images of Auschwitz, combines Olère's artwork with text by his son, Alexandre Oler. Olère's artistry is truly one of the best and most important representations of the atrocities of the Holocaust.


Art as testimony

A photo of an elderly man painting a picture of a Nazi

Credit: David Olère

David Olère offers an indomitable testimony of the atrocity of the Holocaust. His painful sketches and drawings call us in witness to the inhumanity etched in our minds through the scarring images of the crematoriums. Olère bore testimony as the only witness present in the haunting documentary sketches and paintings. You and I, as contemporary witnesses, face ourselves and others while bearing the pain of the burden of history. For further information on David Olère, see The Eyes of a Witness, published by The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation in Paris in 1989, contains a three-page summary of David Olère's life and one hundred pages of his artwork. All of the text appears in both English and French. Olère's pencil sketches and colour paintings capture the everyday events in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. There are also portraits of some of the Nazi soldiers and layouts of the crematoriums. A more recent book, Witness: Images of Auschwitz, combines Olère's artwork with text by his son, Alexandre Oler. Olère's artistry is truly one of the best and most important representations of the atrocities of the Holocaust.


Artifact 1 › Destruction of the Jewish People / Destruction du peuple juif
A print of Jewish Torahs and various Christian items being burnt in a fire enlarge image
1946, 29x20 cm, Ghetto Fighters House, Israel.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

The fire consumes Torahs, phylacteries, and a tallis, as well as various Christian religious articles.

Artifact 2 › David Olère Burying the Remains of Children / David Olère enfouissant des restes d'enfants
A drawing of a man in a concentration camp with a shovel in hand, burying children’s limbs enlarge image
32x40 cm, Olère Family.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

Olère's first assignment at Auschwitz was as a grave digger of bunker 2. His prisoner number, 106144, is seen both on his shirt and as a tattoo on his left arm. That number appears in many of Olère's artworks, sometimes forming a part of the signature.

Artifact 3 › Their Last Steps / Leurs derniers pas
A painting of emaciated and exhausted concentration camp prisoners, who are on their way to the gas chamber enlarge image
1946, 73x54 cm, Ghetto Fighters House, Israel.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

Three Muselmänner support each other as they falter toward the gas chamber. Muselmann was the camp term for those whose physical and mental exhaustion made them candidates for "selection."

Artifact 4 › My First Dialogue / Mon premier dialogue
A drawing of a concentration camp prisoner shoveling a dead baby into a pit full of other dead children enlarge image
1949, 36x38 cm, Olère Family.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

Subtitled: "They also are responsible for the war?" "Yes, that's war. "

Artifact 5 › The Oven Room / La salle des fours
A painting of dead concentration camp prisoners being put into the crematorium. A pile of dead bodies lies waiting for the same fate. enlarge image
1945, 58x38 cm, Ghetto Fighters House, Israel.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

A freight elevator in the background brought bodies up from the basement-gassing chamber of Crematorium III at Birkenau. The wet trough at the right facilitated the dragging of bodies to the ovens.

Artifact 6 › Selection for Gas Chambers / Sélection pour le gaz
A drawing of a Nazi soldier about to move a breast-feeding woman and her other naked daughter to the gas chambers enlarge image
1947, 41x51 cm, Ghetto Fighters House, Israel.

Source: David Olère Drawings & Paintings

Credits: David Olère: L'Oeil du Témoin/The Eyes of a Witness. New York: The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1989 David Olère Drawings & Paintings

Action 1


Reading the Image

Pick one or two of David Olère's works. Look for photographs on the website that you think are similar to the artwork. Answer these questions for the photo and the artwork:

  • Which piece has more of an impact?
  • What kind of an impact does it have? Why?
  • What do you think is the difference between the photographer's point of view and Olère's?
  • Do both pictures have a theme?
  • How successfully does each artist carry out the theme?
  • What is the central focus of each?
  • What kind of details add to the understanding/ appreciation of what the photographer and the artist are trying to convey?
  • What similarities and differences do you see between the photo and the artwork?

Action 2


Selecting a caption

Using readings from class (Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and other diaries & memoirs) find quotes from your readings that you could use as captions for some of Olère's work.

Action 3


Narrowing my focus

Block off parts of one of the artworks. What details would you zoom in on and why? How does looking at the details change your view of the picture as a whole?

Action 4


Comparing depth

Compare the foreground, middle ground and background of a piece. What kinds of sequencing and transitions did Olère use? What point was he making by such placement?

Action 5



View the artworks by Olère in the image gallery to answer the following questions.

A. Consider the drawing "Their Last Steps."

  • What grim building dominates the landscape?
  • Does the shape of that building form a symbol that you might not expect a Jewish artist to include in a painting? What is it? Can you find examples of other twentieth century Jewish artists who have used this symbol to represent the suffering of the Jewish people?
  • What adjectives describe the physical condition of these men?
  • How has the artist suggested their loyalty to one another?

B. In "Admission in Mauthausen" there is a strong contrast in the way Olère depicted the prisoners and their captors.

  • List several ways in which this particular picture emphasizes that contrast. Consider the way the figures are grouped. Consider the men's posture.
  • Does it change your feelings about the image when you learn that this is a roll call in the wintertime?

C. Study David Olère's "Burying the Remains of Children." One of the most painful jobs assigned to Olère at Auschwitz must have been the burial of murdered children.

  • Compare the figure of Olère in the foreground with that of the SS guard in the background. How do you think each man feels about the job he has been assigned to do?
  • The artist has placed the Nazi at the center of the painting, but his own self-portrait tends to hold our attention. Perhaps this is because of the gesture that he is making with his left hand. What kinds of emotions does an outstretched hand express?
  • Notice the unburied hand to the left of the shovel. It is a realistic detail, of course, but it may also be seen as a symbol. Like Olère's hand, it is outstretched; it reaches upward even in death. What sort of thoughts do you have as you consider this lifeless hand?

D. In the woodcut, "Destruction of the Jewish People," Olère presents us with a literal image of the destruction by fire which gives meaning to the term "Holocaust."

  • Distinguish the two kinds of burning that are illustrated here.
  • What sort of variety is there among the objects that are being consumed in the foreground?
  • The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale. CD-ROM Mac/Win. An excellent resource for a high school art class. A treasure trove of background materials for a DBAE study of Art Spiegelman's illustration.
  • Degenerate Art. PBS Home Video, 1993. Video, 60 minutes. "Degenerate Art" examines the historical context of the infamous Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) exhibition mounted by the Nazis in Munich in 1937 and the far reaching effects of the Nazis' vilification of the avant-garde in Germany. The film includes archival footage of the Nazi book burnings, installation shots of the original Entartete Kunst exhibition, and interviews with historians, art critics, family members of several defamed artists, and eyewitnesses to the 1937 exhibition which lend a poignancy and immediacy to this powerful story of the Nazis' attack on modern culture.
  • Olympia. Leni Riefenstahl's two-part record of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Part one: Festival of the Nation includes the Olympic ceremonies and events. Part two: Festival of Beauty features the grace and beauty of athletes in motion.
  • Triumph of the Will. Leni Riefenstahl's powerful propaganda film.


What does Six Million Look Like?

In 1998, a group of eighth graders in Whitwell Tennessee town, set out to collect six million paper clips. The goal of the project was to help the young people of this rural town understand what diversity means. By examining what happened to the Jewish people, the educators hoped to demonstrate to these students what intolerance can lead to. The Holocaust Memorial created by the mostly white and Protestant students, is a World War II-era German railcar, welded to a small piece of railroad track in front of Whitwell Middle School. On display are millions of paper clips, each one honouring a victim of hatred and murder by the Nazis. The project is celebrated in a documentary entitled Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial.

In 2014, a 1,250-page book was published that consists of only one word. In the book: And Every Single One Was Someone, the word “Jew” appears in tiny type, printed six million times. The author, Phil Chernofsky, a former teacher, claims, “That’s how the Nazis viewed their victims, these are not people, they are just a mass we have to exterminate.” By arranging the words side by side, line upon line helps us contemplate the humanity, the commonality, the diversity and the humanity of each Jewish person who was exterminated. Point to any one of the words and you might wonder: Who was this person? Where did that person live and work? Who did that person love?

Though no names appear in Chernofsky’s book, there has been a strong effort to uncover and document the names of the victims. As pointed out in a New York Times article about the book, the Holocaust Memorial and Museum, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, has (to date) collected the names of 4.3 million Jewish victims. These identities are memorialized in a Memorial entitled “Book of Names” at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Memorials such as Book of Names, Six Million Paper Clips, and And Every Single One was Someone, serve as examples that give a realitistic perspective to the unbelievable numbers of those who died in the Holocaust.

Source: New York Times

Action 6

Think >

Considering Jewish literature
  • Some consider Chernofsky’s book a gimmick. Do you think a 1,250-page book with only the word Jew serves a purpose as a memorial to Holocaust victims?
  • If you had a copy of And Every Single One Was Someone in front of you, how might you react? What might you wonder about? How would you represent 6 million?
  • According to Avner Shalev, the director of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, over 6000 books are published each year about the Holocaust. Why do you think there are still so many publications released? How does literature—and other art forms—help generations understand what happened?

Action 7

Think >

Memorializing as an act of honour
  • What project might you consider undertaking to help document the number 6,000,000?
  • Imagine that Chernofsky provided an appendix to his book that offers a biography of each of the six million “Jews” he honours. Is it possible to create a six million-page document? Investigating the life of one of the six million Jewish victims might help you to pay tribute and memorialize his or her identity.

Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 3 Museums and Monuments

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Ask yourself:

  • How do modern museums enhance and further our understanding of human rights?
  • How does the visual impact of art encourage us to further explore issues of human rights?

This chapter begins by exploring the transformation of museums from places designed to preserve the past, to institutions that ask us to look at issues of oppression of groups of people. The mandate of these exhibits is to prevent further violations of human rights. The study begins with written and visual examples of the museum at Auschwitz and provides an authentic simulation of life in the concentration camps. You will then be asked along with other students to examine why the 300 Holocaust museums located on six continents, differ from each other.

The chapter then, draws your attention to a number of newer museums devoted to specific issues of human rights. These issues include the Slave Trade, Apartheid in South Africa and the mistreatment of our First Nations people in Canada. The last section of the chapter focuses on a picture study and asks you to examine a number of memorials to determine the emotional impact they have on the observer.

Daniel Libeskind, famous architect, talks about his works devoted to specific human rights issues

Did you know?

The first known museum was established in Alexandria Egypt in the 3rd Century. Today there are more than 55,000 museums in 202 countries. For many centuries the purpose of museums was mainly to care for objects of cultural, scientific and artistic importance to the community. As well, museums were places where scholars could research the past and where the community could gain understanding of their local or national history.

Today, museums have changed along with changes in society. There is a growing belief that in addition to their original mandates, museums should now be places that foster peace, democracy and transparency and by representing our diverse society, can also promote unity and cultural understanding. In the next few pages we will look at some museums whose main focus is to promote knowledge, discussion and debate about issues of human rights.

A major example of a museum focusing on human rights, is the Museum at the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland. The Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau is located on the actual site of the concentration camp where over 1.1 million people were gassed to death by the Nazis during World War II. Of these, 90% were Jews – members of a religion and ethnic group who Hitler wished to totally exterminate. You can take a full tour of the Museum at Auschwitz at a number of Youtube sites.

At the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau the displays are mounted in the barracks in which the prisoners were held. The walls of the barracks are lined with floor to ceiling display cases that hold thousands of articles that were taken from the prisoners before they were exterminated. One display case holds over 110,000 pairs of shoes taken from the prisoners when they arrived at Auschwitz. Another overflows with over 3800 suitcases many of which have the prisoners’ names still marked on them. The visitor to this museum, looking at display cases packed full of baby shoes or filled with eyeglasses can begin to truly understand the impact of The Holocaust. This is a museum that leads to thoughts and discussions of human rights and promotes awareness and discussion of human rights among younger people. The Museum at Auschwitz and other Holocaust museums include learning centres that provide lessons and curriculum materials for classrooms across the world.

Elie Weisel, a Holocaust survivor and noted author wrote the following about the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau:

“Open your heart, visitor. And your mind. And your soul. As you walk through the exhibition, ‘Shoah, ’ (Holocaust) and you are enveloped by the sights and sounds of the past, hear the voices of the victims, see the drawings of the children, touch the names of the murdered, take with you a message that only the dead can give the living. That of remembrance.”

Other Holocaust Museums

There are over 300 Holocaust museums and memorials on six continents. The magnitude and cruelty of the Holocaust made it a priority for many countries to honour those who died in the Holocaust so we can better understand this calamity and to prevent it from happening again. These museums and memorials have a goal to encourage people to stand up against genocides wherever they occur. Holocaust museums are often very different from each other in size, architecture and the countries in which they are located. They are often different from each other in what they choose to include and what they choose to omit.

Action 1  


Holocaust Museums

Use the diagram below to discuss why Holocaust museums can be very different from each other. How would each of the following factors determine what artifacts and displays the curator chooses for each museum?

The country where the museum is located
The amount of money you have available
Whether your country was occupied by the Nazis
How many survivors or their families live in your community

Some Different Holocaust Museums

The ‘Shoah’( Holocaust) Foundation’s Visual Archive

The stated purpose of this video museum is to overcome prejudice, intolerance and bigotry—and the suffering they cause—through the educational use of the Foundation’s visual history testimonies. Steven Spielberg, the noted film director, believed that the best way to understand is to record the events through survivor testimonies. The Archive now includes more than 52,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. The Foundation has now completed indexing over half the testimonies as a first step in making the videos available to everyone. They hope to complete his project over the next few years. You can see a video about the Shoah Foundation on youtube.

The Holocaust Museum, Paris

A Holocaust museum noted for its architecture opened in Paris in 2005. The structure at the entrance of the museum looks like a walled fortification. The walls in front of the entrance to the museum are engraved with the names of 76,000 French Jewish men women and children who died without a grave. The crypt contains the ashes of victims collected from the camps.

Action 2  


Human Rights Museums

As you read and discuss each of the Human Rights Museums, work with a partner to make a list of five questions you have about each museum. At the end of the discussion, try to find the answers to each of your questions by referring to the website beside the name of each museum.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR)

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is the only museum in the world solely devoted to human rights awareness and education; it stands as a beacon for visitors from around the globe. As an “ideas” museum, the CMHR tells powerful stories about human rights events and champions, inviting participation in the ongoing human rights dialogue – making educational programming an important part of the visitor experience.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), Winnipeg, Canada enlarge image
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), Winnipeg, Canada

Credit: Courtesy of CMHR

The International Slavery Museum

This museum was established in 2007 on the 200-year anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom. This museum covers the impact of trans-Atlantic trade but has expanded to discuss freedom and identity, underdevelopment in Africa and the Caribbean and racial discrimination in the country at large. This museum is considered of such significance that it is planning to expand into their new grand building pictured below.

A picture of a brick museum with big columns in front of the entrance enlarge image
The planned International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England

Credit: Jonathan Oldenbuck

The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia

This museum focuses on the First Nation Peoples of British Columbia as well as other diverse communities. Among its other exhibits, this museum provides insight into the culture of the First Nations of British Columbia. This picture is from one of their exhibits on residential schools in British Columbia.

An old black and white photo of a group of seven Aboriginal schoolgirls in front of a residential school enlarge image
Archival photo St. Michael’s Residential School.

Class picture from a residential school with the names of each student written on the photo.

Credit: Courtesy of the Audrey & Harry Hawthorn Library and Archives, UBC Museum of Anthropology

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg South Africa

This Museum opened in 2001. A Series of 22 individual exhibits takes the visitor through an emotional journey of a state-sanctioned system based on racial discrimination. The museum shows how South Africa is coming to terms with its past and working toward a future that all South Africans can call their own.

Poster for the Apartheid Museum consisting of four pillars emerging from the ground with the words, “Democracy”, “Equality”, “Reconciliation”, and “Diversity inscribed on them. enlarge image
The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa

Source: NJR ZA

The pillars outside the Apartheid Museum say, Democracy, Equality, Reconciliation, and Diversity. This very large museum complex is entirely devoted to state-approved racial discrimination.

In 1948, as people the world over realized the scope, cruelty and devastation of the Holocaust, the United Nations issued The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


1. We Are All Born Free & Equal.

2. Don’t Discriminate.

3. The Right to Life.

4. No Slavery.

5. No Torture.

6. You Have Rights No Matter Where You Go.

7. We’re All Equal Before the Law.

8. Your Human Rights Are Protected by Law.

9. No Unfair Detainment.

10. The Right to Trial.

11. We’re Always Innocent Till Proven Guilty.

12. The Right to Privacy.

13. Freedom to Move. We all have the right to go where we want in our own country and to travel as we wish.

14. The Right to Seek a Safe Place to Live.

15. Right to a Nationality.

This simplified version of the thirty Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been created especially for young people.

Action 3  


A Gallery of Human Rights

After you have discussed the basic Human Rights outlined in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, organize the class in groups with three students in each.

As a group, select three categories of Human Rights that you consider to be most important to you. Discuss how each of these three is relevant to your school or community.

As a group, select one of your three choices that you feel should be the focus of its own Human Rights exhibit. Create a poster advertising the exhibit you think is important. Your poster should have the following components:

  • A clear indication of the Human Right to which your exhibit is devoted
  • A Statement of why that Right is so important
  • Visuals highlighting that right. These may include drawings, pictures, newspaper clippings, poetry, cartoons, editorials, letters and whatever visuals you feel will help others to understand the importance of that Human Right.
  • When your posters are complete; you may wish to mount them in the corridors near your classroom and invite other classes to tour your Gallery of Human Rights.
  • You may also wish to take pictures of your posters and publish them in your school newsletter or your local newspaper.

Action 4  

A Century of Genocide: Museum Exhibit

You are planning to create posters to support a special exhibit entitled, A Century of Genocide: 1915 to 2015. The purpose of the exhibit is to recognize additional historical situations from this time period that are not featured in permanent collections. The exhibit wants to see how the events and actions of people in power met the criteria of being called “Acts of Genocide”.


Creating A Museum Submission
  • Groups of three will be formed based on the following roles:
    • Team Planning Manager
      • Engages in research and writing of information
      • Ensures that the team functions in completing the task on time
      • Reports back to the teacher with any questions/needs from the team
      • Coordinates the physical assembly of the poster
    • Team Design Manager
      • Engages in research and writing of information
      • Responsible with consultation of group members for the design and layout of the poster
      • Sees that there is consistency in production of the various elements
    • Team Presentation Manager
      • Engages in research and writing of information
      • Develops the ‘talking point script’ for the gallery walk
      • Uses the talking points to educate observers on the group’s poster
  • Each group will be assigned one of the following situations to research:
    • The government of Josef Stalin in the USSR, 1932-1939
    • The government of Idi Amin in Uganda, 1969-1979
    • The government of Yahya Khan in Bangladesh, 1970-1971
    • The government of Pol Pot in Cambodia, 1975-1979
    • The government of Yakubu Gowan in Biafra, 1967-1970
    • The government of Charles Taylor in Liberia, 1989-1996
    • The government of General Suharto in East Timor, 1975-1998
    • The government of Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala, 1982-1983
    • The government of Saddam Hussein in Kurdistan, 1987-1989
    • The government of Omar al-Bashir in Darfur, 1999-2003
  • Research will be conducted by the group starting with the 5Ws: who, what, why, when and where. Additional questions will be developed by the group to help analyze the actions of the leaders, e.g., do the actions of the government meet the criteria of being called genocide?
  • The group needs to create an annotated bibliography of the 3 to 5 best sources of information. Why was this source useful?
  • The poster should be around 18 x 24 inches in size. Consider the following in creating your posters:
    • A map to show where the country is located
    • Pictures of key individuals
    • A background fact sheet: population of the country, key features of the country, events that took place during this period, and timeline
    • Pictures that might support the group's interpretation of the events
    • An organizer that helps one understand how the event researched meets or doesn't meet the criteria of being called a genocide
    • Use the feedback rubric to guide the development of your poster
    • Before final submission of your poster your group will act as ‘critical friends’ with another group. You will explain your poster and ‘your friends’ will offer suggestions on how to enhance your poster before final submission
    • The class will do a gallery walk of the posters with the Team Presentation Manager explaining the key features of your poster to the viewers
  • After the posters are submitted and posted in your classroom or designated area, each individual in your class will nominate one poster in a 150-word letter. The selected poster will become part of the permanent collection and the Centre. You cannot nominate your own entry. State the criteria you used for making this judgment and how this nominated poster meets these criteria.

See below - Feedback rubric for critical friends, was built around the achievement chart and may be used for your careful consideration.

Museum Exhibit Feedback
Name of submission: Reviewers:
Museum Exhibit Feedback
Name of submission: Reviewers:
Criteria Level 4 Level 3 Level 2 Level 1

Communication: Elements of a Poster

  • Design/Layout/Reader friendly/Use of organizer
  • Illustrations
    - Size
    - Instructs, as well as is attractive
  • Title
  • Very easily read
  • Variety of font size clearly emphasizes the key ideas and message
  • Illustrations very clearly enhance information

Knowledge: Quality and Quantity of Information

  • Clear and complete information built around key questions
  • Information is very comprehensive and connected to key questions

Thinking: Relevance of Materials Selected

  • A clear connection between criteria of a genocide and materials selected
  • Uses unique ideas in the display which interests the viewers
  • Material selected is relevant and clearly connected to criteria of genocide
  • The poster’s message was clearly and concisely presented
  • Many original ideas in materials and layout

Inquiry: Research

  • Evidence of use of multiple sources
  • Useful and complete annotated bibliography in proper form
  • Effectively uses several primary sources to develop the narrative of the poster
  • Provides complete annotated bibliography of three sources

What we really liked about this poster was……
What we didn’t understand or what we need more information about was…..
We would suggest improving your poster by…..
The thing that we will remember the most about this poster at this time is….

Signed by ‘critical friends’:

Action 5  


Memorials and our Understanding of Human Rights

While museums encourage our understanding of human rights by allowing us to spend time seeing, studying and interacting with exhibits over several hours of several visits, memorials tend to have a more immediate and dramatic impact on us. A memorial is a structure designed to honour or remember a person or event, which is important to the community. Often memorials are works of art using forms and images to relate the story they want to tell or which generate discussion the artist hopes will result from viewing it. There are hundreds of memorials across the world to commemorate those who died, with the goal of making us think of ways to ensure this does not happen again.

From the following pictures select the memorial that is the most meaningful to you and write a short paper about it:

  • Explain what you see in the memorial.
  • How does the memorial have an impact on your understanding of human rights?

A. The Last March, Jerusalem

This memorial is a bronze relief depicting the mass export of Jews to concentration camps. You will see that the memorial shows old people, children, men and women of ages. What does this memorial say to you?

A bronze plaque depicting a group of Jews looking down, being led by Nazi soldiers to a concentration camp enlarge image
The Last March, Jerusalem

Credit: Yad Vashem

B. Shoes on the Shores of the Danube, Budapest, Hungary

This memorial is made up of 60 pairs of iron shoes, each attached to the cement platform. The memorial commemorates the lives of those Jews who were shot into the Danube River by the Hungarian fascist organization called, The Arrow Cross.

Shoes were valuable possessions by 1944, close to the end of the war, so the prisoners were told to take of their shoes before they were shot into the river. This simple memorial is very powerful.

A picture of sixty pairs of iron shoes affixed to a cement platform beside the Danube River enlarge image
Shoes on the Shores of the Danube, Budapest, Hungary

Credit: Yad Vashem

C. Trains to Life, Trains to Death, Berlin, Germany

This memorial commemorates two events. As you observe the photo, the children on the left represent the 1.6 million children who died in the Holocaust. The children on the right represent the 10,000 children who were granted entry into England and thus survived the Holocaust.

A metal monument with children and an empty suitcase on one side, and school children on the other enlarge image
Trains to Life, Trains to Death, Berlin, Germany

Source: Permission granted by artist, Frank Meisler

Two Memorials in Canada by Daniel Libeskind

A new Holocaust Memorial in Ottawa was inaugurated on September 27, 2017 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The concept design is by Daniel Libeskind a world-renowned architect (Ground Zero in New York and the Jewish Museum in Berlin), Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, landscape architect Claude Cormier and U. of Toronto Holocaust scholar Doris Bergen. The design represents an elongated Star of David, and a reminder of the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.

A wooden model for the national Holocaust monument, with four Canadian flags behind it enlarge image
Model of the National Holocaust Memorial in Ottawa, by Daniel Libeskind

Credit: Canada Press
Photo: Sean Kilpatrick

Memorial to the Jews on the MS St. Louis who were turned away in 1939

Daniel Libeskind’s Wheel of Conscience in Halifax at Canada’s Immigration Museum at Pier 21, memorializes the voyage of the MS St. Louis (see Unit Three; chapter 2). Most refugees and immigrants arrived in Canada at Pier 21 from 1928 to 1971. Canada’s immigration doors were closed under the administration of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. After WWII when the exclusionary immigration policies were revised, it was reopened.

The steel memorial has four gears with interlocking teeth that enable it to be turned by a motor. The words HATRED-RACISM-XENOPHOBIA-ANTISEMITISM are shown in relief on the front. Each wheel operates at different speeds and combined, the 3 smaller gears move the largest one of ANTISEMITISM. As the gears turn they recreate the image of the ship at set intervals.

A metal and glass circular installation, consisting of different sized cogs seen through the glass in the middle, with “anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, and hatred” written on them. enlarge image
Wheel of Conscience by Daniel Libeskind

Credit: Steve Kaiser Photography
Photo Credit: Canadian Jewish Congress

Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 4 The Poetry of Terezin

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Ask yourself:

  • What Holocaust images/ texts/ ideas / events have had the biggest impact on you and why?
  • Can you write a reflection (or “artist statement”) from your perspective, explaining why you created your response piece and referencing the meaning that the original material holds for you?
  • What is your relationship to the Holocaust and genocide from your particular perspective (given your own history / identity)?

This chapter offers strategies for responding to the difficult knowledge of the Holocaust, specifically, and to genocide, broadly. It focuses on engaging your own reflections about the material you are reading and researching, by providing accessible artistic forms to help frame your responses. Highlighting Terezin (Teresienstadt), the chapter uses a foundation of poetry and images to pose questions and to help make the study of history vivid. Each of the activities has been designed to include a reflective practice component to encourage your deeply thoughtful and personal responses to the Holocaust and/or to considering social justice in your own communities.

During the Holocaust, people wrote poetry for different reasons: to produce art as a form of resistance, to assert their humanity; to commemorate the victims, to serve as a form of remembrance, or to constitute a unique form of testimony. Holocaust poetry after Auschwitz—written by survivors or children and grandchildren of survivors, for example—presents powerful images, which can impact our minds and hearts. Contemporary Holocaust Education suggests that through reading poetry about the Holocaust, readers can become more reflective about what they have studied, how they treat people, and how they react to civil and human rights in their own communities and beyond (Totten).

This really happened!

Many of the suggestions included here focus on Terezin, a ghetto-labour camp, as well as a concentration and transit camp in Czechoslovakia (also known by its German name, Theresienstadt). It existed for three and a half years, between November 24, 1941 and May 9, 1945. Of approximately 140,000 Jews transferred to Theresienstadt, nearly 90,000 were deported to points further east (e.g., Auschwitz) and almost certain death. Roughly 33,000 died in Theresienstadt itself. However, despite horrible living conditions and the constant threat of deportation, Theresienstadt also had a highly developed cultural life. Outstanding Jewish artists, mainly from Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Germany, created drawings and paintings, some of them secretly documenting the ghetto's harsh reality. Writers, professors, musicians, and actors gave lectures, concerts, and theatre performances. Of the 15,000 children who were transported to Terezin, only 240 survived (Volavkova, xix). Like Hana Brady, of Hana’s Suitcase (who was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944), as an example, most of the children fourteen years of age or younger who were deported to the extermination camps were killed.

What is also important to know, however, is that although they were forbidden to attend school, the children did so in secret, thanks to their extraordinary teachers, like Freidl Dicker Brandeis and Valtr Eisinger. The children painted, wrote poetry, and created a weekly magazine called Vedem (In the Lead) (USHMM). With the help of their teachers, the children used drawing and writing to help them cope with life under terrible conditions (see I Never Saw Another Butterfly and Vedem).

It is to these Terezin children’s poems and drawings that this unit directs you. The Works Cited list contains numerous resources to help begin a historical examination of Terezin. The goal is to provide a strong foundation on which to build a rich and deeply thoughtful unit on poetry and the Holocaust. Responding through the arts can offer another means of defining your own relationship to the Holocaust, and an opportunity to raise questions about your role as the next generation to bear the responsibility for remembrance (Hughes).

An old black and white photo of Jewish children playing together in a Czechoslovakian ghetto. enlarge image
June 23, 1944 - A group of children in Theresienstadt

Copyright © 2014 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority

Pictured here are a group of children in the Theresienstadt ghetto. The photo was taken during a Red Cross visit on June 23, 1944. Theresienstadt was a “special” ghetto that the Germans established in Terezin, Czechoslovakia in November 1941. The ghetto was actually a way-station for Jews en route to the death camps. Theresienstadt had the outward appearance of a town. The ghetto population included many artists, composers, musicians, authors, and scientists. Between 1942-1944, approximately 13,000 children were sent to Theresienstadt. The majority was deported to death camps and only a few hundred survived.

Source: Yad Vashem Photo Archives 7 FO2

A child’s drawing of Jews arriving at the Terezin concentration camp enlarge image
13 years old. Drawing titled “Terezín arrival”.

Credit: Yad Vashem

Source: “And God Saw that it was Bad” by Helga Weissova

Helga Weissova entered Terezin when she was only 12 years old. She brought a box of painting and notebook with her and drew more than a hundred paintings as instructed by her father to: “Paint whatever you see.” Here ended Helga’s childhood with the responsibility of painting everything she saw and experienced. She was one of the few survivors.

A child’s drawing of two sad children at the exit of the Terezin concentration camp enlarge image
13 years old. The last drawing of her series, made at Terezins’ exit. The children’s faces tell it all.

Credit: Helga Weissova

Poems from … “I never saw another butterfly”

The Garden

A little garden,
Fragrant and full of roses.
The path is narrow
And a little boy walks along it.
A little boy, a sweet boy,
Like that growing blossom.
When the blossom comes to bloom,
The little boy will be no more.

Franta Bass
P. 70
Franta Bass was born on 4 September, 1930. He was deported to Terezin on 2 December, 1941, and died in Auschwitz on 28 October, 1944

Cover page of a book of children’s drawings and poems from the Terezin concentration camp enlarge image

Credit: "The Butterfly," "Terezin," "On A Sunny Evening," "The Garden," "Fear," "Homesick," and "At Terezin" from I never saw another butterfly: Children’s drawings and poems from Terezin Concentration Camp,1942-44 by Hana Volavkova, copyright © 1978, 1993 by Artia, Prague. Compilation © 1993 by Schocken Books. Used by permission of Schocken Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC.

At Terezin

When a new child comes
Everything seems strange to him.
What, on the ground I have to lie?
Eat black potatoes? No! Not I!
I've got to stay? It's dirty here!
The floor—why, look, it's dirt, I fear!
And I'm supposed to sleep on it?
I'll get all dirty!
Here the sound of shouting, cries,
And oh, so many flies.
Everyone knows flies carry disease.
Oooh, something bit me! Wasn't that a bedbug?
Here in Terezin, life is hell
And when I'll go home again, I can't yet tell.

P. 3 "Teddy" L410, 1943

On A Sunny Evening

On a purple, sun-shot evening
Under wide-flowering chestnut trees
Upon the threshold full of dust
Yesterday, today, the days are all like these.

Trees flower forth in beauty,
Lovely, too, their very wood all gnarled and old
That I am half afraid to peer
Into their crowns of green and gold.

The sun has made a veil of gold
So lovely that my body aches.
Above, the heavens shriek with blue
Convinced I've smiled by some mistake.
The world's abloom and seems to smile,
I want to fly but where, how high?
If in barbed wire, things can bloom
Why couldn't l? I will not die!

1944 Anonymous, p. 77
Written by the children in Barracks L 318 and L 417; ages 10-16 years


That bit of filth in dirty walls,
And all around barbed wire,
And 30,000 souls who sleep
Who once will wake
And once will see
Their own blood spilled.
I was once a little child,
Three years ago.
That child who longed for other worlds.
But now I am no more a child
For I have learned to hate.
I am a grown-up person now,
I have known fear.
Bloody words and a dead day then,
That's something different than bogeymen!
But anyway, I still believe I only sleep today,
That I'll wake up, a child again, and start to laugh and play.
I'll go back to childhood sweet like a briar rose,
Like a bell which wakes us from a dream,
Like a mother with an ailing child
Loves him with aching woman’s love.
How tragic, then, is youth which lives
With enemies, with gallows ropes,
How tragic, then, for children on your lap
To say: this for the good, that for the bad,
Somewhere, far away out there, childhood sweetly sleeps,
Along that path among the trees,
There o'er that house
That was once my pride and joy.
There my mother gave me birth into this world
So I could weep. . .
In the flame of candles by my bed, I sleep
And once perhaps I'll understand
That I was such a little thing
As little as this song.
These 30,000 souls who sleep
Among the trees will wake,
Open an eye
And because they see
A lot
They'll fall asleep again. . .

IX 1944
Hanus Hachenburg was born in Prague on 12 July 1929, and was deported to Terezin on
24 October 1942. He died on 18 December 18, 1943, in Auschwitz.

The Butterfly

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
against a white stone...
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it wished to
kiss the world goodbye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't
live in here,
In the ghetto.
Pavel Friedmann 4.6.1942

The poem is preserved in typewritten copy on thin paper in the collection of poetry by Pavel Friedmann, which was donated to the National Jewish Museum during its documentation campaign. It is dated June 4, 1942 in the left corner. Pavel Friedmann was born January 7, 1921, in Prague and deported to Terezín* on April 26, 1942. He died in Oswiecim* (Auschwitz) on September 29, 1944.


Today the ghetto knows a different fear,
Close in its grip, Death wields an icy scythe.
An evil sickness spreads a terror in its wake,
The victims of its shadow weep and writhe.
Today a father's heartbeat tells his fright
And mothers bend their heads into their hands.
Now children choke and die with typhus here,
A bitter tax is taken from their bands.
My heart still beats inside my breast
While friends depart for other worlds.
Perhaps it's better – who can say? –
Than watching this, to die today?
No, no, my God, we want to live!
Not watch our numbers melt away.
We want to have a better world,
We want to work – we must not die!

The poem is preserved in a copy turned over to the State Jewish Museum in Prague by Dr. R. Feder in 1955. It is signed at the bottom, "12 year old Eva Picková from Nymburk". Eva Picková was born in Nymburk on May 15, 1929, deported to Terezín on April 16, 1942, and perished in Oswiecim (Auschwitz) on December 18, 1943.

Entrance to Terezin concentration camp enlarge image
Entrance to the small fortress of Terezin Camp. The gate bears the motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work makes one free.)

Credit: Jewish Virtual Library


Responding to Poems from the Holocaust

Action 1 Responding to Poems from the Holocaust


A Letter to the Poet

Select a poem about the Holocaust and write a letter to the poet. In your letter, you may write anything you wish about the poem. You may tell the poet what you like or dislike about the poem, or what you don’t understand about it. You might want to ask probing questions about the poem or offer your own interpretation and insights. The point is, you may approach it in any way you wish. It is your perspective, your point of view and your response that is important. Take 15-20 minutes to write your response to the poet

In small groups, assign one member of the group to serve as the recorder. This person will document the most important points made during the small group discussion. Have each person read his/her letter while the rest of the group listens. Once everyone has read their piece, each person should read their letter again, followed by discussion. Members of the group should ask questions and make comments about each of the letters. Do reflect on similarities and differences between the letters. Be sure to keep returning to the poem in order to substantiate and clarify your ideas. (Totten, 168-177)

Action 2


The Poets

By doing an online search, read biographical or critical work about poets who have written about the Holocaust (see sources in the works cited list, for example). In small groups create posters or website pages or murals about the poets. Select specific quotes by the poets to include in your artwork. Explain why you have selected these quotes in an “Artist Statement” and include your sources.

Action 3


Responding Through Poetry
  • Find a work of art or a poem that represents an important moment or experience in your learning about the Holocaust. Write a letter to a character in the poem or to a figure in the artwork.
    • If you could speak to the figure in the poem, what would you say?
    • If you could speak to anyone in the artwork, what would you say?
    • If you could imagine any of the subjects speaking, what do you think they would say?
  • Now, write a poem reflecting on your experience of the poem or drawing. Comment on the most important new ideas / concepts/ insights or what you may never forget after reading the poem or viewing the art. Do consider writing about what the poem reveals to you about the nature of violence, genocide, or human behavior, or you may simply wish to write a list of the questions that the poem raises for you. Notice how your list of questions becomes a poem, too.

Action 4



Postcards were sent from the concentration camp Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, but there were many very strict regulations:

Every prisoner of preventive detention is allowed to receive and send one letter or card per month. Envelopes must not be lined. Only one stamp can be added. The letters can have no more than 2 pages with 15 lines each, must be written with ink and clearly readable. Letters to prisoners who are not here anymore will not be forwarded. Letters which do not meet the instructions will neither be sent nor handed over.

Source: The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota

Create a postcard sharing an image and poem that made an impact on you, explaining how it made an impact. The postcard can have no more than 15 lines. Send the postcard to someone else with whom you would like to share your reflections about the Holocaust.

Action 5


Classroom Community

As a way of responding to the Holocaust as a classroom community, select an image or phrase from the poetry that touched you and helped you to begin to see the Holocaust in a new and unique way. Record these images on large sheets of paper around the classroom.

Action 6



In groups of three, create a series of three tableaux (frozen images) to depict the words, phrases or images that most moved you. Each person in the group will contribute one word, phrase or image and all three people will create the tableau of each word. Share with your group the source of your words and the history or narrative that accompanies the reason for your selection. You will need to create the transitions between the three tableaux, as well as titles for all three tableaux that your group creates.

Action 7


Poems and Images

You are asked to pair a photograph or painting with an appropriate poem. For example, you could pair renowned Yiddish poet, Abraham Sutzkever’s “A Cartload of Shoes” poem with a photograph of the piles of shoes left behind by the victims of the Nazis (USHMM).

Action 8


Found Poetry
  • Gather lines from all the Holocaust pieces that affected you and your classmates the most, in order to create a found poem. Select words, lines or phrases from the Holocaust material you have been studying (e.g., poetry, novels, historical or background information about the Holocaust or genocide) and transform the text into a poem. Draw on words, phrases or full quotations that are particularly meaningful or directed you toward new insights.
  • Prepare a list of 15-20 different words or phrases from your source materials so that you have lots of ideas from which to choose when composing your poems. You can trade lists and describe the themes or main ideas you see in your partner’s list.
  • You should decide on the order of the lines to create their new poem. Write all of the words and phrases on individual slips of paper, so that the words or phrases can be moved around easily until you and your classmates can solve your found poem. In small groups, you can negotiate how to rearrange the words, repeat, eliminate or add words that will help the research text transform into a poem. You can also consider the following as you create your found poems:
    • Will you use key words to start or end the lines?
    • Which phrases will have greater impact by standing on lines alone?
    • Which phrases will benefit by being stretched over two or more lines?
    Remember, you cannot add your own words when creating a found poem, but you can repeat words or phrases as often as you like. When composing your found poems, you do not need to use all of the words or phrases you previously selected. Be sure to save all your rough drafts to show the development of your ideas and to help you explain your decisions.
  • You can perform your poems as choral readings. Alternatively you can read the poems silently. Pass your poems to the left once. Each student will read the poem, write a comment (students should sign their name to their comment), and then pass the poem again to the left for another comment. Depending on how much time you have, you might allow for three or four passes, or you might have time for students to comment on all of the poems created by your classmates. When you have completed your commenting consider:
    • What strikes you about these poems?
    • What do they have in common?
    • How are they different?
    • What surprised you when reading them?
  • Group Found Poem: You collaboratively create a group found poem by having each person select one line for the collective full-class found poem. Alternately, you could have the whole class determine the words and phrases that will be used but allow each student to create his/her own arrangement of this collectively created text.
  • Write an “Artist Statement” explaining your poem and its message. How do the found texts in your poem support your message? Why is this message important to you? You can publish their poems, in printed format or on the web, as a way of sharing them with a wider audience, or by organizing a poetry reading for other classes in the school; parents can be invited to attend. Make sure to conduct a question and answer session after the reading so that your classmates have an opportunity to talk about their ideas.

Action 9


Choral Reading

In groups of five, use choral reading strategies to perform one of the Holocaust poems. Consider the following notes: What lines will be said solo? In pairs? As a group? What words, phrases or sentences can be repeated? How will you begin and end the poem? What gestures or actions can you choose to accompany your line(s) in the poem? Experiment with volume, tempo, pitch, and emotion. Try it with everyone speaking together. How can you build in voices, or gradually remove voices to communicate your intended meaning to the audience? Can you use volume in an interesting way?

Further reading

Rubin, Susan Goldman Fireflies in the Dark: the story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin, 2000

When she was sent to a concentration camp, Art teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis packed art supplies rather than personal items. Art provided sanity and an outlet to the emotions of children living in horrific circumstances.

Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 5 The Arts in Action

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Literature and history are intertwined. While history provides background and context to literature, literature puts a human face on history. The activities in this section will encourage you to engage with the Holocaust and its lessons for all humanity at a visceral level. By incorporating art, music, film, and drama, as well as poetry, novels, autobiography, memoir, and primary source documents, you will grapple with the question of what it means to be truly human in a world rife with the temptation to be otherwise.

Ask yourself:

  • What does it mean to make moral choices?
  • What does it mean to accept responsibility for living a moral life and what are the challenges?
  • How do art, music, drama, and literature inform our moral choices?
  • How does language function to clarify and/or obscure our moral choices?

Action 1  


A glossary of terms

During the course of this chapter, you may encounter new vocabulary and unfamiliar terminology because they have been borrowed from other languages (e.g. – German).

A. Working with your classmates, either the whole class or a small group, create a glossary of the unfamiliar words or phrases you encountered throughout this chapter.

B. Write down the word or phrase, and its meaning (make sure that the meaning is accurate and reflects how it is used in the selection from which it is taken).

C. Where appropriate, create illustrations or use original drawings, Internet art or pictures clipped from newspapers or magazines to illustrate the meaning of the word or phrase.

D. You may alphabetize your entries or place them in the order in which you found them in the selection. Everybody in the group is invited to contribute the words and phrases that are new to him/her. Put the sheets in page protectors, assemble them in a binder, and place it in a prominent spot in the classroom for everyone to read and add to.

E. Alternately, the glossary may be created as a website to which all members of the group or class contribute and have access.

Action 2  


Identifying and Researching People

As you read Voices Into Action, you will also encounter references to people who may be unfamiliar to you. Research them to learn more about them. Create a resource of biographical sketches. Include the name of the person, a photograph if possible, the dates of his/her birth and if applicable, death. Include also where you came across the reference (title of book – page number, poem etc.) and a comment on why there is a reference to this person. This information, like the glossary (above), should be made available to other members of your class.

Action 3  


Responding to a Photograph

Warsaw boy – Old black and white photograph of a frightened little boy and his mother in the foreground, with their hands up, as soldiers point riffles at them. They are followed by a group emerging from a doorway. enlarge image

Warsaw Ghetto - Photo from Jürgen Stroop's report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943 and one of the best-known pictures of World War II. The original German caption reads: “Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs.”

Photo Credit: Yad Vashem

A. Examine this famous photograph of the little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto. What do you think is happening in this picture? Identify the different groups of people. What is the most striking image? Why do you think so?

B. Working with a group of your classmates, share your responses to the above questions. Then create a tableau (theatrical freeze frames) to represent the photograph. Present your tableau to your classmates. Explain why you arranged yourselves in the tableau as you did.

  • Who was in the foreground?
  • Who in the background?
  • Who was higher; who was lower?
  • Which people were close to one another; which ones were farther away?
  • What did the facial expressions communicate? 
  • How effectively did you replicate the photograph and communicate your understanding of it?

C. Next – create a series of three tableaux.

  • Tableau 1: illustrate what you think might have occurred in the moment before the photograph was taken;
  • Tableau 2: dissolve into your original tableau of the photograph;
  • Tableau 3: dissolve into what you think might have occurred in the moment following the photograph. 

Be sure to explain what you did and why. How effective were your tableaux in extending the story depicted in the photograph?

This photograph has inspired two poems: The Newspaper by Ralph Gustafson

Action 4  


Creating poetry from art

DEFINITION An ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired by a work of art. (See Wikipedia – Ekphrasis)

Visit one of the many on-line Holocaust art sites

A. Select a piece of art that “speaks” to you. In your journal explain why that piece stands out for you. Do a little research to learn more about the artist, what the piece is attempting to convey and what techniques the artist has used. This is particularly important if you selected a piece of abstract art.

B. Create a poem based on the piece of art you chose. You may choose whichever form of poetry you think is most appropriate. Make a copy of the art piece you are writing about. Working with the other members of your class, create a classroom exhibit of art and the poetry it inspired. Do a gallery walk through the classroom to view what your classmates produced. Discuss the art selections and accompanying poetry. Parents, administrators, other teachers and students may be invited to your class gallery.

Action 5  


Art inspired by Poetry

There are many sources of Holocaust-themed poetry. Select a poem that you find personally meaningful and create a piece of art to express what it means to you. You may paint using various media, sketch, sculpt, create a collage, etc. Be prepared to present your selected poem and explain your artistic creation, what it means, why you selected the materials and media you did, your use of line, colour, and perspective.

Additional recommended poetry

Read the poem The Hangman by Maurice Ogden.

Explain how the poem is an allegory. How does this connect with the Holocaust? What roles are assumed by the various characters in the poem? What imagery and other poetic devices does Ogden use?  Create a chart, graph, or timeline to trace the progression of the hangman and his victims.

Credit: Reprinted from the Study Guide from Durham West Arts Centre, Reading and Remembrance Project, 2006

Watch the animated film of The Hangman.  Is the film effective?  Why or why not? Comment on the following aspects of the film:  use of music; the characters – dress, demeanour, facial representations; imagery; irony; narration. How do they contribute to the overall effectiveness?

Action 6  


Comparing Poems

A. Compare/contrast The Hangman with the famous poem by Martin Niemoller, First They Came for the Jews. What similarities do you notice? Note the biographical data, in particular the note at the bottom of the page following the poem. Niemoller was himself antisemitic prior to the Holocaust. How do you account for the change in his thinking?

B. Read Riddle by William Heyen . Why does the poet call the poem Riddle?  What is the riddle in the poem?  Who were Adolf Eichmann and Albert Speer? Who do you think Fritz and David Nova, and Lou Abrahams were? Why did Heyen juxtapose the names of Eichmann and Speer with those of the Novas and Lou Abrahams? What is the answer to the riddle?  What clues does he offer as to the answer? What purpose is served by the last stanza? Is the personification of the sun, the moon and the stars effective? Why or why not? Note the poet’s use of repetition – for what effect?

Read the poem again and watch the YouTube video. List the images that accompany the lines of the poem.  What effect does the addition of the images have on the reader?  Note that the poem and the images are accompanied by a song. The Trains of No Return was written and performed by Israeli singer, Ofra Haza. Some of the verses are in Hebrew. Why is this appropriate? For the lyrics to and a translation of the Hebrew, see The Trains of No Return . How do the addition of both the images and the music affect the impact of the poem on the reader?  In your Response Journal describe your feelings about the poem, images and music.

Some additional poems to consider:

There Were Those by Susan Dambroff 
Never Shall I Forget by Elie Wiesel
Written in Pencil in a Sealed Railway Car by Dan Pagis
Night Over Birkenau by Tadeusz Borowski
Holocaust 1944 by Anne Ranasinghe
Race by Karen Gershon 
Poetry written by children in the Terezin Concentration Camp, including the following, and many others as well by Mif
The Butterfly by Pavel Friedmann; Homesick by Anonymous; Fear by Eva Pickova; The Garden by Eva Pickova; and Untitled by Anonymous

Action 7  


Holocaust Novels/Holocaust Films

Many novels have been written about the Holocaust.  See Best Holocaust Novels for suggestions.

Many popular Holocaust novels have been made into films.  Some that come to mind include The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Sarah’s Key, and The Book Thief. Can you think of any others? 

Select one of these books to read, or perhaps your teacher will assign it to the whole class. Be sure to record your reactions, questions and comments in your Response Journal. If you are reading the novel with the rest of your class and your teacher, make sure you have a good set of notes. After you complete your reading of the novel, watch the film.  You will need a Venn diagram with two interlocking circles.

VENN DIAGRAM enlarge image


A. As you watch the film, stop periodically to make notes inside your Venn diagram. The common space where the circles intersect is where you write down the things that you think are the same in both the novel and the film. In the circle on your left make notes about the novel that are different from the film. In the circle on your right, make notes about the film that are different from the novel.

  • What similarities and differences did you note?
  • Focus on the ways in which the film is different from the novel.
  • Can you account for the decisions of the film’s director to make these changes? Does the film remain faithful to the themes of the novel? To the characters?  To the author’s purpose?
  • Has the focus of the story shifted in the film? 
  • Which aspects of the novel would you represent differently in the film if you were the director – how and why?  Which did you find most effective and why? 

B. Compare your Venn diagram with that of a classmate or group of classmates.

Action 8  


Writing a letter in Role

A. Required tools: paper, pen and highlighter.

B. For this task you will have the opportunity to write a letter from a main character of a novel character to another character (from the same novel, or a different novel). For this writing activity, consider the following:

  • How will the character describe his/ her circumstances?
  • What event(s) from the novel will you highlight?
  • What feelings will the character convey?
  • What words or phrases will be used to best convey the life and feelings of this character?

C. Once completed, exchange letters with a friend. Then, write a letter back (in-role) to that person, by asking questions, offering advice, or making connections. What words or phrases had an impact on you?

Action 9  


Character collage

A. Required tools: a paper bag, scissors, markers, glue and magazines/newspapers.

B. As you read your novel, search through the magazines/newspapers (or use internet images) for images and words or phrases that represent both the way other characters in the book view the main character and the way the character feels or sees him/herself. Glue your clippings that represent how the other characters view the main character in a collage-like arrangement on the outside of the paper bag.

C. Place the clippings that represent the feelings and ways in which the main character views him/herself inside the bag.

D. Present your bag to a small group of your classmates. Explain the significance of the images and words and phrases you selected.

E. Staple or paperclip your bag to a page in your Response Journal. Make a list of the characters represented by the bags created by the other members of your group. Did some of your classmates choose the same character? How were their insights the same or different from your own? What insights into other characters did you get? What were the most striking images and words/phrases used by your group members? Why do you think so?:

Action 10  


Read the Nuremberg Laws

Discuss them as a class to ensure you understand them and the context in which they were created. These are the laws that increasingly stripped Jews of their property, their identity, and their rights. Working together as a class, prepare a Readers Theatre presentation of the Nuremberg Laws. What effect do you want to create with your presentation? How will you use the voices of your classmates to achieve this?

Source: Courtesy of Paul Leishman, Toronto District School Board

Action 11  


Reading and responding to a memoir

Read a memoir, testimonial or biography from the Holocaust. Pay careful attention to the experiences of the author. What were the major events recounted? How did they affect the author? What did the author feel or how did s/he react to these experiences?

A. Mapping an inner journey - Create a map of the author’s inner journey to parallel the events recounted. Here are some questions to consider: Using geological formations, how do you envision the author? Is s/he a continent, a country, an island etc.? Why?

What things might you find on the map of the geological formation you’ve chosen and what is their symbolic significance? E.g. – lakes, rivers, ponds, swamps, mountains, jungles, volcanoes, meadows, forests, roads, railways, cities etc. A jungle might represent confusion, or losing one’s way. Using markers, water colours, pencils or other media, create the map for the author. Be sure to label each element appropriately. When you are finished, write a guide to your map. Present your map and guide to your classmates.

B. Responding to the memoir - In your Response Journal, respond to the following questions:

  • Why do you think the author needed to recount his/her experiences?
  • What represents the moral centre of the text? The immoral?
  • Are there people in the text who may be classified as victim, perpetrator, murderer, bystander, voyeur, collaborator, advocate, rescuer? Identify them and explain why you classified them as you did.
  • If you could interview any of the people in the text, what three questions would you ask them?

 Some titles include:

  • Anne Frank Remembered (Miep Gies)
  • Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl (Anne Frank)
  • Night (Elie Wiesel)
  • The Cage (Ruth Minsky Sender)
  • A Childhood Under the Nazis (Tomi Ungerer)
  • An Interrupted life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 1941-1943 (Etty Hillesum)
  • Survival in Auschwitz (Primo Levi)
  • The Drowned and the Saved (Primo Levi)
  • My Life (Gerda Weissmann Klein)
  • After the Holocaust: The Long Road to Freedom (Erna Rubinstein)

Select one of the texts you have read, either a novel or a non-fiction text (biography, memoir etc.) Create a timeline for the main character, listing the major events in the text. For each, select an appropriate piece of music and record it. Consider all kinds of music as well as music originating from different places. You do not need to record the entire selection. In fact, it is more appropriate if you select the particular part of the selection that you feel reflects the mood or tone of the event e.g. – fear, despair, hope, relief etc.). You are in effect, creating a musical collage. Present your timeline and accompanying musical collage to your classmates. They should be able to identify the kind of events listed with the accompanying music. Explain the choices you made.

Action 12  


Reading a graphic novel: Maus by Art Spiegelman

Graphic novels are becoming increasingly popular. MAUS, written by American artist Art Spiegelman, is noteworthy for a number of reasons. It is a story that operates on two levels: on one level it is the story of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor; on another level it is the story of the strained relationship between father and son, thus introducing a new dynamic – the impact of the Holocaust on the children and families of those who experienced it. The story is told using animals to represent the people.

Read MAUS. Why has Spiegelman chosen the animals that he did to represent the people (e.g. – mice for Jews)?

  • What characteristics of these animals make them appropriate symbols? What themes run through the story?
  •  MAUS represents the ongoing horror of the Holocaust for its survivors. How so? Why do you think Spiegelman chose to tell his story through cartoons? Comment on betrayal and luck as motifs in the story.

Action 13  


Responding to Quotations about the Holocaust

Using the texts you have seen, studied and read during this unit, respond to one of the following quotations. Your response may take the form of a traditional essay (parameters to be determined by your teacher), a photo-essay with accompanying commentary, or an original short story (parameters to be determined by your teacher). Include the quotation to which you are responding and explain what it means to you.

1. “My story is a story of very ordinary people during extraordinary terrible times. Times the like of which I hope with all my heart, will never, never come again. It is for all of us ordinary people all over the world to see to it that they do not.” (Miep Gies)

2. “Beauty without an ethical dimension cannot exist.” (Elie Wiesel)

3. “The opposite of goodness is not evil; it is indifference to evil.” (Elie Wiesel)

4. “When I came to power, I did not want the concentration camps to become old age pensioners homes, but instruments of terror.” (Adolf Hitler)

5. “Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.” (Primo Levi)

6. “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” (Yehuda Bauer)

7. “We are alive. We are human, with good and bad in us. That's all we know for sure. We can't create a new species or a new world. That's been done. Now we have to live within those boundaries. What are our choices? We can despair and curse, and change nothing. We can choose evil like our enemies have done and create a world based on hate. Or we can try to make things better.” (Carol Matas)

8. “Fiction cannot recite the numbing numbers, but it can be that witness, that memory. A storyteller can attempt to tell the human tale, can make a galaxy out of the chaos, can point to the fact that some people survived even as most people died. And can remind us that the swallows still sing around the smokestacks.” (Jane Yolen)

9. “What I want you to take away from my life story is just how important it is to defend your freedom, at all costs. Experience has shown me that if you lose your freedom, you are condemned to fail.” (Leon Schgrin)

10. “Consider why Germany, fighting a war on two fronts, desperate for fuel and material of every sort, would bother to load millions of Jews on railroad cars and transport them hundreds, even thousands, of miles to concentration camps. Camps built specifically to house them, where they would be fed, clothed, even tattooed so they could be inventoried...just to kill them.” (Edgar J. Steele)

11. “Its [genocide] lessons of indifference, cowardice, stupidity, moral detachment, and cruelty fly in the face of who we believe we are and who we want to be.” (Source not known)

12. “The sanctity of human life is the most important moral lesson to be drawn from the Holocaust.” (Sandra Stotsky)

13. “It is through the medium of language that intolerance initially manifests itself. Language is used in propaganda and in influencing public opinion. It is basic to the development of values, the institution of laws, as well as the formation of public policy. Language has the potential to liberate or imprison.” (Grace Caporino and Rose Rudnitski)

14. “To be intolerant is to disallow the legitimacy of ‘the other’s’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours. Intolerance can manifest itself through verbal and nonverbal means and can be insidious because some intolerances are part of cultures.” (Source not known)

15. “Studying the Holocaust is a study in choices: the deliberate choices of perpetrators, the choices shunned by bystanders, the choices embraced by collaborators, and the hollow choices of victims, helpless against a fate meted out to them.” (Grace Caporino)

16. “ …other media such as newspapers, films, art, and music can be used to influence human activity. They can also be used to examine the context of a historical event and the factors that helped to shape it.” (Grace Caporino and Rose Rudnitski)

17. “Literature engages the human character. It not only evokes a response, it also helps to illuminate history because it frequently serves as a response to it. Literature responds to this human record of history and evokes further responses in readers by bringing people to life and by putting a human face on history. It also helps us see what might be.” (Grace Caporino and Rose Rudnitski)

18. “Literature resonates, helping us to see and know ourselves. It often does more, but it should not do less.” (Grace Caporino and Rose Rudnitski)

19. “To look is one thing. To see what you look at is another. To learn from what you understand is still something else. But to act on what you learn is all that really matters.” (The Talmud)

Further reading

JJoffo, Joseph A Bag of Marbles: The graphic novel, 2013
This graphic novel is an adaptation of Joffe’s 1973 memoir describing a young secular Jewish boy’s experiences in occupied France.

Kacer, Kathy We Are Their Voice: Young people respond to the Holocaust, 2012
Canadian author, Kathy Kacer (Hiding Edith) collects student responses to lessons about the Holocaust, in the form of journal entries, letters, drawings and descriptive passages.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds history, 1986 and Maus II; A Survivor’s Tale: And here my trouble begins, 1992.
A graphic story of a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe and his son, a cartoonist who comes to learn about his father’s story and history itself.


Teaching the Holocaust Using Film

The Book Thief, 2003
Based on the novel by Markus Zusak, this film tells the story of a young foster girl named Liesel who, once she learns to read, shares the books she has stolen from Nazi book burnings with her neighbours as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2008
Based on the novel by John Boyne, this story examines the Holocaust through the innocent eyes of a young German child.

Defiance, 2008
Though a conventional war film, Defiance tells the story of Jews doing whatever is necessary to escape the horrors of the Nazis.

The Devil’s Arithmetic, 1999
Hannah is frustrated hearing about her relative’s experience in the Holocaust. Based on the  time-travel novel by Jane Yolen, the young teenager is transported into the past and suffers at the hands of the Nazis.

Life is Beautiful
, 1997
Depicts one man’s ability to remain strong for his child. A powerful film of resilience in the face of oppression.

Paper Clips,
2004  (documentary)
The students in a Tennessee middle school began to study the Holocaust as a way to learn about intolerance and diversity. As a result, The Paper Clip Project culminated in a unique memorial changing the lives of those who created it.

The Pianist
, 2002
A talented musician struggles to survive life in the ghetto. This story is a reminder that amidst the worst conditions, there were those who chose to fight against prejudice despite the insurmountable obstacles they encountered.

Schindler’s List,
Based on the true story of unlikely humanitarian hero, Oskar Schindler, who became concerned about the Jewish workforce In Poland after the rise of the Nazis.

Unit 6 Living Together in Today's World

Overview Our Canada: Exploring Canadian Values

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Ask yourself:

  • How has a Canadian national identity developed, based on the differences found in diverse personal and group identities?
  • How can Canada respect the differences in creed – religious, faith-based and spiritual practices – but at the same time promote human rights for all and create social inclusion that best serves the interests of all Canadians?
  • How does your personal identity connect to your sense of belonging to a group?
enlarge image
Key Concept

This Venn diagram is a good way to think about the relationship between the “public” and the “private” in our democracy

Exploring Canadian Values

In many ways Canada has set the standard for a global world. Although there are notable gaps, we have, throughout our history, done our best to make diversity work.

Co-operation among Aboriginal Peoples and between Aboriginal Peoples, English and French, Europeans, and the influx of immigrants from all continents representing ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural diversities, has shaped who we are.

We are not perfect, but we strive to make our democracy work. Among the publications produced or sponsored by the Canadian government for both citizens and newcomers, who together make up the diverse communities within Canada, are:

Our Canada is designed to make connections between important aspects of Canadian life. These aspects include the following:

An important question persists: “How much diversity should a society accept?”

In the 2014 Massey Lectures, Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship, Adrienne Clarkson suggests:

Democracies try to strike a balance between our private lives and our public ones: recognizing the power we show when we work together on common goals. Laissez Faire systems are too libertarian to support a common welfare; authoritarian systems are too quick to squeeze the creativity and innovation out of private endeavors.

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Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship

This 2014 CBC Massy Lectures series explores:

  • What does it mean to belong?
  • And how do we belong?
  • Who do we belong to?

Source: CBC

Here are the facts

The Report on Canadian Values is a survey of over 2,000 people and their perspectives on multiculturalism and religious accommodation.

  • Based on a list of 10 values identified through expert consultation, Canadians most often ranked as first, “respect for human rights and freedoms”.
  • Canadians most often view civility (politeness, common ground, mutual respect) as a primary responsibility of being a Canadian citizen.
  • Canadians most often identify multiculturalism as “coexistence of different cultures in one society/community”.
  • The strongest point of agreement is that multiculturalism “permits me to preserve my origins” and “has a positive impact on ethnic and religious minorities”.

Our Canada Report on Canadian Values

Action 1


Identity is, essentially, a set of distinct characteristics or factors that make each of us unique in who we are. We each have many characteristics and factors that influence our attitudes and decisions, depending on circumstances and situation, based on occupation, ethnicity, age, gender, culture, traditions, etc. There is often a tension among the various identities we have.

Some identities are chosen and some are not; some can change, some cannot. Some factors, for example, that can’t be chosen or changed include, when and where you’re born, who your parents are, what your mother tongue is, as well as factors that come built in with your DNA, that is, those that you’re born with, such as the natural colour of your skin, hair and eyes. Other aspects of your identity are personally selected: your profession, the food you eat, where you live, the music and art you like, your political ideology.

Personal identity characteristics and factors may include:

  • Age
  • Creed, religion faith or spirituality (if any)
  • Culture and traditions
  • Gender
  • Language (especially mother tongue)
  • Marital status
  • Nationality or immigration status
  • Neighborhood
  • Political ideology
  • Professional status
  • Size

The list of possible factors for each human being is almost infinite.

Identity is a concept that can be used by a person both in the singular and in the plural. In the singular, one can say, “My identity is …”. The best way to think of identity in the singular is through your own individual name, or those distinct characteristics and factors that combine to make you unique and different from everyone else.

But these characteristics can also be shared amongst some, or many people, and make us recognizable as part of a group. The terms “we” or “our” can be used to refer to a group of people that share one identity or another. The “we” may refer to our family, our national identity or our gender. In the plural, one might say, “we are Canadian.” So what characteristics and factors make us part of the group recognized as “Canadian”?

It should be noted that some identities that are seen as normative, carry privileges and therefore, power. It is important to be aware of these power dynamics and the implications that come along with both being part of the majority group as well as what it means to belong to the minority group. This is why an understanding of, and openness to, different identities is important. When no such awareness exists, constant identity tensions can arise, transmitted from one generation to another, and these tensions can easily turn into conflicts. Openness and respect for differences, as well as practicing identity inclusion, are essential for social harmony and the greater possibilities of social justice, because then and only then can a society become genuinely harmonious and peaceful.

– Adapted from Our Canada Handbook


Who are you?
  1. Review the list of personal identity characteristics below.
  2. Based on how these have an impact on who you are – place a mark along the spectrum line, according to how significant it is in your life.
  3. Include other personal identity characteristics that are meaningful to you.


Who I am
  • What personal identity characteristics most influence your individual identity?
  • What personal identity characteristics most influence the identity that you share with a group or groups?


This is me

Learn about your classmates, their interests and the interests you have in common. While retaining what is unique about you, it is helpful to emphasize common and broader shared interests and ideas rather than narrower dividing ones.

  1. List ten things about you.
  2. Compare your interests with others.
  3. If you share an interest with one other person, put his/her name in column 2.
  4. If you share an interest with two other people, add the second person’s name to column 3.
  5. If you share an interest with more than two people, add their name(s) to column 4.

  1 2 3 4
  Ten things about meShared with one personShared with two peopleShared with more than two people


Who are we?

Every personal identity factor can also be considered a group identity.

  • Compare charts with your classmates and discuss the identity factors that appear to be shared most often.


Express who you are
  1. Choose one of the activities below to express your sense of identity and identities.
    • A. Soundtrack of your life Make an audio track, or compilation, of ten songs that say something important about you. Write a brief description of each song explaining why you chose it.

    • B. Aspiration collage Using images and words from magazines, newspapers and the Internet, make a collage that expresses the kind of person you aspire to be. Write a description of the items you included and what they represent.

    • C. Spoken word or rap Write a spoken word or rap that expresses various aspects of your identity and record it. Include how you would distribute your piece.

    • D. Personal logo Design a logo or symbol that represents who you are. Write a brief description of your logo and how it represents you. Include how you would use it or where you might place your logo.

  2. Post a link to your soundtrack, playlist, spoken word or rap, or a photo of your collage or personal logo on Twitter and/or Instagram, using the hashtag: #VoicesIntoAction.
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DO: Take the Video Challenge!

The Our Canada Youth Challenge is for middle and high school students interested in having their writing published or video promoted.

For details, see Action 7.

For more information on the Our Canada Youth Challenge, visit

Action 2


"The whole of the world, the history of the world, is a history of belonging," says Jean Vanier, a prominent Canadian philosopher, theologian and humanitarian.

Vanier maintains that the desire to belong is a deep psychological drive, that it is part of human nature to need to engage in relationships where we are valued and accepted by others. An individual’s sense of “belonging” refers to how someone locates him/herself within a physical space or within human society, and influences how people relationally connect to one another.

The challenge for all human beings is to balance those identities we share with others, along with those that are important to whom we define ourselves to be as individuals, so that we can establish a common ground to foster harmonious human relations in working towards shared objectives.

Being part of a group awards an individual not only a sense of belonging, but also a sense of security and emotional support. Belonging to a group is also an opportunity for people to expand their horizons and learn from other people, as well as share parts of ourselves and our skills and knowledge with others.

The opposite of belonging is exclusion. It means certain individuals could experience social disadvantage based on the group(s) of which they are perceived to be a part.

For people who relocate to a new place, leaving behind their traditional “group”, the question of belonging is critical to their success and ability to integrate into their new home and society. Canadian society needs to work towards creating an inclusive environment where diversity is recognized, respected and valued, while new Canadians make an effort to enhance their own sense of belonging in Canada by beginning a process of integration, affiliation and connection.

In creating an inclusive environment Canadians, including new Canadians, must commit to learning about the Indigenous peoples of Canada, and the difficulties and current legacy Canadian society must address, to achieve the goal of respecting and valuing diversity. A good place to start is to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commision of Canada: Calls to Action.

– Adapted from Our Canada Handbook


Being Part of a Group
UNITY Charity

Engaging and empowering youth to create safer schools and healthier communities.


  • What does belonging mean to you?
  • What is the connection between having a personal identity, and belonging to a group?
  • What groups do you belong to?
    • When do your personal identity and need to belong conflict?
    • What usually wins in such conflict? Why?
  • Belonging can come from taking part in a collaborative project or event:
    • What are some of the ways that you can work towards a common cause?
    • What events have you participated in that gave you a sense of belonging?


150 Stories
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Waneek Horn-Miller: Canada's Athlete and Ambassador

“The Native concept of power is how much you can empower people around you.”

Source: 22/150 Waneek Horn-Miller

150 Stories is a Canadian Race Relations Foundation initiative that is celebrating Canada's sesquicentennial in 2017 by publishing one story every week for 150 weeks. 150 Stories represents perspectives about Canada and being Canadian, and insights into Canadian history, organizations and initiatives.

Character Study

For this activity, you will read one of the 150 Stories, and create a character study of the person in the story:

  1. Using a large sheet of paper and a marker, draw an outline of a person and post the outline on the wall.
  2. With your marker, write the person’s name inside the outline.
  3. As you read and gain new insights into the storyteller’s identity factors or characteristics, write them down around the character.
    • Place those factors you share with the storyteller inside the outline, and those that you don’t share, on the outside of the outline.
  4. Do you find that you share a lot or a few of the same identity factors?
  5. Are there any factors you consider to be “Canadian”?
  6. Write a short response based on your findings.

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DO: Take the 150 Stories Challenge!

The Our Canada Youth Challenge is for middle and high school students interested in having their writing published or video promoted.

For details, see Action 7.

For more information on the Our Canada Youth Challenge, visit

Action 3

Creed, Religion, Faith and Spirituality

In learning about the diversity of creed, religion, faith and spirituality in Canada, it is helpful to recognize some common features. There is usually a tradition, or set of stories and practices, transmitted orally or in writing. Some of these traditions, stories and practices can be attributed to a specific founder or set of founders.

Such founding figures are considered great spiritual teachers, prophets or messengers and in some cases, these founding figures themselves come to be seen as divine. Belief in God(s) or the Divine is commonly upheld, although different faiths will refer to different names.

Holy days are associated with history, traditions and accepted ritual practices, as well as a community place of worship, such as a church, gurdwara, mosque, sacred fire, spirit lodge, synagogue or temple.

In many cultures with written texts, the practices and principles, traditions and core values are contained in some authoritative set of sacred writings, such as the Bible or Qur’an for example, either told by and/or written by the founding figure.

Traditional Aboriginal spiritualties have their own distinctive characteristics rooted in the cultures of Indigenous nations and influenced by the unique features and relationships found in individual Indigenous communities. In Indigenous nations, principles and traditions have been passed down for millennia through oral instructions and personal experience, typically through Elders. While there are several common practices among Indigenous groups, there are also specific responsibilities, beliefs and ceremonies associated with each specific band or community.

Many of the teachings, practices and institutions of creeds, religions, faiths and spiritualties remain stable over centuries, but these can also change and evolve over time.

There seems to be one common principle that is shared by all creeds – the “Golden Rule” – which enjoins believers to treat others as they wish to be treated themselves.

– Adapted from Our Canada Handbook


Who said it?

Match the quotes below to the creed.

1. Aboriginal Spirituality


A. “Bhikkhus, the middle way, after avoiding the two extremes, gives knowledge and wisdom and leads to calm higher knowledge, enlightenment, nirvana.”

2. The Baha’i Faith


B. “Love they neighbour as thyself.” Or “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

3. Buddhism


C. “…it is not just a faith. It is the union of Reason and Intuition that cannot be defined, but is only to be experienced.”

4. Christianity


D. The first responsibility is to the Creator, and to protect the capacity of Mother Earth to host all forms of life, offering thanks to the spirit world, to the spirits of animals, fish and plants, sacrificed for the benefit of people.

5. Hinduism


E. “Recite, in the name of your Lord… Recite by the Most Bountiful One your Lord, who by use of the pen taught man that which he did not know.”

6. Islam


F. “Though in calm silence I sit I cannot end my search. No mound of earthly pleasures can satisfy my longing for God.”

7. Judaism


G. “Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth… The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”

8. Sikh Faith


H. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”


Aboriginal Spirituality: A family of diverse traditions, the practices and beliefs of Aboriginal spirituality respect all reality as sacred. Important to Aboriginal spirituality is respect for all of Creation, both animate and what is perceived as inanimate. The understanding that humans are inextricably part of the web of life – and what we do to that web we do to ourselves – is also fundamental to most Aboriginal ways of knowing.

The Baha’i Faith: This faith is considered by Baha’is to be the fourth of the Abrahamic, monotheistic religions after Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Central teachings are the oneness of God, the oneness of unity of the human family, equality of women and men, harmony of science and religion, importance of eliminating prejudice of all kinds, establishing justice and supporting universal education.

Buddhism: Centred on the “Three Jewels” of Buddhism (Buddha, the ideal model; Dharma, the overall way of life, and Sangha, the community of Buddhist monks and nuns), teachings involve an understanding of the “Four Noble Truths”, that: 1) suffering is universal; 2) craving and desire cause suffering; 3) suffering can be relieved, and 4) following the “noble Eight-fold Path” will relieve suffering. The Eight-fold Path includes right knowledge, right intention, right speech, right conduct, right means of livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

Christianity: Founded by the followers of Jesus two thousand years ago, Christianity is monotheistic but Trinitarian in its conception of God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Beliefs centre around the virgin birth of Christ, that his death was a sacrifice for the salvation of our souls, and that Christ rose from the dead, appeared to his disciples and ascended to heaven. The sacred book is the Bible. Christianity is the world’s largest and most widely spread religion.

Hinduism: Hinduism is a way of life. Unlike other creeds and religions, it does not claim to have any one Prophet; it does not worship any one God; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any particular act of religious rites or performances. Hindus believe that there is an underlying principle of divinity or spirit and the entire Universe is ‘superimposed’ on it. Hindus believe in a continuous cycle of reincarnation and rebirth of the soul after death, that the conditions of one’s present life are due to good or bad deeds (Karma) of this life and in past lives. It is the third largest religion after Christianity and Islam.

Islam: Islam is the second largest religion in the world. Muslims believe that Islam is a continuation of Judaism and Christianity, and that the Prophet Muhammad is the Messenger of God. The primary source in Islam is the Qur’an, believed to be the word of Allah and ultimate authority concerning all facets of Muslims’ life. Islam is premised on “Five Pillars”: 1) the profession of recited daily; 2) daily obligatory prayer facing the Qiblah, or Mecca, recited five times daily; 3) “Zakat” or alms giving; 4) fasting between sunrise and sunset during the Muslim month of Ramadan, and 5) pilgrimage to Mecca, known as a “hajj”.

Judaism: The oldest of monotheistic religions, Judaism is based on the Hebrew Bible (known by Christians as the “Old Testament”), which tells the story of God’s purpose for humanity and the Jewish people, revealing the nature of God’s relationship to the people of Israel through God’s Covenant. Jewish laws are of great importance in traditional Judaism and include dietary restrictions for devout Jews and prescriptions concerning prayer and worship as well as rites of passage (such as the coming-of-age ceremony known as the “Bar” or “Bat Mitzvah”).

The Sikh Faith: One of the youngest of the world’s religions, the Sikh faith was founded by Guru Nanak in the late 15th/early 16th century Punjab. It places importance on the search for eternal truth, belief in reincarnation, and four principal ceremonies (naming, initiation, marriage and death), as well as daily observances: morning bath, meditation on the Name of God, and recitation of hymns and prayers three times each day.

– Adapted from Our Canada Handbook


Faith in the Classroom
  • What creeds, religions, faiths or spiritualties are represented in your class?
  • How do your class’s numbers compare to the Canadian population represented by the 2011 Survey results below?
  • The Survey link below, also includes a breakdown by province or territory. How do your class’s numbers compare to the population of the province or territory where you live?
Here are the facts

Canadian population by religion, Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey.

Total population 32,852,320
Aboriginal Spirituality 64,940
Catholic 12,810,705
Protestant 2,007,610
Christian Orthodox 550,690
Christian not included elsewhere 6,733,740
Muslim 1,053,945
Jewish 329,500
Buddhist 366,830
Hindu 497,960
Sikh 454,965
Eastern religions 32,930
Other religions 97,900
No religious affiliation 7,850,605

*Based on the population in private households rather than the total population of Canada.


Match the Symbols

Match the symbols to the creed.

1. Aboriginal Spirituality


A. Symbol A

2. The Baha’i Faith


B. Symbol B

3. Buddhism


C. Symbol C

4. Christianity


D. Symbol D

5. Hinduism


E. Symbol E

6. Islam


F. Symbol F

7. Judaism


G. Symbol G

8. Sikh Faith


H. Symbol H


The Faith Project
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Films & iPad App

The rituals of seven young Canadians from different faith traditions.


The Faith Project is an immersive media experience that intimately observes the rituals of seven young Canadians from different faith traditions.

Each of the project’s subjects allowed the creative team access to their personal practice and expressions of faith. These articulate, busy young Canadians weave faith into their daily lives not as an obligation but as something that is essential to their identity and place in the world.

Similarities and Differences
  • What creeds, religions, faiths and spiritualties are present in your local community?
  • Which are more important in creating a sense of Canadian identity, our similarities or our differences?
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Similarities and Differences

Investigate similarities and differences in traditions and beliefs using a comparison chart or graphic such as a Venn diagram.


Aboriginal Peoples: The descendants of the original inhabitants of North America. Term used to collectively describe three groups – recognized in the Constitution Act, 1982: Indians, Inuit, and Métis. These are separate peoples with unique histories, languages, cultural practices, spiritual beliefs, and political goals. The word “Aboriginal” is an umbrella term for all three peoples, and is not interchangeable with “First Nations.” It should also not be used when referring to only one or two of the three recognized groups.

Acceptance: Affirmation and recognition of those whose race, creed, religion, nationality, values, beliefs, etc. are different from one’s own.

Creed: A professed system and confession of faith, including both beliefs and observances or worship. A belief in a God or Gods or a single supreme being or deity is not a requisite.

Ethnicity: The multiplicity of beliefs, behaviours and traditions held in common by a group of people bound by particular linguistic, historical, geographical, religious and/or racial homogeneity. Ethnic diversity is the variation of such groups and the presence of a number of ethnic groups within one society or nation.

First Nation: A term that came into common usage in the 1980s, to replace the term “Indian,” which some people find offensive. It has no legal definition. “First Nation peoples” or “First Nations” refers to the Indian peoples in Canada, both status and non-status, and can also refer to a community of people as a replacement term for “band” (see “Band”). First Nation peoples are one of the distinct cultural groups of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. There are 52 First Nations cultures in Canada, and more than 50 languages. The term “First Nation” is not interchangeable with “Aboriginal,” because it does not include Métis or Inuit.

Indigenous: First used in the 1970s, when Aboriginal peoples worldwide were fighting for representation at the U.N., and now frequently used by academics and in international contexts (e.g., the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). Understood to mean the communities, peoples, and nations that have a historical continuity with pre-invasion, pre-settler, or pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, as distinct from the other societies now prevailing on those territories (or parts of them). Can be used more or less interchangeably with “Aboriginal,” except when referring specifically to a Canadian legal context, in which case “Aboriginal” is preferred, as it is the term used in the Constitution.

Race: Refers to a group of people of common ancestry, distinguished from others by physical characteristics such as colour of skin, shape of eyes, hair texture or facial features (this definition refers to the common usage of the term ‘race’ when dealing with human rights matters. It does not reflect the current scientific debate about the validity of phenotypic descriptions of individuals and groups of individuals). The term is also used to designate social categories into which societies divide people according to such characteristics.

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation Glossary of Terms

Action 4

Canadian Values

Who we are, how we were socialized throughout our lives (at home, in school, in the neighbourhood, etc.) and with whom we hang out can shape our beliefs and values.

Values are defined as “one’s principles or standards; one’s judgment of what is valuable or important in life.”

Canada is a democracy, made up of people from all different backgrounds, and therefore Canadian values can be viewed as dynamic, or changing over time, and may be different to different people at different times. Nevertheless, there are some values that can be more clearly noted as “Canadian”, but it would be difficult to show that national values applied to all Canadians all of the time.

According to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s Our Canada Report on Canadian Values, Canadians hold as their most cherished values freedom, equality and loyalty to country. They also value civility, including social etiquette. Canadians are guaranteed equality before and under the law, and equality of opportunity regardless of their origins.

In 1982 the Canadian government enacted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which includes:

  • Freedom of expression
  • The right to a democratic government
  • The right to live and to seek employment anywhere in Canada
  • Legal rights of persons accused of crimes
  • Aboriginal peoples' rights
  • The right to equality, including the equality of men and women
  • The right to use either of Canada's official languages
  • The right of French and English linguistic minorities to an education in their language
  • The protection of Canada's multicultural heritage
  • A desire for peace

The Charter covers the laws and regulations governments can pass and how these are applied. Generally speaking, any person in Canada, whether a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident or a newcomer, has the rights and freedoms contained in the Charter.

There are some exceptions. For example, in section 25 of the Charter Aboriginal rights shall not be abrogated or derogated by the Charter and it gives some rights only to Canadian citizens, such as the right to vote and the right "to enter, remain in and leave Canada”.

– Adapted from Our Canada Handbook


Make a List of Values

What does the term “Canadian values” mean to you?

  1. Make a list of what you consider to be Canadian values.
  2. Compare your list with your classmates:
    1. Which values are the same and which ones are different?
    2. Why do you think some are different and some are similar?


Shared Values
  1. Do you think Canadian values have changed over time?
  2. How do your personal beliefs agree with, or conflict with, what you believe are “Canadian values”?
  3. Where conflicts exist, how do you deal with these challenges?


Rate Canadian Values

Based on the premise that establishing a strong sense of Canadian identity and belonging leads to an inclusive Canada, it has been suggested that one of the most pertinent elements is a shared set of values.

The following values were explored in the Our Canada Report on Canadian Values.

  1. Review the list and add any values you feel are missing.
  2. Rate the values in terms of their importance from 1-10 (1 being most and 10 being least).
  3. Post your top three values on Twitter and/or Instagram, using the hashtag: #VoicesIntoAction.

  Civility toward others, mutual respect and politeness
  Democracy and the rule of law
  Equality and equal access to basic needs (e.g. health care and education)
  Generosity, compassion and empathy toward others
  Humility, modesty about who we are
  Loyalty to Canada
  Multiculturalism - respect for cultural and religious differences
  Official Bilingualism
  Respect for human rights and freedoms


Create a Bulletin Board

Over a period of time, watch the newspapers, news magazines and Internet news. Using images and words cut out of these news publications, create a bulletin board display divided into two sections, one for items that you agree do exemplify Canadian values, and those that do not.

  1. Which section has the most items?
  2. Post a photo of your bulletin board on Twitter and/or Instagram, using the hashtag: #VoicesIntoAction.


Unique Values

Consider whether your parents or teachers share these values and the importance you and your classmates have placed on them.

  1. Are there any values unique to students? Teachers? Parents?
  2. Do our values change over our lifetime? If so, how, why and if not, why not?


My Values

Learn about your classmates, their values and the values you share. While retaining what is unique about you, it is helpful to emphasize common and broader shared values and principles, rather than narrower dividing ones.

  1. In column 1 list your ten top values.
  2. Compare your values with others.
  3. If you share a value with one other person, put his/her name in column 2.
  4. If you share a value with two other people, add the second person’s name to column 3.
  5. If you share a value with more than two people, add their name(s) to column 4.

  My top ten valuesShared with one personShared with two peopleShared with more than two people

Action 5

Civic Engagement

In Canada we are not just a collection of isolated communities; we also have a responsibility to the common good.

Understandably, the ability to influence societal change is a significant component of living in a democracy. But there is more to democracy than a jaunt to the ballot box every four years.

Civic engagement is about the right of the citizen to influence the public good, determine how best to seek that good and contribute to reforming the institutions that do not serve the public good as well as they should.

By being an engaged citizen we help our society grow. In the end, when active citizens take a leadership role and contribute their time, energy and good will, the rewards are many.

Participation can include efforts to directly address an issue, concern or need, and to collaborate with others in your community to realize a goal, problem-solve or interact with institutions. Action begins when individuals feel the sense of personal responsibility to uphold their obligations as part of any community, and strive to make a contribution in a meaningful way. We learn from acting together. By collaborating, citizens build public institutions such as schools and hospitals, and intangible ones like traditions and norms.

– Adapted from Our Canada Handbook


Contributing to Your Community
  • What are you doing for your community service hours?
  • How is this contributing to your community?
  • Is it contributing to your sense of community engagement? If not, what would make the experience more relevant?


What can you do? Become an active participant!
  • What is the path to civic engagement and how can it be fostered it in a meaningful way?
  • How can you impact public issues by devoting time and energy with your family, friends, community, or on your own, towards initiatives of public interest?
  • What can you do to foster a greater sense of civic engagement in your community?
Canadian Roots Exchange

Building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth by facilitating dialogue and strengthening relationships through leadership programs.

Source: YouTube

Research some organizations and causes that interest you:

  • Join: As an active member of a group or an association that reflects your values, ethnocultural or linguistic background, and/or your skills, expertise, training, education or interests.
  • Volunteer: At a food bank, health care or community centre, place of worship or other non-profit organization or charity.
  • Fundraise: Walking, running, organizing, and supporting causes that are important to you.


Create a Bulletin Board
  1. As a class, use newspapers, magazines or download images from the Internet to create a bulletin board representing all the civic engagement activities undertaken by the class as a whole.
  2. Classify them as Join, Volunteer, Fundraise and any others you have identified.
  3. Post a photo of your bulletin board on Twitter and/or Instagram, using the hashtag: #VoicesIntoAction.


  • What are the most popular forms of engagement?
  • How do these activities reflect your values as a group?
  • What is the collective impact of the class, and on the class?
  • Is there a way your class can make a difference by working on a project that reflects your shared values?



When it comes to civic engagement on an electoral platform, the first thing that comes to mind for many of us is voting.

Student Vote is a parallel election for students under the voting age, coinciding with federal, provincial, territorial and municipal elections. The purpose is to provide young Canadians with an opportunity to experience the voting process firsthand and build the habits of informed and engaged citizenship. Students take on the role of election officials and cast ballots for the official election candidates.

  • Do you think that it is important for students under the voting age to engage in the electoral process? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • If your class registers for Student Vote, post your campaign on Twitter and/or Instagram, using the hashtag: #VoicesIntoAction.
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Student Vote

Your school can register and hold its own Student Vote Day. The program is completely free.

Source: CIVIX Canada

Since 2003, 27 Student Vote programs have been conducted across Canada at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels of government. In the most recent federal election, 922,000 students cast ballots from 6,760 schools.


Beyond the Ballot Box

Democratic participation can, however, be extended past the ballot box. Do you think it is important to get involved in any of the following activities?

  • Volunteering to work for a candidate, political party or a political organization?
  • Developing a political voice at the municipal, provincial/territorial or national level?
  • Encouraging friends and family to get involved as well?


How can you be heard? Identify, discuss, collaborate, and connect.
  1. Identify an issue that is vital to you and your classmates.
    • What opinions do your classmates have on the issue?
    • By sharing your ideas and experiences, does it shed light on a particular situation for you?
  2. Collaborate with your classmates to create insights and a list of possible solutions to the issue. You might decide to break into smaller groups tackling different issues.
  3. Set up three questions and interview one or more people about the issue. You could do this within your school or broader community.
  4. Bring all the interviews together and share them with your group*.
    • Did you learn something new, or were the responses mostly the same?
    • Review your list of solutions: have the interviews introduced new or different solutions?

*Your class might consider sharing your interviews through a blog, or recording your interviews and turning them into a podcast. If you do, then post a link to your blog or podcast on Twitter and/or Instagram, using the hashtag: #VoicesIntoAction.

Interview Guidelines

  • Attempt to listen to people with differing points of view.
  • Make sure your questions are clear and concise – have translations and definitions of terminology where necessary.
  • Sticky issues are part of the process, so do not shy away from them.
  • Go in search of people from different socio-economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, as well as people of different genders and ages, and include them in the discussion.
  • Share the idea(s) in clear, concise language because you would like many people to understand and be part of the solution.

Action 6

Pluralism in Canada: Multiculturalism & Interculturalism

Canada, a land rich with culture, language and history, was first inhabited by Aboriginal peoples – comprised of a multitude of distinct Indigenous nations which today are known under three general groupings: First Nations, Inuit and Métis. First Nations and Inuit occupied the lands of North America long before the arrival of Europeans. At the beginning of the 15th century, French and English explorations brought settlements to eastern Canada, developing trade and establishing colonies. The Métis as a distinct group arose after the arrival of the Europeans. They are a result of intermarriage between Europeans and the Indigenous peoples.

With the exception of Indigenous peoples, everyone in Canada is an immigrant or a descendent of one.

Throughout its early years, Canada favoured immigration from British, Anglo-American and western European sources. In the first half of the 20th century, European immigrants came to Canada from such countries as Poland, Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Ireland and Portugal. During the mid-half of the century and on, Canada attracted immigrants from the Caribbean, Middle East, South America, Africa and Asia.

In the early 1960s, many Canadians grew increasingly dissatisfied with the predominantly Anglo-centric character of their political, economic and social institutions. Although much of the discontent emanated from Québec, the Indigenous peoples and various ethnic groups were also requesting changes.

In response, the Federal government, in 1963, appointed the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, whose mandate was to recommend steps to develop the Canadian Federation between the English and the French. The Commission’s report reaffirmed Canada’s bilingual and bicultural reality. One of the most important recommendations was to make Canada an officially bilingual nation, achieved through the introduction of the Official Languages Act, and the encouragement of students across the country to learn both official languages.

In 1971, the Federal government, under the leadership of then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, took a direction different than the Commission’s recommendations and pursued a policy of “multiculturalism within a bilingual framework”. Hence, Canada be- came the first country in the world to adopt a national multiculturalism policy.

The policy was an attempt to reconcile two competing visions of Canada: the dualistic view, that, in addition to the Indigenous Peoples, Canada is comprised of two principal founding groups; and the pluralistic view, which sees Canada as comprised of a wide variety of cultural groups. The policy encouraged all Canadians to accept cultural pluralism and to participate fully and equally in Canadian society. Multiculturalism remains an integral part of our national identity and, as such, Canada has been unique among western democracies in its commitment to this ideal.

By 1981, as Canada’s racial diversity was beginning to grow, more attention was being devoted to racial discrimination, and race relations. With the experience of Indigenous peoples of Canada rising up to oppose the 1969 White Paper that proposed to eliminate Indigenous rights and with the support of some Canadian church groups, Aboriginal or Indigenous rights were affirmed in the Constitution Act of 1982 as they had been in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. In 1982, with the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution, multicultural policies were firmly entrenched in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing, among other things, equal protection and benefit of the law, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of, for example, gender, creed, religion, racial and ethnic origin.

As such, multiculturalism was recognized in Section 27 of the Canadian Charter in 1982. An objective of Canada’s multiculturalism policy was to foster a more just society, with early multicultural programs emphasizing cultural pluralism. Over time, the shift in focus to equity and anti-discrimination measures widened the meaning of multiculturalism to include issues relating to anti-racism. These programs, strengthened by policy initiatives, have been effective in bringing about advancements in opportunities for minority groups.

In 1988, Bill C-93, the Multiculturalism Act, was passed and became the first formal legislative vehicle for Canada’s multicultural policy. The Multiculturalism Act affirms the policy of the government to ensure that every Canadian receives equal treatment by the government, which respects and celebrates diversity.

The Act went beyond simply guaranteeing equal opportunity for all Canadians, regardless of origin. It emphasized the right of Canada’s ethnic, racial and religious minorities to preserve and share their unique cultural heritage, and underlined the need to address race relations and eliminate systemic inequalities.

Each of Canada’s provinces has a recognized multicultural policy in place. Saskatchewan was the first Canadian province to adopt legislation on multiculturalism, which was called The Saskatchewan Multiculturalism Act of 1974, which has since been replaced by a new, revised Multiculturalism Act (1997). Ontario followed in 1977 by putting in place a policy that promoted cultural activity, which became an Act in 1990, and the final province being Newfoundland and Labrador in 2008.

Quebec and “Interculturalism”

Quebec differs from the other nine provinces in that its policy focuses on "interculturalism" rather than multiculturalism, wherein diversity is strongly encouraged, but subsumed under the notion that it is within the framework that establishes French as the public language.

Quebec’s policy of interculturalism, which was developed in reaction to the federal multiculturalism policy, recognizes the reality of the province’s identity as a distinct Francophone community, where the French language and culture hold paramount importance. For example, immigrant children must attend French language schools and most signage must be in French.

In 1990, Quebec released Let’s Build Quebec Together: A Policy Statement on Integration and Immigration, which reinforced the notions of Quebec as a French-speaking society; Quebec as a democratic society wherein each person is expected to contribute to public life, and Quebec as a pluralistic society which respects the diversity of cultures within a democratic framework. In 2005, Quebec developed the Ministry of Immigration and Cultural Communities with the primary function being to foster closer cultural relations among the people of Quebec, and to support cultural communities in their quest to participate fully in Quebec society.

– Adapted from Our Canada Handbook


Newspaper Scavenger Hunt

In small groups of 3 or 4, search through a selection of newspapers and news magazines to find items on the list below. You have 15 minutes (or more, to be determined by the class/teacher) to find as many as possible.

Hunt Ideas

  1. A picture of something you consider “Canadian”
  2. An article about some aspect of Canadian culture
  3. An article or photo showing people in Canada taking part in cultural traditions from another country
  4. A word in the paper that is in a language other than English or French
  5. A story or picture from the sports section representing a game more common outside of Canada
  6. An example of someone showing their identity as a person
  7. An ad for a job requiring more than one language
  8. An ad appealing to your identity, persuading you to buy something
  9. An editorial or article talking about human rights
  10. A story about events in a foreign country that could affect Canadians
  11. An article dealing with an important local issue
  12. A picture or story about “ethnic” foods or entertainment
  13. An article about a clash of rights or values
  14. An article that discusses issues important to Aboriginal Peoples in Canada
  15. A photo of two or more people from different backgrounds working together

Share and present your findings to the class:

  • Which items were easy to find?
  • Why do you think some items were easier to find than others? And what are the implications of this (i.e., what types of things tend to be omitted from some or all of the newspapers and why?)?
  • How can you justify the choices you made to fit each item on the list?


Demonstrate Diversity
  1. Create a visual piece that demonstrates diversity in your classroom or community by choosing one of the following activities:
    1. Make a photo essay with accompanying commentary
    2. Make a short animated video piece. This could be either drawn, or computer generated animation, or a stop motion animation.
  2. Post your photo essay or animated video on Twitter and/or Instagram, using the hashtag: #VoicesIntoAction.


What it Means to be a Multicultural Society

In order for Canada to be a truly multicultural society, it is necessary to incorporate ideas and knowledge from all cultures in how we organize our work and living space, our education systems, our popular culture and mass media and all other aspects of society. Canada as a society needs to fully embrace equality and justice for all of its residents, no matter their background, gender, ethnicity, faith, tradition or skin colour.

  • What knowledge or practices from non-Canadian cultures do you think should be incorporated into Canadian society?
  • How would you like to see policies around multiculturalism or interculturalism progress in Canada?


The Evolution of Multiculturalism

Augie Fleras and Jean Lock Kunz conceived this table in 2001 to represent the ways that multiculturalism has changed since the Multiculturalism Act was introduced in 1970.